Plotting and Planning your Novel

The storytelling framework every writer needs.

This course will give you:

  • The tools to create (quickly) an exciting, detailed, character-based plot for your novel.
  • The techniques to write an intriguing, engaging, and well-told scene (so your readers quickly say, "Wow, this is good writing!").
  • Free time! You won't have to waste time figuring out a good way to tell your story.

"Not all good writers are good teachers, but Daniel David Wallace (a talented, thoughtful writer himself) is a terrific instructor. Even when leading a class with multiple participants, he gives each student individualized attention.

Daniel is attentive to plot, structure, character, and other high-level narrative elements, but you’ll appreciate his ability to zoom in closely on language and sentence-level concerns.

If you can take a class with him, do it!"

- Julia Brown, writer and editor

Wait. "Plot my novel in one hour?" What does that mean?

It's simple.

This is a substantial course in plotting, structuring, and scoping out a novel, from the big picture questions to the intricacies of snappy dialogue.

We will even wrap up the course by discussing options for publication and building an online audience.

But I know you are busy. Perhaps you already have a story in mind and just want to learn how to make it good.

So the very first unit in the course gives you a quick-start guide, showing you how to master the essentials in just one hour.

Watch these four videos and you will be well on your way.

  1. The Rule of Five Ones -- learn why setting limits is essential to writing a book.
  2. The ABC plot -- use this transformative plotting framework to devise a plot from your main character's fears and desires.
  3. The Action - Reaction scene model -- start using the tricks of narration that successful authors instinctively know.
  4. The right tool for the job -- create a focused writing environment for low-stress drafting and editing.

But perhaps you're not interested in starting with the course's highlights. That's fine, too!

Here's the other option: through a sequence of short email prompts, I will talk you through the entire course, a little each day (or every other day).

Once you join the course, over the next month, I will send you questions, simple exercises, or simply the link to the next video. By the end of that month, you'll understand fully how to write a great novel.

"With Daniel's scene instruction workshop, I was able to write more quickly and competently. He created a path for writing my chapters. Using his scene maps, I understood the scene I was crafting and how it functioned within the framework of my novel. I could focus on both the narrative and character arcs simultaneously.

I wish I had taken a class like this sooner. I would've been a better novelist and my short story production would've been much larger."

- John Vurro, short story writer and novelist

Plus there are prizes!

At the start of the course, I will send you a mysterious-looking "bingo card."

Download this bingo card, print it, and keep it by your side as you explore the training sessions and worksheets.

Every time you notice one of the entries, mark that square.

Once you complete your card, you'll be ready for the final "bingo quiz."

Everyone who sends in their quiz answers gets not only a mystery prize from me, but also a congratulatory certificate of graduation.

"About a year ago, I enrolled in my first course with you. Back then, I was so shy and insecure. I did the prompts but I just couldn’t bring myself up to share anything. Today I realized how far I have come. How much I have changed.

You gave me so much more than just writing advice, support, and encouragement. You didn’t just teach me to write better sentences. You boosted my confidence and gave me the courage to call myself a writer.

PS I love both “The ABC Plot” and “The Perfect First Stage.” It fits perfectly with my way of outlining and planning. It’s subtle enough to allow for spontaneous and natural occurring changes along the way, but gets down the essential and critical parts of the plot where you need it, and especially helps you tackle the beginning in great depth."

- Yuan Sigel, fantasy writer


Why did I create this course?

If you write novels, you know that the absolute worst thing is getting stuck.

If you get stuck with a short poem or a short story, maybe you can just leave it and come back later.

Maybe you can just force yourself to stay in the chair and finish the piece through sheer willpower, even though you know it isn't any good.

But that simply doesn't work for a novel: you can't just take a shot of espresso (or bourbon) and write the remaining 40,000 words in one sitting. The work required is just too great.

And once you've spent a year or more researching and dreaming up your characters, you probably won't want to put the manuscript away at the first sign of trouble.

Because you love this story and want to finish it. You've told your friends about it. And you've already invested a huge amount of time.

But how do you move forward? How to escape the feeling that it... it isn’t good?

After all, this is what you love to do — write — and yet you’re not doing it. You're not making progress on your book.

Or you are making progress, slowly, but it feels like a frustrating struggle, and you wish you knew how to make the process work.

I know from my own writing career how miserable getting stuck can be. You can spend months (even years) not sure where to go next with the story. Or you can finish the draft, show it to your literary agent and mentors, and find that they don't quite love it.

And then you can spend months (even years) re-writing, trying to figure out what parts of the book need to be fixed, and what parts need to be kept.

