New Simplified Novel Notebook

Everybody’s talking about outlining lately. Jane over at Marginalia mentioned storyboarding today. Lynn Viehl wrote a great post on novel outlining over the weekend. I talked earlier this week about how I’m making this week Plot Week. I suspect that it’s a popular topic just now because Alison Kent’s 70 Days of Sweat is drawing to a close tomorrow. Folks have been talking about their experience with the challenge and what I’ve read even the people who didn’t make it to the end of the challenge successfully have reported positive results. The real point of the challenge was to get into a routine of writing every day. But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

This week I’ve been trying to fill out the twice revised Novel Notebook I got off of Lynn’s blog. And frankly, it’s been really difficult! Some of the sections just don’t quite make sense to me or how I think. There’s this whole section on blocking and crises and subplots and I got really confused. And then the list about the 20 reasons why the hero and heroine shouldn’t be together had me completely flummoxed! Well until Pot suggested it was more 20 reasons why they aren’t jumping into the sack or getting married immediately. That I can work with. So anyway I decided that if I’m really serious about doing the outlining/plotting/storyboarding thing I really needed to write up something that works with my own thought process. So this is what I came up with:

My Simplified Novel Notebook (click here to download)

Novel Title

1. Title or Working Title:

2. Title Meaning/Source:


What is the main complication of the story (the central problem that must be solved by the main character)?

What are the primary obstacles preventing the main character from achieving his or her goal?

How is the story resolved for the main characters (how does it end)?


Main location(s) where the story takes place:


Climate/Season at time of story:



Other significant details about location(s):

Suggested Tasks:

1. Get or draw a map of story location(s).

2. Map out buildings and travel routes involved in story.

3. Collect or invent interesting anecdotes about location(s).

3. Visit setting if possible and photograph areas that are involved in the story.

Individual Character Worksheet


Role In Novel:

Primary Goal:
Most notable personality trait(s):

Achilles heel:

Biggest strength:

Physical Description:

Hair Color/Style:

Eye Color/Shape:

Skin Color/Texture:

Notable Facial Features:

Body Type:


Outward demeanor:

Place of birth:


Closest confidante:

Significant Family Members:



Describe home:

Favorite Place:



Favorite food:

Wardrobe/Personal Style (Clothing, shoes, jewelry, accessories, etc.)

Personal History:

The “line test”: You can tell a lot about someone by how they react to being forced to wait in line at Walmart for a long time. How does this character react to that eventuality?

Psychology of the Bad Guy

List any known psychopatholoy for the antagonist:

What sort of criminal is the antagonist (i.e. serial killer, rapist, arsonist, etc.)?

What is the initial motivation for the antagonist’s actions?

What changes his motivation/makes him/her escalate?

What maintains the escalated behavior?

How far is the antagonist willing to go in pursuit of his/her goals?

What is his/her downfall, the thing that allows him/her to get caught/killed?


All character names from the novel in alphabetical order:

Suggested Task: Check and change character names to eliminate sound-alikes, alliteration, any that are inappropriate for time period, and any that are inconsistent with the names for the rest of the cast.

Plotting the Romance

What does the hero need that only the heroine can provide and why?

What does the heroine need that only the hero can provide and why?

What is the main conflict between the h/h?

What in the hero’s past pertains to his ability to form relationships?

What in the heroine’s past pertains to her ability to form relationships?

Do the h/h have any shared history?

What is the Black Moment in the story?

How is the conflict that arises from the Black Moment resolved?

20 Reasons Why the H/H Are Well Suited

20 Reasons Why the H/H Aren’t Getting Busy or Married Immediately

Novel Timeline

Chronological list of the story events:

8 thoughts on “New Simplified Novel Notebook

  1. Love the notebook. It really does break things down into a workable chunk. Mind if I link back here? I am part of an online writing group, and there’s always someone in the group who’s looking for more ways to get organized.

  2. Having a crit partner or a writing group for support and trouble shooting is not the same as novel writing by consensus. I’ve learned something from all of them that’s helped to make me a stronger writer. Beyond reading copiously, it’s never a bad thing to look into other systems and take parts away from them to refine your own.

  3. You know, I love Lynn Viehl’s Novel Notebook. I only use about half of it though. She’s incredibly plot driven and detail oriented and I just don’t need to know that much about the story. I did transfer what I use of it into OneNote, which is where I do all my story stuff and I’ve reformatted and added to it.

    It’s an ongoing process I think. You start with the notebook and it grows from there into something that works for you. I’m sure Lynn’s Novel Notebook is a labor of love she worked on for many years to come up with what works for her as a writer. No one writer is the same. Things like that should be used as a guide more than as a bible.

    I also love Jim Butcher’s story skeleton thing he posted about five years ago or so on his LiveJournal… coincidentally, the only thing he’s ever posted on his LiveJournal. LOL. I use aspects of that method as well as the Novel Notebook. I guess I’ve just mashed everything together to make what works for me. I figure the food is all going to the same place, so what difference does it make if it’s all mashed together? I know, I’m going to burn for that one…

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