Wednesday, August 29, 2018


A friend of mine has been working on his novel for years but can’t seem to finish it. “I just get bogged down,” he says. “I don’t know where the story is going.”

Too many potential authors face the same problem. I say potential because an unfinished manuscript is nothing more than a good idea. We all have good ideas, but how do you turn that idea into a saleable novel?

Some writers like to write as they go, a process called pantsing (or writing by the seat of their pants). But this doesn’t work for everyone. I prefer the plotting method—planning a story in detail from beginning to end before the actual writing begins. I also call this ROAD MAPPING.

Writing is like driving a car. Get behind the wheel without knowing where you want to go, and you may end up wandering aimlessly around town, or you might never leave your driveway at all.

Writing a novel is no different. Every story is a journey with a specific destination. Writers can avoid common obstacles like writers’ block and meandering story lines by planning their destination and the best route to get there before they start writing.

Here are four simple steps to Road Mapping:

Step 1: Brainstorm
Next time you get a good idea for a novel, resist rushing over to the computer to write. Instead, let the idea mull around in your brain for a while. Spend as much time as needed to develop the characters and plot details. Try jotting down your thoughts on sticky notes or in a journal. Knowing how the story will end is vital. Only once your are certain of your destination should you move on to step number two.

Step 2: Outline
An outline is the easiest way to visualize an entire novel from start to finish on a single page. Break down the story into 5 sections: the hook (how the story begins), 3 plot points (these are the three biggest moments of conflict in a story, and the conclusion (how the story ends—the destination). Add in other specific details as desired.

Step 3: Synopsis
Once the outline (or story skeleton) is finished, the next step is to flesh it out. This is where the actual writing process begins. Describe the characters, setting, and storyline by using complete sentences and paragraphs. Think of your synopsis as a short story or condensed version of your novel.

Step 4: Summary
The final step is to breakdown the entire novel into individual chapters or scenes. Assign each chapter a number and a title that reflects what occurs in that scene. The titles are for quick reference while writing and revising, and can later be deleted from the finished manuscript. Also include a brief description (a sentence or two) of the setting, events and/or conflict for each chapter.

Once these four steps are complete, you are ready to write your novel. I like to write one complete chapter each day, but I don’t always write them in order. By referring to the chapter summaries, I can write any chapter I like and compile them in order later. Remember, a road map is a tool to get you out of the mud and moving. You are always free to follow a different path than the one you’ve planned, if your story demands it.

For more details about how to plot your novel, check out Cathy Yardley’s Rock Your Plot: A Simple System for Plotting Your Novel.

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