Should You Outline Before Writing

Every author tends to have a personal process when writing. However, struggles like writer’s block are universal. That’s why there are techniques to streamline this process like the Feynman Technique that we discussed in our previous write-up. This is a method designed for learning new and complex concepts wherein authors have to familiarize themselves with the plot of their novel until they can teach the story to someone else in simple terms.

The Feynman technique is just one method out of many to outline your story before writing. This helps authors see the scope of the story and the bigger picture of the narrative so that writing becomes easier. Still not convinced? Here are a few other different ways that outlining before writing can help.

Preserving ideas and stories

Inspiration can come to writers in the most obscure locations, but frustratingly not when they’re in the process of writing itself. That is why Pulitzer finalist Joyce Carol Oates in her Masterclass discusses the importance of keeping a journal when preserving ideas and stories for the future. Here, one can practice jotting down events from their day, things that make them grateful, and ideas for future books and articles in a neat outline.

This allows an author to look back over those entries when in need of inspiration. This also encourages creativity while sharpening one’s senses for writing.

Writing more and faster

Many writers try to create a realistic timeline for writing a book, and this process could be sped up by having an outline in advance. The Writer Files, a popular podcast on Scribd, spoke with author Jeffrey Deaver who is known for his extensive outlining process. According to Deaver, his outlines can be as many as 150 pages long as they include every element of the plot. He especially details when each character enters the story and when they leave.

When he finally begins the process of writing the story, he is able to churn out 5,000-6,000 words a day to complete 110,000-word books in less than two months. When we compare this with The Blog Herald’s sample computation of a writing timeline of 8 months to reach a 70,000-word mark, we can see a stark difference. That’s because an outline already tells the writer how the story will progress from beginning to end. Writers simply need to fill the contents out.

Relieving blank-page syndrome

Blank-page syndrome is another word for the dreaded writer’s block that frustrates every aspiring writer. Author Eric Maisel interviewed creativity coach Louise Warren on overcoming blank-page syndrome and how writers can move on to a different section of their piece when stuck. This is made possible with an outline.

An outline chronicles every section of your story, so even if you temporarily work on a different section, you can still ensure that your story follows the original plotline. This prevents you from having to adjust any preceding or succeeding events that take up more time.

Avoiding getting sidetracked

There are times when authors create various subplots to increase the depth of the story or the psychology of a character. While subplots can be necessary, it is also an easy reason for writers to detract from the main story until the subplot is no longer relevant or until the main story feels unfinished.

Writing takes discipline, and having an outline can help emphasize the vision of your story so that you stick to the progression of your main plot. The subplots can still be created but will remain within the bounds of being merely supportive of the main story entirely.

That is why outlines are a common tool for successful writers. To begin yourself, check out a couple of our story plans at Story Planner with our easy-to-follow steps that help writers plan ahead. With effort, time, and a great outline, you can become a writer with better stories each time.

For more writing tips do read our other blog posts on Story Planner.

written for

by Reed Jewel

The 9 best books for novel planning

There are hundreds of books to help writers plan and structure a story, but many of them do little more than describe the famous three-act formula without inspiring much creativity. I’m going to share my nine favourite novel planning books that offer real help to writers who want to plot a well-structured novel.

Save the Cat

In 2005 Blake Snyder published his Save the Cat method with an easy to understand 15 story beats that ensured every plot had a perfect story rhythm. The book was pitched at screenwriters, but storytelling is storytelling, so this method works perfectly for novels too. It’s a tragedy that Blake Snyder died in 2009 but his method has stood the test of time and is still loved today.

The reason this book is one of my favourites is because Blake Snyder was a brilliant communicator. He describes plot structure in a way that helps people ‘get’ it; and he adds many unique insights into the plotting process that makes sense. He calls the beginning of act two a ‘fun and games’ section, where the ‘promise of the premise’ is fulfilled. This means this section of the story should entertain readers with the world that’s described on the book blurb, or movie log line. His famous ‘Save the Cat moment’ is a plot element that occurs early in act one, when the hero is introduced, it ensures a hero is to be relatable because we see them demonstrate some very human act like saving a cat. Obviously not every hero needs to save an actual feline, but Blake pointed out that all stories need to make us like the central character. Too many stories just assume we’ll care for the hero. Does your novel have an early moment when your hero’s relatable humanity is revealed?

