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Top 5 tips for planning a novel

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

Now that I’ve written a few novels – one just-published, one never-to-be-published, one on its way and two more in the planning stages, I feel a little more qualified to write a post like this! The most important things to remember are a) every novel writer is different, but b) you can always be inspired by the way other writers work. I’ve been inspired by so many other authors and can highly recommend the podcast ‘Writers Routine’ for some fascinating insights. In the meantime, here are my own personal tips.

1) Give yourself space to become inspired

I find it really difficult to come up with ideas when I’m juggling a toddler, housework, work-work, friends and family. So whenever I can, I meditate or do a bit of yoga to calm my mind, go for a run or walk, or have a bath when everyone’s in bed – anything to buy a bit of time for myself. If that doesn’t work, I watch films and TV or read novels in a range of genres, to help kickstart my thinking. The saying ‘charity begins at home’ really rings true. If you don’t give yourself the space, permission and nourishment to grow great ideas, they probably won’t come.

2) Let ideas marinade

Once you have the idea, let it percolate for a few days or weeks. Play it out in your head like a movie. Try different twists. Put your characters in different situations to see how they react. Really feel around the story so you can rule out certain angles and plot lines before you put fingers to keyboard. This is something I do when I’m going about my day-to-day business. I need space to come up with an idea that interests me but I need less space in which I can play around with it.

3) Draft the blurb first

This a new thing for me. Normally the blurb comes last but recently I’ve been playing around with blurbs before I flesh out the story and I’ve found it incredibly helpful. It means I can get the big moments, the key conflicts and the relationship dynamics buttoned down straight away then I have clear direction for how the plot should play out.

4) Chapter breakdown

With my first novel I just wrote free style without any sort of idea of where I wanted to story to go. It was a big leap of faith in the workings of my mind and a very cathartic experience but it certainly didn’t do the end result any favours! With A Class Act, I plotted it out chapter by chapter first. It wasn’t terribly detailed and I ended up having to go back over the breakdown and re-do it a few times, but it was really helpful. It was like a guiding light which kept me focused each time my monkey brain tried to go off on a tangent.

Tangents are great, by the way, in helping develop creativity. But not when you need to keep your characters in line, in order to reach a particular destination within a certain timeframe! I find chapter planning so helpful that I now write very detailed chapter breakdowns – so detailed in fact that they often end up becoming the chapters themselves. I find that if I stumble across an action that needs to happen which I hadn’t thought through earlier on, I lose my flow and take an unplanned excursion, often to the island of Instagram, and never return.

5) You CAN polish a poop

Writing is a strange craft. One minute you can write a sentence and think you are the greatest genius to have ever lived; the next you can read back over something and wonder, embarrassed, how you could even think of calling yourself a writer. One thing I’ve learned though is that no matter how awful a scene you believe you’ve written, it can always be changed. In fact, there’s real strength in realising when something isn’t working, and looking at what needs to change in order to make it better. I used to be one of those writers who would abandon a piece of work if it showed signs of going down the drain, but after going back in, doing an MOT, fixing a few things or switching the car completely, I now quite enjoy the buzzy feeling of dramatically upgrading my work where it needs it.

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