In Part One of this series on writing a novel, I introduced the idea of how to plan a novel. If you haven’t read that post, you should probably go back on do so before trying to follow the advice here if you’re just starting to plan your novel. But, if you’ve already got your idea and basic plot in place, you can probably start here.
Write Character Summaries
Characters drive all good fiction. While you might be able to find some counterexample to that statement, I’m still going to hold to it. If you want to take your readers on a journey, engaging characters are the way to do it. But how do you create engaging characters? I’ll talk more about that in detail another time, but I’ll summarize for now. What I like to do is write a detailed synopsis of the story from the perspective of each of my characters. I’ve been using my novel-in-progress The Other Side of Hope to illustrate my points so far, so I’ll continue that here. From the beginning I had two characters in mind: the Christian extremist and the Muslim soldier. Ethan and Hamid as they are now known. So I started with them. As you do this, you’ll find a need for more characters along the way. In my case, by the time I’d written summaries for Ethan and Hamid, I had family members and few friends for each of them. So then I went back and wrote summaries for each of those new characters. You should also find yourself adding a lot more detail to your plot as you do this. Let the characters control things and take the story where they want to.
Write Character Profiles
This step is intermixed with the previous one. As you’re creating (or discovering) characters and writing summaries, make character profiles for them as well. These should include basic information like physical description, personality, likes/dislikes, habits, and ages, as well as story specific things like motivation. I like to include a note about each character’s primary internal and external conflicts. Other things to include are motivations, desires, and goals. This profile will probably expand and change as you go about planning the story and learn more things about your characters.
Write a Detailed Synopsis
This is the fun part (or at least one fun part) because it’s where your characters really start to influence your story. By this point, you’ve got a brief plot summary and a bunch of character-based summaries and profiles. I already mentioned that in the process of writing those character-based summaries, you were probably adding a lot of detail to the story. The more detailed your characters get, the more they influence the events in the world around them that you’re creating. This is the time to go back and integrate all those details into one place. Write a detailed synopsis with all of those new plot points. This should probably be several pages long. My detailed synopsis for The Other Side of Hope was about 4 pages. You don’t need to have every little figured out, but this should give you a strong template for your novel.
Plan Out the Scenes
Now you go deeper and plan out even more detail by creating a scene-by-scene outline of your novel. You may be familiar with the distinction between “Show” and “Tell” in writing. To tell a story is simply to go through its basic elements, relating the things that happened. This is what you’ve got in your synopsis. To show a story is take your readers into it the lives of the characters so they see what happens and hear the conversations. When you make the scene outline, you’re deciding how you’re going show your story to your readers. A single sentence in the synopsis may require two or three scenes to be effectively shown to your readers. This is where you figure that out. I usually write a small paragraph for each scene that guides me as I write it. No dialogue or detailed description, just a simple summary of what needs to happen. Check out the Technology for Writing section of the blog for some tips on tools to use for this.
Write the Thing!
That scene outline is the road map to your novel. Once you’ve got it done, you’re ready to get writing!