How I Plot a Novel

It's Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) time again. That's just two weeks from now. That means NanoPLOTmo is upon us. National Novel Plotting Month as we head into the craziness of November.

I know some of you are "plotters" and some of you are "pantsers." Some need a detailed plot describing what happens virtually on every page before sitting down to write. Others "fly by the seat of your pants" not having anything on paper creating the plot as you go. And people in both camps produce great novels, so I'm not going to tell you one is better than the other. I'm going to just give you a third model that lies somewhere between the two. I'm calling The Journey of Discovery model.

First Things First

Before you begin to think about plot (plotter, pantser or discoverer) you need to do some prep work. For me that's settling three specific things: Premise or Story Concept, Characters and Setting.

Premise. The premise for me is sort of like "the elevator pitch" professional writers talk about. You are in an elevator and you see the acquisitions editor of a publishing house in the elevator. You are carrying your manuscript and the editor says, "I see you're a writer. What's your novel about?" And you have to tell them before  they get to their floor.

This is also sometimes known as the "concept" and really is trying to boil down the entire story into a single sentence. So, this year I'm doing a sequel to Dark Side of the Moon using the same characters and setting I did in the first book. This one is called Total Eclipse of the Moon. Here's my premise:

While vacationing at a resort in a clear dome on the surface of the moon, the proprietor of the resort is murdered during an eclipse and our heroes must find the murderer. 
Okay, it's a bit awkward, but who cares. Until you have to write the marketing blurb, you are the only one to see this. This gives me the specific direction for the story. Everything in my central plot will relate to that concept.

Characters.  I'm a list maker, so I list out everything from their height, weight, hair color, etc. to their likes and dislikes. Basically, I work on their character sketches/dossiers until the character becomes real for me. The way I think about it is that I don't know the character until I reach the point that I wouldn't be surprised to see him or her walking down the street, and, if I did, I could carry on a conversation with that person. At this point I don't do this for every character, just my main character(s).

Setting. Your stories also have to take place somewhere. Of course, they may well move around the world like National Treasure, but there is a starting location and probably one that you will spend the most time in. You don't have to do full world building at this point, but I close my eyes and try to visualize the scene.

Expanded Story Concept

After I have these things in place, I create an expanded story concept. I write 3-4 paragraphs or sometimes simply a bulleted list of the general arc of the story. Nothing detailed. Mostly just where the story begins and where it ends.

Here's a quick one for Total Eclipse. It will likely change dramatically, but this is the preliminary concept:

  • Mike and Carolyn join Eric and Linda on a trip to Xanadu a domed resort on the surface of the moon to help them plan their wedding in the "Earthlight Chapel" at the resort. 
  • Jason Kellen, proprietor of the resort invites the pair over for dinner where he shows them his private collection of lunar exploration artifacts. He proposes giving them to the college and funding the building of a museum to house them. They include the golf ball Alan Shepherd hit during his trip to the moon. 
  • Carolyn brings in Moonbeam and the mobile crime lab to help with the a authentication,
  • Before the lab can arrive, the golf ball is stolen. Mike and Carolyn are  asked to investigate quietly. 
  • The day after the Eclipse, Jason is found dead in a crater without an EV suit by Linda and Eric. 
  • The investigation begins
  • They sort out the suspects:
    • His daughter bitter over the divorce
    • The construction engineer who found the golf ball and was paid handsomely for it. 
    • The "waiter" whose facial structure is a close match to that of a theif
    • The Casino owner who wanted to buy the museum collection
    • The ex-wife 
    • The gigilo she brought with her
    • The disgruntled employee fired recently.
    • The holiday director who is everywhere, but no one really knows.  
  • The investigation takes two tacks: Theft of the Golf Ball and Murder of the Host. 
  • They narrow down the suspects to the waiter for the golf ball theft, but then he is found dead with a faked golf ball in his apartment causing everyone to wonder why he didn't just put it in the glass case and no one would be the wiser. 
  • More investigation. Discover the golf ball was a fake from the beginning. Construction engineer is the culprit. He killed the waiter/thief, but was on his way back to Armstrong on the train when Jason was killed. 
  • Investigation proceeds. Physical clues point to the Casino owner. Turns out the Casino owner was a partner with Jason in a failed land investment scheme on Earth. Jason discovered the Casino owner sabotaged the deal and pocketed the money swindled from investors. He was going to turn him in during his stay.
  • Casino owner is murdered. 
  • More investigation and a key piece of physical evidence is found to point to....
You didn't really think I was going to give away the culprit in an open forum did you? 


Now, I lay down, close my eyes and follow the whole story in my mind as it unfolds sort of like a movie in my head. Okay, it's weird, but I enjoy it. I begin to fill in  some of the missing bits and some of the secondary plot elements (No, I didn't forget about Linda and Eric's wedding. That's a whole subplot to be explored) as well as the daughter discovering the father she never knew after his death. 

That's It!

For me that's where it stops. I may add a couple of things like maybe the key bit of physical evidence I haven't quite worked out yet or some notes about one of the subplots, but I don't make my plot outline more detailed than what you see there. However, plotters can do just that. They can work out every individual scene by taking each line in this bulleted list and writing notes on each scene which connects them. 

So, that's how I plot a novel. What about you? What tips do you have about writing the novel?

If you are planning to take a run at Nanowrimo, check out my book The Road to Success in Nanowrimo It's only 99 cents on Kindle. Click Here for more information.


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