tagged with: plotting your novel

How do you begin writing a novel? How do you build the plot, recruit a cast of characters, place them in an exotic 6a00d8341d6a8353ef015435c1dcc7970c-500wisetting and do all that in a way that will keep your readers turning the pages? In other words, where do you get your ideas? At a conference I attended, one of the presenters suggested that authors browse popular magazines for stories that interest them and build a plot based on that. She actually had us draw up a simple outline during the session. I came up with a few other fountain of ideas.

From other novels.  As a writer, you should be reading – a lot – especially in the genre you want to write. Even famous novelists report that they have been influenced by other authors, especially the classical ones like Hemingway, Dostoyevsky and others. One editor suggested you summarize a novel you enjoyed, but change the entire premise. Instead of the good guy riding off into the sunset with the girl, have her marry the bad guy instead. It could mark the beginning of a series.

From your life.  What kind of life experiences have you had? Have you ever stumbled on something you were not supposed to witness? Have you ever found yourself in a place you were not supposed to be? How did you get out of it? At the last conference I attended, one of the hosts mentioned that the fourth floor of the hotel in which we were staying was not accessible either by elevator or escalator. Why was the fourth floor cut off like that? What was on that floor? The mystery writers among us all had their antennae up.

The media. One thing we can be assured of is, people love bad news. Every book on writing will tell you that an effective story begins with someone facing a disaster or conflict of some sort. Therefore, if you want bad news, where do you turn? To the media, of course. They dole out mini plots everyday. Think of the stories that dominated the headlines last year. The disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the Ebola outbreak,  the Bill Cosby rape allegations, ISIS, police shootings, and other less popular stories can all provide us with enough material for many books.

Your job. Regardless of where you work, your job can be a treasure trove of interesting stories. Your co-worker who is going through a divorce, a grandmother whose son has just moved back home, a woman who has just been diagnosed with cancer, an accountant who is cooking the books to keep his mistress. The list is endless. The idea for my first novel Coming Out Of Egypt came from when I worked as a schoolteacher. There were two sisters who, it was rumored, were being abused. In my novel, the older girl kills her father.

Your imagination. Of course, no matter where you look for ideas, you will not have a salable idea without imagination. You cannot rewrite a news item and make it read like a novel without infusing it with some imaginary details. If the situation you now come up with intrigues you and makes you want to keep on writing, then you can be sure your readers will want to keep on reading.

After you hit on an idea that sparks your creativity, draw up a plot then run it by a few friends. Listen carefully to what they say, but go with your gut feeling. You will write many drafts before you type The End. Drop me a line in the comment box below and let me know where your ideas come from.


When you set about the daunting task of writing a novel, your main task is to plot it in such a way that people will want to read it. And by plotting I mean writing a series of events from beginning to end in a logical manner. In order to do this you may use the first tried and true method, which is,

Sit and write, stand and write, kneel and write, whichever works best for you. And you begin your novel, It was a dark and stormy night. This didn’t work for Snoopy and it might not work for you either. So how do you plot your novel? Here are some plotting methods I’ve come across in books.

1. Write down some background information. This may include notes about your characters and what makes them tick. Next, you put your characters in a place or several places, which will be your setting, then you give your main character a problem. How he/she solves (or does not solve) that problem will be your plot.

2. Using an outline. Some authors swear by this. You start with a problem for your main character, then you write a chapter outline of the plot. This is okay, but I have found that I can never stick to an outline. My characters tend to pull me away from it in more interesting avenues, which I can’t resist.

3. Use 3 x 5 cards. If you can still find these in your office supply store, they might be more helpful than the outline. Here’s why. After you have written your plot points on the cards, you can always move them around to see where they fit best, or discard those that do not work. Maybe it’s better if Sally tells Johnny she is divorced after they have gone on their first date instead of before. So you move that card to where you want the event to occur.

4. Draw a bell curve or a graph. Either of these will give you a visual representation of where the climax of your story comes. To do this, use the points you plotted on 3 x 5 cards or in the outline. Again, I find the cards are easier to play around with. Draw your curve and plot the salient points on your curve in the order in which they appear. Hopefully, the high point of your novel or the climax will fall in, or near, the middle of the curve. If it doesn’t, you may have to do some restructuring. The reason for this is, if the climax comes too early, the resolution tends to drag and the reader may lose interest. If it comes too late, the resolution may seem rushed and the reader may feel cheated.

The important thing to remember is, there is no hard and fast rule for writing or plotting your novel. You may ignore everything that was said here and simply sit at your computer like Snoopy and type. However, if you think you need a little bit of planning before you delve into the literary waters, then play with some of the methods above. If you find one, or a combination, that works for you, go for it.