How To Write A Novel Part 3: The Planning Stage

Know Your Numbers
At this point, you know what sort of a novel you want to write, right? So you should have a good idea of the genre and category (MG, YA, Adult, etc.) There are certain rules to the size and shape of things in the writing world. 50,000-words is fine for a middle grade novel, but it’s not even close to an Adult novel’s requirements, and 250,000-words is just too long for anything (unless you happen to be George R.R. Martin or J. K. Rowling – which you’re not. Not yet, anyway.)

As a general rule there is a number and then there’s a range. For most adult novels the number is 100,000-words, while the range is 90-110k. Basically, you have a 20,000-word leeway around the number. So, plan accordingly. (Epic Fantasy will have a higher number as you have to worry about epic world building, but it’s still likely to be in the 110,000 range)

Outlines can be done in a myriad of ways… We all remember them from high school no doubt. I myself have had outlines that were two or three words for each chapter/scene, and then I’ve had outlines that were really in depth. (I’ve even used a previous draft as an outline on occasion.)

But, the point is, as a plotter, you’ll need a road map. So, Outlining is the best way to do that.  

Sorry about the bluzziness. Here's an example of what a less in depth one looks like. 2-3 words per chapter (if you ignore the bottom) just to get my bearings and know the general direction I want to take.

Most of the time, for a first draft, I have a set w/c goal I want to reach – but I’m a serial adder, so my goal is always really low – and I usually I have a series of plot points I know I want to address, so I build from there.

My first outlines are pretty vague, and as the novel progresses, I re-outline several times (this is usually the point at which the outlines get really detailed). Sometimes they’re a few words for each chapter… sometimes they look like this:
(Each chapter has been color coded, and thoroughly outlined in this case – This is a complete re-write draft. Note: that is four pages of an unfinished outline that is already seven pages long)

 Character Development
I love writing up character sheets. Any of my day-to-day betas can confirm that with you. I’ve actually gone from step one (the idea) straight into character development with my outline and come up for air 14,000-word later (though, when that happens, you have to go fill in a huge number of holes).

A lot of writers use what is called a world bible – some start this after the book is written, I do it in spreadsheet form and start as soon as possible. Having this information on hand keeps you from writing Sally with blue eyes on page 3, brown eyes on page 42, and heterochromia on page 135… unless of course she has color changing eyes, then, by all means, have at it.
Here are some examples of what mine look like in-process.

 And of course, there was this one from a few weeks ago...

Start Chapter Maps
You don’t need to get a degree in cartography for this sort of map making. This is a step above your general outline.
When rehersing a play, scenes need to be blocked before they’re performed. You need to know where you’re going, when you have to be there, and when you need to leave. Chapter maps are very similar to that. It’s blocking out the scene, so you don’t end up standing in the middle of the stage, staring at the audience dumbfounded, when you should be backstage for a costume change. (or your characters should be, anyway)
I hand write my chapter maps. It’s a different kind of flow from typing, and whle it takes longer and is much messier, I find it easier that way to keep from falling into my default “writing” mode.

Chapter maps can be anywhere from a few sentences to a few pages long, depending on how much detail you want to put into them. Mine are usually a half page, to three quarters of a page long.

They’re not huge, but they’re much more detailed than my outlines are in the beginning (wih the exception of the colorful re-write up top – I’ll be interested to see how long the chapter maps are for that one!)

Until next week, happy writing!


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