If you want to write and you’re anything like me, that question weighs heavily on your mind. Maybe you’ve got a specific idea, or maybe not, but either way, the task of crafting tens of thousands of words into a coherent story is daunting. How do you just write something that long? How do you know if the idea you have will even make a story long enough to fill an entire novel? Maybe some people can just start writing and end up with something that makes sense 80,000 words later. But I’m not one of those people. I need a method, a plan. If you’re like, here’s a plan of attack you can use.
Before I go any farther, I want to give credit to Randy Ingermanson. He created the Snowflake Method and that’s what I used to start planning my first novel. What I’m going to share with you is certainly influenced by the Snowflake Method, but it’s not identical.
Start With A Seed
Every story has a seed, the raw essence of idea, the foundation everything else is built around. Maybe it’s a character, maybe it’s a scene, maybe it’s a concept. Whatever it is, this is where you start. To make things more concrete, I’ll use the example of the novel I’m writing now, The Other Side of Hope. The seed for this story was the idea that if Christianity and Islam were flipped in terms of their global influence and power, Christians would likely be the ones carrying out acts of extremism in the name of their religion. I wanted to tell a story that would help Christians (since that’s my current cultural context) see the world through the eyes of a Muslim.
Know Where You’re Going
Once you’ve got the seed, you need to know where you want the story to go. What’s the message that you want to leave the readers with? What’s the punchline at the end of your story? I firmly believe that you need to have the end in mind from the beginning. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for the story to change and evolve along the way, but if you don’t where you’re going, you’ll never get there. Going back to The Other Side of Hope, I knew early on that I wanted to bring a Christian “terrorist” and a Muslim solider together. I wanted each of the characters to see that the conflict between their two faiths had cost them both everything and gained no one anything.
Make a Short Synopsis
This corresponds roughly to Step 2 of Ingermanson’s Snowflake. What you want here is an overview of your story, the main points of crisis. Based on the last step of knowing where you’re going, you may already have the final crisis in mind. This is where you paint the broad strokes to get your characters (and your readers) to that point. In my novel, the first crises are the deaths of loved ones that drive the main characters to get involved in the armed conflict raging around them. This creates the circumstances in which they can meet and see the pain they’ve inflicted on one another.
This step can be as detailed or as brief as you want. But especially for a first novel, I’d recommend keeping it very simple. Basically one sentence to introduce things, then one for each major plot point/crisis. If you’re building the story from scratch, you’ll probably find this bare minimum to be helpful. You don’t want to add too much detail at once.
In Part Two of this series on writing your novel, we’ll start talking more about characters and adding complexity to your plot.