Novel Planning Part II: Different Ways to Plan a Novel

Planning Plans

Before you plan, you have to make a plan for planning. Whew.

I’m going to be honest: none of these have worked well for me. In my next post I’ll explain what I actually do, but I want to talk briefly about these planning methods because everybody’s different, and maybe for you they’re just the thing.

The snowball method: Basically you start off with a good, one-sentence summary of what your novel is about. Then you expand it into a paragraph, then two paragraphs, and you get the idea.

Why it doesn’t work for me: I need things in order. The snowball method is less about planning, and more about writing and getting started. This method doesn’t have enough planning for me, and I have the problem of tying my own plot in knots and getting stuck without knowing where to go. Basically, with this method I still feel like there is no plan, and when I try to expand the snowball I don’t know what to add.

Creating an outline: If you ever had to write an outline in high school as an exercise for a research paper, you’ve probably got the same image of it that I do.

I. Chapter One – A Title for this Chapter!
1. One of the main things that happens in chapter one
a. Detail about one of the main things
b. Another detail about one of the main things
2. Another big event in chapter one

If you’re using this method to plan, you write the outline as a series of bullet points of varying levels of detail for your novel. In theory, this is one of the most organized planning methods. It’s clean, it’s clear, and you can see in just a couple of pages what your book is supposed to be.

Why it doesn’t work for me: At the planning stage, it’s hard for me to prioritize what is more or less important in the chapter. I find myself getting stuck with this method because I can’t tell where an event, or even a thought or conclusion that a character has, goes within the outline.

Writing a timeline: As the name suggests, you write out your plot in short descriptions/bullet points in a timeline. This could be a great method to use if you have a lot of stories going on at once because you’ll be able to keep track of what character A was doing while character B was having a life-changing moment halfway around the world.

Why it doesn’t work for me: This is close to the actual method I use. The reason that I don’t use a timeline, however, is that at the initial phase I’m usually not quite ready to assign specific times to the events. Additionally, I have trouble making a timeline in anything except a spreadsheet, and the spreadsheet doesn’t offer as much flexibility for writing long descriptions. Yes, I said short descriptions above, but I am not so good at keeping it short.

What other planning methods do you know of? What works for you?

In Part III I’ll talk about the method I use, and why it works for me!



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