Plotting and Planning Your Novel

4 Modules 20 Chapters 55 Lessons Start Here

About this Course

This course guides you through the process of creating a fantastic “character-first” plot. 

Course Structure

5 Chapters

Module 1: How It Feels to Read a Good Book

Before we starting planning our novels, here are the quickest ways to improve your writing: care, projects, and a focus on characters.

What is "Character-First Writing"? 4 Lessons

Watch This First: a Guide to the Highlights of this Course!

A welcome message + guided tour: all the ways you can use this course to improve your writing.

The Benefits of “Character-First” Writing

There are three core principles to character-first writing. They may surprise you!

You might need MORE story

Sometimes people think, when I talk about character-first writing, that I want them to write a BORING story where nothing happens. That's not the case, fortunately! In fact, I often tell coaching clients to add MORE story to their novel outlines.

How to Plan the (“Messy”) Middle of your Novel

Here's a preview of what's coming: how to use "character-first" plotting to work through the "messy" middle of your story. This is an element of the course that writers love the most: you can conquer your fear of the long "second act" of your story.

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The Secret Ingredient: Care 7 Lessons

The Problem: Why Is Plot So Hard?

Let's get serious. Why is a course like this so valuable?

Why You Need “Care”

They didn't teach you this!

Plot = Care Changing Over Time

Plot isn't about events. It's about shifts in care.

Project vs Mood

Major characters should have a "project."

The Danger of Dropping Care

It's SO easy to do this. And it makes your readers give up on your novel.

Writing a Novel Character-First

Start your reader with a character.

PS Can Writing Be Taught? (+ reading list)

Can writing be taught? How seriously should you take the advice from this course?

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A Story That Reads Quickly 2 Lessons

The Goal

All right. What kind of book do we actually want to write in this course? What will the reader feel while reading it?

The Dragon’s Toe: Exposition and Mystery

The key to exposition is to sprinkle it lightly — very lightly — at the start. Here's how...

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You Should Narrate More 1 Lesson

Scene and Satellite

This is how we convey to the reader all the information they need to enjoy, understand, keep reading your novel.

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The Core of Your Story: Your Protagonist 3 Lessons

Building the A-Plotline

Here's how to start your novel: with several scenes devoted to your protagonist's "project."

Bonus: What if I can’t do A?

A few frequently asked questions about the A plot-line.

Bonus: Prompts to Develop Your Protagonist

Nine questions to help you develop your protagonist and build your A plot-line.

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6 Chapters

Module 2: Writing the ABC Plot

The ABC Plot is your step-by-step, scene-by-scene guide to designing a great plot for your novel. It takes the concepts and techniques of the "character-first" approach and develops them into a sequenced, streamlined guide to planning your story.

Download the Pre-writing Manual (it's amazing) 1 Lesson

Construct Your Plot With This Pre-Writing Manual

This interactive guide helps you design your own ABC-style plot.

Plot Your Whole Novel (+ examples) 7 Lessons

From a Protagonist to a Plot

We have the building blocks. Now we're going to use them to create a great plot.

The Four Stages of the ABC Plot

By this point in the course, we've studied how to build our scenes, establish "care," and build a great protagonist. Here is the framework to turn those concepts and building blocks into a detailed plot.

Designing the Best Possible “B”

Your character has issues! But -- which ones?

How Long Should Each Stage Be?

How many pages, roughly, you might picture each stage being.

Designing the Best Possible C: the “Conceit”

Sometimes the C plot-line requires a ticking clock.

ABC Plot Summary: Killing Floor by Lee Child

Here is how the ABC plot is working in the first Jack Reacher novel, Killing Floor.

ABC Plot Summary #2: The Age of Innocence

The ABC plot works just as well for a classic literary novel like The Age of Innocence as it does for Jack Reacher. 

How to Set Limits on your Novel 2 Lessons

Don’t Hate Me, But… Cut It?

The very real dangers of fake plot.

The Rule of Five Ones

My advice: for this course, write a five or four "one" novel.

How to Write Each Stage (1-4) 4 Lessons

How to Write Stage One

This might be the second most popular video of the whole course.

How to Write Stage Two

This is when your hero starts to care about your "big" plot.

How to Write Stage Three

This is the longest, most substantial part of the novel: the middle.

Stage Four and the Staggered Ending

Here is a low-stress way to plan out a great ending to your novel.

Your Problems, Solved! 2 Lessons

The Biggest Problem: Leading with B

The most common issue writers have, when they try to follow the ABC plot: leading with B.

ABC with Multiple Protagonists

What if I want more than one main character?

Alternate Openings For Your ABC Plots 2 Lessons

Alternate Stage One Opening: Multiple Timelines

Here's how to use the stage one opening with multiple timelines.

Alternate Stage One Opening: A Magical Job

Sometimes the plot takes your character in an extreme direction: perhaps they get a magical job (they become the new tooth fairy, for instance) and have to leave their old life behind. Here's how to make it feel real for your readers.

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4 Chapters

Module 3: Let’s Get Writing!

This module is all about putting the lessons of the course to work.

Start a Novel from Scratch 8 Lessons

Start with your Dream Story

This chapter of the course is specifically for people who are starting from the beginning. And for them — I recommend that you DO NOT start your planning and sketching with a character. Instead...

Imagine the Best Bits

Think back to the stories you love. When did you really feel yourself commit, to the story, as a reader? My guess is that there were two main moments: the late beginning and the late middle. Let's sketch out those two areas of your new book now.

Picture An Unhappy Visitor

Now we picture a main character who doesn't care about any of that stuff.

Now we use hints to connect the two

At the start, the character is doing his or her thing. But strong hints imply there is more going on. 

Sketch the Backstory

You might not know everything yet. But start now: let's sketch out the secrets.

Begin the World-building Bible

Describe the divisions in this world.

Now Start Sketching out "Implied" Scenes

You're in a great place. You've imagined your ideal story. You've pictured how that story might develop and build. You've created a character and events that might happen to that character. And you've done some world-building and backstory writing. Now comes the fun part: writing out the scenes and chapters and moments that this pre-writing suggest.

Wrap Up: Now You're Ready for the ABC Plot

Fantastic. Now it's time to turn these sketches into a real story, with the plotting manual supplied in this course and the lessons of the ABC plot.

The Quick Win 1 Lesson

This How You Get Started

This is my strategy for getting a "quick win" for this novel project.



Drumroll: The Plotting Manual! 1 Lesson

Conclusion 1 Lesson

Send Off

You did it! You finished the course. Now I just want to say…

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5 Chapters

Bonuses, live sessions, and acknowledgements

Additional info, advice + plus our live coaching sessions

Resources and Downloads 3 Lessons

Collected Handouts, Downloads, Manuals

For ease of use, all downloads mentioned in the course are also available here.


A few brief thank yous and credit dueings. 

How to Get Help

Do you need technical support? Do you want to run your idea past other students in the course?

Live sessions 2 Lessons

Protagonists and their Projects

A great conversation about our protagonists and the idea of an A plot line.

A, B, and Cs — plot advising session

How to balance and finetune a plot with the ABC framework (live webinar).

Audiofiles 1 Lesson

The ABC Plot

PS Feel free to download, but please don't share this audio-file! If you have friends interested in the course, let me know and I can give you a special discount code.

Preview of the NEXT course: "Write A Great Chapter" 2 Lessons

How to write dialogue

Five tips that will shape how you think about writing dialogue.

How to prepare a plot twist

Okay. You know you want to surprise your reader. How do you make sure the twist lands correctly?

Collected prompts and challenges 1 Lesson

Prompts & Challenges

A collection of prompts and challenges.