I love the original Save the Cat book, because of Snyder’s humorous writing style, but I also highly recommend Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat! Writes a Novel which perfectly reworks the Save the Cat formula for novelists.

Who should read Save the Cat? These books are great if you’re new to story structure and want a fun and accessible guide to follow.

You can check out the Save the Cat plan at Story Planner here.

The Snowflake Method

I have to be honest, this book is a bit of an acquired taste, it has a cutesy approach that involves Goldilocks and the three Bears discussing story outlining! The reason I forgive this eccentric approach is because Randy Ingermanson’s planning method is so smart. I don’t think anyone who used his method could end up with a badly designed story. The unique idea of the Snowflake Method is that you start very small, defining a novel in just one line, and making sure that is right, and only then then expanding the plot to a paragraph and more. There are ten steps to prepare a novel outline before starting the first draft.

Who should read the Snowflake Method? This book is perfect for an author who wants to try something different. This book offers a complete outlining method that gets to the heart of your story’s strengths.

Check out the Snowflake Method page at Story Planner here.

Take off your pants

Libbie Hawker’s method is the number 1 story structure method here at Story Planner. It’s easy to see why, because this is such a well-designed approach to planning a novel.

The method puts a well-developed character at the heart of the story plan and guides the writer to plan a story from beginning to end. Take Off Your Pants aims to convert every ‘pantster’ to a planner by using simple instructions that even ‘seat of your pants’ writers can use to formulate a novel outline. Ignore the jokey title, this is a seriously good way to plan a novel.

Who should read Take Off Your Pants? This book is perfect for writers looking for an in depth character-led story structure method.

Try the Take Off Your Pants method at Story Planner here.

The Idea

Erik Bork’s book is a little different from the others on this page as it asks writers to take a pause before they embark on writing a novel to consider whether the central idea is strong enough. There is guidance on checking and improving an idea, with Bork highlighting the seven elements of successful story concepts.

Bork says, “Ninety percent of my most important notes or criticisms on a script are concerns I would have voiced about the basic idea if they’d run it past me before writing it.” The compelling suggestion made by this book is that if you do smart work at the idea stage you can yourself difficult work and rewrites down the line. This book helps writers choose and improve their fiction ideas.

Who should read The Idea? This book is perfect for any writer starting a new project and looking to give it the best chance of success.

Check out The Idea here.

Into the Woods

John Yorke’s Into the Woods is a different kind of story structure book; it’s a ‘why do’ book as well as a ‘how to’ book. The book gives useful insights into why stories are shaped the way they are, and helps the reader understand our very human need for stories to help make sense of the world. The book is a good mix of explanation and tips to help writers tell better stories.

Into the Woods offers insights into the building blocks of story, such as protagonists, forces of antagonism, inciting incidents, crises, and climaxes. The reason this book is different is because John Yorke asks why there is a consistent narrative pattern – of thesis, antithesis, synthesis; of flaw, challenge, resolution in every story. He explains that every story medium offers this pattern, whether we are watching a drama, a documentary, or reality TV.

Who should read Into the Woods? This book suits writers who want to go beyond simple instruction and take a deeper look at story.

Check out Into the Woods here.

The Secrets of Story

Matt Bird’s Secrets of Story claims it offers ‘innovative tools for perfecting your fiction and captivating readers.’ At the heart of the book there is the ‘Ultimate Story Checklist’ which will highlight story strengths and weaknesses. This means considering questions like whether your character is someone the audience can identify with, whether your story theme creates meaning, and more. This in-depth book explains the concepts that make fiction work for the reader, and outlines how you can harness those concepts in your own writing.

One thing I love about this book is that it asks writers to respect their audiences. It points out that readers are not looking to spend hours of their lives reading your book, their time is valuable and many are looking to stop reading. Looking at story this way helps writers see they need a compelling character and a plot that catches a reader’s attention.

Who should read The Secrets of Story? The Ultimate Story Checklist method suits writers who are self-critical and take their writing seriously.

Check out Secrets of Story here.

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors: Stealing Hollywood

This interesting book by Alexandra Sokoloff is easy to understand and full of useful exercises.

The book takes insights from the world of film to inspire authors to plan a well-crafted story. There are practical guides to plotting methods and workshop style writing assignments to guide story development. There are also plenty of examples from well-known films that help the book’s theory points come alive. This book is great for boosting a writer’s motivation because it asks readers to question their own story preferences. Exercises ask writers to think about their favourite characters, or best endings, to ensure their own work hits a high bar for quality.

