I’m a plotter.
Before writing any new book, I take time (probably more time than I actually take on the first draft) to plot it out in detail.
I use a number of tools, including notebooks, cards and the awesome Scrivener.
But the most important thing is to have a clear idea of how to structure a story and add in all the elements that will make it cohesive and compelling.
To help me learn about this, I’ve read lots of books about plotting. I’ve spent time using the techniques in each of them in my own plotting and testing whether it works for me.
And some of them have been more helpful than others. So here is my list of the top five books to help you plot your next novel.
Structuring Your Novel by KM Weiland
KM Weiland is one of my favorite writing gurus. Her weekly podcast, ‘Helping Writers Become Authors’, is a source of in-depth analysis and advice which helps me learn the craft. And the geek in me enjoys her analysis of the the do’s and don’ts of storytelling according to Marvel.
So her series of writing craft books are one of my go-to resources when I’m plotting. Structuring Your Novel is probably the most useful as it analyzes story structure, provides concrete examples, and gives you practical tips. It’s clear and logical, and very useful.
Into The Woods by John Yorke
If you want in-depth, academic analysis of what makes a great story work, you can’t go far wrong with John Yorke’s Into The Woods.
It looks at the classics as well as at more modern work, and identifies why well-structured stories resonate with audiences. But it’s not just an analysis: it also gives you tips for how to integrate this into your own stories. It’s a fascinating read.
Save The Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody
The Save the Cat! book is recognized as one of the most useful and influential books in screenwriting. Save the Cat! Writes a Novel applies it to the specific craft of novel writing.
It takes you through the 15 beats of story structure and gives examples of how (and why) these work in well-known novels. It also has a really useful guide to micro-outlining the third act of your novel, which I used for my latest novel and found really helpful.
Inside Story by Dara Marks
I love this book. I first discovered it when it was recommended to me by a speaker at the Festival of Writing and it influenced my writing probably more than any other of the books in this list.
It links plot, character and theme, and shows you how the three are intrinsically connected and can be woven together to create powerful stories that are more than the sum of their parts.
In paperback it is very expensive (I like my writing guides in paperback so I can fill them with post-its), but it’s worth every penny. A comprehensive and inspiring guide.
The Novel Planning Workbook by Rachel McCollin
Well, I had to include one of my own here, didn’t I?
The Novel Planning Workbook is different from all of the books above, and it’s designed to complement them.
Instead of being a guide to story structure or an analysis of how great stories work, it’s a resource you can use to plan your own books. It consists of a structured template that allows you to make notes on the structure of your novel, the characters and their development, and the themes and story worlds.
In it, I’ve brought together the best of all of the aspects of the books above and created a resource that doesn’t just look at character, structure or theme. Instead it starts high-level and then drills down into more detail, moving back and forth between character, structure and theme so that you can use the development of each to help you with the development of the others.
Right now it’s only available in paperback because it’s designed for you to write in it. But let me know if you think it would be useful in ebook and I’ll publish it in that format too.
I’m currently using it to plan my next novel and finding it really helpful. I hope you do too!