1. Buster
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    Buster New Member

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    How do you plan out a novel?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Buster, May 22, 2008.

    So I've always wondered, how does a great writer plan our their novel? What are the methods they use? When I read a good book, I am amazed that every little thing seems to happen for a reason and the events build upon each other.

    I know this may sound trivial, but to me it seems overwhelming. How do you plan out a long novel with out bogging the story down with a lot of useless information? I've read to start from the end and work your way back, but I always seem to write my best when I just sit down and start writing. However, trying to make an organized story that lasts hundreds of pages out of that writing seems inefficient.
     
  2. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I let "Kate" talk to me on a daily basis, and let her tell me what parts of her past she wanted me to tell, and what of the present in her life she wanted told. I have intentionally left holes in the storyline..because some things could be an entire novel just of themselves.
     
  3. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I have created such a character that i let the character speak to tell me what she wants said. The trick about novel writing is to get close enough to your characters to know every single detail about the. I can probably give you more details about Kate's background (the fictional character) then I could some of my friends.
     
  4. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Go back and rethink over your character...how well do you know his/her history and background? Are they an orphaen? Do they have one or both parents? What was their childhood like? What moral codes drive them? You basically need to know backwards and forwards their entire life before you type. This way you can make a killer novel-and leave yourself room for sequels/prequels if you like
     
  5. Buster
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    Buster New Member

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    Sorry for the misunderstanding, Kate. I'm more than a little tired right now. I understand what you are saying in respect to your characters, but I'm speaking more of the plot in general. As I said before, all the things that happen in a good novel always seem to build upon each other leading up to the climax and end.

    What if you start writing something, but you don't know what the end is yet? I am curious how master writers plot out their stories. Do they always have an end in mind, or can they just sit down and write as it comes, and have that "ah ha!" moment and tie it all together?
     
  6. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I didn't know how my novel was ending until I was halfway through it. Sometimes the charactors will tell you something that will help you learn it. Novels are basically character driver no matter how well plotted...so let the character help you.
     
  7. Marcelo
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    Marcelo Contributing Member

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    Erm, I do not think all writers plot their story talking with their characters... I'm curious too.
     
  8. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I wish I could explain it better then that...but what I do is I write a night. I spend my time at work and when I do photography asking myself this question "What does Kate have to say today (meaning the character not me)"
    sometimes things come to mind right away sometimes they don't. For me my entire story arc is multiple books look....I know this one I'm writing and i have the very ending figured out..the rest of the adventures inbetween are the jumble.
     
  9. Al B
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    Al B Senior Member

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    I tend to do it most in my head over a long period of time, and by that I mean months and in some cases years of playing around with an idea before it gets used, so that many possibilities and paths have been tried and tested long before I start typing. One idea, which is fairly complete, has been swishing around in my head for getting on for ten years, and at some point I'll get to it, but not yet. In short, I spend a lot of time refining and researching things. Much of it gets scribbled in a notebook I carry around too. But of course that's no use to you, so if you are looking for ideas on how to go about it, I'll point out some of the techniques other writers I know use for themselves.

    One is to put everything on post it notes and stick them to a board, so that you can shuffle them around and draw links between various elements, a bit like those boards you see in crime movies in the police station with photos of the victims etc. I know more than one writer who does that in fact. Another is to do a similar thing with a flow chart.

    Some just start hammering it out with only a vague outline and work out the subtleties and nuances on subsequent rewriting and refinement passes, but that tends to work better when you do at least have a good idea of the main character's motivations and personality.

    Another technique which is more one that I know of, rather than from personal experience, is to use plot development tools similar to the famous 'Plotto' or modern updates of it, such as the shamelessly plagiarised 'Plots Unlimited' book which appeared in the mid nineties. If you are unaware of these, just google 'plotto'. Basically, they are a bit like those novels you used to get which offered several choices as you read them, you picked one and it would tell you to turn to page 37 or whatever, where more choices are presented to you. Plotting tools such as these do not write the story for you, they merely allow you to find inspiration for the story arc and sub plots. If you find it hard to do that, you might want to give them a try.

    Al
     
  10. companionableills
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    companionableills Member

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    (Apologies if this advice doesn't help anyone not trained in trial law.)