Who should read Stealing Hollywood? This book suits writers who want a story structure course in book form, complete with thought-provoking ‘assignments’. If you follow the exercises in this book, you’re bound to create a stronger story.

Check out Screenwriting Tricks for Authors here.

Outlining your Novel: Map Your Way To Success

K.M. Weiland is one of the best-known authors of writing books, and she wins my thanks and admiration for the excellent resources she gives away for free on her website. One of my favourites is her hugely useful guide to character arcs.

Outlining your Novel covers characterisation, basic story structure, setting, point of view and more. I like the way the author presents her personal take on the outline process, she allows herself to write a rambling imperfect description of what happens in her story in an ‘extended outline.’ This involves some degree of brainstorming as she plots her novel in a notebook. I’ve seen many writing books that seem to assume story structure pops into everyone’s head by magic! This is a more natural way to go about things, and it’s a method that works for me.

Outlining your Novel is one of my top writing books because it is so short and to the point. If you’re looking for a simple plan to follow to create a plot outline for your book this method will work.

Who should read Outlining your Novel? This book suits writers who want a straightforward guide to planning a novel. It is well worth visiting to get a feel for this author’s planning style.

Check out Outlining Your Novel here.

Story Genius

Lisa Cron has written a book that criticises many of the traditional story planning guides for being too shallow. She argues that a story needs to be more than an exciting ‘what if…?’ incident and intriguing plot, it needs to have meaning to the author and reader. She makes a compelling argument, though the book may seem a little preachy to those who are already convinced of this point!

I love the way this book forces any author to look beyond plot and uncover the deeper truth of their story. The book’s method involves uncovering the central character’s ‘third rail’ which is the emotional and thematic point of the book, as well as the character’s goal. Any railway line’s third rail will use its live power to drive a train forward, and a character’s third rail should drive the plot forward to a satisfying ending where your character’s development will be complete. Lisa Cron suggests this third rail should be considered in every single scene of your story.

Who should read Story Genius? This is an advanced technique that suits writers who love to plan as much as they love to write prose. Lisa Cron provides a template for outlining every scene of a novel, as well as exercises to develop how each novel character fits with the hero and influences their ‘third rail’ goal. This planning method does involve more work than many other outlining books, so it might not suit every author. However this is my number one favourite planning book because I’m convinced that putting so much work inro the planning stage will produce a better novel!

Check out Story Genius here.

I hope some of these planning books have inspired you, and don’t forget that Story Planner offers many more planning tools for every stage of the writing process. Why not try the popular Novel Launcher plan? This is a simple 6 step plan to prepping a novel. Check out Novel Launcher here.

The Feynman Technique for Writers

Simplicity is a good thing. There’s a famous quote, attributed to Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” 

So when I was knee-deep in plotting my new novel, I had a pile of notes, I’d tried some character work, started a couple of structure plans, and somehow my story wasn’t quite right. I wished things could be simpler.

Then I came across a technique designed for learning new and complex concepts, the Feynman Technique. This is a method for learning about anything, it’s not exactly designed for taming wild plots, but I found its concept worked perfectly for improving my storyline.

The Feynman Technique is a four-step process for understanding any topic. 

Let’s start with looking at the technique in its pure form, for education.

  1. Choose a concept to learn. Select a topic you’re interested in learning about and write it at the top of a blank page in a notebook.  
  2. Teach it to yourself or someone else. Write everything you know about a topic out as if you were explaining it to yourself. Alternately, actually teach it to someone else.
  3. Return to the source material if you get stuck. Go back to whatever you’re learning from – a book, lecture notes, podcast – and fill the gaps in your knowledge.
  4. Simplify your explanations and create analogies. Streamline your notes and explanation, further clarifying the topic until it seems obvious. Additionally, think of analogies that feel intuitive.

Here’s an adapted version for writers trying to plot their story.

  1. Consider the plot of your novel. Write the novel title and pitch (optional) at the top of a blank page in a notebook.  
  2. Teach your novel’s story to yourself or someone else. Write everything you know about your novel’s plot as if you were explaining it to yourself. Alternately, actually tell your novel’s story to someone else, so they will fully understood it.
  3. Return to the source material if you get stuck. Go back to your notes, or any work in progress book you have already written – and fill the gaps in your knowledge.
  4. Simplify your explanations. Streamline your plot notes and story explanation, further clarifying your novel’s plot until it seems obvious to you. Describing the story should feel intuitive, make sure you understand the key stages of the story well enough to summarise them from beginning to end.

