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The Beginnings of Planning a Novel

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I would appreciate some suggestions on how I might begin outlining/planing my first novel please. I am terrible at organization though I am very meticulous. I know there are some good writing programs out there, but  I just starting out. I do have notes on a few of the characters and plot;the prologue is complete for now and a page that introduces two of the characters, but that is about the extent of it. I have written a few very short stories, so I am on a completely new path now.  When I posted my prologue long ago, so many of you said I had a good start! Thank you so much for that!


Thank you for any help you can give me. 





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You know, I’ve found the writing/ story structure articles on the website called “Helping Writers Become Authors” to be very helpful. When I started sharing my first novel on this site last summer, I realized quickly I was doing everything wrong, did some research, and that was the site I found most helpful.


As far as personal advice, I think the most important things I’ve learned have been 


1. The main character’s desire or need is what drives the story. If he’s just sitting around saying “I wish...” the story is a flop. Same if someone else is making all the plot moving decisions for him. (You might want to reconsider who’s your main character in that case.)


2. Every scene in the story must have some element of conflict or tension in it, and every scene must move the story forward toward its climax and resolution.


3. A large cast of characters can quickly become too much of a good thing. Everyone who’s in the story had better have a really good excuse for his presence.


4. Nobody will understand setting, background, character motivations, even character movements, as well as you do. Even if you think what you’ve written is crystal clear, if your readers tell you it’s not, then it’s not.


5. If readers tell you part of the story is boring, no matter how exciting you meant it to be, or how much you enjoyed writing it, think long and hard before leaving it unaltered.


And that’s my two cents. Hope it helps.

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Another two cents - 


It's important to know that you may not be a writer who CAN plan everything. Some people are "discovery writers", also known as "pantsers". They feel stifled by outlining and need to be in the moment of writing to see where the plot is heading.


There's also the "in-between" of pantsing and planning. This is me. I'm what's known as a "plantser". I know some big plot "signposts/turning points" but discovery write to get from place to place. 


Note that pantsers and plantsers will probably need more editing of the first draft, but that's not a bad thing. 


Just something to consider. 😊

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Thank you, Zee!  All that you provided is a great help :). I do have my main character and her best friend  in development right now.  


I will keep that in mind as well, PenName. :).  I know I am not one to plan everything. 

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You've already received some really good advice, and I'll throw some more into the pot.


When I was just starting out, I found Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method really helpful for framing my story idea into a workable shape. I also second all the other resources already mentioned here.


As you continue writing, you'll learn more about what your process is. And when you finish your first book and start on your next, you'll learn even more about yourself and what works best for your productivity and creativity. All the best!

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Thank you EBraten! I read over this method as well and I like how its structure progresses. I will give it a try. 

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How I Write A Story Using The Story Grid


I've have been trying to write fiction all my life. What I discovered in 2018 changed my writing life. I've been a Pantser my entire life until I discovered The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne.  Once I learned about the value of knowing how stories are put together under-the-hood it made figuring out these kinds of writing questions much, much easier.

I begin by figuring out what my Content genre is, the kind of story it is under-the-hood. (This is different than Marketing genre, where you find books on store shelves.) We've all seen many movies and probably read many books. We have an idea of what to expect in broad terms for each kind of story. I learned you can get a real leg up if you figure out your genre as soon in the process as you can. That's where the Content genres come in.

For example, I'm writing a Fantasy / Noir about an 8' blue clay golem who is thrown into investigating a high profile missing-persons case and eventually fights the evil Archmage for the safety of the people. Under-the-hood, it's a Thriller, and I looked up the conventions and obligatory scenes.

Conventions are elements in the Story that must be there or the reader will be confused, unsettled, or bored. Without them, your story won’t work. Conventions, unlike obligatory scenes, are specific requirements for a story’s characters or methods of advancing the plot. They can be turning points and implemented in any order.

Obligatory scenes as “must-have scenes for paying off readers’ expectations are set up by the conventions of the genre.” If you leave out an obligatory scene, you’ll have a story that doesn’t work.


Once I realized I had the conventions and obligatory scenes for a Thriller, I realized the Inciting Incident should be a crime, so I knocked off the mage who brought my golem to life. From there, I made sure I had a MacGuffin, a scene in praise of the villain, red herrings, a false ending, a scene of the hero at the mercy of the villain, and a climax where my hero lost his magical power and had to defeat the Archmage using his wits and his special gift. 

