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Top 5 Tips for Plotting Your Novel

by Katie Ginger

Writing an 80,000 word novel can seem impossible when you’re sat staring at a blank page with nothing but a vague idea. Some people write by the seat of their pants (they’re called pansters), some like to drill down to each scene and chapter (plotters) and others are a mixture of the two (plantsers). But plotting can be especially useful if you’ve wanted to try writing a novel but have no idea where to start! So here are my top five tips to help get you going. 

Tip 1 – Figure out your overall story

What do you want to happen during the course of your novel? For example, in a romance story it might be that you want your female main character to fall in love with your male main character, but you want things to go wrong along the way. See, already you’re beginning to turn your overall vague idea into an actual plot. 

The next thing is to think about how that’s going to happen. How are your characters going to get to the point of falling in love? What events can you think of that will bring them into contact? Now you’re starting to think of scenes or chapters for your novel. You’re getting even closer to having it all outlined. You don’t need to have detailed information at the moment, just one word sentences will do fine. 

Tip 2 – Emotional arcs

Each character needs to have an emotional arc for the story, during which they’ll change. How do you want your characters to change? Perhaps your FMC (female main character) is very selfish and through the course of the novel she’s going to become less selfish. Are there any events from step one where this could happen? Do you have ideas for new events or scenes where she might begin to change? It could be that your MMC (male main character) is going to begin the story very career focussed and slowly bring balance to his life. Again, think about how these changes might occur and you can build events, scenes, and plot twists that can make this happen. 

Now we’re digging a little deeper and you’re beginning to put together a sequence of events. The plot is taking shape! 

Tip 3 – Inciting incidents

These are really important because these scenes or events are the catalysts for your main characters to change and begin their journey. The inciting incident should come pretty early on, if not in the first chapter. A good example of an inciting incident is in Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone when Harry gets his letter from Hogwarts and his horrid uncle hides it. It’s a game changer and Harry’s life alters dramatically after this point. 

Once you’ve figured out the inciting incidents for your main characters, you’ve got the start of your novel sorted! 

Tip 4 – Now be mean!

No one wants to read a story where everything goes well and the main characters achieve everything they want really easily. Not only does life not happen that way but it’s boring! What we want as readers is to see people suffer and overcome strife. As a writer, ask yourself what hardships can you place in front of your main characters and even your minor characters? Again, this should lead you to think of scenes or events that you can note as plot points. Make sure you tie them into the overall emotional arc of your characters so they’re happening at the right times to facilitate changes. Each event should change your characters outlook and move them towards where you want them at the end 

As we’re now adding even more plot points, by now you should have a decent sized list of different events or scenes for all your characters. It’s okay if at this point you’re still not clear on exactly what you want to happen when, we’ll be tackling that next 

Tip 5 – Let’s put things in order

Now you’ve got a list of events/scenes and an emotional arc for your characters you should have an idea of what needs to come first and what comes last. I’d suggest writing them down on post its or little cards so you move the ideas around and find the right order for them. This will help you decide what should happen whenFor example, in a romance novel, you can’t have an event where they admit their feelings for each other until near the end when they’ve got to know each other. And you can’t have them arguing at the end when they should be beginning to get along. By looking at each event against the emotional arc you’ll have more of an idea of where it needs to come in the chronological order.  

At this stage, you might also add a specific timeline so you know exactly when things are happening and how much time lapses between each incident. I find this really useful so when it comes to writing I can throw in what day it is or how many days it was since something happened. This helps ground the reader in the sequence of events and is definitely worth getting right at the planning stage. Trust me, it can save you having some major plot holes! 

By the time you’ve been through these steps you should have a pretty decent outline for your novel. But remember, there’s no right or wrong way to write! 

Remember, there's no right or wrong way to write!