In the last three months, we’ve taken some time to figure out the basics of our story through its abstract, as well as discussed what should be taken into consideration when crafting your characters and your world. Now, it’s time to put them all together and create the most fundamental piece of any novel: the plot.
A lot of the times, people will differentiate between plots and side plots, as if the two are completely separate entities. Plots themselves are what leads directly to the climax of the story, and side plots are shoe-horned in to fill in page space during the quiet moments of the novel. I would caution against this mindset. You want your readers to care about your characters, and in a sense, these side plots do a lot of the heavy lifting. However, you don’t want to write the story as if the two are not connected. You don’t want to waste your reader’s time when, to a certain extent, what they’re really here for is the inevitably high stakes of the final few scenes. The side plots should only add to it, rather than run alongside it.
By this time, you have an idea of what kind of people your characters are, and what kind of world they live in. Use that to your advantage. As you plan out your novel, consider opportunities of conflict, perhaps inevitable or spontaneous (where spontaneous reads as bad luck for the character, and inevitable reads as something that was bound to happen to your character). It will likely flow more naturally that way.
The plot outline is the novel’s step-by-step guide to conflict. For those who favor world-building or character-development, this will probably be rather tedious. However, while thinking on your characters and your setting, you’ve probably gotten some ideas on how to make the story more engaging, building off of the abstract that we first created.
I would suggest making a table, and just creating your list of plot points. Don’t feel too much pressure here. While this is going to make the writing process easy, you’re probably going to find out, either in later stages of this last step of outlining or during the actual writing itself, that the outline doesn’t take certain factors into consideration. What we envision and what has to happen, practically-speaking, tend to be two very different things. The outline is there to help you out; it’s not set in stone.
That said, the more specific you can get with the outline here, the easier the rest of it will be, and perhaps the quicker you can find any blips or errors that may need to be addressed before you commit to writing your project.
Once you have those building blocks, you can break them down into chapters. This will probably make the whole writing thing a lot easier, because you will already know what each chapter should accomplish, and how your characters are faring at any given point. The chapter breakdown is also a good opportunity to guesstimate how long your book as a whole is going to be, because you can get an idea for how many words each chapter will be, and add them all up once your chapter breakdown is complete.
Your plot points probably will not directly correlate with your chapter breaks. Some plot points will be bigger than others, and so may need a few chapters to really delve into the action and the fallout. Exactly how in-depth you go into your plot outline is up to you, but I would personally recommend you go as in-depth as you can for the chapter breakdowns at the very least. I did my best to spend roughly two paragraphs (averaging about 175 words total) for each chapter description.
Know roughly how long a novel in your genre should be. It’ll help with the pacing as you do your breakdown and get a sense of how much time you’ll have for things not directly related to the main plot. Fantasy novels, for example, generally tend to be anywhere from 90,000-120,000 word, though if you’re unpublished as of yet, it’s better to stick to the shorter end of that range. Don’t panic if it falls short or exceeds the range by some degree; you may find during the writing stages that your estimated too high or too low on some chapters, and it may even out in the end. Even if it doesn’t, second drafts exist in large part to trim down the plot.
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For those of you who favor plotting, what things do you take into consideration as you break your novel down? Do you have a pretty good idea how long each chapter will be, and how best to break them up, even before you get too deep in the plotting process?