We’re coming close to the end of the Plotting Your Novel series. These two steps are, for me, typically the most time-consuming but most rewarding steps of the entire process. This is where we actually plan out what’s going to happen for the entire book. It sounds overwhelming and it doesn’t work for everyone, but I’ve found that plotting the story chapter by chapter is the best way for me to approach a story. Not only does it help ensure there’s enough motivation for my characters to act the way they are, but it allows me to approach the story with enough conflict and stray from large plot holes.
Part 6 is the preliminary plot line. This can come any time during the first several steps of the plotting process. If you haven’t already, first start with Goal, Motivation and Conflict and establish any backstory you’ll need to know for specific things that need to happen during the story. And then I begin making what’s essentially a timeline of major and minor plot points. Sometimes these are known as turning points as well. The major plot points are key times in the story where an event or moment occurs, internally or externally to change your character’s course of action. To change their life as they know it. Minor plot points can do this on a smaller level. I also use these to mark simple events that I know I want to take place in the story. You can plot these out chronologically or randomly. I usually list as many events as I can on a sheet of paper. This includes major plot points, minor plot points, specific descriptions or conversations I want characters to have. I list as much as I can think of—anything that comes to mind, even if I don’t end up using it in the story later.
For me, this turns out to be several sheets of thoughts pouring out without much order, but I mark each one to make sure it’s a separate point on my plot line.
Then comes Part 8, the chapter by chapter outline. I enjoy planning out approximately how long each chapter will be and how many chapters I’ll need to write a book a specific length. My stories usually end up at least over 80,000 words so I know I’ll need at least 20 chapters and fairly lengthy ones at that. But even without planning this ahead of time, you can still plan your story chapter by chapter.
This is where your major and minor plot points come in handy. You can organize them in chronological order so they’re ready for your outline. In each chapter, I’ll mark as many things that happen as I can think of—usually from my plot timeline. Sometimes I get detailed enough to discuss how this effects the character(s) and I make notes if I want to mention this later on in the story. You can also separate the chapter into scenes and make note of which character’s POV this scene will be in. If you like to write your story from beginning to end without detouring to later chapters, then this is where you can put your ideas for specific conversations for later chapters if you already ideas.
So basically, each chapter will contain the number of scenes you want, the POV of each scene, the overall goal of each scene and if you can, the events that happen during that scene to bring you to that goal.
Again, this process isn’t the best or most productive process for everyone but it’s worked for me in the past. Next week, I’ll cover the last step in the Plotting Your Novel series which will wrap up the 9-step process I use to prepare my novels for writing.
For those planners out there, do you make a chapter by chapter outline to plot the progress of your story? If you’re not a planner, do you still write your stories in chronological order or do you skip around as ideas come to you?