This, by the way, is what happened with my first novel-project, The English Teacher. That novel was about an English woman in Taiwan, getting in trouble with business ventures and ghosts.

I loved the characters. So did my agent. But despite months of rewriting, we never got the story, the plot, or the conception of the book quite to where we thought it was ready. And when we finally sent it out to the big publishing houses, they rejected the manuscript.

In other words, I know that many people say that you should just keep writing, no matter what. “A writer writes” and so on. This certainly sounds good.

But my experience is that to just keep writing, when a story isn’t working, often doesn’t produce a better story. And yes, if you just keep writing, you will improve. However, it might take you years of “just writing” to figure out what you should have done, what changes you should have made, five years before.

What would it be worth to be able to plan out and plot a story that you knew would work, a plot outline that you could describe to your friends and they would get excited, ask to read it?

You could spend this year (and the next) writing at a much more fluent, happier level.

"Daniel respected my work and vision on a profound level but also had a keen editorial eye and a stroke of literary genius that took everything I’d written to the next level.

Daniel was immensely patient, comforting, and encouraging -- is it weird that I think of him as my literary midwife? Because I totally do."

- Tawni Waters, I.L.A. award-winning author of Beauty of the Broken, The Long Ride Home, and Siren Song.

My story

There are a lot of ways to get help with your book.

I should know: I've studied with great teachers.

I’ve done an MFA and a PhD in the art of fiction.

Even so, despite all that training, this is the course I always wanted: this is the course I wish I could have taken back when I was starting my novel-writing journey.

Let me be clear: I had amazing teachers and colleagues. I am still in awe of my classmates and mentors. But I don’t think our classes were set up to provide a full training in plotting a novel.

In most of those workshops, we brought in chapters of our novel drafts. We gave each other feedback on those chapters. And the instructor tried to sum up everyone's advice and give tips on how to write the rest of the book.

It was a fantastic learning experience. But it wasn't really what I wanted, nor what most of my classmates needed.

The problem was this: it left the actual "writing" part of "writing a book" largely up to the student. The deal with the class was this: you produce the work, we will critique.

And there was a good side to this: the teacher let the student work guide each session. Everyone was free to submit whatever they wanted.

However, this approach had a serious downside.

It left the work of producing a good story something of a mystery.

The problem was, I wanted a class that taught me about writing.

How do I invent a story? How do I build tension? How do I learn how to make good decisions and avoid pitfalls?

How do I figure out what should be in my book and what was excessive, unnecessary?

This course will make you a better writer

This course is the result of four years of PhD research into the craft of fiction, of serving as the books editor of a literary press, and of coaching dozens of aspiring authors one-on-one.

This course will show you how to create any number of novel-length plots.

This is the game-plan: at the end of this course, you will have developed amazing skills at plotting a novel-length story.

This course will take you a month, if you follow along the short and simple emailed prompts — but you’ll be able to complete it at your own pace, too, if you prefer.

You’ll end the training sessions knowing how to plan, write, and finish your novel.

You will complete the course with a detailed plan for your book, and a much better grasp on storytelling in general: you’ll have a fresh understanding of plot, character, scene structure, narration, and style.

Plus you will be able to construct a killer ending for your novel, a finale that your readers will love.

This course is going to show you a step-by-step approach to scoping out, planning, and plotting your novel. It will show you how to move from the very beginning, from a vague inspiration, and a dream of giving an reading in a packed bookshop — to finishing an outline of your story that expertly executes the fundamentals of character, narration, and scene design.

Here’s what the course includes.

Training videos and worksheets to help you scope out and plan — or revise — a great novel-length story.

  • understanding the sort of novel you should really be writing.
  • deciding on a special topic, experience, historical moment, or big picture idea for your novel.
  • building a deep, story-focused setting that will impress and convince your reader.
  • creating a well-rounded, dynamic, and plot-friendly protagonist.
  • connecting your character’s deepest self to the big picture thing your novel is “about.”
  • settling on the right narrative POVs for your novel, and working out when to use an omniscient narrator.
  • applying the rule of “five ones” to your novel (limits are your friend).
  • creating secondary characters by filling out a circle of “concern” for your protagonist.
  • making readers care by developing a “focus of care” secondary character.
  • writing the first ten pages with your protagonist already in motion.
  • outlining the high-level plot: the three “turns” your character will take.
  • inventing an unexpected, gripping, but still meaningful finale for your story.
  • escalating the central part of the story through a simple, easy to execute plot-mechanism.

