Novel Planning in 3 Easy Steps

Welcome to my guide on Novel Planning.  Stay tuned every Wednesday for tips on writing, social media, and the publishing industry.  If I can’t get around to a video, there will generally be a written blog on a new exciting subject!

I know some authors eschew the thought of video, so for those of you interested in reading the transcript rather than watch the video, read on!

“Hi everyone, I’m Trevor Schmidt, science fiction writer and general geek (General Geek). Today’s show is going to help you plan that novel you’ve been thinking about writing. So, break out that pen and paper and let’s get started.

These days it seems like everyone is writing a novel, but what sets apart the good from the bad? I’m willing to bet it’s planning. Today I’ve got a few tips to help you plan out that novel that will take your book to the next level. This will also have the benefit of helping to prevent writer’s block.

So, let’s get into it.

Step 1: The Synopsis:

The first thing I do when writing a story or novel is to write a one to two paragraph synopsis. This will help me later on as a quick reference guide. This also helps you if someone asks what your novel is about. Then you have a pre-made elevator speech ready to go.

Step 2: The Characters:

The next thing I do is write out a little bit about each character; just a short description and a little bit of backstory. This is something I often add to later because after I go through a novel I’ll be adding extra characteristics and then I’ll put it into that character description sheet so I can refer to it later on. Once you have your cast of characters sorted out it’s on to…

Step 3: The Breakdown:

One thing I’ve learned from experience is that I like to write about thirty chapters, give or take a few. For everyone else that might be a little different. One thing you can do is look at your favorite books or authors and see about how many chapters they write. Finding what’s right for you will be a little bit of a learning process. You don’t have to know exactly how many chapters you’re going to end up with, because this is just a starting point.

What I like to do with this is to write a paragraph for each chapter, and it’s just what happens. None of the technical details. The reason I do this is then I have a reference guide for when I write. Every day when I start writing, I can look back at where I left off and where I’m going. Having this quick reference guide is really helpful when you write yourself into a corner.

It is worth noting that I have never made it through a novel without changing this chapter breakdown. It is just a starting point. Sometimes not even this quick reference guide will help you. Sometimes you just have to write something sub-par and come back to it later with fresh eyes. That’s what the editing process is for. I’ve started every novel with these three steps and I’m currently on my sixth one.

Regardless of whether you want to use these reference guides later on, it’s a great exercise to help you really understand what your story is about and where you want to go with your novel. Sometimes just creating this reference guide is enough to give me insight into where I need to deviate from the plot in order to create a good twist.

I hope this short guide will help you as you plan out your novel. Subscribe to my channel for more videos in which I break down writing, social media, and that pesky publishing industry. I put out new videos every Wednesday so stay tuned for more tips.”

(Watch the end of the video for a special appearance by my cat, cringer. He’s a little shy).


If you found this guide on Novel Planning helpful, be sure to comment, like the video, and share it with your friends!

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New Videos every Wednesday!

UPDATE (5/5/2015):

So far you can view videos on the following topics:

How to get followers on Twitter.

Don’t Stop The Flow: How to Write the Guts Before the Skin.

Dirge of the Corsairs (Companion music video to the third novel in The Corsair Uprising Science Fiction series).

3 Steps to Planning a Novel.

5 Steps to Setting the Scene in a Novel or Story.

Don’t Stop The Flow: 4 Tips For Writing The Guts Before The Skin

Don’t Stop the Flow

Don’t Stop Innovating.

I’m not one of those writers who agonizes over every detail as they go through a book, producing a book only every year or two at most. I’ve developed a system that works for me, and might be able to work for you, to get you through those sluggish times so you can actually produce a novel and do so within a time frame that works for you. Here’s 4 tips for writing the guts of a novel before you stretch the skin over the top.

1. Write Dialogue First. By this, I don’t mean writing just the dialogue, I mean writing just enough stage direction so when you go back through, the scene is still in your head. I might start a chapter with a few paragraphs of text and then jump into dialogue between two or more characters, which could go on for pages. Why? For me, it’s easier to see the scene if I have dialogue that flows. What I find happens when I struggle over the details in mid-thought-stream is the dialogue becomes choppy and unnatural. I want to write the conversation as though I’m hearing it in my head as it’s happening. Once that’s accomplished, it’s time to head to the second step.
2. What Are They Doing? When I go back through, usually the same day, I start describing the things the characters are doing while they are talking, or the intonation they use when they speak. I find it’s important to give the reader enough to go on that they could see the scene as though it were a movie. That said, I find myself leaving a lot of things up to the reader. The reason is because when someone reads a text that might be a little vague, their mind fills in the blanks. I do this because then each reader has their own vision of events in their head and it makes the story more personal for them. Some things are important to describe outright, like a character’s physical appearance or a pivotal scene. Physical appearance is also something I add during this stage.
3. The Five Senses. One of the later things I add is the five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. These things bring the scene to life and make it easier for the reader to be transported to the world you’ve created. I add it later than the rest because I don’t want to continuously use one sense over and over and I find it easier to insert later rather than remember as I go through.
4. Nuance. There’s a fourth thing that a lot of writers seem to forget, and that’s nuance. This is where I put in character quirks, the things that make that character who they are. Maybe a character has a dark past and he’s constantly remembering the things he’s done. Maybe a character drinks or smokes too much or is concerned about their weight. Looking back on a story I find I have a better perspective into where these small mentions need to be inserted to have the best effect given what’s happening in the story. You don’t want these small quirks to become too common or it will annoy the reader. For instance, mentioning that a character is from a certain town fifteen times in a novel is probably too many, but one to three times might be reasonable. The key here is that if you look at your completed story as a whole, you can understand where these words and phrases need to go.
The overall writing process for me is more like a 3D printer than anything else. I continue to add layer after layer until adding more wouldn’t add to the story or plays out a story I want to address later (in the case of a series). Is this way right for everyone? Definitely not. I doubt it’s even right for a lot of people. It is, however, right for my brain, which craves closure. By finishing my rough draft of a novel rather quickly (in about a month to a month and a half), I can go back over each chapter, using the notes I made as I went along, and know that I’m on track. It feels infinitely better to me to know that I have a novel-length work completed and I’m only editing it rather than struggling to make it through to the end. Writing is a psychological activity. It doesn’t come easily to most people. Getting in the right frame of mind can mean the difference between publishing or shelving a work.
The bottom line: Don’t Stop The Flow. Don’t stop writing. Write every day, even if it’s only a page or a lonely paragraph. You’ll find there’s time to agonize over the details later.
How does my way of writing compare to your way? Sound off in the comments below, I’d love to hear about it. For making it this far, feel free to download one of my short stories, my gift to you.