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Book Review: How to Plot Your Novel by Jean Saunders

Book Review: How to Plot Your Novel by Jean Saunders

This guide takes the aspiring novelist from the initial idea, developing it into a workable plot to producing an irresistible page-turner. Characterization, background settings, methodical construction and making use of library resources are dealt with in a clear, down-to-earth fashion.

Book Review: How to Plot Your Novel by Jean Saunders

What I thought:

As you probably know if you’ve been here for a while (and if not–welcome, my fellow writer!), I love a book on writing. Even if not all of it is for me, even if I’ve read most of it before, I’ll still find something I haven’t thought of before, and How to Plot Your Novel was such a book.

With over 80 books published, Saunders has all the experience. I got the feeling that she knows what she’s talking about right there in the introduction, and more importantly, I got the feeling that she understands. She’s been there and she’s done it, and quite successfully so, too!

And the vital question is: What is going to happen next, and what are the characters going to do about it?

I think what I loved the most about this little (roughly 110 pages) gem is that there are so many morsels of wisdom only an author who’s been doing this for a while would have, because they come from experience and trial and error.

There are plenty of things you’ve likely heard before, too, but it can’t hurt to remind yourself of those. The more you read it, the more it sticks.

Saunders doesn’t hold your hand as such–there are no lists of do this, then do that, and then do that and bam, you have a plot. A lot of work goes into making a plot something amazing, and Saunders shows you ways of developing yours.

It’s no use writing about a character who is suffering intense guilt because he hasn’t reported a road accident in which he was involved, unless you describe how he is feeling. The author who metaphorically stands on the sidelines and merely says the character doesn’t know what to do at that traumatic moment and so on, is copping out.

It’s what is known in the writing game as Telling, not Showing.

Saunders gives you actionable tips for every section of your novel–how to make sure the middle doesn’t drag, how to flesh out your characters, why your theme is so important, etc.

Every chapter ends in brief one-sentence summaries of every point made, and I found a lot of things I hadn’t considered before. I tried one of her ways of fleshing out characters this month and was surprised how well it worked. Suddenly, my character was talking–just like that! I can’t wait to try it again, I’m excited just thinking about it XD

There’s some information on what publishers look for, too, and how to stay out of their rejection pile, so if you’re considering that route you’ll find useful advice here.

All plots are basically character-driven, because without them you have no plot at all. Characters bring your story to life.

Now, How to Plot Your Novel has a fair few critiques on Goodreads, but I’m not sure why. I’ve read through some of them, and the general opinion seems to be that it doesn’t actually teach you how to plot a novel and that it’s not suitable for beginners. I can’t comment on the latter because I’ve published three books and have another six getting ready, but this book shows you how to plot. I don’t know what else you might want. Maybe a worksheet? Maybe a list of step-by-step building blocks? It doesn’t have those, but I don’t think it needs them. As I’ve mentioned above, I found a lot of stuff I hadn’t considered before and some of that stuff I’ve since tried and had huge success with.

When I was new to this, books like this one made me want to write and try all the new things I learned. That’s definitely a good thing.

It’s horrible to get to a point in your novel when you can’t think where to go next. You have reached the sagging middle of your plot, and all seems dull and pointless. You’re quite sure this novel is never going to be finished, that you will finally abandon it and that it will end up in the drawer with all the other unfinished manuscripts. You are not alone. But hold on. Because the most important word in your vocabulary now is choice.

(your character’s choice of what to do next, that is. not your choice of whether you abandon it or not.)

I recommend How to Plot Your Novel quite easily, no matter where you are in your writing journey. If you’re not sure, I wouldn’t worry–sadly, this little book seems a rare find these days. Amazon mostly has used copies (great for a bargain, though!) and I couldn’t find it at all on Waterstones, so I recommend you snatch it when you see it. It’s on my wishlist, and next time I get paid I’ll treat myself since I borrowed this one from my library.

Buy it on Amazon

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Book Review: How to Plot Your Novel by Jean Saunders | Further reading: The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman
Book Review: How to Plot Your Novel by Jean Saunders | Further reading: The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman

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