Story Planning Techniques: Microsoft OneNote

4 Feb

I’ve never been much of what I would call a planner. I never really wrote out plotlines or summaries, never did much in-depth character development outside of writing scenes, and usually had no idea where a story was going. After ten years of near-obsession with one particular story, I guess I just didn’t need it. I lived and breathed those characters, and while I didn’t really know where the plot was going until it got there, I did finish it eventually.

Now that that story is finished, I’ve found myself scrambling to keep ideas and characters and names straight in my head. It was the same with last NaNo, too–trying to write something new and different definitely requires some different techniques, at least for me.

I’ve tried different plotting programs in the past–yWriter and Scrivener stand out–but didn’t have much luck.  I also tried downloading an “open source writing planning software” program that looked legit but actually just downloaded a ton of random programs onto my computer that made ads pop up on ad-less websites, so that was a no-go. (No harm done–easily uninstalled.)

So I decided to try OneNote. I’ve actually tried OneNote before for novel planning but I think I was going about it all the wrong way. I already use OneNote for to-do lists, meal planning, travel, etc. so it’s often open anyway.

How I Use OneNote to Plan a Novel

1. Create a new notebook. I named mine the title of the project, “The Foxglove Alliance.”

2. Three different tabs: Plot, Characters, and Setting.

3. Pages in the plot tab:

  • Beginning-Middle-End, where I lay out the basics of what’s happening in mini-paragraph form.
  • Random Scenes, where I post ideas for scenes to write, snippets of dialogue, etc. that wandered into my head but haven’t been sorted yet.
  • A page for each chapter, where those random snippets and ideas are sorted into a coherent order. This will come much later in the planning process. At the moment I only have a good idea of what the first and last chapter will look like. (One Note makes it easy to cut/paste different blocks of text into different pages.)

4. Pages in the characters tab:

  • A main/general page outlining characters and their relationships. A “cast of characters” if you will. For instance: Lydia, the ambassador’s daughter; Prince, her betrothed; Colette, her little sister” etc.
  • One page for each main character, filled with things like picture inspiration, character interview or a brief personality/appearance/history description. Motivations and their role in the story.
  • One page for each group of minor characters. So: “Lydia’s Family” and very brief descriptions of each member, or “The Royal Family” and the same deal. This is also the place where I would go into descriptions of different organizations, which is significant to this story. For instance, I’d have a page called “The Foxglove Alliance,” detail who they are, what they do, and who’s in it.

5. Pages in the Setting tab:

  • Map page. Currently empty for this project, but I’ll design a map of the world/city and put it here.
  • A page for each country, describing history, government, technology, landmarks, that sort of thing. I like to look at “World Factbook” for inspiration. It gives me an idea of the kind of things I might need to know about a place I’m creating, though following it exactly would probably be more than anyone needed to know.

And that, my friends, is my OneNote plan. At this point I think that’s all I’ll need, but if I add pages or get rid of pages, I’ll let you know. Would love to hear about your experiences with writing software (or OneNote!). Which programs do you use, and what do you like/dislike about them? Or, if you just use notebooks, how do you organize everything?


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