“Just write it.” That’s the advice given to aspiring writers. But what happens when you write yourself into a hole and you don’t know where the story goes? Or you have to reread your novel to get back in the groove after being away a bit?
Plot the book.
It’s not that hard. As a reformed ‘pantster’ (writing by the seat of your pants, not knowing what comes next) I can tell you plotting is better. Here’s how:
Next, expand from one sentence to 2-15. (Goes to Rome, meets cute guy, has to work at internship, suspicious things happen, car chase, CIA, FBI, Italian police, hackers show up.) Just throwing a few extra details into sentences helps kick that imagination on. Now you’re on fire as your brain adds scenes and subplots (office romance, shadowy figure could be murderer, office intrigue, no letter from Mom).
The last step is to outline—one or two sentences per chapter. Maybe you want to put the action on Post-It notes so you can move them around on a board (this is very popular, and good for major revisions). You want the First Lady to show up and there’s a threat. Wait, that has to come after there’s a case of someone being silenced to add drama and suspense. Play around with the order.
When you think you’ve gotten everything in the order you like, sit down to write. However (there’s always a but…)
- Don’t feel you have to stick with the outline. It’s meant to be a guide, not a prison. You are the keeper and what you say goes, so if you want to kill someone off, you can.
- Try to stop writing at the end of a chapter so that when you pick up again, you can read the last few sentences, look at the notes for the next chapter, and it will all click.
- If you need to make a major revision, update the Post-Its first so that you can see at a glance if the proposed changes will work, and how it will affect the whole story.
Try this: take a picture or other simple book. Write down the gist of the book in one sentence. Then go to two. Finally, write several sentences that give the major plot points. When you get how this works, if you still want a little more practice before you move on to a novel, try a chapter book. (This also works great for summaries, either for school or your book- slowly expanding instead of trying to write the whole thing at once.)
I learned this trick from another writer and while he applied it to writing summaries of your book, I found it worked just as great for plotting a book.
Until Hollywood calls, Charlotte lives in NJ with her husband, three children, two needy cats and sometimes a deranged squirrel. She is the co-author of Blonde Ops (St. Martin’s/Dunne) and the Sirenz series (Sirenz, Sirenz Back In Fashion, Flux). She’s written for magazines and newspapers. Currently she’s working on solo sci fi, ghost, and time travel novels and loves to hear from fans on Twitter @charbennardo or through her blog.
Char is giving away a signed copy of one of her books of the winner’s choice (US only). If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win, please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing. Good luck!
If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Charlotte’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.