For my inaugural guest post, I thought I’d give you some insight into my novel planning process. I started my authorial journey wide-eyed and wet behind the ears, determined to write an epic fantasy. Fortunately, I belong to an active critique group, and we had a mentor in our resident writer. From our mentor, we learned a robust plan is essential to crafting a novel. My personal process is based on what I learned in those formative years. It works great, at least for me, and has allowed me to finish a rough draft of my current WIP in less than six months. That’s from no plan or written scene to a rough draft. I think that’s pretty good for a bloke who still slaves away at the 9 to 5 and has a family.
Below you’ll see a breakdown of my planning process. I’ll illuminate each facet of the plan.
- Concept: a high-level overview of the entire story that focuses on the conflict.
- Scene outline: lists out each scene with a focus on the conflict.
- Scene summary: add details to the scenes–characters involved, setting, time of day, breakdown of the action.
- Chapter outline: step-by-step outline of what happens in a chapter (I write this for a chapter just before drafting it).
First, let’s dive into the concept. The goal is to boil the entire novel down to a one-page document that focuses on the protagonist, antagonist, and conflict. I often can’t do this right away. Instead, I create an outline that might span twenty pages or more. While I’m doing this, I’ll start creating the character list and character sketches, think bios. Once I have a solid idea of how the story will unfold, I’ll take the outline and condense it into a one-page concept. I think it’s worthwhile to always create a one-page concept because it forces the writer to focus on the essential characters and critical plot points.
The scene outline is derived from the concept, an expansion of it, so to speak. I literally number each scene. While creating the outline, I concentrate on capturing the primary conflict for each scene and which character will serve as the narrative voice. While working on my forthcoming novel Solarflame, I found it useful to do separate scene outlines for each of my major characters. Then I wove the outlines together to make a coherent whole. Again, at this point, I’m still working on the character list and character sketches. You can think of the process as iterative – new character sketches are created while existing sketches are refined.
With the first cut of the scene outline complete, I’ll typically begin fine tuning it by adding and removing scenes. Also, I’ll make a record of any ideas I have for scenes. Sometimes this includes creating scene specific outlines. Basically, I’m trying to note all the great ideas I have while weeding out the chaff.
Once I’m happy with the scene outline, I start working on the scene summary. You can think of it as the frosting on the cake. I’ll take into account details like time of day, weather, all the characters involved, and anything else I can think of that is pertinent to the scene. After this document is completed, all the scenes are pretty well fleshed out, as are the character list and character sketches.
Now, I’m finally ready to work on the rough draft. I expand the scene summary, or in some cases, multiple scene summaries into a chapter outline for each chapter as I go. Once a chapter outline is complete, writing the actual chapter goes quickly. In short order, I have a completed rough draft.
The nice part about this technique is that it gives your story a scaffolding to hang on right out the chute. If done conscientiously, you’ll find your rough draft has very few, if any, plot holes to plug. For me, this allows for concentrating on wordsmithing and characterization during the editing process. I know this much planning isn’t for everyone, some people like writing to be more freeform. But if you’re having trouble knocking out a coherent novel, try this process or something similar. You might be happy that you did.
While not entertaining a pair of young lads or pulling the 9 to 5, Dan writes fiction, mostly speculative. His debut fantasy novel Solarflame will be released in 2021. To read his thoughts on writing and view his complete bibliography, please visit https://danscifi.com.