Hey, friends! How's the writing going?
If you follow me on Twitter, you know how much I love hanging out there whenever I can. In addition to co-hosting the weekly #StorySocial chat, I tend to share snippets of my writing life, behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, and general writing and reading nerdiness a few times each day.
I'd love if you'd stop by for a visit.
As it happens, a couple of weeks ago, the lovely Jordan and I were chatting, and she sent me this tweet:
I was all too happy to oblige!
I spent years turning my plot bunny into a novel (and eventually a planned novel series), time that could have been better spent otherwise had I possessed step-by-step instructions for crafting my story more efficiently.
Unfortunately I didn't, which is exactly why I'm so excited to share such a resource with you! But first, if you don't have a clue as to what a plot bunny is, allow me to explain:
A plot bunny is simply a story idea that just won't leave you alone. It usually comes in the form of a single scene, character, or concept, forcing you to fill in the gaps if you want a full plot for your novel. And if that sounds like a daunting task, it's because it is!
But turning a story idea into a fully-fledged novel doesn't have to be too overwhelming. I have a simple, eleven-step breakdown that will make novel planning a breeze–or at least close to it. So what do you say? Are you ready to turn your plot bunny into a fully-fledged novel plot?
Without any further ado, let's get crackin'.
Exploring Your Story Idea
Step 1. Write it Down.
I'm tempted to say that you should always keep a notebook on hand, but, in this day and age, you probably have a cellphone that will do just as well. Whatever the case, make sure you write down your plot bunny as soon as possible, skipping over none of the details.
Our newborn ideas are often the most pure and magical they will ever be. Writing them down is a sure way to capture all of that magic and remember it the next time you're feeling lost or discouraged.
Step 2. Identify an Interest.
Look at the plot bunny you've written down. What about it in particular piques your interest? Is it a character? A concept? The setting or conflict? Whatever it is, begin to flesh out that element, adding new details that will help you form the rest of the novel. For example:
• A Character. Create a character sketch. Not a drawing (though you could certainly do that, too!), but a detailed overview of your character. Consider including your character's age, appearance, lifestyle, acquaintances, goals, motivations, and any other elements you think up as you write.
• A Concept. A concept may be big, like a corrupt government trying to take over the world, or small, like a locket that has been passed down through generations. In any case, you can flesh out your concept with one simple trick: ask questions.
Think about your readers. What questions would they ask about your concept? Write down every question you brainstorm, and begin to answer as many as you can. If you find that one question has you stumped, don't stress yourself out. Skip it for now! As you continue to brainstorm, everything will fall into place.
• A Setting - If a particular setting has captured your attention, get to know it better by answering some worldbuilding questions. Earlier this year, I wrote an entire article on worldbuilding, so I'll just leave this lovely little link right here.
Even if your plot bunny takes place in the real world, most of the questions in that post can help you flesh out any setting. Hurray!
• A Conflict - Just as you would for a concept, write down any and all questions readers would have about your conflict. Begin to think about the key players, their goals and motivations, their personalities. This will help you determine how the conflict will play out and resolve.
And don't forget to think about how the conflict began in the first place!
Step 3. Stretch Yourself.
Now that you've fleshed out the element that interested you most, it's time to go back and work on everything else. You can use the same activities above to help you develop your story elements.
Don't worry if you spend a lot of time here. In fact, it will probably take you somewhere between a few days to several weeks to really get to know all your of story's elements, and that's okay! The more time you spend strengthening your story now, the less time you'll have to spend in revisions.
Meeting Your Characters
Step 4. Get to Know Your Key Players.
At this point, you should already have one well-developed character, but you'll need at least two if you plan on creating an interesting plot. Without both a hero and a villain (or some antagonistic force of conflict), the action in your novel will fall flat.
If you haven't a clue as to who they might be, head back up to step #3 and continue to work on your conflict. Even if the conflict in your plot bunny isn't between the hero and the villain, it probably reveals something about at least one of the two characters. Use what you already know to expand upon that character.
Once you've nailed down one of the two, you should be able to create the other with relative ease. For example, if you know that your hero will be brave but brash, you could create a villain so intelligent and calculating they're always one step ahead of the game. These opposing personalities will keep tensions running high in your story.
The more time you spend getting to know your main players, the better.
Step 5. Goals and Motivations.
Don't have time to dive in deep right now? Here are a few goal and motivation basics:
Firstly, your hero and villain can either have the same or opposing goals. When they share the same goal, they usually have opposing motivations instead. This brings them into direct conflict with one another at seemingly every turn.
