Ever daydream about conversations between your characters in your head, then curse yourself when you finally sit down to write for not making a note of the dialogue? Or are you notorious for having brilliant ideas for your novel throughout the day and forgetting them moments later? If you answered yes, you’re not alone.
This is where the novel notebook comes in. Many of us writers are pen-and-paper kinds of people, although online writing programmes are gaining popularity. Some writers are meticulous when it comes to planning their novels. (Guilty as charged!) Others aren’t keen on plotting at all, and prefer to let inspiration take the wheel.
Whatever your plotting preference, allow me to try and change your mind. I present to you the #novelnotebook.
My notebook of choice is a lined, A4 notebook with 5 tab dividers. Choosing your notebook is purely a matter of preference; I write quite big and love to doodle and draw, so I like big notebooks (and I cannot lie!). Other writers may prefer a smaller A6 notebook for portability.
My notebook also has a zipped pouch at the back for storing useful items like pens, index cards, and sticky notes. It also includes a folder pouch to store loose sheets of paper. Very useful for my purposes – if I forget my notebook, I can scribble on a sheet of paper and pop it in the folder for easy access later.
Whatever notebook you get is up to you, but I think notebooks with tabs work best for plotting a novel. That way, you can section off your notebook however you see fit. I’ll go over my own sections with you below.
Section 1: Characters & Setting
I take my characters beyond hair and eye colour descriptions. I want to know them inside out: what foods they like and don’t like, what they’re afraid of, what their worst habit is. That’s why I have the character section.
I find character profiles really useful. I’ll use the front side of the page for the profile and the back side for the character arc. That way, I can fully describe them and then flip to the back side to see how and when those traits are introduced to the reader.
Some things you might include in a character and setting section:
- Character profiles or charts
- The character arc
- A summary of minor characters
- A family tree
- A character wheel
- A map showing distances between locations
- In-depth descriptions of setting
- A worldbuilding chart
Section 2: Research
Any work of considerable length will require a bit of research. The key is to organise all those fancy new facts in one place. That’s what the research section is for (duh). I’ve started my research section with a general list of topics I need to look into for the novel and organise them by category.
Some things you might include in the research section:
- A list of topics to research
- Detailed notes on those topics
- A list of films, books, or other media to read/watch
- Writing tips you’ve gleaned from various sources
Section 3: Structure
My structure section is where I can go and take a look at the brick-and-mortar of my novel. For me, it includes all those little things that can be easy to forget in the writing process.
Some things you might include in the structure section:
- A three-act structure breakdown
- A full outline of the novel
- A step outline, as used in scripts (see an example here)
- A summary of problems with the current structure
- A chronological timeline of the events of your novel
- A calendar to make a note of character birthdays and other important events
Section 4: Editing
There are so many things to keep in mind when you edit, and sometimes I lose track of them all when I’m making changes to my draft. My editing section is my saving grace for that. This is where I keep all my editing notes, including:
- My master editing plan
- Key questions to remember during editing
- A summary of major changes
- Editing styles to follow
- Notes taken during editing
- A summary of feedback from beta readers
Section 5: Miscellaneous
My misc section is probably my favourite section. This is where I can dump all my thoughts, ideas, questions, frustrations, and worries about my novel however I like. I’m a pretty meticulous person when it comes to organisation, but I like having the freedom to doodle all over the page if I need to.
Some things I’ve included in my misc section:
- A summary of my main focuses for the novel
- Things I haven’t mentioned yet that might be important
- My novel soundtrack
- My novel “to-do” list
- A positivity page for when I lose motivation
- Various notes and/or epiphanies that wouldn’t fit anywhere else
- Novel “rants” and notes to self
As you can see, a lot of stuff goes into writing a novel! Since we writers tend to be a bit scatterbrained by nature, it’s a good idea to have one place for all our ideas, research, characterisation, doodles, and whatever else we deem necessary for plotting.
You might not know what some of the aforementioned pages are. But don’t worry, I’m not gonna leave you hangin’. Starting next week, I’ll release a new #novelnotebook post each week to help guide you through the process of creating your own notebook. Make sure you stay tuned next week for the first #novelnotebook post on the character profile and arc page!
Got any ideas for pages in the #novelnotebook? Drop them in the comments!