Writing Tools To Help You Plan Your Book: Part One

If you're anything like me - planning is your jam. You thrive on the control you have in planning who your characters are, where they're going, and what they're doing. But sometimes, having that much control and no where to organize it can lead to overwhelm, frustration and procrastination. At least, that's how it's been in my experience. It wasn't until I found the two tools I'm going to talk about that I finally had an outlet for all my planning. 

I'm a HUGE fan of the women behind Writers Helping Writers (the incredible website resource) and their Thesaurus. When they came out with their interactive website, One Stop for Writers - I was thrilled. It's extremely robust and complex and I'll try my best to show you some of my favorite parts (including examples!) of it. If you're familiar with Writers Helping Writers, you'll know that they focus on the emotional parts of stories. Whether that's just plain emotion, emotion through settings, traits, objects, symbols, etc. Thus, everything on One Stop for Writers aims at helping you create the connection between your story and emotion. 

I love that you can start ANYWHERE and with ANYTHING. If you're a character person - start with the characters! If you're a settings person - start there. You have the flexibility to build the backstory to your story anyway you choose. The website gives you plenty of options to do just that, too. From their checklists and tip sheets idea generator, to templates and worksheets and even ALL their thesauruses excerpts that are in the books + more.

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Since I'm a characters person, let's start with some of the character templates. One of my favorites is the Emotional Progression one. I love that this template FORCES you to connect the scene to the emotion of the character and how that would naturally progress emotionally as the scenes progress as well. This template dovetails nicely with the Character's Fears section. Digging deep into a character's fears is definitely one of the hardest parts of building a believable character, for me. So having these prompts to help guide me was great. Once I built out my character's fears, I was able to cross check it when all my Emotional Progression notes to make sure they matched up appropriately. 

Emotional Progression

Emotional Progression

Character's Fears

Character's Fears

One thing I forget about is how important setting can be for a story -- especially as it relates to emotion. So the Settings-At-A-Glance worksheet and the Emotional Value of a Setting really helped me see how particular settings within my story needed to contain an element of emotion. And not only that -- but that the characters should be responding to that setting appropriately. (For example - my character has to go visit someone in prison. She's going to respond very differently inside of a prison than say, the street she grew up on). 

Another important part of planning a novel is also quite possibly the hardest -- the plot and all that it entails. But again, this isn't just a "structure" template. It's a guide that helps you match up the plot/external events to the emotions of the character, the story and the scenes. Though you start out with the basics for the Story Map, you drill down further within the Scene Map. Much like the Emotional Progression template, the Scene Map template asks you questions about how that scene connects to the emotion of your story and your characters. 

Note that all of this is editable and exportable. So maybe as you actually begin writing, things change. You can go back to your template and update it to reflect the changes. And you can actually see how the change will force a different progression into place.

Another one of my favorite tools is the Timeline feature. It's pretty self-explanatory but 1. I'm a very visual person and 2. I always forget those pesky little details that end up tripping me up during revisions. Like:

"Wait -- what month was it when the first chapter started?"

"When did this character die?" 

"Whoa... what year is it even?"

So having a basic timeline to refer to during the planning and drafting stages is fantastic. And the best thing is that you can move the boxes around on the timeline as well as edit/update them. And of course, it's exportable, so you can print it out and tape it to your wall while you write. 

The fun doesn't stop with the templates and worksheets. Also included in the One Stop for Writers website are tons of other checklists/tip sheets and templates. As you can see in the example below - there's pretty much a checklist and/or tip sheet for almost anything you could need and I love how they make it so you can pick and choose what applies to you. 

What I love the most about One Stop for Writers website though, is that it allows you to do as little or as much planning as you want. There is no "guide" or "rules" to follow. It's a blank canvas for you to play and experiment with. Having the freedom to plan in a way that is productive for me is extremely important and I love that I can do that with this software. And though I'm a staunch "planner" that doesn't mean pantsers can't get use out of the software. In fact, there's just enough to get you motivated without feeling smothered.

So what say you, writers? Are you ready to dig deep into the emotions of your characters? Are you ready to explore what makes your characters tick? If so, One Stop for Writers is the place you should be. 

Jade Eby

I'VE HAD MY NOSE IN A BOOK OR A PEN IN MY HAND SINCE I CAN FIRST REMEMBER. 

Reading and writing have always been second nature for me. They are as integral to me as the air I breathe and the words I speak. I knew from a very young age that I would grow up to work with words in some capacity. I thought, perhaps I'll be a librarian. No, a literary agent. How about a copywriter? But the entire time, my heart would whisper, "you're going to be an author." 

I spent most of my youth and my teenage years with a book in my hand and wrote "stories." (I use the term loosely as I wrote many. And many were thrown in the trash). I then went to the University of Northern Iowa and when a professor realized I wasn't getting the proper writing attention I needed, he suggested I attend the University of Iowa to study under their prestigious writing program. So I did. I graduated in 2011 with my B.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing. I took a job as a Creative Writer at a top-notch higher education marketing firm in 2012 and left in the fall of 2014 to pursue writing full-time and helping authors chase their dreams.

My passion, dedication and perseverance have led me to where I'm at today. Happy, successful and living my dream every. single. day.