If your hero and your villain want different things, their attempts to achieve their goals should still bring them into conflict in some respect. You also want to make sure that your hero's main goal isn't to simply defeat the villain. If you want to make them likable, they need to pursue something that doesn't directly have to do with tearing someone else down.
Step 6. Craft Their Backup.
Life is not lived alone. Your hero and your villain should have people to back them up. Mentors. Sidekicks. Henchmen. Love interests. Begin to think about who will be at your characters' sides as they attempt to achieve their goals.
Who will guide them? Help them? Encourage them? Challenge them? Do their bidding? Love them when they are at their worst? Ask yourself all of these questions as you brainstorm.
Discovering Your Characters' Stories
Step 7. Begin Plotting.
Now you have a well-developed hero and villain, a general idea of your setting and conflict, and even a particular concept in mind that will set your story apart. The only thing left to do is to turn these story elements into a fully-fledged plot outline.
Don't freak out. Creating a plot outline may seem like an overwhelming task, but we're going to take this step by step. First up? Choosing your story's plot structure.
In essence, a plot structure is the bare bones of your story, the general flow of events that will work together to hook your readers in and continue to thrill them. If you don't already have a plot structure in mind, check out this post on three bestselling plot structures to make your decision.
Step 8. Make Your Characters Stronger.
Every good plot is born out of your characters' actions. As such, your characters are your plot. That's why we need to take yet another look at our main characters.
By now you know where they're headed and where they've been, but do you know how your characters develop along their journey? In order for your characters to experience growth, they must be imperfect creatures. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to develop your characters' growth:
• What are my character's personality flaws?
• How do their flaws work against them in their attempt to achieve their goal?
• Is my character aware of their flaws? If not, who or what eventually makes them aware?
• Does my character want to change?
• What is the catalyst that will spur their growth?
• What is my character's breaking point?
• What loss will my character experience that will encourage their new understanding of the world?
If you'd like to take things a step further, make sure to check out my entire post on the thirty-three ways to make your characters stronger. As you discover more and more about your characters, begin to plot the major events of their journey on your plot structure.
Step 9. Plot the Ultimate Conflict.
The climax is arguably the most important event in your novel. Everything you've plotted thus far has been leading up to this moment while everything that follows will resolve it. In that respect, your entire novel hinges on this climactic moment.
That is exactly why it is so important that you spend plenty of time fleshing out your characters.
The climax is the final conflict between your hero and the villain (or whatever antagonistic force they're facing). Every other character and conflict should fade into the background as the hero and the villain finally reach the win-or-die moment, so to speak. Or literally, depending on your story. ;)
As you fill in the climax on your plot structure, take a look at everything you've plotted thus far. Is there anything that hasn't worked to build up the tension to this final moment? Consider removing it from your plot. Did you find any plot holes or dropped plot lines? Take the time to fill in the gaps.
Make sure you've done everything in your power to plot a story that leads up to a nail-biting conflict.
Step 10. Find the Questions.
As you've plotted your story, you've naturally introduced questions to your future readers. In fact, we've already talked about some of these questions above in Step #7, but I want you to take another look over what you've plotted so far and write down any questions you've created.
Begin to check off the ones you've already answered. In doing so, you'll discover the loose threads you've left behind. It's good to leave some questions unanswered after the climax, but you'll definitely want to wrap everything up before the end of your novel.
Consider how you can answer these final questions according to your plot structure. If you can, leave one question unanswered until the final page so that your readers remain hooked all the way through.
Got it all worked out? Voila! You've created the basis of an entire novel from your plot bunny. But you're not ready to start writing quite yet...
Are you truly prepared to write?
Step 11. Prepare to Write.
You now have a fully-fledged story outline, but there may be a bit more work for you to complete before you begin writing. Consider this:
"Writing a novel is an endurance sport,
a marathon of the mind."
In all likelihood, you'll be spending several months working on just the first draft. It's best to be well-prepared, right?
So before you begin, you'll want to make sure you have a strong writing routine set in place. You'll also want to do a bit of research for your novel. Knowing your topics well before you begin writing will ensure you create a spectacular first draft, meaning you'll have less work to do later in the editing stage. Huzzah!
Finally, consider creating a full-length outline for your novel using the Epic Novel Plan. If you want to see your book published someday, you'll need to treat your novel as the professional piece of work it is. I based my outlining technique off of a real business plan, so it'll be sure to help you treat your novel with that same level of professionalism.
Aaand...you've reached the end. Hurray!
Don't worry if all of this seems like a lot of work. I don't expect you to crank out every step in a single day, or even in a single week for that matter. Writing a novel is like constructing a house; you need to have everything well-prepared before you begin to build.
So take your time, dive deep into your creativity, and allow your plot bunny to blossom!