As writers, we are continually creating and coming up with new ideas and concepts. It's a nonstop flurry of ideas and plot devices that can sometimes be overwhelming. So how do we get our book ideas down on paper without feeling exhausted or mixed up?
When I began writing my novel, it was a far cry from anything else I had ever done. Sure, I had dabbled in the short story genre but poetry was my true home. It was the writing form I was most acquainted with and comfortable in.
“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” ―Octavia E. Butler
Novels are more complicated for driving narratives. Not to say that poetry can't tell a story or evoke emotion - that's the whole point. But I think you know what I mean when I say that novels are more complex in description, tone, and length than poetry is.
When I was building my poetry book, it was based more on emotion and a general story flow. I could mix and match each individual pieces without worrying about messing up a story line. So when it came to a full fledged novel, I was out of my element.
I had to learn how to plot my book from scratch. It was a humbling experience since poetry had always come easily to me. However, with a little time, determination, and a lot of googling, I found a direction that worked for me.
While everyone has their own creative process, even the best of the best can sometimes question where they are going. Sometimes the ideas are easy and can come one after the other. Sometimes though, the ideas are few and far between.
When this happens, it can be hard not to lose motivation or focus. After all, writers are meant to write so when we struggle with the narrative, it can be a blow to our self esteem, time, and even our wallet. Hopefully these tips will help you whether you're a seasoned pro or beginner; whether your ideas are a flowing fountain or a trickling river!
Oh, and don't worry: you'll find your flow and go with it. If you've ever heard of or participated in NaNoWriMo, you know about pantsers, plotters, and plantsers. If not here's a brief summary:
Pantsers: Hang onto your butts, peeps, I don't know where we're going but it's gonna be a heck of a ride!
Plotters: I know exactly where I am going, how we are getting there, and what it looks, tastes, and smells like.
Plantsers: I know pretty much where I'm headed but we're gonna make up the details as we go.
“There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” —W. Somerset Maugham
Anyway, let's dive in to some ways I found helpful when I was learning how to plot my book and get myself together!
Grab your favorite notebook and begin writing down your ideas. They don't have to be perfect or even in order. Just getting the basics down will help you feel a little more focused.
Once you have your ideas down, write out the overall theme of the story you're going for. Is it mystery? Suspense? Action and adventure? Pick your genre and mood.
Have a strong main character. Describe the way they look, how they would react to situations, and whether they are a good, bad, or an anti-hero character. They will be carrying your story so make sure they stand out and feel real to readers.
Analyze your beginning and ending. Even if you don't know 100% how you want it to end, having a rough idea of how it starts and where it's going will help you start pinpointing all those ideas that you had earlier!
Take a lesson from your favorite book. It may be cliché but reading books helps you develop your skills in the long run. You can see what is already out there, what works and what doesn't, and develop your own style of doing things.
Write down your plot twists and developments. Each great book centers around a strong plot but the real magic is how you drive the narrative. Once you have your beginning and ending you can start filling in the milestones to bring them together.
Fill in your developments with motivation for your character. Why is your MC doing what they are doing? How do supporting characters respond? This can help narrow your focus into a crisp and clear plot and character arc!
Begin writing a detailed outline. You have your basic outline of events you want to happen, now take those and elaborate. Where, when, how do these things take place?
Bring your plot together with cohesion. Remember all those ideas you originally wrote down? Now is the time to see if they really belong or if it makes your book a little too mixed up. After all, that's what the sequels are for...
Try to avoid plot cliches. We all have our favorite clichés but overall it's important to be fresh and surprising. Keep your motivation on point for your character but try to avoid overdone stereotypes.
Try not to edit yourself before you finish a section. It can be easy to go back on yourself and overthink, rethink, and edit your current section but a lot of times that can hold you back. First focus on getting it down on paper or a word doc.
“Beginning a novel is always hard. It feels like going nowhere. I always have to write at least 100 pages that go into the trashcan before it finally begins to work. It’s discouraging, but necessary to write those pages. I try to consider them pages -100 to zero of the novel.” —Barbara Kingsolver
Bonus tidbit: Ask your trusted friends for advice or look for writing groups that will be supportive and helpful in your process. Asking other writers for their thoughts and perspective can help you avoid common mistakes while giving a chance to present your work to your targeted audience. Take opinions with a grain of salt but don't be to proud to accept healthy criticism.
If you're looking for a group of writers that love talking shop and are kind and supportive, check out our discord here. We are always looking to expand our community and maintain a careful balance of compassion and critique when reviewing other people's work. After all, we put so much of ourselves in our books that kindness is always key.
Plotting your book can be a tedious process but it is a worthwhile one. It will help you stay on task, hit all the markers you want to, and keep you motivated. Its a tangible way to track your progress which is pretty darn helpful on those days that seem to drag by.
“I think writing really helps you heal yourself. I think if you write long enough, you will be a healthy person. That is, if you write what you need to write, as opposed to what will make money, or what will make fame.” —Alice Walker
So, that's eleven ways to plot your book efficiently! If you found this helpful and use this advice on your current or future project or if you have a tip to add, I'd love to know! Feel free to comment below what you took away - when we lift each other up, we all end up winning!
Be sure to check back every week for a new blog post! I promise it won't always be about book plotting, but it will be interesting. It gives me a chance to connect with you and hopefully make your writing journey a little easier. So, until next week, remember that we may be different species but we are all part of the same family, so be kind to yourself and kind to others and I'll see you next week!
Ravven White is the founder of Curious Corvid Publishing, author of bestsellers I Am Ravven and The Cry of The Ravven. Her debut novel, The Sentimental Dead, arrives this Halloween. You can find her books on Amazon, Kindle, and in major bookstores worldwide. She lives in a castle under the sea with her loved ones. You can usually sense her arrival by a curious flapping of wings.
You can learn about all our Curious Corvids by visiting their author profiles on the website, following us on our social media, joining our discord, or by buying our books. Every purchase helps pay our bills which means we can write more compelling literature that is both odd and unusual.
You can also support us by subscribing to our Magpie Messenger for only $6 a month. Each issue arrives at your door with brand new exciting content from, for, and about indie creatives. Submissions and advertisement slots are also available and the details can be found here.