How to Plan a Novel

How did people get anything done before flowcharts?

I know what the title says, but this flowchart is really just how I plan a novel. Actually, it's an incomplete version of the way I plan today. Take it as you will.

Some further explanations:
Ask Questions: For any element of the story, ask: (1) How does this happen? (2) Why does this happen? (3) What happens as a result? Repeat as necessary. Orson Scott Card's idea, not mine.*
Throw Rocks: Make life difficult for the characters. Test them to the point of failure. Add tension. Ask, "What's the worst thing that can happen here?" and do it. Then ask how, why, and what result.
Event Outline: What happens in the world/lives of the characters. Not necessarily the layout of the novel. The event outline may begin before the novel does, and it may end long after. It may contain events that are never shown or even referred to in the final manuscript.
Chapter Outline: How the event outline is shown to the reader, and from whose points of view. If you haven't already done so, think about different story structures.

Obviously this is over-simplified. I ask questions, detail chapters, and fix weak spots constantly, even after the draft is finished. In general, though, identifying and fixing problems earlier in the process makes for much less work. At least that's the idea.

* Now that I think about it, none of these are my ideas. I just put them all together into a definable process.


MattyDub said...

According to this flowchart, all ideas are acceptable for a novel - there is no point on the flowchart where you say "Actually, this won't work, I should write about something else." Is that intentional?

Tana said...

Ohh I love the flow chart! I also use colorful markers to help me visualize, I'm a visual learner.

Adam Heine said...

Interesting point, Matt. I suppose if an idea wasn't working, the flowchart would set you in an infinite loop where "Is it enough for a story?" never answered yes.

The questions on the "I'm stuck" path are more representative. There are probably a hundred questions to help one get out of writer's block. The point is that, if nothing's getting you unstuck, you should take a break from it.

Maybe "something else" could mean restarting the flowchart with a different idea.

Adam Heine said...

T. Anne, I'm a visual learner too. If you tell me something, I might retain 60%. If you e-mail the exact same information, I will know exactly what you're talking about :-)

That's why my Thai was no good until I learned how to read.

Anna Scott Graham said...

I read your blog about publishing (via Nathan Bransford's comments), and agree with many of your points. Being somewhat new to this as well, it's a brave new world we're entering, and I have no idea of the fallout. It's going to be interesting, if nothing else, and I've pulled back on my own plans to see just where I'm lead to go.

Good luck with all your endeavors!

Adam Heine said...

Thanks, Anna. And thanks for stopping by. I'm excited to see where the publishing industry will go, but of course I'll be more excited when I'm a part of it ;-)

Joshua McCune said...

Wow, this is way too organized for me, but I definitely see the advantages.

Adam Heine said...

Ha! Thanks, Bane. I'm probably too organized for most people, but you know, whatever works :-)