Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 9, 2010

Six Tips For Planning Your Story

Nicola Morgan is former English teacher and dyslexia specialist who has written over 90 books published in the children’s and YA markets.  She says she is probablyn best known for  Fleshmarket (famous for its shocking opening chapter) and Blame My Brain – the amazing teenage brain revealed, a book which teenagers seem to enjoy, and adults seem desperate to read.

She lives in Edinburgh and has a tiny flat in London.  Most of her writing ideas and revision ideas comes when she walks her labrador.

1.  Do keep character notes – if you have a memory like mine, you will not remember by word 18,904 that you have said that Character A has blue eyes or once had a kitten called Sue. I recommend doing this either in a notebook with a page for each character, or in a Word doc. I also recommend that you write down precise wording that you used for any detail – because then, when you want to change an aspect of character or personailty, you can do a “find” on the phrase and change them all.

2.  I have used – and recommend – a pin board with little cards that you can move around. You can have different colours for different plot strands, or organise it however you want, but this type of storyboard allows you to make lots of changes as you go, and really to visualise the shape of your book.

3.  Do try to foresee problems before they arise, and if you suspect that something is going wrong, stop, think, walk, think, and don’t simply plough ahead hoping it will work itself out.

4.  Don’t expect to stick to your plan. Always allow yourself to be adaptable.

5.  It’s perfectly possible to plan one section at a time – that’s pretty much what I’m doing when I’m walking – so, I write a chapter and then go walking to get the next one. It’s just like going shopping…

6.  The fact that I don’t make early written notes on my ideas is not a recommendation – it’s just me! I like the idea to work itself out organically and I find as soon as I write something down it becomes too strict – strictness is for the later stages of my writing process.

Nicola says her REVERSE PLANNING is the most important part of her writing process.  So, What the hell is REVERSE PLANNING???  This is how she explains:

Simple: every now and then, for example when things have got a bit complicated and look as though they might go haywire, I go back and write an outline of what I’ve written, separating each plot strand or character development into a different column or colour on an A4 sheet in landscape format (usually). Gosh, doesn’t that sound organised??? This will show me a time-line of everything and allow me to see what sort of story arc or shape I’ve got, and whether my length / pacing / structure are on course to produce the book I want.

I will probably re-do my RP four times during the book. It allows me to tie up ends properly, make sure that each plot strand has its appropriate weight and shape and just ensure that things are ticking along. In a way, it’s the bridle and saddle for my wild Arab stallion of a story. It gives me control, but allows me to have a thrilling ride all the same.

You will want to read Nicola’s full post over at her “Help, I Need a Publisher” blog. This is only a fraction of what she has to share.

Hope this helps and that you are finding time to write.



  1. I’m writing Memoir, but still I found some of these tips to be very helpful, particularly when I feel overwhelmed – which these days, can be often. Thanks for a great post.


    • Linda,

      I think these can be applied to all writing, so I hope you can find some nugget to use. Good luck with your memoir.



  2. Yay, I love this and I , for sure, going to use the cork board method. Thanks bunches.


    • Sherry,

      I figure if I can post something to help you think of a new way to accomplishing something, then it wasn’t a waste of my time. So thanks for letting me know you found something new to try.



  3. Great thoughts . . . thanks Kathy . . . I’m up to my shoulders in Shining Sea, ideas like these are just what I need.
    Hope all is well with you.


    • Mimi,

      There you are. Seems like I haven’t talked with you for a while. I glad to hear your manuscript is progressing. Keep up the good work.



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