Where Do You START When Planning a New Novel?

You have a whopping good idea for a story, but where do you start planning?

Well, that really depends on you as the writer, and is hugely based on your feelings about the story.

Depending on how the story idea manifests itself to you, either in the form of plot, a setting, or a character, a dream, that's where I suggest you begin.

The good news is there is no one path everyone should take. You are free to be as creative as you want.  As K.M. Weiland says in her book Outlining Your Novel,
"Different stories will require slightly (or sometimes radically) different tactics. So don't box yourself into a rigid system. Never be afraid to experiment."
But that's also the bad news if you're new to this writing thing. I remember I found it quite helpful when there was an actual path to follow. So here are just a few ideas:

Where Do You START?

Rarely does it start this way: "I want to write a story about a little girl in England."

I betcha it's going to happen like this: You are minding your own business when suddenly you have this clear vision of a little girl sneaking through a hidden passage and emerging into a room full of dusty, cracked mirrors. There's another door, strung with spider webs, and the little girl tentatively reaches for the handle. You know that if she will just open that door, if you can just find out what's on the other side, somewhere beyond is what this story is all about.

So here are 4 Steps you can use to go about finding what's on the other side of that door:

1. Write down everything you know about your story 

If you see a character, write down every little thought you have about them. Do the same with the plot, setting or theme.

Do you know your character has PTSD, but you never really saw any evidence of it or know how it came to be? Yeah, write it down, even if you don't know how they got it.

Do you know your setting has a strong resemblance to the Irish countryside or the planet Mars? Write that down, too. The same with the plot and theme. All the bits and pieces need to be written down about everything.

For my current work-in-progress, which is based on a dream I had, my bits and pieces looked something like this:

Girl lives with her sister on the edge of a lake.
They live in a community of houses that are connected by bridges.
They go swimming in the lake every morning with others in the community.
Girl has a very handsome, well-known, well-loved father.
Girl does not like her father at all and they have a very tempestuous, angry relationship.
They live in Colonial America in the 1700s, but I want it to have an other-worldly element
Her mother is dead.
Father married mother for her money.

That was the complete manifestation of the dream. But it's all in how you take the little pieces and make them bigger. And this takes a little THINK TIME.

2. Write down what your story is NOT 

For instance, I knew I did not want this story to be about revenge, sexual abuse, or racism. Those were just a few elements I knew I did not want my story to involve. I wanted it to be about something different.

So make a list of things on the side of what you don't want your story to be about and keep them in front of you as you create the rest of the story. You'll remember where you don't want this story to go.

3. Write down your list of characters 

Now's the time to complete your cast of characters as far as you know. Write down everyone who's shown up so far in your story idea. This can help you see what other characters you might need to fill in the gaps.

Now, write down everything you know about each character. 

This doesn't have to be hard. Just jot down ideas about their names, age, height, weight, appearance, clothing etc. all that good stuff. This is actually one of my favorite parts because it's all just a cover a up for who they really are inside.

Scratch out some ideas about their personalities, why readers will like them or won't like them, maybe even take them through a personality test.

Key Thing To Know About Your Characters

Take a piece of paper and dedicate it to each character. Write their name at the top, then underneath, answer this question:

What do they want?

I believe one of the best places to start planning any story is with the characters.

If you begin with the characters and figure out what it is they are doing in this story, then you are on your way to making this story belong to them, to finding out what their goal is, what the theme, plot, and setting are.

4. Write down why this is a story in the first place

True, this might have been better placed as number one, but here's where it all gets interesting. Trust me. This where you find out all the why's, thus the reason this story is a story in the first place.

Using the bits and pieces from my above story we're going to ask the all-hallowed question I love.

Why? Or What If? 
(My personal favorite being Why?)

WHY does girl live with her sister on the edge of a lake?
WHY is this a community of houses connected by bridges?
WHY do they go swimming every morning?
WHY is her father so well-loved by community?
WHY does girl have a tempestuous, angry relationship with father?
WHY is her mother dead?
WHY did her father marry her for money, i.e. what did he want the money for?

Isn't this immaculate? Doesn't this just open each one of these stopping points to some bigger possibility?

Don't settle for just a bland, "Because that's where they've lived all their lives." Dig for something bigger because it is there.

When you start answering these questions about WHY the story is this way, you build a bigger, better world. After I started asking the WHY ques

This is where my stories begin. I usually don't know anything but a few scraps. It's all in what you do with your scraps that's the game changer. Keep digging because the story is there, you just have to find it.

Your next step in the planning stages is entirely up to you. But I suggest you utilize these amazing books and the tips inside them. They completely changed my life. Oh, and they're Pantser and Planner friendly. Just so you know.

Outlining Your Novel

Structuring Your Novel, K.M. Weiland

Write Your Novel From the Middle, James Scott Bell

Outlining Your Novel, K.M. Weiland


  1. This exercise was a game changer for me!

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  3. This was so helpful for me! I have been known to my family as the one chapter writer because I never know where to go with all my wonderful thoughts. Now I know what to do with them! Thanks so much!!


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