Planning: The Notebook

In the last post, I mentioned I’d embarked on a new novel.

For me, at least in recent years, the appearance of this idea was quick and sudden, almost as soon as I’d finished Ash-Brides. It just popped up in the car one day, centred around a single concept:

If you could burn a map into someone internally, how would that work?

This post is going to explore the initial planning development of a novel. I hope it’s kind of helpful? I’m trying to minimise spoilers or anything that can be nicked, but I have some images for you!

My first step in any planning is to get a notebook. This is not a throw-away item. This is the physical embodiment of your idea. So it needs to look something like your novel’s aesthetic. To demonstrate, here are my last three notebooks.

20170530_112544.jpgFrom left to right, we have the Son of Songs book, the Ash-Brides book, and the new one. Son of Songs was always intentionally a little grubby, a bit lost-and-found; Ash-Brides primarily focused on renewal and light. The new novel’s notebook has beautiful yellow paper and a thick leather-bound cover, because my aesthetic for this is steampunky, ancient.

These three books have a lot in common, though.

Setting up your notebook

Find a pen you like. I prefer black ink rollerballs, or fountain pens. It has to be easy to scritch away and make a mess with. Often, if I’m adding info or making amendments, I’ll change my pen colour.

Accept it isn’t going to be neat. Nobody should be able to make sense of this but you.

Make sure it’s a good size to transport. My notebooks stay in backpacks and handbags for moment of inspiration.

If you don’t like lines, don’t use ’em.

And away we go!

Your planning style

Mine is the same for each book. The organisation of the content differs, but I always have the same sort of stuff.

The first thing I did in this book was character sketches.


These sketches include name, profession and defining physical features. Often, they’ll include a little backstory and some of their initial thoughts about the world they live in. Each of these sketches can be a few pages long, so I make sure to leave space in case I have any other thoughts later.

I try to keep it as tidy as possible. See?

After the characters, I wrote a rough outline of how the novel starts, which I’m not posting here! (Sorry). These are often wildly rambling and full of rhetorical questions. Here’s a tiny section from Ash-Brides to show you what I mean.


Hell, half the time, even I don’t know what I want when I start. That’s okay!

After the vague outline comes a list of things I need to consider. Not all of these will end up in the finished product.


Again, not all of these end up in the finished product. They’re jumping off points, for research or other ideas. They’re questions to your future self.

Beyond that, I often do a flow chart of where the characters have to get to, and what happens at each place.

Then we get to sketches. I am a terrible artist, but here goes.


Sketches often help you to visualise something that might be difficult to describe later. Near sketches, I usually try to make a list of materials and properties the objects might have.

Oh, and lists of names for things.


Your notebook is a perfect place for worldbuilding, too – y’know, all those little things the writer needs to know, but the reader may not. I have whole sections dedicated to government, and reasons the war may have started.

Then, we have some continuity lists to help you. I often have a list of minor characters, alongside their status and location, and a list of objects each character is currently carrying.

And that’s kind of it.

Obviously, the further I go, the more I’ll add. It’s a working document and I’m not afraid to cross things out and add extra. Once my pinboard is up and running, I’ll show that to you, too.


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