wikiHow to Plan out a Novel

Five Parts:Planning HelpOrganizationMaking Master ListsBeing Able to Write AnywhereBrainstorming Ideas

It doesn't matter whether you plan on writing a literary novel, a genre piece, or a semi-autobiographical book; the sheer mass of paperwork can accumulate quickly if you don't plan ahead and organize as you go. However, with the help of this article, that won't be a problem.

Planning Help

Sample Novel Plan

Sample Novel Outline

Novel Genre List

Part 1

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    Make and label file folders. This can be done either on your computer or in physical file folders. Choose whichever one you want, or you could even use both, so you have a back-up. Make and label one file folder for each of the following categories:
    • Goals/Deadlines: Even if you don't have a publisher or editor breathing down your neck, it's a good idea to create personal goals and deadlines for completion. Create a master list for your folder and update both calendars if anything changes. For example, if you have an interview with a veterinarian, place that on the calendars and review your master list as to how that alters your goals.
    • Characters: One for each major, secondary, and recurring minor characters as well as another for a "master character list." If your story is one that has character "types" (such as aliens or monsters) make a folder for those as well.
    • Maps/Settings: Not just for large scale settings (such as a "story world" map so you can differentiate between galaxy sectors in a sci-fi tale or which neighbor lives next door to the other one) but for each major household so you don't have your main character with the master bedroom on the first floor in one chapter, and then five chapters later it's on the second or third floor.
    • Scenes: One for your "Master Scene List" (see tips) for a quick overview and one for each scene in your novel. You may eventually wish to combine scenes into chapter sections, but until you're sure exactly what form your novel is going to take this technique makes it easier to mix and match until the novel is solid.
    • Research: Start with a list of questions on areas in your novel that you are unsure about and use secondary (encyclopedia etc.) as well as primary resources that you can frequently acquire through a few phone calls whether by using the phone book or by contacts you know from work or your personal life.
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    Organize these files appropriately inside of the filing cabinet. File major categories (character, etc) alphabetically and then by sub-categories (specific characters). If you're doing this on your computer, do the same thing - make one large folder with your novel title, and then inside of that, make many smaller folders.
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    Assure that the research materials you'll need are conveniently located. Have dictionaries, thesauruses, books, etc. on hand so that you don't spend an hour looking for them should you need them while writing your book.

Part 2
Making Master Lists

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    Create a "Master Scene List". To get an idea of whether or not your novel has the "right stuff" start with a rough outline or "Master Scene List". To do this, write the numbers 1-30, list style (skipping a line for each number) on a piece of paper. By number 1, write a sentence or two about your opening scene. By number 30, write a sentence or two about your closing scene. Now that you know how your novel starts and the general direction you're headed in, write a sentence or two for the remaining numbers.

Part 3
Being Able to Write Anywhere

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    Create an "On the Go" Kit. The point of this kit is so you can grab needed supplies whenever you leave the house. You never know when you'll run across a reference source, be inspired, or, more importantly, be able to grab a few extra moments to work on a bit of your novel. For your "On the Go" Kit, you'll need to place the following inside of a tote bag or briefcase:
    • Paperback dictionary
    • Spiral notebooks
    • Tape recorder and peripherals
    • Various office supplies (pens, pencils, erasers, etc.)
    • Small calendar

Part 4
Brainstorming Ideas

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    Use brainstorming for ideas and for moving past blocks. Brainstorming can allow for the introduction of new ideas that weren't an original part of your plan. They can also help you get over writer's block at any stage of the writing process.
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    Brainstorm alone or with others. Go somewhere you enjoy being, such as a local coffee house with a great vibe, the beach, the woods, your favorite reading corner. It's important to feel comfortable and at peace. If you're working with a friend or group of friends, find a place where you all feel comfortable and can speak freely without feeling self-conscious.
    • Even when resting you can brainstorm. Lie down when you're tired and think about your novel and let the ideas run freely.
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    Focus on the part of the story needing new ideas. Let the ideas flow freely, and don't stifle any of them. You never know which newly surfaced idea might develop further. Record all of the ideas as best you can (writing, recording on a device, filming, etc.).
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    Allow the ideas to percolate in your mind for a few days afterward. Which ideas have traction? Allow these ones to flourish and turn into real elements within your novel.
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    Repeat as often as needed.


  • The closer the foundation of a novel is to the truth, the more believable the fiction will be. For example, if you set your tale in medieval England, make sure the clothing and mannerisms are correct for each character class. Even if your tale is science-fiction, you'll want to blend in a bit of science fact to keep your readers riveted to what you have to say.
  • Take breaks and revise your work just so you know what is going on.
  • Having a copy of a floor plan (either online or off) can be a major help in assuring a story flows smoothly. You can either make your own or use external resources such as websites (a handful are listed below) or by purchasing a copy from a supplier or even a historical society. Larger libraries may even have floor plans that you can photocopy on site.
  • Recommended reading:
    • The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language Fourth Edition
    • Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus Third Edition
    • Bartlett's Familiar Quotations
    • Britannica Concise Encyclopedia The Updated Version
    • The Writer's Digest Handbook of Novel Writing


  • It is very easy to get stuck in the planning phase of writing your novel. If you find yourself doing this, step back and remind yourself of your ultimate goal and prioritize. For example, if you only have ten or so folders to begin with, just write out the major categories and worry about sub-folders later.

Things You'll Need

  • File folders (purchasing a bulk package is highly recommended)
  • Blank labels
  • Hanging files
  • 2-drawer filing cabinet
  • Spiral notebooks
  • Reference materials
  • Phone book
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Encyclopedia
  • Book of quotations
  • Tape recorder (make sure you have spare batteries, tapes, etc.)
  • Various office supplies (pens, pencils, paper clips, staplers, etc)
  • Tote bag or briefcase
  • 2 calendars, one large for at home, the other for your "On the Go" Kit.
  • Computer/laptop (optional)

Article Info

Categories: Novels