    When I get a case to work on (mock trial team at school), the first thing I do after reading through it is to develop a theory of the case. That's basically the thesis - "he didn't do it", "it was self defense", etc. It has a few prongs - platforms we use to prove the theory of the case, things like "the victim's prints were on the gun" or "his trigger finger is broken" or whatever. Prove the prongs -> prove the TOC -> win.
    With every witness, it's the same thing. Read their affidavit and figure out your thesis for them. You're not going to get an opposing witness up there and get them to say "I killed him, not the defendant", so you have to get him to say that in a roundabout way, or get him to say something easier to prove (like "I held the gun") by asking him a series of questions, usually yes or no.
    So I learned to work backwards, from "what am I trying to say?" to "what resources do I have?" to "how can I say what I am trying to with those resources?". Novels aren't essays but I've found that most do have a thesis, or at least a deliberate theme, climax, etc. I treat every scene of my novel like a hostile witness - what do I need it to say, how can I make it say that clearly within my limits? I outline every major scene, figure out why it's there (what part of plot/theme/characterization it advances) and attack it from there.
     
  11. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    I have used four different ways to plot a novel. Hopefully one of them, or another equally as good, will work for you.

    Method One: Character-launched
    Say you start with an image or a character - a werewolf who can work with fire magic. And he's special, at least special enough that you're writing about him. What makes him special? Is lycanthropy rare, or is he just another werewolf adult in a society of werewolves? Who uses magic, and for what, and how often, and how old are they, and what laws or customs have evolved because of the magic use?

    I used the above method for at least two of the books I've plotted out in their entirety. It's useful because it helps cut away the chaff - you know what traits or events in this character's life make her unusual enough to write about. So I won't write as much about Keithan's chores or his family or his broken leg when he was thirteen; none of that makes him unusual. His apprenticeship to a charming necromancer starts him off, and soon he's meeting noblemen and visiting libraries and ... (Note: I just made Keithan up, so if you want to claim him and use this situation, do so. But this is really how I planned the Luke and Berendon novels.)

    Method Two: Friend-Launched
    I use this when I have a half-ready plot and I don't know what to do with it. So I find a willing, reasonable friend to criticize and ask questions, and tell him/her about my idea. Usually the questions wind up clarifying my world and making the important bits stand out from the non-important ones. It helps to have several friends do this, then combine the best ideas into a coherent story line.

    This also came in handy when I was plotting the Berendon novel. A friend of mine made me tell him how much magic a normal person could do - by asking how many liters of water they could bring from room temperature to the boiling point in a day. Now that I've answered him to our mutual satisfaction, I know probably way too much about my magic system's limits - but I also know enough, hopefully, to create a realistic society of magic users. (Lunari, if you ever read this, you are awesome.)

    Method Three: Note Cards
    Get some of the 3x5 inch, lined note cards. Write down 15-20 events on 15-20 cards - all relating or mostly relating to one plotline. (Only ONE central plotline for now.) Then write another 15-20 events relating to a subplot or a plot that centers on another character, also on 15-20 cards. Then write out 8 or so cards from a subplot which isn't really that related to the other cards. (Repeat this last bit if you feel so inclined.) Mix and match the cards until they're in roughly sensical order (usually chronological) and write in any necessary events, such as vital introductions or an intersection of two plots.

    This isn't always as interesting, but it makes it easy for you to move events around. If you were to deconstruct Harry Potter: The Philosopher's Stone this way, the first plot would be Harry adjusting to magical life and learning about the Stone. The second plot would be Harry's classes and related events - encounters with Draco, Snape, and Dumbledore with the Mirror of Erised. The first subplot deals with the Dursleys; the second subplot deals with Quidditch, since it's an important part of Harry's life and stems from Main Plot Two, but doesn't really relate that much to his adjustment into wizardry or his school classes.

    Fourth: Outlining on the Computer or in a Notebook
    I use this method both when first creating a plot and at the end - first to get my thoughts down and to (kind of) order them in some kind of logical way, and later to finalize my mental plans for what should happen. If I think of scenes that MUST be added, I can add them in later and re-save the file or add a little sticky note to a written outline. It also lets me see how long the book is likely to be - figure a chapter can hold three or four events, or one or two if the events have lots of sub-events going on at the same time. You can also include minor but important details as sub-points (i.e. Carl notices the shadowy man watching Laura; Yvette finds out that her daughter has reached Oldtown safely), indicating that they are important for the background or to provide clues, but aren't event-worthy in and of themselves.

    Hope this helps.

