Preplanning a novel can involve as little as naming your main characters and writing a one-sentence overview of your plot or as detailed as full character biographies and a full outline that includes each chapter from the first chapter to the last chapter. While preplanning and outlining your novel can make the actual process of writing the novel faster, it doesn't help you if you get so caught up in the planning details that you never actually write your novel.

What You Must Have to Write Your Novel

  • The names of your main characters
  • The names of your primary secondary characters
  • Any supporting characters that come to your mind
  • A one-sentence overview of your plot
  • A paragraph explaining the premise of your novel
  • Any additional genre-specific notes, like cities, worlds, breeds or character races


When you're just writing down the bare planning bones of your novel, you don't need to go into a lot of detail. For the characters, all you really need to write down is their names and their job titles and/or a few words about them. For your one-sentence plot overview, it could be as simple as: X character seeks to overcome X obstacle. For the paragraph overview, you can go into a little more detail. 

The reason you want to write your single sentence and paragraph overview is because you're not bogged down by the details of your novel and the subplots. That means these words are going to be the most succinct that you ever write about your novel. Alternations of your sentence and paragraph can also be used as your book blurb and for query letters, if you plan to submit to agents and publishers.

Why do authors get stuck in the pre-planning stages?

Authors get stuck in the preplanning stages for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, a lot of writing books recommend it, and a lot of dedicated writing programs offer spaces for character names, biographies and personality, physical and mental details as well as locations, beginning, middle and end summaries and plot overviews as well as additional notes.

It's important to understand that the recommendation to fill out all the details prior to starting your novel is rooted in legitimate reasons. Once you fill out all these details, it can make the actual writing of your novel much smoother, and you'll complete your work of fiction much faster. It can also result in less editing due to plot discrepancies and redundant content.

The downside is that you may spend so much time writing character biographies and story outline and notes that you never actually start writing your novel. Another downside is that your outline and plot notes may become irrelevant after the first chapter, and sometimes after the first page because your characters decided to do X instead of your preplanned Y. The last reason hinges on whether or not you ever look at your notes and outlines after writing them. If you write down all those notes and never look at them again, you would have been better off just starting your novel.

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What are the signs that you're getting stuck in pre-planning?

The number one sign is that you've become obsessed with completely preplanning your novel. You feel like you must type every character detail and create a story outline that includes every detail of the book. 

The second sign has to do with how long you've been preplanning your novel. If you spend a few days on it, that's great. If it's been weeks and months, and you're still pre-planning, ask yourself why. Is your plot exceptionally complex? Are you writing a fantasy or science fiction novel that requires a complete world or several worlds? Are you creating your own language in addition to your novel? If you're doing any of the mentioned things, it may take you months, but if you're writing a basic romance, erotica book or YA novel, it shouldn't take months or years to plan.

How can you avoid getting stuck in the pre-planning?

For the vast majority of fiction authors, all you need to do is write down a few details. As soon as you get enough information to begin your novel, I recommend starting the writing process. If you have character names, job titles and an outline, you can always add to those as you write. You may even find it more useful to write notes and outline your chapters after you finish your scenes and chapters because it will give you time to reflect and keep you up-to-date on what's happening in your novel and where it's going in future chapters.

What's included in preplanning, if you want to preplan?

  • Character names and full biographies written in third person
  • One sentence plot overview
  • A one paragraph book premise
  • Short 1-page plot overview
  • Long plot overview (may be several pages)
  • The locations and location descriptions of where your book takes place (even buildings and areas within a city or town)
  • A timeline (like an itinerary)
  • Any notable objects (murder mysteries, crime books and fantasy books may need these)
  • A full book outline (chapter and scene summaries)