Right now as I'm writing this, it's the last day of September 2023... which means it's about to be Preptober!
For those who aren't as familiar with NaNoWriMo (a write-a-whole-novel-in-a-month event which takes place in November), many writers use October as their prep month to get everything planned, prepared, and ready for their November writing sprints.
50,000 words (minimum!) in a month is no joke--and the planning definitely helps!
But you don't have to be doing NaNoWriMo or writing a novel in a frenzied hurry to benefit from prepping and planning tools.
For the past more-than-a-year, I've been using a tool that has honestly made a massive difference in several aspects of my writing process. It's called Plottr, and I use it for brainstorming, outlining, keeping track of complicated plot arcs and timelines for complex stories, and more. You can also use it for creating and keeping notes on series, characters, worldbuilding info, etc. It's a versatile tool, but the biggest game-changer for me has been that it's a visual tool.
As someone who typically needs a tangible, visible plotting method (my office generally has so many notecards, sticky notes, and notes on the walls it looks like a murder board), Plottr is the first computer-based plotting method I've found to really work for my brain.
Plottr is a paid tool (it's not free), but it's affordable even for my broke homeschool writer-mom indie author budget (which is saying something, trust me).
(As a side note, I have recently become an affiliate for Plottr--but I do genuinely love this tool and highly recommend it! I've got a link to Plottr at the end of this, but if at any point during this post you feel I've already convinced you and you want to buy it NOW, I'd be so grateful if you used my affiliate link! I get a small bonus for each person I refer to Plottr who decides to buy it, and little bonuses like that help keep the lights on around here so I can keep writing blogs and making videos to help other indies. THANK YOU!!)
So, how do I use Plottr to plan and prep for writing a novel? And how can you use it for planning and prepping yours?
I'm about to tell you! :)
Here are some examples of how I use this tool:
Brainstorming a Novel or Series
Plottr is an amazing brainstorming tool, for three main reasons.
First, it comes with built-in plotting templates, both generic and genre-specific. Want to write a mystery but unfamiliar with the typical tropes and expected beats? Choose one of their mystery plot templates (there are multiple, for different types of mysteries). New to writing romance? Use one of their romance templates to get your ideas flowing. Want to try writing an epic fantasy? Great! Open up the "hero's journey" templates or one of the others for that genre, and use the beats to brainstorm who your character might be, what they want/need, and how your story might kick off.
You can stop there and run with your new ideas, or keep going and use their plotting prompts to plan out the entire book. It's totally up to you!
Here's what the automatically generated timeline/plotline for the Hero's Journey looks like, for example...
Each beat can be opened and customized by typing right into it. You can also color code the boxes, assign tags to things, specify which Characters and Places are involved in this scene, and WAY more... but I'll get deeper into that in a minute.
Second, the plotting templates provide full explanations for each of the beats in the template, along with pacing suggestions for where those beats generally fall, percentage-wise, in that type of story. So even if you're not a plot structure nerd, like me, and don't care to follow the structures for your actual outline, these can be a great way to just generate new ideas. They're a fabulous brainstorming tool.
I tend to use the templates to brainstorm, and then at a certain point, my own feel for the story kind of takes over and I fill in the rest of the outline without necessarily following the exact template.
Third, the templates are adaptable, meaning you can experiment and visually arrange things as you brainstorm. In Plottr, you can customize pretty much all the things--so even if you're using a template, you can still add in extra scenes between the beats, rename or rearrange beats, or whatever you want. This makes it an amazing brainstorming tool and an amazing plotting/outline tool, all at one go! (Which I love.)
Plotting, Planning, and Outlining a Novel or Series
Whether you use a template or start with a blank timeline, Plottr provides a wealth of tools for plotting and outlining a story.
Since you can customize the timelines, you can use it however it makes sense for your brain when you're plotting your story.
So, for example here, I've taken the template I opened for brainstorming above, but I've added additional plotlines for multiple characters or additional POVs and added scene cards for them, and I've also added an additional beat to the timeline for the Hero's Journey, between the original Beats 1 & Beat 2.
And because you can also rename everything--the Beats, the names of the timelines, etc.---there's really no limit to all the ways you can customize this! You could use it for planning out a full series timeline, multiple POV timelines, historical timelines for your worldbuilding, or whatever else is useful to you.
Inside each book/project, you can also change the scope and see a bird's-eye-view of how your different timelines play out, which has been super helpful for me when planning multi-POV stories. At one glance, I can see exactly how my POVs are interspersed, and make sure I'm not neglecting any one POV for too long in my planned outline.
Here's an example of how I used this feature to visually cross-check my POV spacing for a serial I was planning:
And--one of the best things--it's not just a timeline. Plottr takes the visual timeline you've created, and any notes you've input into the beats, and also stores them in an outline form, which you can open and access any time!
You can even export this outline as a Word document or for Scrivener.
Last but not least, Plottr is super useful as a worldbuilding/series Bible/notetaking tool.
Worldbuilding/Series Bible/Story Notes
You can create Series projects in Plottr and organize all your book timelines/outlines within series so everything is readily accessible. The example below isn't fully organized, but gives the basic idea.
Plottr also has a Notes feature accessible inside every project you create. You can choose appropriate categories for your notes (and create your own categories) specific to each project, specify which book from that project the note is associated with (if any), add images, type notes write into the note cards, and more.
You can even flag notes as related to specific Characters, Places, or Tags, which you can set up under those additional tabs you can see in the top bar of the screenshot below. (You can even color-code tags when you create them, so when you add them to notes or to parts of your timeline, they're easy to track.)
You can make whatever categories make sense to you to organize your notes.
The notes will appear in a strip/thumbnail list on the left, with whatever note you've selected open in a larger view on the right.
When you export your outline for a project, any Notes, Characters, and Places related to that project are exported as well, added to the end of the outline, easily sorted for reference.
This makes it a fantastically easy way to create a series Bible/worldbuilding encyclopedia, especially if you're building in Tags, Notes, Characters, Places, etc. as you create your outline/timelines.
So... I'm sure your mind is probably already running with all the ways you could use Plottr to brainstorm and plan your next book!
Want to give Plottr a try?
If you use my affiliate link, I get a small bonus for each person who decides to purchase. I'd be so grateful, if you do decide to use Plottr, if you bought it through this link! (Or use the button below--same link, snazzier look!)
If you're interested in trying Plottr out first, they do offer free trials! You can see more about that at the link or button I shared above.
Have fun planning and plotting your novels!