Once you’ve figured out the basics of your world and gotten to know your characters pretty well, it’s time to start thinking seriously about the plot. If your novel planning process is moving along at the proper pace, you should already have an idea what your plot looks like.
Now it’s time to figure out all the details. Well, not all the details. At least a few details should be figured out as you go along, because the best stories grow organically.
But you do need to know the basic structure of your plot before you start writing the first draft of your novel, at least if you want to write a first draft you might actually be able to salvage someday. So I’ve compiled a pretty large collection of resources designed to help you plot a novel.
Remember: there is no right or wrong way to plot a novel. Try as many as you need to until you find the one that works best for you.
1. The 4 Story Structures That Dominate Novels – This is an article on Writer’s Digest that details different story structures commonly used in novels. If you have only a very basic idea—or no idea at all—how your story will be structured, this is a really good place to start.
2. How to Structure a Story: The Eight-Point Arc – An explanation of one way you can structure your story. It’s a fairly detailed article that should give you lots of food for thought.
3. Nanowrimo Prep: The Ultimate Plot Development Guide – I haven’t actually read through this whole thing yet, but there’s an interesting article and a downloadable guide that comes with a plot building worksheet. This seems like just as good a place as any to go when you’re prepared to start fleshing out your plot.
4. The Snowflake Method – One method for planning a novel that lots and lots of writers absolutely love. I find this kind of outlining to be way too rigid for my tastes, but to each their own, right?
5. The Best Approach to Story Structure: From Aristotle to Dramatica – This is a pretty interesting article with a lot of food for thought on the subject of story structure/plotting. Some good reading to do before you start nailing down the details of your plot.
6. How to Create Story Structure to Die For – A fairly detailed article about creating excellent story structure on the Write to Done blog.
7. 25 Things You Should Know About Story Structure – Although I’ve only read one of his books I can tell you Chuck Wendig is a great author. He’s also a great blogger and seems to me to be an all around great guy. If you found Limyaael’s rants entertaining, you’ll love this—and find it useful to boot.
8. Novel Plotting Worksheets – If you really prefer to use worksheets to plot your novels, or you’re simply interested in trying a different approach, you can find a couple novel plotting worksheets here. You’ll also find a handy character chart and a link to a resource with more worksheets.
9. How to Create a Book that will Keep Readers Reading – Plot Worksheet – This is a pretty detailed plot worksheet that should help you create an engaging story you’ll actually be able to edit into a publishable novel.
10. Writing a Young Adult Series – An article that, despite its focus on one genre, can be helpful to anyone planning a series. You might not be writing every book in your series during November, but you should have an idea what they’re all going to look like, and what the overall story is. This article has some useful thoughts on how you can do just that.
11. Plot Structures for Books in a Series – More thoughts on how to structure novels within a series.
12. The Challenges of Writing a Series – And one more post on the challenges of writing a series because frankly, it’s challenging. After all, you want to set things up in the first book so that there’s appropriate foreshadowing for things in later books, which means you need to outline the whole thing before writing the first book.
13. Michael Crichton’s Method for Plotting out a Story – I think the title really says it all for this one.
14. How to Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps – If you don’t want to use a worksheet but you still want to create a solid outline before you start your first draft, this article can help you do so.
15. Plot Development – A pretty detailed article about plot development that should help you create something worthwhile, especially when combined with one of the outlining methods linked to in this article.
16. Golden Rules for a Good Plot – Five rules and a couple useful links that will help you write a novel worth reading.
17. 6 Writing Outline Templates and 3 Reasons to Use Them – An article about the importance of outlines, with links to outline worksheets you can download.
18. Plotting a Romance Novel – If you’re considering writing a romance novel—or you’ve already decided it’s a good idea—this article is for you. It might also be helpful if you’re trying to write a book where romance is a major component, but not actually the main storyline.
19. Outlining Your Novel: Why and How – Another great article about the purpose of outlines, along with a guide to creating them.
