6 Steps to Plan a Novel
Step 1: Choose your genre/ tropes
Did you know the success of your story directly relates to how easy it is to market?
Readers identify with genres and tropes. Often times they don't even read the description because they see the tropes outlined by the author and the tropes sell them on the story. Of course, your writing has to live up to their expectations, or else they'll DNF. But, truly, hooking a reader is all in the tropes. So, choose wisely from a common list of popular tropes in your chosen genre.
Step 2: Understand the primary purpose of your story
Let the tropes guide your story AND the primary purpose of your novel. My imagination tends to run wild when planning a novel. I come up with all of these secondary suspense plots, which I then have to suppress in my writing to make sure the primary focus of my romance novels is in fact the romance.
They're a million ways to tell a single story. So, understanding your genre, tropes, reader expectations and the primary goal of your story is the key to keeping your plot focused.
Oftentimes, fiction authors think the "purpose" of their novels is to entertain. While non-fiction authors usually have a purpose to inform. But, I'm asking you to think beyond that. Here's an example of how I identify "purpose" in my works using my current work in progress.
Purpose of the Couple: Bring my FMC and MMC together after ten years apart. In order to do this, the MMC must take accountability for how he hurt her and the FMC must learn to forgive him and trust him again.
Purpose of the FMC: Overcome the effects of her traumatic childhood. Forgive her mother. Confront her father. Learn to forgive and trust the MMC. Allow herself to be happy.
Purpose of the MMC: Overcome the loss of his family/ avenge them. Overcome his biggest regret by stepping up for the FMC in the way she needed him to ten years prior.
As you can see, the obvious goal for a romance novel is to bring two lovers together. But what must they overcome in order to end up together? More than that, each main character should also have a personal goal/ growth journey.
When it comes to this discovery process, I do a lot of different things. I write a few paragraphs on each of my main characters trying to understand their pasts and what they want in the present day. Then I combine that information and further develop it, along with some subplots, to create my official plot. I also do my best to understand the vibe of the novel, the setting, and the secondary characters. A lot of this planning is guided by my reader's expectations, which I will know if I've chosen my genre and tropes.
Step 3: Understand your reader's expectations
Step 4: Develop your characters until they feel real
Step 5: Envision your character's world to the point you feel you can walk around in it
A lot of these steps happen simultaneously. Here are some specific things you should consider when developing character and setting.
Character Development Tips
World Development Tips
Physical attributes, nervous ticks, unique personality traits, how they act, how they react, their biggest trauma(s), their biggest fears, their greatest desires, their hobbies, their profession, their friends, their family, scars?, tattoos?, what they wear, their general energy
Create a map of each primary setting and the world in general so you can understand how your characters will navigate it. Knowing whether you turn left or right to get to the bathroom ensures consistency in your writing. If you can imagine their world in your mind as if you live in it, you won't have to second guess yourself when describing the world in your writing.
Step 6: Write a synopsis for your novel that identifies all of your character's goals.
This refers back to purpose. When we talk about "purpose" in fiction writing, it's not about your purpose for your novel. It is about your character's purpose or goals. What do they need to accomplish or overcome? In a romance novel, what do they need to accomplish or overcome to get their happily ever after? In a mystery or suspense novel, what do they need to accomplish or overcome to catch the villain, solve the mystery, or survive the villain?
Once I feel I understand my characters and their world and have written my synopsis, I begin completing a chapter progression for the first ACT of the novel, which is typically the first 10 chapters. This outline is very detailed. I essentially summarize each moment of each chapter. Notice I don't go past the first 10 chapters though as things will evolve throughout the writing process. No matter what anyone says, you can't plan an entire novel from jump. The best novels will evolve naturally throughout the writing process.