When I first got the idea for my current work in progress, The Revelation Academy, I was actually already planning a different novel. For the first idea I was using revision cards to plan out my scenes and where they would sit in the overall story. But for TRA I ended up choosing a different method, I started by buying a new notepad (as many writers do) but not just a plain notebook, I chose a 5 subject notebook from Paperchase, it has 3 different types of paper in each section; lined, plain and grid. My idea was that each had their own function for planning the novel.
One section holds plot ideas, another holds chapter outlines others include word count trackers (I was writing during NaNoWriMo) and sketches of various aspects of the novel. All of this helped me organise my thoughts for the book, by giving everything it’s own home inside the notebook I felt more organised in the planning process, and later when it came to writing the book.
I used a group of the lined pages for chapter outlines, with one chapter using up one double-sided page. Each chapter has subsections; main events, settings explored, characters introduced and foreshadowing plot drops. This helped me play the chapter through in my mind before I even got to writing the opening sentence. In later chapters I added a section for information given to my main character and gave each chapter a rough time scale.
For plotting out the main events I used the plain pages as a background for sticky notes. Each had a different scene jotted down and I used the pages to figure out what scene went where. Each character had a different coloured sticky note, which meant it was easy to make sure there is a fair distribution of page time between them.
I used the grid pages to create my own word count tracker. Admittedly I didn’t get as much use out of this section as I did the others, but I like having the option to do more with it.
Finally I used some of the lined pages I had left over for random bits of ideas I wanted to work into the novel somewhere; lines of dialogue, sub plots, rules of the world and setting descriptions among them.
Now much of this changed when it came to actually writing the story, and changed again when I started the second draft. But to get the whole story planned out at the start, even a very rough idea that would twist and turn as the words were added to the page, helped me finish my very first novel. I have tried other planning methods before, even pantsing a novel during NaNoWriMo, but none helped me succeed. Those ideas are still in my head, not on paper. One day I would love to return to them, to plan them out properly and give it another go at writing them out, but for the moment the memories attached to them are of frustration at not completing them, too much negative energy for me.
Now it may seem that I am praising my own planning method a little too much, so I should tell you about the mistakes I made during this process, because there were many. The main one being not giving myself enough time. As I said I wrote TRA during NaNoWriMo, and I first came up with and started the planning process in the middle of October. Giving myself 2 whole weeks to plan, at the same time as working full time and family events (a birthday, wedding and spending time with newborns). This was a very big mistake, I didn’t get quite enough done to avoid stumbling through TRA the first time round. But now I have worked through the main story and given myself time to plan it out in it’s entirety I feel much better about the story, and getting a completed manuscript by the end of 2018.
Another mistake I made was trying to make my planning notes ‘pretty’. Now my handwriting can be neat if I take the time to do it properly, but as I said above, I didn’t have the time. I spent far too long on choosing different ink colours for different aspects of the novel and not enough time actually doing the planning! Yes it looks aesthetically pleasing now, but I regret it. Don’t get hung up on having Instagram-ready notebooks, get the important stuff done first.
Also, if you are planning your NaNoWriMo novel, don’t worry about creating your own word count tracker. You have a perfectly good one at your disposal on their website! I didn’t get past day one on my tracker, because I was spending so much time writing! Honestly, it’s a waste of time.
Now, this may be of use to you. Or it could have just been an interesting read. I don’t know. But if you have found any of this useful for your own planning then I am very happy. And if you have learnt from my mistakes then even better!
What planning methods do you use? Share in the comments below, I will reply to all comments!
Tune in next Friday to find out how I went about creating my characters and plotting their lives throughout my novel, The Revelation Academy!