The course will also include bonus units on

- flowing, clear writing style

- snappy, appealing dialogue

- the crucial parts of a dramatic scene

- publication tips and writing an agent query letter

- building a mailing list of interested readers

"Daniel was as good an editor as one could ever wish for. In fact, he went way over what I expected, suggesting small revisions and cuts, helping me organize my book... I don't know how he was able to give me so much time and attention, but he did, and I am grateful. Daniel has a good eye and a very good ear."

- Bill Buege, author of Stumble into a Lighted Room

Class Curriculum

Your Instructor

Daniel David Wallace
Daniel David Wallace

Hi! I'm Daniel. I help writers of all levels plan, draft, and revise their novels. I create simple, easy-to-implement techniques that help you master the craft of fiction.

This is the benefit of being a professional writing coach and a PhD researcher: I take complex ideas and present them in their clearest, most essential form. Thousands of writers have signed up for my free courses on style, plotting, and finding one's voice.

I'm a British writer living in Tennessee with three dogs, a cat, my brilliant wife, my very lively two-year-old son, and a Honda Odyssey mini-van.

My stories and essays have been published in many literary journals. I am the editor in chief of Burlesque Press, and I've co-hosted writing conferences such The Hands On Literary Festival in New Orleans and the Young Writers conference in Knoxville.

Frequently Asked Questions

When does the course start and finish?
The course starts as soon as you sign up. You can either follow along with the emailed prompts and activities, or you can go through the course materials at your own pace. The introductory course guide even gives you a "quick start summary," showing busy people how to started on their novel after only an hour of training sessions.
How long do I have access to the course?
How does lifetime access sound? After enrolling, you have unlimited access to this course for as long as you like - across any and all devices you own.
What if I am unhappy with the course?
We would never want you to be unhappy! If you are unsatisfied with your purchase, contact us in the first 30 days and we will give you a full refund. No questions asked! I don't even ask why you didn't like it.
Is the course suitable for every genre of novel?
This course covers plot, narration, character, and style. As long as you are writing a "character-based" story, these lessons will be extremely helpful. I have tested these techniques with authors working in YA fantasy, literary fiction, supernatural mysteries, crime, and light-hearted adventure. However, I'm not an expert on children's literature, and I wouldn't recommend myself as a teacher for works aimed at readers younger than the YA market. This course may also not be ideal for truly experimental novels: the course assumes that you are attempting to grab your reader's attention, and earn their loyalty, with a character and a forward-moving plot (even if that plot is low-key and subtle).
What if I'm writing a memoir?
This course is formally designed to help novel writers. I'm sure you would get a huge amount out of the techniques, especially the ones teaching narrative structure, exposition, and scene design, but it might feel frustrating to constantly hear me talk about "novels" in the videos. However, the course comes with a money-back guarantee, so it might well be worth joining us and seeing if it's worth it! Memoirists have taken my courses in the past and have gained a lot from them.
What if I'm really rusty / I don't have an idea for a story yet?
This course takes you through the process of inventing / discovering a great premise for your novel, so you don't need an idea before you begin. Now, I wouldn't recommend, if you are feeling rusty, that you try the "quick start" approach. I probably won't be able to teach you how to plot a non-existent novel in one hour. But over the course of a month, you will create a fantastic plan and scene map.
I'm a really good writer. Can you teach me anything new?
Yes. I've studied with award-winning, remarkable novelists and editors, and I've read extensively in narrative form and theory. Plus I'm simply a good teacher. Some people are naturally good at jumping or running. Some people are naturally good looking. I don't have any of those skills, sadly -- but I am very good at teaching, coaching, and editing. It's odd talent, maybe, but I'm glad to have it, and I would love to work with you on your next project.
Is one-to-one coaching available?
This course is designed for self-study. Through the regular email prompts, the introductory guide, the bingo card, and the way the lessons are sequenced, you'll find it easy to progress through the course. However, many people do enjoy and benefit from live interaction. So I'm offering two version of the courses that involve coaching. One offers a single in depth session of feedback and discussion, held after you complete and send me your novel plan, where we'll go through your materials and I'll suggest lots of improvements and tips. The second option is more substantial. In this version, we'll talk regularly for four months. As you work through the course, plan your novel, and actually get writing it, I will read notes, outlines, and chapters, encouraging and supporting you as you make steady progress on the book you have always wanted to write.

This course is not open for enrollment.

"Daniel truly has a gift. He’s one of the most patient and encouraging teachers I’ve had. He gives the type of feedback that energizes rather than discourages, the kind that makes you feel like you can rebuild your novel—and rebuild it stronger.

I came away from this course not only with an incredibly detailed novel plan but also the lifelong skills to talk about how and why stories work. I feel empowered to plan many more stories going forward."

- Allison Saft, YA author