You want to write a novel. You’ve got great ideas and you’ve named it. The characters are even ready and willing to go, but with your busy work schedule and hectic life, are the ideas stuck in your head? This blog post will offer you some ideas how to get the plot onto paper, be it pulp and ink or digital.
If your story is still unorganized characters running around having a great time, you need get control of the story. One way to get a grip is to make a mind map. Grab a piece of paper and pencil and start scribbling ideas on the paper. Don’t worry about organization or order, or even the type of idea, just write a phrase or a few words that will help you get a scene, a character, or plot idea onto the paper.
Once you can’t think of anything more, draw a shape (like a circle, square, or triangle) around each type of idea to identify what it represents. For example, an oval around characters, a square around scene ideas, etc. Once that is done, and don’t be scared to add ideas as they come to you, connect the thoughts that go together with a line. For example characters that go in a scene, etc. See the example below.
Once you have a visual representation of your ideas, you can begin to separate them into plot lines. If you’re now out of time, at least you have your story on paper! Look at your mind map often, scribble on it, adding ideas, lines to connect plots, use it as a map to guide to you through the story’s plot. Once you can see a story line worming through your map, you can put together an outline.
On the other hand, is the story all laid out in your mind pretty much from beginning to end? If so, you are one of the lucky few. Or maybe you’ve been rolling it around in your head for years, fine-tuning the whole thing over and over until it plays like a movie. If so, you’re ready to write an outline.
In the last blog we talked about story arcs, the parts of a story that make-up a solid story line in your genre. Now is the time to pull those out story arcs out and put them in order on the paper. I use Microsoft Word for Mac, but there are many tools available.
See an example of the story arcs I use below.
Next, begin to fit the scenes of your story where they belong between the story arcs. I make my story arcs bold and in red so I can clearly see them as the backbone of my story. Don’t worry about sentence structure or grammar, just ideas.
Usually at this point you’ll realize an important part of the story line may be missing. You can add ideas or leave it blank. Many times my outline is incomplete or changes as I write the story, so I continue to update, change, and fine-tune the outline as I work.
There are other tools you may want to use for outlining, such as spreadsheet formats like Microsoft Excel. Software is written specifically for authors, and offer editing tools etc. Examples are Ulysses, CopyWrite, and Scrivener (to name a few) but bear in mind that most editors, agents, and publishers will expect your work to be submitted in a correctly formatted Word doc.
Using a good outline helps to avoid writing yourself into a corner, or not knowing where to lead a character for a conclusion. Most people don’t head into the kitchen and start tossing ingredients into a bowl without an idea of what they want to cook. You either need a recipe, or at least an understanding of how the ingredients fit together, in order to come with a dish that is pleasing. Unfortunately, many beginning writers expect to start tossing story parts into a bowl and somehow create a cohesive novel.
Next blog we’ll talk about expanding your outline into chapters, but for now, get on the ball and get your ideas onto paper. No matter your approach, you can do this! Go write!
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