If there’s one thing guaranteed to have writers banging their heads on their keyboards in despair it’s trying to find the fully formed plot for a novel.
What can seem like a great idea when inspiration first strikes can soon appear daunting when faced with the challenge of expanding it from scrawled note to 300+ page manuscript.
Before I start writing a novel I like to create a loose outline to guide me.
Today I’m going to share how I create this outline. So if you have the germ of an idea for a novel (or story) use the exercises below to help your idea grow.
Simply free-write your answers to the following questions (I will use how I came up with the plot outline for my novel Finding Cherokee Brown to demonstrate):
What is the core story you want to tell?
This is the one-line pitch. The crux of your novel. The central story.
For Finding Cherokee Brown it was: The story of one girl’s bid to beat her bullies.
What are the sub-plots?
These are all the other storylines that will weave in with the central one.
In Finding Cherokee Brown the subplots were:
- Cherokee being reconciled with her errant, rock musician father
- Cherokee writing her first book
- Cherokee falling in love with graffiti artist Harrison
- Cherokee realising that her mum and step-dad have her best interests at heart
What subplots do you want to include in your novel? Try answering these three questions as prompts:
- On their way to achieving their main goal, what obstacles will your central character encounter?
- Do you have more than one main character?
- What are their storylines?
What key scenes do you have to have in your story?
Usually when I flesh out my characters and begin plotting a novel some key ideas or scenes will pop into my mind. When I began work on Finding Cherokee Brown I knew that there had to be a showdown scene between Cherokee and her bullies and I wanted it to take place in a school assembly for maximum impact. Also, I had a vivid picture her at some point having to seek refuge in the disabled toilet in school.
I didn’t know exactly where these scenes were going to take place in the plot but I knew they had to be in there somewhere.
What scenes do you have to have in your novel? It doesn’t matter if you’re not sure exactly where they will go, just jot them down.
How do you want your book to end?
Although I like to plot loosely, I always want to know where my novel will end and how I want my main character to feel at the end.
When I began work on Finding Cherokee Brown I knew that I wanted my heroine to end up in Paris and I knew that I wanted the final scene to take place at Sacre Coeur (and not just because it’s my favourite place in the world and I wanted an excuse for a ‘research trip’!)
I also wanted Cherokee to end up feeling wiser, loved and empowered.
How do you want your main characters to feel at the end of your novel? What do you want them to have overcome? Where do you want them to be?
Getting clear on the ending is like programming your final destination into a sat nav. Even if it’s somewhere you’ve never been before and you’re unsure of the route you’re going to take it gives you the security of knowing where you’ll end up.
It gives you something to work towards.
Do you need help with your writing?
After years of helping people with their writing through my workshops, talks and Writing Consultancy I’m very excited to be developing my first novel-writing e-course.
And in order to make sure it’s as helpful as possible I’d like to hear from you.
What aspects of novel writing do you struggle with?
What would you like to feel more confident about when it comes to your writing?
What nuts and bolts advice would you really appreciate?
Let me know in the comments below, or email me at: curhamcopy[AT]gmail[DOT]com
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