Before we get too deep, I want to say that all you really need to write a novel is a pen and paper and your imagination. Even so, there are a bunch of digital tools that can help you become a more efficient writer.
I thought this was going to be a quick and dirty tips-style post, but as I started making notes, I realized just how much I’ve integrated technology into my everyday writing. Instead of bombarding you with everything all at once, I decided to spread it out into a few posts. This week, I’ll talk about the resources I use before I start on my first draft.
Walk the (Out)line
As a plotter, I can’t start writing if I’m not confident in the story I’m about to dive into. To gain that confidence, I adopted lots of techniques from around the internet.
I don’t know who first told me about Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method, but it’s absolutely changed my writing life. Here’s the gist of it: you start with a one-sentence summary, then expand that sentence into a paragraph. Then you expand each sentence in that paragraph to be their own paragraph, and so on. I like it because you can make your plotting as detailed or vague as you like, but no matter how far you take it, the method ensures that you have a clear beginning and end to your story. Another reason I really love the Snowflake method is that it allows for a lot of flexibility in the structure of your plot--you don’t have to “save the cat” if that’s not your thing.
For those that do prefer a little more structure, I have friends who swear by Better Novel Project’s Master Outline. Christine Frazier takes the plots of three mega-bestsellers (The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Twilight) and breaks them down into a single 20 chapter outline. She compares all their shared traits so that you can see why they work and then incorporate them into your own outline. She even has a handy notecard system!
Name Those Babies
If you’re a pantser, you may be able to start without a fully formed plot, but you can’t start without a few characters. And of course, your characters need the perfect names! I know this seems like a no-brainer, but frankly, it’s easy to get swamped by all the baby name websites out there. That’s why my preferred name-choosing venue is no frills: Behind the Name, and its sister site, Behind the Surname.
They both have straightforward categorizations of names by origin and meaning, and the first name site also has an easy to use name generator for when a minor character you hadn’t anticipated pops up. Even though it looks a little staid, Behind the Name also has mythological and fantasy names, plus its stats features will help you avoid choosing trendy name of the day and regretting it later.
Building Your World
If you’re writing a science fiction/fantasy story, there’s one more step you’ll want to consider before you begin your draft, and that’s world building. While the degree to which I plot varies from project to project, I go all in on world building. The more you know about your invented setting, the more lived in and believable it will be for the reader.
Like with plotting, there are a ton of ways to go about building your world (Brandon Sanderson has a whole lecture series about writing fantasy), but my go to is Patricia C. Wrede’s set of fantasy world building questions. With literally hundreds of questions, you don’t need to answer all of them, or even most of them, but they get you thinking about your world as a whole.
As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of asking questions of yourself to help shape your story. But left to my own devices, I probably wouldn’t have thought about many of the questions Wrede asks, like, “How expensive is a healer?” or “Where would a traveler stay at night?” But the answers to those questions add little consistencies to your world that make it feel more real.
With a plot in place, original character names, and a unique setting, you have all the building blocks you need to write a killer first draft. Do you have a favorite place on the internet that helps build your story? Let me know!
Part I | Part II | Part III | Historical Bonus
On the blog, you'll finds musings on writing craft, book reviews, and general updates on my work. If there are any topics you'd like me to cover, leave a comment!