Some authors love the planning stage. Others dread it. For me, it’s all about organization. And while I love beautiful spreadsheets, they don’t help me plot at all. They’re much too rigid and sometimes overwhelming for my brain.
So what tool works for me? If you’ve ever used project management software of any kind, you probably know what a kanban board is. If you haven’t, it’s basically a living spreadsheet where you can move tasks from one list to another. Imagine a giant white board with a lot of post-its that you can move around to different areas. Here’s an example from Wikipedia:
Think of it as an organized notebook but imagine much more fun column titles and abilities! For example, there can be a column for world building, one for characters, one for themes, etc. And, on top of that, you can add images to the post-its or related internet links. You can have really detailed info hidden inside of each post-it or full on chapter summaries. The possibilities are endless.The post-its, or cards, can be moved from column to column, so for those of you who are task-oriented, its very fun to move something to a DONE column. (And even add fireworks emojis that animate when you do!
Now, there are a lot of apps that do this, some for free, some with membership requirements. The one I use is called Trello and its free!
So, how exactly do I plot out whole novels with digital post-its? Let me show you. I like to start with an Inspiration column where I put notes on anything that is related to that current idea. I also have a column for big Plot Thoughts (ideas or scenes that come to mind when I’m first brainstorming.) Themes is another column that helps guide me as I’m drafting character arcs.
poinHere you can see all three of those columns on the board that I used to plot and draft CTNFTW:
I like to have columns for Characters and put portraits in there as I imagine what they look like. Columns for World Building and Animals were really important for CTNFTW since it’s set on a whole different planet than Earth.
Fun fact, the image below that I found to represent Sena was exactly how she looked in my head AND it’s the image I sent to the illustrator when she was designing the cover. :)
There are a LOT more columns that I like to use. For example, I have columns for each act and cards for each chapter within those columns. And that’s where I like to actually write out the first, super rough draft of whatever the story is. (Later, I’ll copy paste those unformatted chapters into a Google Doc and start cleaning them up as I revise.) I also will make a new board for revisions. This is where the label function comes in handy! I’ll create revision labels like “world building” or “character development” and make lists of the things I need to revise, labeling each one as I go. That way it’s easier for me to tackle edits.
(Maybe we’ll do a deep dive into those boards in a future newsletter!)
So, that is my very quick introduction to kanban boards and Trello.
If you want to try this method, I made a free and open template that anyone can copy into their own account and edit/use however they want! I’ve put some images and labels on the template just as examples, feel free to use whatever works for you.
A version of this post appeared in Wolves and Wonder, my monthly newsletter that includes no-nonsense writing advice along with book updates and sci-fi inspiration. Get it in your inbox; you'll love it.