Steps in My Author Journey

I’ve read from various sources that an indie author should be publishing several novels a year. The idea is to keep putting out books for your readers so they never have to wait very long. The contention seems to be that if you take a year or more, your readers will move on to other authors and forget you.

That seems crazy to me. I’m always reading books by different authors, and if I like a series, even if I have to wait years for the next book to come out, when it does, I buy it.

Still, I want to be able to write and publish a book, or maybe two, every year. I published Bodacious Creed and the San Francisco Syndicate about fourteen months after Bodacious Creed and the Jade Lake. My next book in the same world, Anna, Daughter of Creed, will be coming out in early 2025, about two years after Bodacious Creed and the San Francisco Syndicate.

I keep studying outlining methods as I refine my writing process. I mean, I really want to have the next Anna novel out about a year after the first.

Anyway, I’m just about done with the first draft of Anna, Daughter of Creed. I’ve figured out how it’s going to end, and I’m excited to write the rest of it. I think it’s a great ending. The thing is, I outlined the novel before I started writing it, but specifics changed as I wrote. Often, there are small deviations to the original outline as I write that lead to larger, cumulative changes. My outlines are guides, but they’re flexible.

All this—figuring out the end of the novel, thinking about how to get the next one out sooner—inspired me to write this post about some of the different outlining methods and theories of story out there. Here are a few. If you plan to write a book and get stuck, try these methods for plotting a novel.


The Snowflake Method

Author Randy Ingermanson, developed The Snowflake Method. If you’ve looked up writing books on Amazon, you’re sure to have noticed this one. It’s a structured approach that begins with a simple idea and expands it into a full-fledged novel. You start with a single sentence summary, your novel idea, and gradually build up to a full outline with character development. Here are the basic steps.


  • Step-by-Step Expansion: Start with a one-sentence summary of the story. Expand this into a paragraph, then into a page, and so on, fleshing out characters and plot details as you go.
  • Character Focus: Develop detailed character profiles alongside the plot to ensure character motivations and arcs are well integrated.
  • Iterative Process: Continuously refine and expand upon your initial ideas, which helps in building a robust and detailed plot.

Writers who prefer a highly organized and detailed approach to plotting will find this method a good fit. It allows for thorough planning and ensures that every aspect of the story is well thought out.


The Three-Act Structure

The Three-Act Structure is a classic narrative framework that divides a story into three parts: Setup, Confrontation, and Resolution. Think of many Shakespeare plays or the original Star Wars trilogy.


  • Act One – Setup: Introduce characters, setting, and the main conflict. This act sets the stage for the story and hooks the reader.
  • Act Two – Confrontation: The protagonist faces challenges and obstacles. This is the longest part of the story, where the stakes are raised, and the tension builds.
  • Act Three – Resolution: The climax occurs, and the story reaches its conclusion. Loose ends are tied up, and the protagonist’s journey comes to an end.

You’ll see this structure used in novels, films, and plays. It provides a clear framework that helps in maintaining a coherent and engaging narrative flow.


The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey, popularized by Joseph Campbell, follows the protagonist through a series of stages, from their ordinary world to the extraordinary world and back.


  • Departure: The hero receives a call to adventure and leaves their ordinary world. Note that their they may stay in the same place, but it has to either have changed, or something has to be significantly different for the protagonist.
  • Initiation: The hero faces trials and gains allies and enemies. They undergo significant growth and transformation.
  • Return: The hero returns to their ordinary world with new wisdom or power.

This method is excellent for character-driven stories and helps in creating a deeply engaging and transformative narrative. Quest stories, like The Lord of the Rings, follow the Hero’s Journey, and you’ll find traces of it in most fiction.


Mind Mapping

Remember learning about brainstorming in school? Mind mapping is basically that: a flexible, visual plotting style that involves creating a diagram to explore the relationships between different plot elements.


  • Central Idea: Start with a central idea or theme in the middle of a page.
  • Branching Out: Create branches for main plot points, characters, settings, and subplots.
  • Connections: Draw connections between different elements to visualize how they interact and influence each other.

This method is useful for brainstorming and exploring different possibilities without being constrained by a linear outline. It allows for a more organic development of the plot. Once you have your mind map, you can organize your ideas with one of the other methods.


The Index Card Method


Do you have a lot of scene ideas that don’t quite make a full story? With The Index Card Method, you write individual scenes or plot points on index cards and arranging them to create a coherent narrative.


  • Flexibility: Easily rearrange scenes to find the most effective order.
  • Visualization: Lay out the entire plot visually to see the story’s structure and pacing.
  • Detail Management: Include notes on character development, setting, and key events for each scene.

This method is ideal for writers who like to experiment with different narrative structures.

Each of these methods offers a unique approach to plotting a novel. The Snowflake Method and Three-Act Structure provide detailed and organized frameworks, while the Hero’s Journey focuses on character transformation. Mind Mapping and the Index Card Method offer flexibility and visual tools to explore and refine the plot. Feel free to experiment with each so you can figure out what works best for you.

Next week, we’ll look at Dramatica, a method I tried in the 1990s, which deserves its own post.

Happy plotting!

“I spend eight months outlining and researching the novel before I begin to write a single word of the prose.” ~ Jeffrey Deaver