(Editor’s Note: This article was written by guest contributor Ali Luke, author of Lycopolis.)

Ever given up on writing a book when it was halfway finished?

Lots of writers run out of steam along the way. Others don’t even begin: they have a great idea, but are creatively paralyzed at the starting line.

And worse still, some writers struggle all the way from the first sentence to the last line … only to find that their book needs massive structural revisions. They might even scrap it completely.

You don’t want to find yourself there. Instead, set yourself up for success right from the start of the journey. Here’s how.

Planning a Novel

Just like with planning for a non-fiction book, a novel needs structure. It’s hard, though, to know every step of your novel right from the start – and it’s not necessary to plan your novel in a chapter-by-chapter way.

Here’s a planning method you can use for your fiction:

#1: Know Your Main Characters

Most readers (and writers!) find that characters are the really compelling aspect of fiction. Just think how certain characters – like Atticus Finch or Hannibal Lector or Mr. Darcy – stick in our minds, even when we forget the details of their respective stories’ plots.

Before you start writing your novel, you need a clear idea of who your characters are. You won’t know everything about them at this stage, but you should have a sense of what they’re like as people. What would they lie about, or for? What secrets lie buried in their pasts? What goals and dreams do they have?

#2: Work Out the Start and End

Your novel should begin when the action starts. Some incident needs to occur that sets the rest of the story in motion. This could be almost anything, from a tiny mishap (a character misses the bus to work, ends up taking an unfamiliar short cut, and comes across a crime in progress) to something cataclysmic (plague breaks out).

While the end of your novel might seem a long way away right now, it’s a good idea to know where you’re heading. Will it all end happily … or not? Will good triumph over evil? Do you need to leave room for a sequel? (Many ebook authors find that trilogies or series of books work best.)

#3: Plan Key Scenes Along the Way

Although you won’t know every twist and turn of your plot just yet, you’ll almost certainly have some ideas about things that need to happen during your story. Get these out of your head and onto paper: ideally in some form where you can easily move them around.

Some authors use index cards for this (either physical ones, or virtual cards in a program like Scrivener); others create spreadsheets. It’s up to you what medium you choose: what matters is that you’re able to easily adjust and add to your plot as you go along.

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Whatever kind of book you’re writing, your plan won’t be set in stone. As you make progress, you may well find things that you want to change – and that’s fine. But by having that plan from the outset, you make it much easier to stay on track with your writing, from start to end … and you dramatically increase the chances that your finished book is going to go down well with readers.

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About the author: Ali Luke is currently on a virtual book tour for her novel Lycopolis, a fast-paced supernatural thriller centered on a group of online roleplayers who summon a demon into their game … and into the world. Described by readers as “a fast and furious, addictive piece of escapism,” and “absolutely gripping,” Lycopolis is available in print and e-book form. Find out more at www.lycopolis.co.uk.

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