20. First Steps in Plotting a Novel – A brief article that will help you plan the beginning of your novel.
21. Plotting a Novel – This article details the Marshall Plan for Novel Writing. There’s actual software for this available if you’re interested in using the method yourself. From my understanding there’s also a book, if you prefer to learn that way.
22. How J.K. Rowling Plotted Harry Potter with a Hand-Drawn Spreadsheet – Admit it. Every time you finish reading a book that leaves an impression, you want to know how it was planned. Well, J.K. Rowling’s actually enlightened the public to a fair bit of her writing process. Enjoy!
23. Famous Authors’ Hand-Written Outlines for Great Works of Literature – On this site you can actually see the hand-written outlines several famous authors have created. I don’t know how much it will help you plot your own novel, but it is really cool to see these famous novels planned out like this.
24. 7 Ways to Add Great Subplots to Your Novel – This is another article from Writer’s Digest, this time discussing how to add interesting subplots to your novel. After all, the best novels always have more than one thing going on.
25. 5 Ways to Write a Killer Plot Twist – Everybody loves a good plot twist done right. This article will help you get it right every time.
26. What is Plot – How to Write a Story from Beginning to End – A fairly detailed article that will help you think your plot through properly and make sure you write a story actually worth reading. After all, you don’t want to spend an entire month on something that isn’t worthwhile, do you?
27. Special Fiction Writing Week: Creating a Plot – You’ll find some great information on plot creation in this article and you’ll also find a couple useful links. Realistically, Men with Pens is a blog you should probably be following anyway. Just thought I’d throw the idea out there.
28. Thoughts on Plot by Famous Writers – This is a great collection of quotes which will hopefully help you plan a better novel and stay inspired when the plotting gets tough.
29. Before You Can Write a Good Plot, You Need to Write a Good Place – An article discussing the importance of your setting to creating a great story.
30. The Best Advice on Plotting I’ve Ever Heard – A pretty useful article that happens to be located on a writing blog you might want to spend some time exploring before moving on to the next resource.
31. Plots and Stories – An article that outlines the differences between plots and stories, discusses how they work together, and how stories without strong plots can still work on occasion. There’s some pretty interesting stuff here.
32. Constructing Plot – This article goes through the various elements of plot and shows how you can use them to construct a worthwhile novel.
33. 5 Major Plotholes in Otherwise Great Movies – Okay, I’ll be fair, this isn’t really a writing resource. At the same time, everything is a writing resource. Movies, just like books, consist of characters, setting, plot and story. And knowing what to avoid is just as important as knowing what to do.
34. How to Write a Good Game Story – Again, this article isn’t focused on books, but it is focused on story and plot. And studying any kind of story is worthwhile, so it’s on the list.
35, It’s Just a Phase – This article walks you through the creation of a phase outline, which is a pretty intensive form of outlining I find way too extreme that might just work for you anyway. There are also a lot of useful articles on the Forward Motion website.
36. 25 Ways to Plot, Plan and Prep Your Story – Another great article written by Chuck Wendig. If you go through all 25 you’ll probably end up with a pretty solid plot. I’ve never worked through them all in order from this list, so if you do, I’d love to hear about it and the results you get.
37. Choosing the Best Outline Method for You – One last article from Writer’s Digest which will help you decide which of these many different outlining methods you can actually use.
Outlining a novel might seem tedious, but it’s essential to creating a worthwhile first draft. Even with an outline you might find your first draft too messy to be salvageable, but I can almost guarantee you’ll be able to tell your story is still worthwhile.
Outlining your novel before you begin also helps you decide whether or not you actually want to spend a month or more on this novel. After all, you can’t really know if an idea is worthwhile until you’ve spent some time examining it and discovering more about it.
If you know of any plotting resources that really should be on this list, let me know in the comments below or shoot me an email at diannalgunn @ gmail.com .