So you’ve started that next-big-novel, but after 15,000 words you start running out of steam. Suddenly your plot is falling flat, your descriptions are two-dimensional, and your desire to continue working is nada.
If this scenario sounds familiar to you, read on. The goal of any good novel is to read so smoothly that the reader is disillusioned into thinking that writing the book was simple. Already sounds complicated, doesn’t it? Because novels read so easily, writers are often mislead about the sheer amount of work involved in creating such a novel.
So how do you go about writing a novel that flows smoothly and doesn’t fall flat after a few chapters? The answer is simple: you must learn how to organize your novel before you start writing it. Every writer will eventually develop an organization system that works best for them, but until you reach that point, you need to start with someone else’s system.
To start off, I must say that I write all of my novels on the computer. This method of organizing a novel is going to assume you are doing the same.
Step 1: Give it a home
The first thing you must do is decide where your novel is going to be saved. I save mine within the My Documents folder, in a sub folder named Fiction. Inside the Fiction folder, I create another folder with the name of the novel I’m about to start. Then, within that one, I create three more: Outlines, World, and Random Thoughts. The titles are self-explanatory. You can create as many folders as you wish, but I prefer to keep the number low.
Step 2: Dare to dream
Now that you have a place to safely store your words, it is time to get creative. If you do not know what is going to happen in your story, or you only know part of it, then continue reading. If you already have a fully developed plot, skip to step three.
Open a new document and save it in the random thoughts folder. This document will serve as a doodle pad for your mind, where you can scribble down random thoughts, sudden inspirations, or just have a nice conversation with the writer within.
Simply start with a sentence, and then expand upon it. For example, it you know that your book is going to be about a boy and his dragon, you can write something like “One day a young boy named Ahkbar awoke to discover that he had sleep-walked to a nearby cave, where a dragons egg sat within.” Now what? If you don’t know what is going to happen, simply start writing down anything at all. You can make a list of possible things that will happen. For example: Ahkbar walks into cave; Ahkbar grasps egg; A sudden shaking of the ground cases him to fall. Okay, stop. A shaking of the ground? What caused that shaking? Magic? An angry mother dragon? And simply continue to do this until the novel start heading somewhere you like. It may take twenty pages of mind doodles, but you would be surprised at the usefulness of this exercise when it comes to figuring out a plot. After you have a complete story line, continue to step three.
Step 3: Get it down or lose it forever
Now you have a firm story line within your mind, but the odds are your random thoughts folder is full of just that – random thoughts. No organization or intelligible scenes. If you do not get the story line within you mind down in an organized way, it will start dulling within your mind. You may forget a little detail you liked, or an angle you wanted to explore.
So, to prevent this from happening, you are going to create an outline, within the Outline folder. My outlines are simply a short version of the entire story; a huge synopsis. Write it in great detail, though, because it will review any holes that may exist in your broader storyline.
An example of my outline type: “One day a young boy named Akbar awoke to discover that he had sleep-walked to a nearby cave, where a dragon’s egg sat within. He looked around, confused and amazed. He walked into the cave, and bent down to grasp the egg. As his fingers neared it, the ground shook violently, causing him to fall. He is scared, and begins panicking. Suddenly a huge dragon emerges from the dark back of the cave. It roars greatly into the air, grasps the egg, puffs a cloud of smoke into Akbar’s face, and then backs up into the darkness, disappearing as suddenly as it had come.”
As you can see, the summary of what happens is detailed enough for me to see everything happening, so that when I expand upon it, I am not having to stop and consider what may be happening. After you complete this summary, you will most likely have between 50 – 100 pages of outline, possibly more or less depending on the length of your novel.
After you have an outline, go to step 4.
Step 4: Who are you and why should I care?
This is the time to flesh out your characters. Most writers develop their characters first, but I prefer to leave them as the last step before the actual writing starts. Why? Because, as I am sure you now know, as you plot out your story, you are developing a character within in your mind the entire time that is constantly changing, expanding, maturing, and becoming more real. By the time you have a fully developed plot, I can guarantee you will also have a solid character that you have fallen in love with and cannot wait to explore more. You probably already know his/her eye color, hair color, sleep preferences, and foot size. Or maybe you simply know him/her most on the emotional level. No matter what, you know this character very well, and your writing will reflect that.
Open the Worlds folder and create a document for each character. List their full name, family history, hair color, eye color, size, and all other physical descriptions. Then list their emotional characteristics, their mental state, etc. Be as descriptive as you like. After you have your characters, proceed to step 5.
Step 5: Get writing!
This is the most anticipated step of the organization process, and because you already know what is going to happen, to whom it is going to happen, and how it will resolve, you will complete your first draft in a very short amount of time.
Simply create a new document in the main story folder title something to let you know it is the novel; novel, draft 1, book1, or simply the title will all work fine.
Don’t forget to keep all of your character sheets and your outline on hand. Refer to them often, even if you are sure that you remember everything. You will be surprised at how positive you are that character X is 40 years old, only to glance at your notes and discover that he is actually 50.
Congratulations! You should now have a complete novel, or be in the process of having a complete novel. You know what is going to happen, and for the first time your end goal seems possible. It is very likely now that you have seen and worked on a novel organization system that you have incorporated changes suiting you better. This is good, it will ensure even better writing success.
Remember not to get frustrated, or impatient. This method of organization can take as long as a month, and may seem tedious and never-ending at times. But don’t lose heart, because it is as much a part of the writing process as any other. Just look at yourself as a sculptor of words. You have to start with a rough block of words [your random thoughts] and a mental image of your final product [your story line.] You then chip at the words to narrow them down into a rough shape of you anticipated final product [the outline.] You then start adding details [the creative process] and remove all excess words [the editing process.] It may take awhile, but the end result is always beautiful!