Plotting Your Novel: Heading Toward the Finish Line

the finish line

With the exception of Thanksgiving week, I’ve spent November explaining how I plot my novels.

I’ve really enjoyed creating these posts, especially when I’ve been privileged to read your ideas and incorporate them. Remember, this was a “practice” novel, inspired by a comment I overheard at breakfast one morning, and we’ve come a long way toward the finish line.

In addition to the link above, I’ve explained here and here how I write, and now it’s time to move ahead for one final post.

On November 15th I asked you to add some of your own ideas to our Scenes and Revelations list. For me, this list is my time to cut loose and jot down anything that pops into my head, knowing full well that when I’m done I can erase, delete, or shred all the stupid stuff.

And there will be a lot of stupid stuff. I count on it.

On the other hand, some of the silliest ideas turn out to be the best, sometimes with a little editing, sometimes just as they are.

A quick return to the past to jog your memories.

Now would be a great time to return to the Scenes and Revelations post if you haven’t already done so, to freshen your recall of where the story’s going. Why? Because some of you came up with great suggestions to add to the list that I began. For instance:

  • Nancy thinks that the attention Tyler pays Rory (the son he never knew he had) may backfire with his wife Marilyn.
  • At the same time Brad (Tyler’s son with Marilyn) and Rory bond as they get to know each other–great scenes there, right? And imagine how Marilyn will deal with that. (Thanks Nancy!)
  • Marjorie organized our story by setting ages for our characters. Good move, Marilyn, and definitely necessary.
  • Marjorie didn’t stop with organization. She had scenes in mind. A DNA test, insurance secrecy and squabbles, a deepening of Marilyn’s quest to find a fuller life–and even, perhaps,  a more caring man.
  • Both Kate and Joni were also concerned about insurance coverage and how it would affect everyone. Kate added a really neat twist, as well. Let’s make Marilyn a former physiotherapist and since Jan’s insurance doesn’t cover all Rory’s rehabilitation needs, maybe Marilyn. . .

Don’t you love this? The ideas are flying thick and fast. You may have had some, too, but you were too shy to venture out to tell us. Here’s the thing. Ready?

At this point there are no bad ideas. None. Zero. Zilch.

Here’s something else to remember. Even the best ideas fall by the wayside. Great ideas serve as catalysts, or background information, or they go into a file for another book. Do you remember that the idea for our practice novel came from a real life conversation I overheard about cadaver knees? Have cadaver knees been mentioned anywhere in the story we’re plotting?

I rest my case.

So what would I do next?

First and most important, I would add many more scenes to those we’ve suggested. We’ve only tapped a few possibilities. I’d think hard about which characters are the major ones, and which are only secondary or walk-ons. I’d ask myself whose voice or voices are telling the story. I’d think about character backgrounds and how they’ve developed. I would do character sketches. Sometimes hundreds of pages of character sketches.

I’d think hardest about where I want the story to go and what I want to say. Is it a story about infidelity? About extended families? About moving on or out of relationships?

Next I would cull the list and reorder my scenes. I’d probably add more once that was finished.

Then, because I’m one of those unusual authors who loves to write a synopsis, I would take my scenes and do just that.

Think of a synopsis as one friend sitting down with another to tell her about a book she just read–sometimes in nauseating detail. For instance:

“Tyler Ferguson is a renowned pediatric cardiac surgeon who is known for his skill and ability to communicate with children. Tyler knows how to keep the proper distance from his young patients, while still making them feel they are in the hands of someone who truly cares about them. After being called into the middle of a particularly difficult emergency surgery on a young teenager named Rory Wilmington, an exhausted but exultant Tyler silently congratulates himself on saving Rory’s life. When Rory’s mother approaches him in the hall, he expects nothing but praise. Instead the stranger, Jan, asks him if he remembers her? And as he silently admits to himself that she does look familiar, Jan tells him why. They had an affair fourteen years ago, right before he left for medical school. Not only that? The boy whose life he just saved is his biological son.”

Once I was finished with the synopsis–over weeks, most likely–I might break the story into chapters and create an outline. The outline would only be a guide, and changes would occur throughout the process. But for me the synopsis is a life line. I know where to start each day I sit down to write, and since–as you can tell from these blogs–I like to explore and wander simultaneously, the synopsis/outline keeps me on track.

Now it’s a race to the finish line.

Finally I would write the chapters, editing as I went. I’d edit again at the end of each chapter, then each section. Once finished with my “rough” draft I’d read the whole book silently, marking things I want to change but not changing them until the end. Finished, I’d make the changes, then I would begin again and read the whole book out loud to catch all the mistakes my eyes slid right over.

The end product? A novel to send to a publisher or to independently publish on my own.

Still with me?

I hope you’ve enjoyed these posts. I should point out that none of these steps happen quickly. Sometimes an idea that seemed golden turns out to be fool’s gold and disappears into the circular file beside my desk. Sometimes a difficult synopsis goes into a desk drawer to think about later. And occasionally, just occasionally, books just seem to write themselves, start to finish.

Did you read along this month because it was fun to see how I work? Or do you want to write a novel yourself someday? I hope if the latter is true, you’ll give it a try. Remember when you do:

  1. There’s no way to write a novel except the one that works for you.
  2. Don’t edit your creativity. Give it room to grow.
  3. Keep plugging.

Thanks for reading along. And my special thanks to everyone who was courageous enough to comment and help plot our story.


  1. Martha O'Quinn on November 29, 2017 at 8:01 am

    Reading the entire exercise all over again is interesting and informative. Thanks for letting us have a glimpse into part of the process that makes you such a success.

  2. Marjorie Roberts on November 29, 2017 at 10:08 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed this! It was wonderful finding out how your thought processes work in writing a novel. I have more of a proofreading mind as opposed to a writer. My creativity comes from my many years of playing flute and piccolo. I received a Music Education degree in the 70s but do not teach – I tried that for two years and it wasn’t for me. I play for enjoyment with our local band (we had 90 musicians at rehearsal Monday night!) and orchestra. I’ve met so many friends in these groups! Thank you, Emilie!

  3. Nancy Lepri on November 29, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    I love reading your posts and having the chance to brainstorm on differing plots. I have authored books, though chapter books, but I find it’s much more exciting to get feedback from others. Now, at my stage in life–retired, and enjoying it thoroughly–I’d much rather read and offer suggestions than to tackle another book. Am I lazy or what? LOL It’s just that when you write, you need quality time without being disturbed, and with a hubby also retired and always wanting to go, go, go, I’d much prefer the relaxation of reading and being part of a group like this!

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