This is a popular and effective method to plot out and write a novel. Follow these steps until you either reach step 10, or feel you’re ready to start writing.
Here are the 10 steps:
Step 1) Take an hour and write a one-sentence summary of your novel. No more than 20 words. Which character has most to lose? Now tell me what he or she wants to win.
Step 2) Take another hour and expand that sentence to a full paragraph describing the story setup, major disasters, and ending of the novel. I like to structure a story as “three disasters plus an ending”.
Each of the disasters takes a quarter of the book to develop and the ending takes the final quarter. If you believe in the Three-Act structure, then the first disaster corresponds to the end of Act 1. The second disaster is the mid-point of Act 2. The third disaster is the end of Act 2, and forces Act 3 which wraps things up.
Step 3) For each of your major characters, take an hour and write a one-page summary sheet that tells:
- The character’s name
- A one-sentence summary of the character’s storyline
- The character’s motivation (what does he/she want abstractly?)
- The character’s goal (what does he/she want concretely?)
- The character’s conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?)
- The character’s epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?
- A one-paragraph summary of the character’s storyline
Step 4) Take several hours and expand each sentence of your summary paragraph into a full paragraph. All but the last paragraph should end in a disaster. The final paragraph should tell how the book ends.
Step 5) Take a day or two and write up a one-page description of each major character and a half-page description of the other important characters. These “character synopses” should tell the story from the point of view of each character.
Step 6) Now take a week and expand the one-page plot synopsis of the novel to a four-page synopsis. Basically, you will again be expanding each paragraph from step (4) into a full page.
Step 7) Take another week and expand your character descriptions into full-fledged character charts detailing everything there is to know about each character. The standard stuff such as birthdate, description, history, motivation, goal, etc. Most importantly, how will this character change by the end of the novel? This is an expansion of your work in step (3), and it will teach you a lot about your characters.
Step 8) Make a spreadsheet detailing the scenes that emerge from your four-page plot outline. Make just one line for each scene. In one column, list the POV character. In another (wide) column, tell what happens. If you want to get fancy, add more columns that tell you how many pages you expect to write for the scene.
Step 9) Switch back to your word processor and begin writing a narrative description of the story. Take each line of the spreadsheet and expand it to a multi-paragraph description of the scene. Put in any cool lines of dialogue you think of, and sketch out the essential conflict of that scene. If there’s no conflict, you’ll know it here and you should either add conflict or scrub the scene.
Step 10) Write the book.