Hi friends! This is a workshop I’m going to be giving in a couple of places this year, and I thought I’d share it on the blog, too.

I’m not saying this is the best way to plot a novel. I take at least a few weeks, and sometimes much longer, to outline a story and develop my characters.

But if you’re usually a complete pantser (that’s the word for people who don’t plot their stories before they write them—they write “by the seat of their pants”), then this might give you a little more structure without much effort. And if Camp NaNoWriMo or NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, in November) is coming right up, and you’re panicking because you don’t have an idea, this can help! It can also work for a script or a short story.

For this exercise, you might want to use the timer on your smartphone, if you have one. Or you can just use the clock. Ready? Let’s do it!

 

How to Plot a Novel in One Hour #easy ways to outline a novel #Camp NaNoWriMo

 

READ THROUGH THIS WHOLE POST – 5 minutes

Well, give or take a few minutes.

 

DECIDE ON YOUR GENRE – 5 minutes

A lot of people will tell you, “Oh, just write it and figure out the genre later.” But I’ve talked to so many writers who are despairing because their book doesn’t really fit into any genre. They struggle to pitch it to agents or to market it as a self-publisher. That’s why I recommend figuring this out up front.

If you don’t have a story in mind at all, pick the genre you genuinely enjoy reading most.

Here are some of the possibilities for genres: fantasy, science fiction, upmarket fiction (basically, the types of books that a lot of people read in book clubs), women’s fiction (this isn’t “all fiction written by women,” but rather stories in which a woman’s emotional journey is central), romance, young adult, thriller, mystery, historical fiction, Westerns, and literary fiction.

Some of these genres can be combined. For instance, you might be writing a supernatural Western, a young adult fantasy, or a scifi romance.

 

 

CREATE YOUR MAIN CHARACTER – 10 minutes

Give them a name. (You can change it later.)

Give them a brief description (e.g. “high school student,” “interstellar pirate”)

Give them one positive attribute and one neutral or negative attribute (e.g. “generous, lazy.”)

 

CREATE ANOTHER CHARACTER – 10 minutes

This could be your character’s best friend, love interest, or someone they butt heads with. As you do the rest of the plan, you’ll probably figure out how they fit in to the story.

Give them a name.

Give them a brief description (e.g. “YouTube celebrity,” “wizard”)

Give them one positive attribute and one neutral or negative attribute (e.g. “brilliant, hot-tempered.”)

 

GIVE YOUR MAIN CHARACTER A GOAL – 10 minutes

This should be something they want very, very badly.

It can be a financial or material goal: get a promotion, or scrape up enough money to repair the roof.

It can be a social goal: get invited to an exclusive party, or make friends in a new town or school.

It can be a health goal: run a marathon, or kick cancer’s butt.

Maybe a political goal: overthrow a dictator, or get elected to city council.

Possibly an academic goal: go to college, win the science fair.

A romantic goal is a possibility: have a date on Valentine’s Day for once in their life, or find a wife.

Or a straight-up survival goal: escape a disaster, or run away from an oppressive situation.

Lots of possibilities, right? Pick a goal!

 

 

 

GIVE YOUR MAIN CHARACTER AN OBSTACLE TO THEIR GOAL – 10 minutes

What’s standing in the way of their goal? They don’t have enough money? Enough confidence? There’s an army ready to battle them?

You may have multiple obstacles. For instance, if you’re writing a mystery, it may be that the family members won’t talk to your main character, a key piece of evidence is in someone else’s house, and the only eyewitness to the murder was a cat.

GIVE YOUR MAIN CHARACTER AN ARC – 10 minutes

How is your character going to change, learn, or grow over the course of the story? Maybe they’ll need to do this to meet their goal—or maybe they’ll decide they don’t want to achieve that goal any more, as a result of their character arc!

Here are a few examples of character arcs. Not all character arcs are positive!

-She goes from being a real estate agent to being a scam artist.››

-He realizes he cares more about living close to his friends and family than he does about his career.

-She develops the skills and confidence to be a formidable warrior.

 

 

 

Now you have a super-rudimentary plan for a novel: a couple of characters, a goal, conflict, and a main character arc. Very nice! That second character of yours may also have an arc, depending on your story, but you can probably work that out over the course of the first draft. Or you can take ten more minutes now to jot down an idea. It’s up to you!

If this was helpful to you, I hope you’ll share! And if you want more help with conflicts, character traits, and character arcs, check out the plot prompts by genre, character props, and character realizations in my book 5,000 Writing PromptsCheck it out!

5,000 Writing Prompts Bryn Donovan #master plots #ideas for novels

 

Do you usually plot out your novels in advance, or just wing it? Either way, how is it working for you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! Thanks for reading, and happy writing!