Not Your Nano Day 3 – designing bridges


I said I’d talk about outlining/planning your novel a little today but before I do, just know that outlining is different things to different people. Some people write out 150 page synopses that read more like film scripts – dialogue and general descriptions – waiting to be fleshed out, others make intricate mind maps that stretch over several metres of paper, some need a very strict framework to keep their ideas in place and on track, while others need do nothing more than jot down some notes on a scrap of paper which they will then lose.

However you work – and you can work in different ways for different projects – it is your way. There’s no *better* way for everyone, just a better way for you. The best way is one that works hand in glove with your creativity and the story you are telling right now. You’ll have to be the one that figures out what exactly that is though.

For those who know their methods, off you go on your 100 words; for those who want some pointers, here are some of the techniques I’ve encountered and which seem to help different kinds of writers.

Before you get nervous about a set structure making your novel dull and lifeless, just remember: this is not the story; this is just the skeleton, the thing that gives it shape. Story is a million things working in harmony – your plot, your characters, your narrative voice, your particular style of word-play – so don’t get worried that structure = no creativity. Also, your bones can be broken and reset, you can change the shape of your novel the moment you feel it’s not working. This is what a first draft is.

So outlining.

The most rigid forms of outlining are not necessarily going to produce rigid books (though of course, they can). The outline is simply a set of girders to build the basic shape of your model – a bridge is a bridge is a bridge is not a bridge. Not all bridges look the same, though all serve the same purpose. (To provide shelter for trolls)


this is a bridge – shangli-ancient-bridge

and this –


and this –


and, yanno, this –


So you get the idea. People who like structure before they start writing are probably going to be happiest looking through a couple of these sites/ideas.

There’s The Snowflake Method, which builds you up from a few introductory lines to a complete outline.

Have a look through blogs and books like Story Engineering which places a lot of emphasis on the Monomyth structure.

There are others which use similar steps, like Save the Cat.

All of which are worth reading through (even if you’re a pantser) just to get a general feel about story structure.

The best things about these kinds of story structures is they take away a lot of the fear that goes into starting a novel – effectively by-passing the I don’t know what I’m doing/where this story is going! moments of panic. Even if you don’t outline to this extent, it can help to make a couple of notes on key plot points to give yourself mini goals to reach before The End.

Tomorrow I’ll show you how I more or less work, which is a slightly more free-flowing (and prone to wandering off-track).


And now, open your Square Brackets of Absolution, and begin writing (or plotting).


100 words.


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