National Novel Writing Month is great, but October is where half of the magic happens. Or, if you are like me and use NaNoWriMo to work on your already existing, very incomplete manuscript, then some other time of the year was when your magic happened.
This year, you don’t have to be a pantser of a planner. You can be a plantser! NaNoWriMo have added a category for those of us who plan a little bit and then wing it.
What I am referring to is outlining. I hate outlining a book. I like the freedom to go where I want and learn and grow with the characters. However, there are a few things I like to do that are ‘outlining’. Without further ado, here is my guide to outlining your novel without boring yourself to creativity death.
The first thing I like to do when outlining a book is deciding the genre. Is it going to be fantasy? Sci-fi? Contemporary? Am I going to mix any genres? Using pictures like the one above is also great for inspiration. The picture above is probably indicative of a contemporary novel and you might even start already getting a world or character out of it as well.
Planning my characters is literally what I spend the most time doing. Depending on how many characters you use, this could vary in the amount of time it takes. I have a very extensive character sheet that I fill out completely for the characters that have their own POVs and then partially for the major side characters. I don’t fill one out for the minor characters, but I do write a paragraph about each of them with any important details. Take your time on this: if you don’t know your characters, the reader won’t connect with them and the whole story will fall flat even if your plot is great. If you would like to use my character sketch or take inspiration from it, you can find it here, but you will need to make a copy in order to use it as you cannot edit my master copy. If you are writing a fantasy novel under skills or something, you need to talk about what strange things (if any) your character can do. Are they a vampire? A faerie? You should probably make a note of that.
After (or whilst) planning my characters, I like to plan my setting. What you have to do for this obviously depends on what type of book you are writing. If you are writing something set in a real place and time period, then you need to collect research on that place and time period. If you are doing something based off of something else, go and research your inspiration. In my case, my book is set in outer space, but as I am mixing fantasy, the ‘outer space’ is completely made up.
For worlds that are completely made up, you don’t really need to do research that requires books or the internet or Wikipedia (and no, Wikipedia is not a reliable resource, but whatever. We all use it.) I like to first determine how many worlds I am going to fully develop. There are lots of planets in my book, but I decided to only plan three of them and then do any that I ended up needing at a late date. Then, determine the most important rules and features of each world. I wrote those down in a list and then, finally, I drew them on pieces of paper. Now, I’m not the best drawer ever, so these were just very rough sketches. First I drew each planet, then I drew each continent on each planet and then each city, so that I got details down to all of my characters favourite buildings. This way you get the landscape and you get locations, meaning that your world is much more believable and interesting. I keep any random information in a page called ‘Tidbits’, which includes any songs that I have used for inspiration as well as any information about the worlds.
I may have mentioned that I don’t like knowing everything that is going to happen in my novel. I like to keep in my head a few things I want to happen and if I ever get inspiration I write it down on a page called ‘Pieces of Story’. This includes any scenes that haven’t yet fit themselves into the book, any random lines of dialogue, or even just ideas of what is going to happen.
As far as planning ahead, I don’t know where my story ends. I have an idea of what I want my characters to be like by the end, however, and I know what the relationships should end up looking like and I will end when those goals are met and then see where the plot needs to go as I get to that point. Are my characters developed to the point I want them to be for this book? Great. What needs to happen for the plot? Do I need another book? Or just one more scene? Or both?
Whilst I’m writing, I like to plan four chapters ahead. Once I finish a chapter, I plan another one. This way, I always have four chapters planned very loosely (I literally say the time, place and major thing to happen), which reduces the risk of me encountering writers block. Don’t worry too much: making sure all of the subtle hints, foreshadowing and consistent nuances are there is something for second, third and maybe even fourth drafting.
And that is how outlining works for me! I use Scrivener and I split my manuscript into parts, then chapters, then scenes within chapters and I use the group view mode where you have index cards to plan my chapters. You can customise your character sketch default page, which is what I have done. Happy writing, Keira x.
P.S. Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Feel free to add me as a writing buddy because I could do with all of the support I can get!