Beginning the novel-writing journey can feel like setting sail into uncharted waters. Whether you're a budding storyteller with a burning idea or someone who dreams of penning a masterpiece but doesn't know where to start, the process of planning a novel is your first step towards navigating the vast sea of your imagination. 

Planning helps to lay the groundwork, guiding you from the first spark of inspiration to the final full stop. Let’s explore tips for effectively planning a novel, including story plotting, character development and inspiration.

Jump to:

The Importance of Planning

Planning a book serves as your blueprint, providing structure to your creativity and ensuring that your narrative has direction and cohesion. A well-laid plan acts as a safety net, catching you when writer's block strikes or when plot holes threaten to derail your story.

How to plan a novel

The Initial Spark: Ideation and Inspiration

Finding Your Story's Heartbeat

Every novel begins with an idea. But how do you find one that's worth the commitment? Ideas are all around you, in your dreams, personal experiences, and the world's infinite wonders. To catch these fleeting inspirations, keep a journal. Jot down anything that sparks curiosity or emotion. Remember, the best ideas are those that ignite your passion, as they'll fuel your writing journey.

How to Come up With a Story Idea

Diving deeper into novel ideas involves exploring what fascinates you. Are you intrigued by historical events, enchanted by fantasy worlds, or drawn to the complexities of human nature? Your interests can offer a goldmine of ideas. Conducting research, reading widely, and engaging with creative content can also spark novel plot ideas and get your imagination whirring. 

Plotting Your Course: Story Plotting and Structure

The Blueprint of Your Story

Plotting a novel is essential for keeping your story on track. It outlines the major events and turning points that propel your story forward. When considering how to plot a story, think about the challenges your characters will face and the transformations they'll undergo. A well-crafted plot is a balance between predictability and surprise, guiding readers through a satisfying emotional journey.

Choosing Your Story's Structure

Understanding story structures is essential in planning your narrative's framework. The traditional three-act structure, with a beginning, middle, and end, is a reliable blueprint. However, exploring story structure examples can introduce you to alternative methods, like the hero's journey or non-linear storytelling, offering fresh ways to tell your tale.

Characters: The Soul of Your Story

Characters are the heartbeats of your novel. They're the vessels through which your story's emotions, themes, and messages are conveyed. Developing complex, relatable characters requires delving into their desires, fears, and conflicts. Ask yourself, "What drives my protagonist? What obstacles stand in their way?" Characters should evolve throughout your novel, reflecting the story's central themes and resonating with readers on a personal level.

How to plan a novel

Setting: Crafting Your World

The setting is more than just a backdrop; it's a living, breathing aspect of your story that influences the plot and characters. Whether you're creating a bustling city or a distant planet, your setting should immerse readers in a believable, engaging world. Research and imagination go hand in hand in crafting settings that enrich your narrative, providing a foundation for the plot to unfold.

The Writing Process: From Planning to Penning

Turning Plans into Pages

With a solid plan in hand, the next step is to start writing. But how do you transition from planning to penning your novel? Begin by setting achievable writing goals and establishing a routine. Don't be afraid to write out of order; start with the scenes that excite you the most. Remember, your first draft is about getting the story down. Refinement comes later.

Navigating Challenges

Writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. You'll encounter hurdles along the way, from writer's block to doubts about your story's worth. When faced with these challenges, return to your plan for guidance and motivation. Connecting with a community of writers can also provide support and inspiration.

Common Questions About Planning a Novel

How long should the planning phase last before I start writing?

The duration of the planning phase varies significantly from one writer to another. Some spend weeks or even months plotting every detail, while others dive into writing after a brief planning period. It's about finding a balance that works for you, ensuring you have a clear direction but also allowing room for your story to evolve.

Can I change my plan once I've started writing?

Consider your plan as a flexible guide rather than a strict blueprint. As you write, you may discover new directions for your story or characters that demand adjustments to your original plan. Embrace these moments of inspiration—they can lead to the most compelling narratives.

Should I plan my characters in as much detail as my plot?

Developing detailed character profiles can be incredibly beneficial. Knowing your characters deeply—from their background and motivations to their fears and desires—will inform their reactions and choices, making your story more authentic and engaging.

How do I know if my novel idea is good enough?

If your idea excites you and keeps you thinking about it, it's worth exploring. Test its strength by expanding on the premise, considering potential plots and characters. Sharing your idea with trusted friends or writing groups can also provide valuable feedback and encouragement.

What if I hit a dead end in my plot during the planning phase?

Hitting a plot roadblock is common. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture of your story. Sometimes, rethinking a character's motivations or introducing a new conflict can open up fresh pathways. Brainstorming sessions, mind mapping, or discussing the problem with fellow writers can also help unlock new ideas.

How much research should I do during the planning phase?

The amount of research needed depends on the nature of your novel. Historical fiction, for example, may require extensive research to ensure accuracy. Even contemporary settings can benefit from research to add depth and realism. Start with enough research to set your plot in motion, but be prepared to dive back in as new questions arise.

Is it possible to over-plan my novel?

There is such a thing as over-planning, where you might feel constrained by your detailed outlines and character sketches. If you find yourself getting lost in the minutiae and losing the excitement to write, it's a sign to ease up on planning and start writing. Remember, flexibility is key.

How do I handle multiple storylines or perspectives in my planning?

Managing multiple storylines or perspectives requires careful planning to ensure each thread is developed fully and intersects with the main narrative in meaningful ways. Outline each storyline separately, then look for natural points where they can intertwine or impact each other, enhancing the overall story.

What tools or resources can help me plan my novel more effectively?

Numerous tools can aid your planning process, from software like Scrivener, designed for writers, to traditional notebooks and index cards. Digital mind-mapping tools can also help visualise your plot and characters. Additionally, writing workshops and courses can offer structured guidance and support.

Study Creative Writing for £29

Begin your storytelling journey with our Novel Writing Diploma Course, crafted to guide you from the initial concept to a polished manuscript. We're excited to offer this course for an exclusive price of £29 for a limited time!

Inspiration just for you!

To try some of our most popular courses for free, enter your
email and we'll send you some samples of our favourites.

Image of person of color holding a large envelope


There are no comments yet.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to submit a comment.