Using a novel planner: 7 tips to organise your story

Using a novel planner: 7 tips to organise your story

Person storyboarding to outline a story | Now Novel

Using a novel planner, whether a step-by-step prompted outlining process like Now Novel’s dashboard or a different tool, helps to organise your story. If you’re using story planning software or a web-based tool, try these tips:

1. Learn how your novel planner works

Take a little time to explore your novel planning tool’s interface so you’re comfortable and familiar with it. What does each feature do and how could it benefit your story-planning?

If you have any questions or doubts about your story planner, reach out and ask the creators. Not only will you get a personal answer: You’ll also help your writing tool’s developers understand what could be simpler and more self-explanatory, or overhauled in a revision.

[Learn more our novel planner, ‘The Process’, in our FAQ section here.]

2. Plan and brainstorm in as much detail as possible

If you’ve created one character outline (for example, detailing your protagonist and their appearance and goals), try to create another while motivated. It could be a friend, lover, confidant, adversary.

We’ve found that writers who outline more elements of their story upfront tend to persevere further. It’s helpful to begin with a fuller mental picture of the personalities and places that will fill your story’s pages.

3. Store versions of your story plan

At the beginning of planning a novel, you’re still wrangling with the architecture of it.

Print out what you have so far periodically (or save a digital file if you prefer to minimize waste). Keep a chronological record of changes to your story plan, too. That way, you can go back to an earlier version of your outline whenever you want or need.

In the Now Novel dashboard, you can download your outline in PDF format at any stage of the process, paginated with the current date in the footer. This makes it easy to keep track of which version is the latest.

Infographic - Using a Novel Planner | Now Novel

4. Use visual diagrams, too

Writing down ideas and fragments of ideas and characters is a useful part of nudging the pieces of your story to come together. Yet there are times when all the text you’ve accumulated may feel overwhelming.

Streamline and simplify your organising by creating visual diagrams of your story. These could be:

  • Post-its with single-sentence, action-based chapter summaries arranged on a board (e.g. ‘Detective Wren is called into Dobsonville’)
  • Timelines of events (either scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter)
  • A rough map of locations in your story’s world
  • Graphs tracing the ups and downs of rising and falling plot points affecting your characters

These macro-level planning exercises help to maintain a bird’s eye perspective while you’re wading through the ground-level complexities of your draft.

5. Incorporate inspiring secondary sources

When using a novel planner like our story dashboard, feel free to include links and notes as you go.

You may find, for example, while brainstorming a core setting that an educational article about a similar place gives you ideas for details of daily life and culture.

Adding a link at this point in your outline is a useful way to keep track of secondary inspirations to draw on when drafting you actual scenes.

In the ‘Writing’ step of adding a scene summary to the Scene Builder in your Now Novel dashboard, you can link a saved draft from your private notepad or create a new one. Use this area to save links to inspiring articles or images relevant to this section of your story, too.

Now Novel Scene Builder writing tool - Cinderella example | Now Novel
Link drafts for scenes to their summaries in the Scene Builder in Now Novel’s story dashboard

6. Update your story plan as you draft

Often we approach outlining and drafting as linear processes, the first leading into the second. However, once you’ve created a guiding plan, it’s often helpful to keep updating it as you draft if anything significant changes.

This may be something small, such as a character’s name. Or it could be a major plot point alteration. Or else you may wish to profile a new character who has emerged as you draft a specific scene.

Updating your story plan alongside your draft will ensure you retain a macro-structure document that maps to the details of your story.

7. Structure your outlining into manageable units

One of the perks of using a novel planner such as the Now Novel dashboard is being able to focus on one element at a time. To break down the complex story planning process into manageable tasks. As Now Novel member David said, this allows you to:

‘…mine out the ideas and concepts … [and] develop the book … in a systematic approach’

You could start by brainstorming individual character arcs or plot points. For example, incidents that bring characters closer to their goals or create obstacles between them and their goals. In the ‘Core Plot’ section of Now Novel’s story dashboard, we’ve called the former ‘rising plot points’ and the latter ‘falling plot points’.

Instead of trying to imagine your entire story and how every detail plays out in one swoop, this will make your planning process more manageable.

Need tools to plan your novel? Try the first two steps of The Process now.

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