The Desertera Series, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

How I Plotted My Novel’s First Draft

I have already discussed the inspiration behind the first draft of my NaNoWriMo 2014 novel, The Cogsmith’s Daughter. In this post, I want to share with you all the steps behind plotting out the first draft of my manuscript.

Obviously, there are as many ways to plot and plan as there are writers. What worked for me may not work for you. However, I want to share the process and hopefully hand over a few simple tips or tricks that you may find useful when it is time to plot your first (or next!) manuscript.

I’m fortunate in that, whenever I have a novel idea, I almost always know the ending before anything else. Therefore, even if the beginning is muddy, I at least know where my story will end up. For The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I knew the ending right away (although it did evolve some), and I knew the basic situation of my protagonist, Aya, and how to introduce her to my readers.

Once I knew my “A” and “Z,” along with the genre, mood, and message of my novel, I began my plotting.

Steampunk Critters. Made from clay and watch parts!!
Desertera object inspiration

Step One: Sensory and Visual Samples

In my writing, I strive to frequently reach each of the five senses through the images I use. Therefore, when planning my novel, having strong samples from which to draw is a must. As many writers do, I used Pinterest to gather visual inspiration for my characters, settings, and world accessories. This was especially important because steampunk is a new genre for me, and while I wanted to stay true to its style, I also wanted to put my own twist on it and give it a desert influence.

Step Two: Character Empathy

Once I can visualize my characters, it becomes easier for me to empathize with them. I try to think about each of their situations, motivations, goals, and hardships. How has the death of Aya’s father affected her life, her feelings about the royals and other nobility, her relationships with men? How does Dellwyn’s attitude toward poverty and prostitution differ from Aya’s, given that this is all she has ever known? I do not actually write this down (something I plan to change in future drafts), but I really try to put myself in my characters’ situations and account for how they influence their interactions with other characters and the world.

Step Three: World Building

In the past, world building has not been a big concern of mine. Most of my other works-in-progress are centered in the “real world,” albeit with supernatural or apocalyptic additions. However, for The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I created Desertera — a self-contained fantasy world with far-removed “real world” origins.

20141216_103213Because the setting of Desertera is so important to the novel, the first thing I did was draw a map. I had never done this before, but it proved to be invaluable for keeping my sense of direction and has no doubt saved me from countless continuity errors. I highly recommend it for authors creating their own worlds.

Next, because Desertera is its own world, I had to think about the facets of society that make up a people and their culture. (I knew my sociology degree would come in handy!) What is the religion of Desertera? What are their norms, values, and mores? How does their desert environment impact their steampunk culture? 

As if these types of concerns were not enough, I also had to adjust my writing around Desertera. The people do not refer to their deities as “Gods,” so I could never write anything like “For the love of God!” Likewise, certain objects and beings from the “real world” did not exist in Desertera, so my characters could not reference modes of transportation besides ships, eat beef, and/or take regular baths. These little “physics” details were the most difficult aspect of planning and drafting, but they were crucial to maintain the integrity of Desertera — and really fun to creatively problem solve!

Step Four: Story Beats

The actual plotting of my novel took the form of story beats. For those of you who do not know, story beats are the basic plot points that keep a novel moving toward its conclusion (much like the beat of a base drum in music). I am a strictly linear writer: I plan, write, and edit chronologically. Therefore, when I plotted The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I did so in order, from beginning to end.

I wrote my story beats out in list/bullet point form. I did this by hand, because I tend to think better when I brainstorm by hand, and I like to physically track the story and any changes. Some of my story beats were very specific (Lord Varick visits Aya at work), while others were vague (Aya somehow runs into Willem). However, I ensured that not a single one was wasted. Each beat had to advance the story toward its conclusion and provide entertainment for the reader.

That is my number one tip for plotting out your novel: make sure that every move your characters make and every scene you write advances the story toward its conclusion and is entertaining for your reader.

I hope you all enjoyed this brief insight into the planning process behind The Cogsmith’s Daughter. Like I said, these techniques may not work for everyone, but I hope they still inspire you to start thinking about your next writing project!

How do you plan your manuscripts — or do you plan at all? What is your best tips for the planners out there? Share them below!


13 thoughts on “How I Plotted My Novel’s First Draft”

  1. Your little map made me smile. I have a world building obsession. For one series of eight books that is yet to be written, I created a brand new Texas city complete with street maps, business listings, a community college and university. I liked the city so much, I moved another series from NYC to this city to be the other family’s rivals.

    I’ve also been known to spend days (okay weeks) (okay months) on creating maps so they not only look pretty but also flesh out my world. I try and do this before NaNo, like I did with my fantasy world for “Shifters.” For that one, I had to create mythologies, and shifter inheritance, and tattoo placement so that I too could make sure the continuity was right. Even if no one but me sees them, I know my world and can then put my characters in it.

    Thank goodness for Scrivener, as it’s perfect for keeping all this info in one place. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is awesome! I don’t know if I could handle making a whole, detailed city, but I’m pretty proud of the little layout I made with my map. I need to do a better job of organizing all of this in Scrivener. I have a lot of little continuity things that need to be recorded in my doc, but I’m planning to do that during the revision process since some of them might change anyway.

      I’d be really interested to learn more about your mapping and world building processes. You know, if you ever feel like sharing or need blog post material lol.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha, funny you should say that! I have a world building one on my list of possible topics. It’d probably take me as long to share it all as it did to create it all, but hey, that’s half the fun. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Depending on the story, the mapping gets either really elaborate or it simply flows into thoughts per chapter. The Carter series of mine is simply a sit down and ideas pour out with no direction except whatever I think of next. My new WIP is going to take a few months of planning though. It’s building around a whole series of nuances, characters, classifications and other intrigues. Creating a Kingdom takes patience 😉 Nice post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for sharing part of your planning process, and as always, for reading! I would really love for one of my novel ideas to allow for less planning, but so far, they all seem to require quite a bit. Of course, that could be due to the fact that I am still an inexperienced author. We’ll see how/if it changes as I learn!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. We’re all inexperienced here, even those of us that have published a book or two. I’ve learned so much from my first unpublished manuscript to my first actual release to the sequel that I wonder if it will ever catch on. It’s a process, like exercise, hurting and tiresome at first, then rejuvenating.

        Planning is actually pretty fun in my book. I’ve spent the last week coming up with tattoo ideas to incorporate for how people are identified in my new book. It’s like heaven.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. That was so cool to read and read about your plotting and even mapping… How cool. I do the same as you, I mostly know where my story ends. I like to draw maps and write my entire book in a list of plot point in my notebook and for the 90% it’s stays the same. My friends calls me a Hunter when it comes to writing, as I hunt for piece of information, images, drawing, anything that can help see my world and my characters better. Sorry for the long comment, lol, great read. Thank yuou so much for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I always plot out the storyline, but the map was new to me. It is definitely something I will continue for any fantasy/dystopian books in my future. Also, I dig the nickname “Hunter.” That’s a pretty great research reputation to have in my book. As always, thanks for reading! I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Mapping helps a lot and I allways use it for Fantasy, Sci/Fi and now Dystopian, lol. I tend to do so even f the story takes place in the real world, just so that I will know the setting better, lol.

        Liked by 1 person

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