Why does this method help? Because many writers (me included!) throw incidents and plot at their novel, but fail to see the sweep of the story and the bigger picture of the narrative. I found that I couldn’t remember what happened in the middle of my novel, even though I had a pile of notes and scene ideas. It was just a fuzzy haze of “stuff.” So, talking out loud and telling a friend about my plot was a useful exercise. It highlighted the strengths of my story, and as I stumbled over the bits I didn’t know, it highlighted weaknesses too. When my friend didn’t understand elements of my story this was a red flag that some aspects weren’t working, or that I didn’t understand their function in the narrative. Once I’d identified those story weaknesses I could set about fixing them.

So I went back to writing notes, tried to fix a few plot holes, and when I was ready I tried to write my story simply again. I tried to describe all the key plot incidents in my work in progress novel, without looking at any notes, but relying only on my understanding of the plot. I did a better job on this second attempt, as I was starting to understand my story fully. I felt much more confident about writing my book.

The Feynman technique is all about having a true understanding of a topic, or a story plot. If you understand something well enough to explain it to a 6-year-old so that they understand it too, you will have true understanding of your subject.

There are a couple of story plans at Story Planner that work well to replicate a verbal storytelling style that suits this technique. You might like to try the ‘Once Upon a Time’ plan, or the sixty-second synopsis.

So how well do you know your story? Why not try the Feynman Technique and find out?

Start a writing group at WriterLink and claim a free subscription to

Writers are typically shy, I know this because I’m a writer and a quiet person. Yet setting up a writing group with a bunch of strangers seven years ago, was the best decision for this particular lonely writer! I love the way my little group has helped my writing improve and I’ve found some wonderful new friends. I soon stopped feeling shy and our meetings are useful and fun.

WriterLink is a new website I’ve set up to help writers start writing groups and meet new friends. I know that setting up a writing group can be daunting, so I’m offering a free subscription to my long-established site for everyone who tries it! 

Anyone who starts a group at WriterLink before November 30th will get a year’s free Premium subscription to Story Planner (value $40.) Story Planner offers hundreds of plans and templates to structure a novel, develop characters, plan story worlds, and much more.

The WriterLink community is very new, and I hope you might consider helping it grow. People generally like to join groups, but fewer people want to start things and take a lead. So, I want to support the community-spirited writers who set up new groups at WriterLink. It is very rewarding to start a writing group, I’m sure you won’t regret it.

Writerlink is completely free, so why not take the plunge and launch a group of your own?

Here’s all you need to do.

  1. Create an account at – it’s free!
  2. On the top menu click on Create a Group > Create a Community Writing Group.
  3. Choose a name for your group, add a description and a picture if you like.
  4. When your group is created you’ll have a unique web address for your group webpage. You can use this to tell your writing friends, or to share on social media.
  5. From your group page click ‘create event’ and set up a writing group meeting. You might use Zoom or Jitsi (free) for video meets, or simply set up a meeting to share stories/chapters using WriterLink’s upload feature, and give written feedback in your group’s private forum.
  6. Grow your group and enjoy your meetings!

If you’d like to take advantage of the free StoryPlanner Pro offer set up your writing group and a meeting/event at and send me the link to your group page. Make sure you also have an account registered at and I’ll give you a $40 Premium upgrade. (See full Terms and Conditions below.)

I hope you’ll overcome any shyness and take that first step with launching a new group. Stuck for ideas on what sort of group to set up? Here are some suggestions.

A write together group. Set a time and meet together on Zoom to write quietly together for an hour. It will do wonders for your productivity to have a writing appointment like this.

A feedback group for novelists. WriterLink offers tools to securely share chapters with the group. You can meet each month to give feedback on your work-in progress novel. You could even set up a novel group for a specific genre of fiction.

A book club for writers. Don’t you think writers read novels with a unique eye? Why not set up a group to read fiction, and discuss the book with a writer’s eye for plot, character and theme.

A group with writing prompts. WriterLink offers downloadable writing exercises, so why not read out a prompt then all write together for 20 minutes or so? Writers might want to volunteer to read out their work.

