Writing Masterclass

Writing Masterclass: Plotting your novel

"It's one thing picturing your manuscript in your mind, the other actually writing it down..."

As a new segment to this blog, I have few tips and tricks learned during my studies that I would like to share with you.

It’s one thing picturing your manuscript in your mind, the other actually writing it down but it is doable. My first tip is to plan.

Why do we plan a novel? Surely it takes all the fun out of writing?

Any piece of writing I have initiated without a plan has begun well, maybe a scene conjured up in my imagination or a piece of dialogue between two characters, but it shortly snowballs downhill until I find myself in a plot hole that I’ve dug myself, unable to climb out. It’s definitely good to practice writing without a plan, flash fiction and short writing pieces especially, but an extended piece of writing with delicate intricate plots and side plots, protagonists and antagonists can get confusing constricting it all to the confines of your grey matter.

So, with that in mind, how do we plan a novel?

  1. Have a pen and paper handy, even if you predominantly work in Word. Sometimes the quickest way to get an idea down is to scribble it as it formulates. I find it best to start with that spark, write down the reason you want to write your book. Who is your story about? What scenes can you visualize in your imagination? Where does it take place? Times, dates, location… write everything down until your page is full.
  2. Continuing on with the development, it’s important to know your characters inside and out. What motivates them? We will explore character development further in a later article but for now, I would like you to give your characters names, personalities and write down their relationships to each other.
  3. Once you have your characters and setting you can start work actually structuring your manuscript. I find the best way to start is to write your blurb, a brief overview of your story in its raw form. For example, the blurb for Outlander by Diana Gabaldon gives us a clear story but allows room for character development, enigma and breathing room if the author decided to change a scene or two. (Note: Your blurb doesn’t have to be perfect, it will not be visible on the finished novel). 

    1946, and Claire Randall goes to the Scottish Highlands with her husband Frank. It’s a second honeymoon, a chance to learn how war has changed them and to re-establish their loving marriage.
    But one afternoon, Claire walks through a circle of standing stones and vanishes into 1743, where the first person she meets is a British army officer – her husband’s six-times-great-grandfather.

    Unfortunately, Black Jack Randall is not the man his descendant is, and while trying to escape him, Claire falls into the hands of a gang of Scottish outlaws, and finds herself a Sassenach – an outlander – in danger from both Jacobites and Redcoats.

    Marooned amid danger, passion and violence, her only chance of safety lies in Jamie Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior. What begins in compulsion becomes urgent need, and Claire finds herself torn between two very different men, in two irreconcilable lives.


  4. With this overview, you should now have a clear idea in your head of who your characters are and how they will react to the situation you are exposing them to. From this, we can now create a distinct beginning, middle, and end. Again we will discuss this in a later article but for now, I would like you to assess the initial equilibrium that the character is settled in. How can you rip that apart and throw their world completely upside down? What will happen as a result? Once you have this, you have your basic three act structure.

Sit back and rest. You have planned your novel.

Obviously, you could keep narrowing this down further and further into individual chapters but I find there is such a thing as too much planning, if you’re anything like me, you like to leave some of the writing to chance.

Next week we will look at Todorov’s three-act act structure in more detail and how we can install this into our own work.

In the meantime, keep reading anything and everything as it will help develop your stories and will hopefully offer fresh and exciting inspiration for your own work. If you require a 1-1 consultation service to discuss structuring and planning further please contact me for more information.

See you next time!


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