Writing Tip – Organizing Your Novel

Many readers have asked me how I get started on writing a novel, so I thought I would share my process with you. Each author has their own method on what works for them, so there is no right or wrong way. But if you’re struggling, maybe these tips will be helpful.

There are “outliners” vs. “pantsers” in the writing world. A “pantser” is a writer who writes “by the seat of their pants” or goes with the flow. They enjoy the freedom of seeing what happens as they go along. An “outliner” is someone who outlines their book knowing the flow ahead of time. “Outliners” feel this gives them a structure for their muse and keeps them on track.

I am a little of both. I build a brief outline, and then as I’m writing if the characters hijack the bus and take the journey in a different direction, then so be it. At least I have a way of getting back on track if I find myself in the flabby middle of my book with nowhere to go.

Here are the steps I take when I begin a new book:

  1. Write the blurb for the back of the book – this gives me the full vision of what I want the entire story to be in a brief synopsis
  2. Do a character sketch for each character, spending more time on the protagonist and antagonist – this allows me to build my character’s personality in my mind. Every detail is important to a reader in how a character behaves, reacts, looks, etc. It also gives me something to refer back to when I get halfway through and can’t remember my hero’s eye color. See this posts for suggestions: Character Sketches
  3. Build a brief chapter outline – one or two sentences per chapter all the way to the end. This helps me know the path I want to travel. I don’t always stick to it, and that’s the beauty of creativity, but it gives me something to refer back to in case I wander too far off the path.
  4. Make sure the first page has a hook. I make sure my hook happens within the first paragraph if I can, but at a minimum the first page. I pride myself on writing page-turners and an immediate hook is a must.

Pretty simple, huh? This is not a full proof process, but hopefully it can help you get started. I’d be delighted to answer any questions if you have them.

About Kelly Abell

I am a writer, blogger, and graphic artist. My aim for you is to utilize this blog to help you improve your writing skills, and to educate you on the publishing business. If you need help with writing, want to self-publish a book and need advice, or just want to kick a story idea around to see what works best, that's what I'm here for. As I gain knowledge from editors and publishers, I will share that knowledge with you. As writers we should always strive to improve our craft and grow. A day should not pass where you haven't learned or tried something new with your writing. Many thanks to my Night Owl Friend, Lea Ellen Borg for editing my posts! Best to you and all your characters and stories. Write on, my friends...Write on.
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23 Responses to Writing Tip – Organizing Your Novel

  1. jackstr952 says:

    Kelly – I approach my writing projects much the same way. I’ve tried both methods and can get a start with writing prompts or ideas, but it bogs down pretty quickly. I have created templates in Word and Excel (character profiles, timelines, etc.) because through experience I’ve found it’s too easy to get lost. Knowing character’s ages and where they were and what they were doing during the time span of the story is essential to keep things straight.


  2. Kelly Abell says:

    Hi Jack. As always its great to have you stop by. Do you have these documents on a link you can share? Thanks!


    • jackstr952 says:

      Kelly – I do but I’m thinking I might write a self-help book instead because I have quite a bit or material with the templates and the Excel spreadsheet has a number of formulas and drop-down lists. I’ll need to give it some thought and might share some of it (perhaps as a “teaser”) – so much to write and so little time in the day . . . 🙂


  3. jackstr952 says:

    Oops – there I go – should be bit “of” material not bit “or” material! 😦


  4. Kelly, I do many of the same things as you except for the blurb on the back of the book. I find I can’t write that until my first draft is completed.


  5. R&M hepner says:

    Kelly, I’ve usually done some of your methods; they seem to work with me. But as usual big changes or alternatives occur along the way. It’s names, character sketches, subsequent chapter paths I always concern myself with.

    All the best, cheers, Ron


  6. Kelly Abell says:

    Hi Ron! Thanks for stopping by. Yep, you’re right. As long as the basic organization is there then you can stray from the path as needed.


  7. adeleulnais says:

    Thank you for posting, great advice.


  8. Great tips here, Kelly, for both pantsers and plotters. I love your idea of writing the blurb first. And I also see that your chapter outlines/scene outlines could easily serve as the “dreaded synopsis”.


  9. Reblogged this on Dan Alatorre – AUTHOR and commented:
    Yesterday we were talking a little about how Scrivener helps you get organized; today Kelly goes through her process.


  10. I think most people are a combination plotter-pantser. Thanks for sharing your ideas. I’m reblogging this today.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Kelly Abell says:

    Thanks for re-blogging! Very much appreciated.


  12. Pingback: Writing Tip – Organizing Your Novel | meatdoesntgrowinmygarden

  13. J.A. Stinger says:

    Reblogged this on .


  14. Allan G. Smorra says:

    Thanks for sharing your process. I like the idea of writing the blurb first. That makes it a bit of a Mission Statement, in part.

    BTW, your link to the Character Sketches seems to be broken.


  15. John Maberry says:

    I would LIKE to do more planning and organizing but outlines and character sketches seem an uncomfortable and difficult process. At the same time I find it frustrating when I’m “going with the flow” and then wish I knew where to go next. Guess that’s why writing is challenging at times. 🙂


    • Kelly Abell says:

      Hi John. Thanks for stopping by. Like with any project, writing a story needs a certain amount of organizat ion. Maybe it depends on where your story ideas come from. If it starts with a character then dig a little deeper and find out who you want tgat character to be both emotionally and physically. That will often help with where you want to go with your plot.

      If your story idea starts with a plot idea then try to outline at least the first few chapters or the major turning points in your story. A basic outline doesn’t chain you to it. It just offers direction when the creative process runs a little dry or you get to that flabby middle of the story and don’t know how to get to that spectacular ending you have planned.

      It does take patience and some perseverence but it’s worth it. Let me know if I can help.


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