These are just a few ideas. WriterLink works for all kinds of writing group. What sort of group would you like to join? The best way to find a writing group that meets your needs exactly is to set one up! Not only will starting a writing group help your own writing but you’ll be giving something back to the writing community. Your group members are bound to be grateful. 

Good luck to all new writing group leaders, and please let me know if you have any suggestions for WriterLink. The site is new and I’m open to ideas. Check out WriterLink HERE.

Promotion Terms and Conditions

1- The promoter is Story Planner / WriterLink of  Suite B0189 265-269 Kingston Road, Wimbledon, London, SW19 3NW

2- The promotion is open to writers aged 18 years or over.

3- There is no purchase necessary to participate in this promotion, however all conditions outlined in these terms must be met.

4- The offer of one $40 annual Premium subscription to depends on the following conditions being met. a) A new community writing group must be created at b) An ‘event’ (as in a writing group meeting, feedback sharing session, or chat session on the forum) must be set up for the new writing group.

5- To claim the promotion the claimant must create an account (free) at and email listing a) the email address used to create the Story Planner account, and b) the URL link for the writing group created at The Premium subscription will be credited to your Story Planner account within 7 days.

6- Only one promotional offer is available per person, and per WriterLink writing group.

7- This promotion will close on November 30th 2021.  It will be available for a maximum of 100 promotion claimants. After this date no further promotion claims will be permitted.

8- No responsibility can be accepted for promotion claim emails not received for whatever reason.

9- There is a good faith understanding that the group and event created to claim this promotion will welcome member writers to participate, and events will take place as scheduled. If the group / event are deleted or cancelled we reserve the right to cancel the promotional Story Planner Premium subscription.

10-  The promotion offer is as stated and no cash or other alternatives will be offered. If a Story Planner Premium subscription is already held by a writer claiming this promotion a 12 month extension will be added to the current subscription.

11- By applying for this promotion the applicant is indicating his/her agreement to be bound by these terms and conditions.

12- The promotion and these terms and conditions will be governed by English law and any disputes will be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England.

13. WriterLink / Story Planner shall have the right, at its sole discretion and at any time, to change or modify these terms and conditions, such change shall be effective immediately upon posting to this webpage. WriterLink / Story Planner also reserves the right to cancel the promotion if circumstances arise outside of its control.

How to plan a new work of fiction – Could one well-crafted line be the only plan you need?

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) when writers around the world set themselves the challenge of writing 50,000 words in one month. It’s a tricky thing to do, but I’ve succeeded three times now. I’ve learned that the more a story is planned the easier this challenge becomes. I also believe using a plan will give a better end result. So in the following weeks, I’m going to outline some tips and tricks for planning new works of fiction.

Could one well-crafted line be the only plan you need?

If you do nothing else to plan your novel try this one simple and effective idea. Start small, and think of one perfect line that sums up your novel and makes it sound interesting. This has to be a line that’s detailed enough to show the heart of your story. This line might reveal what makes the characters compelling, the central action of the story, the conflict, the themes. It probably won’t cover all of this ground (that’s a big ask!) but ideally it shows the strengths of your idea, the aspects that make you and your reader excited to read the finished work.

Define your story in this short form and write it on a post-it note to stick on your laptop, this will ensure you don’t wander off course when you write.

The reason one good line describing a story works as a perfect story plan is because it means a writer will focus on the crucial building blocks of story: character, action, conflict, and theme.

A ‘less is more’ approach keeps a story tightly focused, it also ensures the writer understands the strengths of their story before they begin writing. Take a look at the following three approaches to writing.

Writer A: The instinctive writer. Writer A is writing a novel about six characters in a jungle, two of whom fall in love, there’s a dangerous encounter with a dinosaur, there’s a flashback to an incident with a fatal car crash… Writer A gets to the end of his novel and someone asks what this book is about. This writer spills out lots of exciting incident, it’s an enthusiastic answer full of plot details. The listener nods, a little bemused, but they don’t really understand the story. Writer A doesn’t really know the strengths of his story, and they certainly don’t see that there is a difference between plot (incidents that occur in a narrative, the detail of what happens in a scene) and story (the overarching narrative drive, the big picture of a character getting from A to B.) The book might be a great read, but most likely it’s full of elements that don’t tie together particularly well.