You can do this with any genre. Let's say I wanted to write an Action story. This is how I'd find the conventions and obligatory scenes for that. (You can Google 'story grid action' and you'll find the genre. That's how I find these links.)

The Conventions for an Action story are:

  • The protagonist’s role as a hero must be clearly defined throughout the story. Their object of desire is to stop the villain and save the victim.
  • The victim’s role must be clearly defined throughout the story. The victim requires the hero to save them from the villain. The victim is much less powerful than the hero or the villain.
  • The antagonist’s role as the villain must be clearly defined throughout the story. The villain is much more powerful than the hero and the victim. The villain uses their resources to stop the protagonist and harm the victim.
  • There is a speech in praise of the villain. At some point, a character must point out how the antagonist appears unbeatable.
  • The plot is fast-paced, with action and excitement throughout the story. Characters are put in extreme situations and forced to take risks.
  • There is a clock which establishes a limited time in which the protagonist must act to save the victim.

The Obligatory Scenes of the Action Genre are:

  • The Inciting Incident is a life-threatening attack by the antagonist or environment. The attack can be causal or coincidental.
  • Following the inciting attack, the protagonist avoids the responsibility to take action against the antagonist.
  • Forced to take action (after avoiding responsibility to do so), the protagonist acts out.
  • The protagonist discovers or gains an understanding of the antagonist’s want (also referred to as an object of desire or a MacGuffin). Alternatively, (when the antagonist is a monster, animal, or environment), the protagonist gains an understanding of the antagonist’s nature or purpose.
  • Having decided to act, the protagonist’s initial strategy to overcome or defeat the antagonist fails.
  • The protagonist gains an unexpected ally.
  • The protagonist reaches an all-is-lost moment and realizes they must change their approach to overcoming or defeating the antagonist to salvage some form of victory.
  • The climactic and central event of the Action story is where the protagonist is at the mercy of the antagonist, and the protagonist must express their gift to save the victim (and usually themself as well).
  • In the ending pay-off of the story, the protagonist is rewarded for their sacrifice to save the victim.

And so on for the other genres. There are pages which show how to write Crime, Horror, Romance, Worldview, and a host of others.

To recap, what I do is find out what genre I'm writing in, I look up the Conventions and Obligatory Scenes for that genre, and that gives me a bunch of things to hang a story on.


There are a series of five short free videos here which give you a quick overview of how all this works.


To wrap all this up, after nineteen failed beginnings, this is what I ended up with:
"I wasn’t always a golem, and I haven’t always been a detective, but you have to start somewhere."
I hope this helps. ;)

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1. Passion. The first thing I want to say is, "Get excited!" Passion is the first thing you need. Hope is the second - the hope that you can finish what you start.


2. Creativity. I have published three novels and a novelette, plus written a draft of a fourth and a two thirds draft of a fifth. My writing skill has improved immensely since that first novel, but my first novel was more unpredictable and had more raw creativity than the ones since. Be free to explore and try strange things. This is easier before you learn the formulas.


3. Organization. I use an ipad app called Index Card. You can create stacks of cards and reorder them by dragging. You can attach images. I create stacks for research, character descriptions, chapter outlines, sources (for Bibliography if you need one), settting, Bible or other quotes, backstory, and other categories. I published two books using this tool (and am using it on a third). Since it is an IOS app, I can carry it everywhere. It helps me to not forget ideas, organize them well, do brainstorming, not lose sources, not make mistakes with hair color or birthday or other character attributes getting confused, etc.

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Thank you Johne for the excellent Action Story guidelines. I read the Story Grid book section but couldn't get my head around it. Your version is so much easier to understand.



I am using a version of the Story Grid Scene by Scene breakdown. The headings I have are



Word Count



Characters on

Characters mentioned

Essential Action

Opening Line

Inciting Incident

Progressive Complication

Turning Point





The issue I have is I am not clear on the relationship between Inciting Incident-Progressive Complication-Turning Point-Crisis.


The rest I get. To me they sound almost the same but they are obviously not and I probably have each element in my long summary which I will transfer into the grid.  

Any one able to shed light. I


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