Planning, Outlining, and Organizing Your Novel – Or Not!

There are as many ways to plan out a novel as there are writers. Each writer goes about it a different way. There are those who have a story board and outline every single event, and have character charts and motivation/goal lists for every character. Then there are those who just start writing not even stopping to research. Whatever facts they need, they look up later. These are the true Seat of the Pants Writers. Most of us fit somewhere in between.

Many times, those who call themselves Seat of the Pants Writers benefit from some planning, maybe not the plot, but something. Listed below are some methods you can use to plan your novel.

Snowflake Method: The Snowflake Method is a method developed by Randy Ingermanson found at this link. Basically you plan a little more thoroughly each time you go through the planning stage until you have a full novel.

Summary Outline: Some people like to write a brief summary of their outline and characters before they get started. This link  shows a summary outline from Writer’s Digest.

Storyboard: Storyboard is the method of writing a summary of scenes on index cards, post-it note, Microsoft OneNote, or an Excel table (Click here to learn how to make a storyboard using Excel.) Here’s a link that gives a description on how to use Storyboarding. Even if you don’t use this method to plan your novel, it’s a good idea to storyboard your novel during the editing phase to keep track of scenes, subplots, and point of view.

Plotting Your Novel: Many like to plot their novel before they begin writing. Here are some links to methods for doing that.

6 Steps to the Perfect Plot 

How to Create a Plot in 8 Easy Steps

Character Charts or Personalities: Some writers who never outline their plots, find their inspiration from getting to know their characters. To do this, some use character charts. Others use personality surveys to develop their characters’ personalities or personality disorders. Here’s some links that show character charts and personality evaluation sites.

The Epiguide Fiction Writer’s Character Chart

Eclectics Fiction Writer’s Character Chart

16 Personality Types

Personality Disorders List

Research: Some writers find inspiration in researching a time period, setting, career, or some other facet of their novels. Click here to find out how to organize your internet research on Microsoft OneNote.

Editing: Some writers begin writing, but as they write, the story is revealed to them in pieces. Many times, they’ll get stuck and will have to go back a edit or rewrite what they already have to see where to go from that point.

Creative Flow: Some writers do all their planning subconsciously. They will tell you that the story comes to them as they write. The very act of writing reveals the story. This is true for them because subconsciously their minds have been working out the story. When they sit to write, the story they’ve been working on in the recesses of their minds flows.

I tend to fall closer to the Seat of the Pants method, but I still use a combination of getting to know my characters, research, and editing when I’m starting a new novel.

The best way to know what works for you is to experiment. If outlining stifles your creativity, don’t do it. But plan to do a lot of editing after the novel is finished. If not planning everything ahead of time causes writer’s block, then by all means, plan until your heart’s content. There’s no right way or wrong way. Do what works best for you.

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32 thoughts on “Planning, Outlining, and Organizing Your Novel – Or Not!

  1. I probably use a form of all the SOTP methods to some degree, except the Summary Outline, the Storyboard, the Novel Plotting , and Character Charts. Mostly the situations and characters seem to develop by themselves; one plot scene often suggests another down the road. Though I sometimes have to back up and change a chapter already written, I consider it part of the process.

    FYI, under “Character Charts or Personalities,” you have “Other’s” when you meant the plural. Thought I’d point out the typo. :-D

  2. I fall on the rather extreme end of the outlining side of the fence. But, in many ways, my in-depth outline is an SOTP first draft, since I use it throw out any and every idea and follow the leadings of creativity.

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  4. I love the character resources. I’m very into personality types and the study of personality disorders. I always felt writers would do well to study these things, but I didn’t realize how many are aware of this. I saw another blog about this yesterday linking to personality types pages.

    Another possibility is to look at Enneagram types as they are in some ways deeper to the core of the personality which could help writers.

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  9. I tend to use the character profiles or storyboard for writing my novels.
    Another blog was saying that different learning styles lead to different methods, and that Tactile Learners usually swayed toward the Storyboard.
    I’m a Visual Learner, though, and I skim various blogs looking for a method that really ‘fits’ me.
    Any suggestions are welcome. :)

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  11. oh thank god. I’m literally a Creative Flow style guy to the max. The only plan I did was to get a timeline down, and the bare spine of the major plot.

    The rest I just… well, remembered or made up as I went. Thought I had messed up big time but apparently not as much as I thought.

  12. This helps me a lot. Thank you. :) But you mentioned how people already have an idea and then start writing, but get stuck because they go back and edit. – Is that a bad habit? If so, could you give me some tips of how to avoid it? Help would be appreciated.

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