Writer B: Putting premise first. Writer B spends 10 days honing a one or two line description of her work. She has lots of ideas for characters and scenes and plot, but she knows that every element of the story has to serve the overall concept. They decide the story premise is, ‘A love story about two adventurers hunting a long lost dinosaur in the jungle, one wants to save it and one wants to kill it as a trophy; how can two people with very different values get along?’ This short summary of the story will guide the whole novel. Whether the writer does any more planning or not, this one small sentence, if followed, can guide their course when they write.

Looking at just this short line the writer can ensure that all story elements connect to the love/hate relationship between the characters, and the theme of different values. This short premise also suggests the genre of the work is a love story, so the writer knows they need to consider the conventions of that genre. So can you see how useful a carefully worked premise can be?

So, what to do if you have a vague idea but find it hard to define a premise before you write?

Writer C: The willing to put the work in writer. Writer C feels drawn to write a story about a woman struggling with a relationship. They have an idea or two, but they know it’s best not to be set on any one idea, they know they shouldn’t just get going and hope to add conflict and story detail as they go along. Our hard working writer decides to think carefully about one or two lines to describe their novel before they begin to write. They will reject all the story premises that don’t sound compelling – they’re probably not going to be novels worth writing. They will hone their ideas until they have a line that offers character, conflict and action, and, crucially, sounds intriguing too.

Here are Writer C’s first few attempts at writing a novel plan premise.

A teacher is struggling with her relationship as she deals with trying to win promotion. – This story sounds a bit dull and lacking conflict, it’s hard to see how the motivation to do well at work connects to her relationship.

A busy woman struggles to deal with her relationship as she spends her time fighting to save her failing cafe. – This character doesn’t seem sympathetic, she’s just obsessed with work, and there’s conflict due to the failing business, but, again, it doesn’t connect to the character’s goal.

A busy woman struggles to deal with her relationship as she spends her time fighting to save her failing cat cafe. – Just one extra word puts a new spin on this premise, don’t you think? A woman running a cat cafe is much more sympathetic… What happens to the cats if the business fails? Does she care more about the cats than the relationship?Still not perfect, but a little better.

A politician struggles to save her relationship, determined to rebuild it using the one night each week she doesn’t have any meetings.

This premise works well because it tells us about character, and motivation, we get a feel for a career politician who wants it all, and yet we know she also wants someone in her life. It also tells us about story action, we know the novel will centre around the one crucial date night each week. It also suggests the story conflict, surely one night isn’t going to be enough to save this relationship? Will she value her relationship enough to save it? The premise should seek to inspire a question that will be answered in the story’s conclusion. The question here is: Will the career politician save her relationship?

I hope these examples show that a whole novel can be usefully condensed to just one line. If you need two lines that’s ok too!

So why not try to develop a short, focused description of your key story elements? I think this sort of clarity can help to craft a better book. An ability to see your novel clearly and describe it succinctly shows you understand the main drivers of your narrative – strong character, compelling conflict, and a hero who needs or wants something. Readers engage with characters who are imperfect, active, and have clear motivation.

If you want to explore techniques to write a one or two line premise try visiting Story Planner’s ‘log line’ section, there are plenty of template plans to help you write a short premise. Learn more HERE.

Randy Ingermanson developed the Snowflake Method which suggests the starting point of any novel should be one simple premise, and the story should grow from this to 5 sentences describing the key plot points. If you want to try the Snowflake Method we have a plan to write your outline at Story Planner. Explore the Snowflake Method HERE.

Check back in the coming weeks to find more about planning your novel. The first part in our series looked at generating ideas. You’ll find the tips HERE.

How to plan a new work of fiction – Techniques for generating novel ideas

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and thousands of writers around the globe will try to write 50,000 words in a month. In the coming weeks, I’m going to outline some tips and tricks for planning new works of fiction.

This is my favourite exercise for hatching ideas. I’ve used it to come up with the novel idea I’ll be writing in November.

Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling famously said, “The best way to have a great idea is to have a lot of ideas.” It’s a great tip for writers.

If you try this exercise for generating novel ideas it’s best approached playfully; write down anything and everything that comes into your head. The good, the bad, the ugly, and even the silly!

1.Think of an intriguing story incident or plot point… (anything goes!)

