In which I’ll share with you five different ways to go about plotting a novel, including the approach I use (with handy examples)! I may also rant about titles, and how obsessed with them I am… Is title OCD a thing? There must be medication for this right?
Before you start plotting anything, you likely want to have at the very least an idea of the genre you’d like to write in, as well as the POV (point-of-view), and your story ‘ember’.
The story ember, as I like to call it, is the raw idea. This can be plot-based, setting-based, or character-based. Maybe you know you want to write a novel set in the catacombs under Paris. Or maybe you met someone in passing and thought to yourself, that person would make an excellent main character for a book. Or like me, maybe you often find yourself contemplating little curiosities in life, such as how the blood type O-Negative is a universal donor.
And suddenly, you have your story ember. Now all you have to do is coax that timid little guy into a flame.
This is a personal preference habit of mine. I don’t know why, but I can’t start writing a damned thing until I have a title. I can plot, and I can map out all my characters before coming up with a title. And I often do. But I can’t put a single word beneath that magical ‘Chapter One’ heading before I have a title. I know, I have a problem. Let’s call it Obsessive Titling Disorder. Am I the only one??
Taking the story from ember to flame a.k.a ‘5 Effective ways to Plot your Novel.’
This method is good for people who already have a general idea of the plot and can come up with a single sentence such as: A girl volunteers to take her little sisters place in a game where twenty-four teens will battle to the death.
Yes, you guessed it. That is a one sentence summary of The Hunger Games.
From there you want to expand incrementally until you have a fully fleshed out plot. You start with that one sentence, then you expand it into a paragraph, then into a page.
If you want to read more on the snowflake method, I would recommend reading this post.
The Bare Bones
This is a good way to get an aerial view of the whole shebang. If you want an outline that isn’t too constricting, but covers every major plot point, this may work for you.
The first step in this process is to establish the setting and the main characters. Then you just fill in the blanks here:
Introduction: Where you will introduce your character and the setting, give a little backstory, and this is also where you want to have your hook. Or at the very least raise questions your reader will feel the need to answer by reading more, or have something that will foreshadow the inciting incident to come.
Inciting incident: This is where the everyday life of your character will flipped upside down. For example, in the Hunger Games, the inciting incident would be when Prim is chosen to participate in the games. This is where she decides (very quickly) to take Prim’s place. Without this inciting incident, there would be no book. The inciting incident can be your character making a decision, your character learning something new, or something happening.
Rising Action: This is the meat of the story, and it contains all the obstacles leading to the character attaining their goal. What will stand in their way? Put it here.
Climax: Self explanatory. This is where the protagonist fights the bad guy. Where Frodo is standing over the molten lava in the bowels of Mount Doom. This is the part of the story you’ve been flipping page after page to get to.
Falling Action: This is where your character has to consider the choices they made, and accept them. This is also where you want to address and tie up any loose ends (unless you are planning on writing a sequel).
Resolution: Depending on whether your book is a stand alone or part of a series, you may not need to have the resolution. But this is basically the ‘They all lived happily ever after’ part, or if you’re George R. R. Martin, ‘And then they all died.’
The Bits and Bites
This is me, but I use this plotting technique very loosely. Too much plotting kills the muse and leaves little room for natural story development. I don’t know about you, but I like to let my characters decide how they’re going to react to a situation in the heat of the moment! I find if I meticulously plan a scene, even if it’s meant to be high tension, it will read dull and, well, planned. Staged. All around underwhelming.
This is what my Bits and Bites method looks like:
The image has been blurred to avoid spoilers! Here’s what it contains: In the first column, I write down the day the scene will take place. In the following column, I write down a very general idea of what is going to happen that day. This is the information I use when creating a scene. In the subsequent columns, I jot down notes pertaining to specific plot threads. For instance, if you have a romantic subplot in your novel, you can have a column for that. If you’re a fan of foreshadowing, you can have a column for that. If, like me, your novel is written in 1st person POV, you may find it helpful to have a column focusing on what is going on around your character that he/she may not be aware of.
The Word Vomit
This is puking up your novel in one go. No plotting. Just take your vague idea and run with it. This can work well for people who are great editors. Or for those who don’t have a concrete idea to start. Once you’ve puked up the story, you then start the plotting process. Adding and eliminating as you go, fleshing out characters and settings.
The End Start
So you’ve come up with a super awesome ending. You know you want character X and character Y to end up in ________, and you know you want _______ to happen. In this method of plotting, you will work backwards from your ending ‘ember,’ figuring out what could have happened to lead your characters to the ending you’ve already thought up.
What about you, what method of plotting do you use? Or are you more of a panster?