I'm a new writer, have been working on a novel length piece of work for the past couple of years, and I have always been the kind of person to just "wing it" and see what happens. After completing yet another draft of this book and feeling terribly disappointed by it, I decided it was time to do some research on how to plan a novel. Since then I've been reading mostly about how to build the plot of the novel and I have sketched out my plot, feeling better about it already than previous versions. This outline of my plot is not too terribly detailed but lines out the main plot points, why they need to happen and how they connect to one another. It also includes what types of conflict the characters face and how the plot point concludes and pushes the characters towards the next one. Over the course of my first few "drafts" I feel that I have developed a pretty good sense of who my characters are and what my settings will look like.

Now I'm wondering, what is the next step in the planning process? I really don't want to just dive in again telling myself that it will all come together because that approach has failed me in the past. What other planning steps or exercises can I do to make sure I have all the framework laid this time to write a good draft? Should my plot outline be more detailed than it is? If so, what else do I add to it without just turning it into another draft? How should I be thinking about my story at this point?

5 Answers 5


There are many different processes, and none is "right" or "wrong." They just work well for different writers. You need to find the one that is a good match for your own strengths and weaknesses. There are a few writers who can just dive in and intuit the structure. But the majority of writers do at least some planning and outlining.

If you're looking for a structured, step-by-step way to move from outline to novel, many writers swear by the "Snowflake Method" (formulated by Randy Ingermanson), which is a way of starting from a core idea, and moving though a series of increasingly detailed outlines that culminate in a finished book. But that's only one of many methods.

Other authors take an approach that focuses on a three-act structure, and alternating rising and falling action --McKee's Story is a well-known text for that, although it's oriented towards cinema. Others take inspiration from the classic structure of the Hero's Journey -- Vogler's Writer's Journey covers that. For me, I've found the most help recently in texts that focus on highlighting the goals and transformative journeys of the characters. Story Genius (Cron) and Techniques of the Selling Writer (Swain) are a new and a classic text in this mode, respectively. Both are very good.


You should go next where you should have gone to begin with:

What does your story have to say?

Many authors appear to be of the opinion that a series of pointless anecdotes vaguely connected by some plotline and told about some random characters that they like will somehow make a good story.

A good story starts with the author knowing what concepts, ideas, and ideals the story will express. Tension and interest derive from those elements. Without them, you (as the author) will be constantly looking for a source of tension and things to keep your readers interested.

  1. You need something to say.
  2. You need characters to say (or rather, portray) the things your story is trying to communicate.
  3. You need a place for your characters to stand that puts them in a position to express (through word or deed) the important elements of your story.

Figure out what it is you want your story to say. The rest follows from that.

That's not some academic BS. Those are the things that I, as a reader, expect. I'm not any kind of author, and all I know about literature is what I've observed about the books I enjoy most.

A good book has some thing, some concept, that the author is trying to explore. Something about people or society or the nature of good and bad. Something.

A book may have all of the proper elements (good plot, good narrative, good characters, etc.) and still not be worth reading because it has nothing to stay.

Way too many books and stories say nothing other than "I wanna be a famous author with lotsa dough, looka me!" Almost as bad are the "I got lotsa imagination, looka this world I dreamed up!" "authors."

Any way, that's the opinion of a reader. You know, the clowns who pay out money to buy books.

  • 1
    You seem to be advocating sock puppet characters and forced messaging. Could you perhaps, as a reader, quote some examples that in your opinion did this well?
    – Weckar E.
    Nov 4, 2020 at 17:19
  • 1
    @WeckarE.: I'm advocating stories with meaning, not sock puppets or forced messages. If you ain't got nothing to say, why are you writing?
    – JRE
    Nov 4, 2020 at 18:05
  • 2
    I would suggest removing the two paragraphs that start with "Many authors" and "Way too many books", as they don't seem very useful in answering the question. Your answer really speaks to me apart from that.
    – Jasmijn
    Nov 4, 2020 at 23:32
  • @JRE To entertain my audience with cool moments. I mostly write pulp style stories.
    – Weckar E.
    Nov 5, 2020 at 13:19
  • @WeckarE.: Then you're not writing anything I would buy.
    – JRE
    Nov 5, 2020 at 13:21

Sounds like you have already have a decent start from your few drafts. From there, I would polish it up and add detail and then call it good.

If I'm understanding the question wrong, sorry but here's the answers to your questions;

The next step should be writing your story, following the plot outline you made and making sure everything flows well. Some things sound good in your head or connected with little dots and line on paper, but once put into words might fall apart. Make sure it all goes well, and you should have a first draft done pretty easily.

As for other planning steps, it seems like you've got most of it down. If you want you can add smaller details but you should be fine.

Your plot outline is perfectly fine how it is. You're the person writing this story, so only you need to understand the plot line.

You should be thinking about your story as a rock. It starts all rough and jagged as your plot outline, then you put it on paper to smooth it out. It doesn't cut your hands a bunch, but still hurts to walk on. You'll do a revision to fix various things, and the rock gets a lot smoother but still irregular. Once you get it fixed up as much as you can, it's nice and smooth but might have few cracks. Beta-readers will smooth out any little cracks you didn't see, and if you decide to send it to an editor they'll take care of whatever's left if they like it.

Good luck!


It sounds like you've tried being both a planner and a "pantser". Planners tend to do a lot of upfront planning, while "pantsers" tend to write "by the seat of their pants". Neither approach is wrong, so long as it feels natural to you and helps you achieve your goal of finishing the novel. Stephen King is known to be a "pantser" and needs no introduction.

As for where to go next, I think the most important step is to finish your first draft. As established screenwriter and novelist C. Robert Cargill likes to say, "a finished thing can be fixed." It might be that your first draft is your final version; however, it's more likely you'd want to do a couple of rewrites to get it polished to a sheen. You might:

  • Do a character pass. Focus one or more of your rewrites on specific characters, following their journey through the story and fine-tuning their arcs.
  • Do a dialogue pass. In one of your rewrites, concentrate cleaning up the dialogue. Take out extraneous words, expressions like "you know", "um". These can be distracting for readers. Streamline it.
  • Cut out the clutter. Similar to a dialogue pass, every time you rewrite, think very carefully about what each scene in your novel does. If it doesn't move the plot forward or develop your characters, maybe it's time to cut it.
  • Once you're satisfied that you can't improve your novel further by yourself, get some beta readers. Consider their feedback carefully. If there's a common criticism between readers, it might point to a deeper issue that you might want to focus on in a future draft.

These are simply suggestions. Personally, I would recommend listening to the Write Along podcast by Cargill and Dave Chen. Each episode is a treasure trove of writing advice, and it's entertaining too!

I don't think it's necessary to start with "what does your novel want to say". This message often reveals itself as you write, from your subconscious mind, as your unique voice tells your story.

  • I think most "pantsers" of the world would prefer the word "explorer".
    – Weckar E.
    Nov 4, 2020 at 17:20

Since you have done so much already your best approach is the reverse outline. Start with what you have and organize it scene by scene. Then check those scenes are complete, in logical sequence, have no detours, and would fall like dominoes when you write the final version.

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