2. Think of the very worst person this incident could happen to.

3. And repeat.

This exercise works just as well the other way around, thinking of character first. Some people seem to work better devising character than story plot, so if that fits you, then think of an intriguing character, then think of the very worst plot incident that could happen to this particular person.

The reason this method work is because it guarantees conflict is built into the heart of the story.

Some examples:

There’s a revolution and the poor take over the control of the country, the worst person this could happen to is a Queen who is convinced she’s better than anyone. 

A character suddenly loses their sight and has to learn how to cope with being blind, the worst person this could happen to is an artist who never listens to anyone.

The world is on the brink of catastrophe and only a team of expert scientists can fix the disaster, the worst person this could happen to is a scientist who trusts no one and always works alone.

Or, try the character first approach:

A beautiful woman who’s convinced she is ugly, finds herself in the worst situation, her picture is used in a popular meme, and the whole world is judging her appearance.

An idealistic vegan who wants everyone to stop eating meat, finds himself in the worst situation, he falls in love with a butcher and the only way to see her is to accept a job in an abattoir.

These are quick ideas and imperfect, but it’s best not to edit yourself when you try this exercise. The ideas are just a starting point. If you take some time and write a long list then usually one or two ideas will resonate, and these are the stories you should develop further.

It’s quite normal to find a few lines in your list that are similar. That’s because as writers we tend to explore themes that matter to us, it’s quite likely your subconscious will throw up story ideas that hold meaning for you, similar ideas just presented in a slightly different way. Don’t hold back if this happens! You’re going to be spending a lot of time writing a book, it’s important that this is a story that connects deeply to the themes that matter to you.

I hope this idea-generating plan is useful to you. It’s inspired by a technique mentioned in Stealing Hollywood by Alexandra Sokoloff, a book I highly recommend, it’s full of good ideas.

Once you have settled on an idea why not check out Story Planner’s log line templates to develop it further?

WriterLink helps writers create and find writing groups

The creator of Story Planner has launched a new site called WriterLink, aimed at helping writers create groups based around shared aims and interests.

Writing can be a lonely business, and there are huge benefits to forming writing groups with other writers.

There are many styles of writing groups, but these three are the most common.

Social groups: Writing groups can be entirely social, so like-minded writers chat about their work-in-progress and help each other through the ups and downs of the writing journey.

Workshop groups: Many writing groups help writers improve their creative skills. Writers get together and use exercises, perhaps based around themes such as character or dialogue. These exercises help writers practise the craft of writing.

Feedback groups: Many writers wonder, ‘Is my work any good?’ Feedback or critique groups are a great way to share stories or chapters in a friendly, sympathetic, space.

In a feedback or critique group, the other writers will share tips for improvement which invariably leads to a stronger second draft. It’s always a confidence boost to hear a novel is on the right track, and most feedback groups will ensure there is praise as well as constructive criticism. Beta readers will help writers correct any story weaknesses before submitting to an agent or publishing a book.

WriterLink helps writers link up to form these groups and offers useful tools to make things easier for any new writing group organiser.

Seven years ago, I set up my own writing group but struggled to find members. It’s now going strong and thriving at WriterLink.

I initially set the group up on, but it’s not a site designed for writers, and what’s more, it charges $16.49 a month. WriterLink is free, and always will be for anyone who wants to set up a writing group for their community.

The site does charge businesses, such as writing courses to use the site, but it has a simple pricing policy aimed at making it easy to create a writing community and helping regular writers get together to make new friends.

Here’s some of the tools WriterLink offers writing groups.

How WriterLink can help social writing groups:

As a group organiser you might want to use chat forums. If so WriterLink has the option to add a forum to a writing group’s home page.

You can also add a forum to event pages, allowing you to discuss details of a forthcoming meeting for example.

There is also the option to send messages to group members, and you can automate reminders about your next meeting.

The site uses ‘tags’ so friendship groups can easily be formed around shared interests.

For example, if you’re looking for new writer friends working on a more niche genre (such as vampire stories) you could tag a group “vampires” and find writers who share the same interest.

You can set a group to be “public” when seeking new members, or “private” when enough friends have been found.

How WriterLink helps feedback and critique writing groups:

If you want to discuss and give notes on stories, chapters, or poems, you can create an event page that lets members upload their written work.

The page will be completely secure, so the work can only be accessed by the group members.

You might want to discuss the submissions in a live or online meeting, or you could use the member-only forum to write notes on the work.