    - A Fan of Heinlein
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    just about anything you can think of... too many different ways to list... there's no right or wrong way... whatever works for you is what's 'right' for you...

    that's what good writers are able to accomplish... every word should be needed, none be extraneous, and everything that happens should have a good reason for it to...

    that's like asking michaelangelo, 'how do you paint a fresco without adding in stuff that doesn't belong there?'... a good artist just knows how... and you learn by studying the masters of the art... so, to be a good writer, you first must be a good and constant reader...

    that only means you usually need to know how your story will end, before you start writing it... doesn't mean you actually plan it out in reverse...

    that works well for many writers... and it probably doesn't for just as many...

    don't know how 'inefficient' would enter into that, but one does have to lay out the plot in some sort of outline form at some point... you can't just sit down and write a whole 300-page novel without having a skeleton version of the events in it to flesh out, as you go along... doing that would lead to all kinds of problems with scrambled time frame, subplot chaos and such...

    how and when you construct that skeleton is a personal thing... again, there's no 'right' time or method... just whatever works best for you...
     
  13. Damian_Rucci
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    Damian_Rucci Member

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    I formulate an idea and then I sit down where it is quiet with a pen and paper. From there I plan out everything. First I create a solid plot, then I move to characters, then to setting. But I make sure I write down everything.
     
  14. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    I certainly wouldn't classify myself as a great writer (maybe in 20 or 30 years, I will believe I have learned enough.) This is how I do it.

    I begin with a character, a central conflict and a projected ending. I say projected ending because sometimes another, better ending will show itself before I get there.

    I do my character work. Get a little backstory on them -- get inside their heads and find out what makes them tick. Note: this has very little to do with physical description and lists of favorite things.

    Construct a timeline of 5-10 pivotal events necessary to move from point A to point B.

    Create the characters to work with the MC.

    Sit down to do the raw narrative work, paying close attention to making the characters' reactions organic, and a clear, natural path from one pivotal event to the next.

    That's just my process. Everyone has their own. Just experiment and find the one that works for you. Do it cafeteria style, try one thing; if it doesn't work, try something else. There's no shortcut.
     
  15. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    I can't say what I do, because I just do it. Nothing else. Just sit down on the chair, turn on MS Word, and start typing. And typing. And typing. Luckily, all my readers never complained I had put down pointless events inside.

    After a year on the forums, I've found a basic answer to most questions: everything doesn't work for everyone. Every writer has their way of doing things, no way is better than the other when comparing two writers.

    However, for a technique, I use film making. No, I don't pick up a camera and start making a movie of myself xD But I imagine my characters and visualize them, talking, moving around and doing stuff. When I add a hopelessly pointless event e.g. Al wants to go to a coffee shop with Jenny, I simply think of possibilities of what could happen to add to the plot. When I'm acting it out, I have clearer vision of dialogue, thought patterns (in case of first person), expressions, reactions, etc. In turn, nothing is superfluous, and if something is I simply throw it away.

    Hope that helps.
     
  16. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I used to make it all up as I went along and hope that everything fell into place. Took me forever to actually finish things, and many were never finished. Then, I tried plotting by writing a short description/summary of each scene that I knew I wanted or had to appear in the story (you can use index cards, for example); I'd put them in order, then see where there were any holes or weaknesses and add things as I saw fit. That technique resulted in me getting things written a lot faster, but it just felt stale and forced when it was all done. I honestly don't WANT to know everything that's going to happen in the story ahead of time! It takes all the fun out of it.

    Now, I'm back to just making it all up as I go along and hoping it all falls into place! I write stories regularly of over a hundred chapters, so I know all about presenting all sorts of information and wondering if it's going to all tie together. Unless you keep REALLY strict notes, there's just no way of telling. Even if you plan something out ahead of time, the unexpected can always occur. IMO this isn't necessarily a bad thing...it just means you have to really be careful where you're going. It's easy to lose track of smaller subplots, of which characters are currently present and which ones aren't, and of which characters have certain knowledge or not, if you don't keep track.

    I'd recommend just writing it as you go along if that's what works for you. All you have to do is make sure to look it all over when it's done and see if there are any holes.
     
  17. Beth
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    Beth Member

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    I have a question about this matter:

    in my book there is a character who is functional to the story but at some point she is put aside to concentrate on the main character.
    As some people were wondering what happened to her, I decided to put in a short section where she reappears (just to inform the reader what happened to her in the meantime). Do you think this is what you'd call "unnecessary information"? This characters leaves the story forever after these little 2 paragraphs.
     
  18. Buster
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    Buster New Member

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    Good advice, from everyone.

    This was the light bulb turning on in my head, moment. The task of writing a novel all of a sudden appeared a lot less harder when I started looking at it in terms of several smaller plots sewn together, each with a purpose.
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    beth...
    i wouldn't waste 2 paragraphs on it... just have some character mention her demise or whatever, in a single line of dialog, if you really think it's necessary to do so...

    but the problem may just be that when you did 'use' her, you didn't end that part clearly enough, to show that she's not going to be around any more... that said, i can't really advise you on this effectively, without seeing the parts in question...
     

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