WriterLink’s reminder feature is handy for anyone organising a feedback group. You can set a reminder for a week before the meeting to remind members to upload their chapters for others to read.

How WriterLink helps workshop style writing groups:
It can be quite daunting setting up a group about practising writing skills, but any writer can set one up.

WriterLink offers free writing group exercises to download. Groups can choose a theme to practise and find exercises to try. For example, you might want to look at character or story structure. Simply choose an exercise and discuss the theme.

Talking about a writing concept can be especially useful and writers can chat about the authors who demonstrate these concepts well.

A workshop style meeting can also be used for writers to write together. You might set up a meeting on WriterLink with Zoom and invite other writers to join a quiet, productive, writing session.

You might choose to run an online writing group using video software like Zoom, or Jitsi (recommended, it’s free!). Or try a Discord channel.

You can set up a traditional group, meeting in a cafe or community venue. You could even set up a group based online at WriterLink, using the group discussion forums and messaging.

If you’ve never organised a writing group before we urge you to give it a go. It’s a good feeling to be responsible for the creation of a new group, and your group members will almost certainly be sympathetic to any nerves and keen to help!

The WriterLink site is brand new so it’s gradually getting busier. But there are more and more groups available, including a group for StoryPlanner members. The site is free and easy to use, so why not check the site out and become one of the founding members?

We hope you’ll try WriterLink and find some creative new friends to share your writing journey.

New story plans coming soon

We’ve been busy creating a brand new writing site to complement Story Planner. We’re just putting the finishing touches to the new site and will share details soon! We’ve also put together some new writing plans based on feedback from Story Planner’s community.

You’ve told us you’d like:

  • A 5 Act Structure plan
  • 9 Act Structure
  • A scene planning guide
  • A plan to combat writer’s block
  • A writer’s media kit
  • Plotting for romance novels
  • The Virgin’s Journey
  • And more!

Look out for these plans in the coming weeks. What’s your favourite writing plan? Get in touch and we’ll try to add it to the site.

Check out the varied range of plans at StoryPlanner com now.

How to keep busy writing in difficult times

Story planning while in lock down

If there are any saving graces to being stuck at home right now, it is time to write. Even better if doing so provides a small distraction from the problems of the world…

It’s our hope that you’re finding Story Planner to be a useful helper in these difficult times.  

But with many new members I thought it might be worth reminding everyone about some of the many features you can use.

I’ve highlighted a few here.

Sometimes I find switching on working from one to another can serve as a break. Which helps with my motivation! But see if switching to any of these helps you in the same way.

Things like…

Bring your characters to life: Use the character plans to make real and believable characters for your story. Each of them will help you dig deeper into their background or create believable characters in just a couple of sentences.

Get your story Agent-ready: Our synopsis and outline plans will help you tell your entire story in a single page – perfect for when the time comes to pitch your novel to an agent. You can even find the perfect elevator pitch with log lines to boil it down to a line or two.

Get your chapters just right: You’ll find a selection of chapter plans on Story Planner. Each is designed to help organise your chapters and scenes, and keep your story focused.

Find your ideal story location: Our settings plans help you discover the best place to set your story. That goes for whether you’re building your own science fiction world, or you want to bring your story alive practicing descriptions of key locations.

Prepare your story for the screen: If you’re writing a screenplay rather than a novel, our Screenplay plans provide help in the same way. There are nine screen writing plans to choose from. Everyone from ten-minute plot point help, to more in-depth studies.

I hope writing offers some solace during these difficult times, and a useful distraction from the news headlines. But don’t be too hard on yourself if your usual writing routine is a bit disjointed right now.

In the meantime, if there’s any way we can help with your writing, or if you just want to say hello, I hope you’ll drop me a line.

Best wishes from the UK.


How can we help you plan your novel?

We’re about to add some new writing plans to Story Planner, because 76 plans just aren’t enough!

 If there’s anything you’d like to see on Story Planner we’d love to hear from you. We already offer dozens of story structure plans, from traditional three act structure, to Index Cards and the popular “Hero’s Journey” plan. We also have a range of methods to help you write a synopsis, define your log line, or to get closer to your characters.

We want to offer the widest range of writing plans online, so email with any suggestions you’d find useful.

 And if you haven’t used Story Planner for a while take a look at the extensive content already available. If you’re planning a new novel this New Year we have just the right tools to help you!