Plan Your Novel with Beth Barany in 7 Steps

PLAN YOUR NOVEL TIP #1: Start Your Novel Planning with the Elevator Pitch By Beth Barany


Welcome to the 7-post series on preparing or planning your novel for National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) or anytime. In today’s post, we focus on writing your elevator pitch as your first step.

An elevator pitch can be used to shape the back cover blurb, what you see on the back of books and on the online book record, usually under “Book Description” or “Overview.”

I recommend you start with your elevator pitch because it’s an activity you can do in 5-20 minutes and it’s a good way to get your brain in gear for writing your novel. Don’t worry about your elevator pitch being perfect. You can revise it once you’re done with all your novel planning or when you’re done writing your novel.

Start here: Take note of your genre. This will give you a general idea of your story ending.


Elevator Pitch Formula

Here’s a 5-piece plug and play formula that you can follow to write your Elevator Pitch. This will help you create one paragraph of 1-3 sentences. Your goal is to keep this short.

Situation: Also called the Initial Action or Premise, this is the beginning of the story.

Main Character(s): Name (optional: add one adjective, identifying the person. Pick something not cliché.)

Primary Objective: At first, what does your main character want?

Antagonist Or Opponent: (or Central Conflict. ) Who or what is keeping your main characters from getting what they want?

Disaster That Could Happen: What’s the worst that could happen, and/or what does your character want next? Often phrased as a question.

Here’s an example: (You’ll probably recognize this!)

  1. Abandoned on his relatives’ doorstep as an infant,
  2. Harry Potter
  3. longs to understand where he came from and why he feels different.
  4. He discovers that he is a wizard and that his parents were killed by Voldemort, a powerful and evil wizard,
  5. who has been hunting for Harry, to kill him.

You guessed it! This is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Book 1 in the Happy Potter series.

Here’s another example, in paragraph format, from a published book: A reclusive computer programmer, Nathan Yirmorshy, pounds out ones and zeros in the quiet of his home while his landlord secretly watches from behind a two-way mirror. When an intercepted note connects the landlord to a secret society, and a detective ends up dead, Nathan must abandon his home and everything familiar to him, open his heart to a tarot reader he has never met, and trust her with his life – just as the ancient scriptures have foretold. (The Torah Codes by Ezra Barany.)

PLAN YOUR NOVEL TIP #2: Write Your Story Synopsis by Beth Barany

Today is the second in a 7-post series on planning your novel. In today’s post, we focus on writing your story synopsis for your novel preparation. 

A synopsis is a short summary of your book.

In the planning stages, a synopsis can help you think through the beginning, middle, and end of your story. I like to draft the story synopsis as a way to think about the inner and outer changes for my two main characters.

Tip: If you do plan to pitch your story to a literary agent, you’ll need a synopsis. Once your novel is polished, you can come back to your draft synopsis to edit or use for inspiration.

I have a cool tool to share with you, called a “Plot Spinner,” designed by the award-winning romance author, Patricia Simpson. She built this tool, based on an exercise by writing teacher, Alicia Rasley.

Keep in mind: Take note of your genre. This will give you a general ideal of your story ending.

Action: Go here to use the Plot Spinner.

Time to budget: I recommend you take 30-60 minutes to do this exercise.

You can also use this outline and do the Plot Spinner by hand. Here’s the structure and an example by novelist, Patricia Simpson:

  1. One sentence summary paragraph (like a movie listing on TV)
  2. What issue you are exploring. Mine was: trust
  3. Premise. The idea you want to prove or disprove by the end of the story.
    “You can never go home again.”
    “There IS a such a thing as love at first sight.”
    “To find a sense of home, sometimes you have to leave it.”
  4. Simplify your basic story (from Alicia Rasley’s class) by writing ONE sentence for each of these (keeping your issue in mind):

Heroine’s external struggle because of issue:
a. At the beginning. (Divorce, caused by lack of intimacy, has
caused loss of house.)
b. In the middle (Tatiana is kidnapped when she trusts villain.)
c. At the end (Tatiana must trust Ren to find treasure to get
house back.)

Heroine’s internal struggle with issue:
d. At the beginning (Tatiana doesn’t trust men.)
e. In the middle (Tatiana finds out Ren is using her to break
f. At the end (Tatiana learns she has to trust herself FIRST before
she can trust men.)

Hero’s external struggle with issue:
g. At the beginning. (Ren has to woo a woman to break the spell.)
h. In the middle (Ren realizes he will probably die before he seduces Tatiana.)
i. At the end (Ren chooses death to help Tatiana save her home.)

Hero’s internal struggle:
j. At the beginning (Women are to be revered or bedded, not
k. In the middle (Ren is confused about his growing
admiration & lust for Tatiana.)
l. At the end (Ren gets to know and trust a woman for the first
time in his life)

H&H interaction:
m. At the beginning (Against his better judgment, Ren offers his
services to Tatiana.)
n. In the middle (Just when she is softening toward him, she finds
out why he is wooing her.)
o. At the end (Tatiana must trust Ren implicitly to save the

  1. Now take the above sentences and arrange them like this:
    a, d, g, j, m
    b, e, h, k, n
    c, f, I, l, o

PRESTO! CHANGO! You should have the basic path of your story in 15

String them together with modifying phrases to make sense. But until you
have your sentences in 4, DON’T write the synopsis!!!

*Typed up by Author (and Programmer), Patricia Simpson, adapted from a workshop by Author and Teacher, Alicia Rasley [link to:].

The Night Orchid by Patricia Simpson

Patricia Simpson [link to] is described by reviewers as “a premier writer of supernatural romance.” Author of numerous paranormal novels, she is inspired by science, paranormal phenomena, and archeological discoveries, and consistently garners superior ratings and awards for unusual heroes and unpredictable plots. Simpson has been called “a master at keeping suspense going on a multitude of levels,” and a “masterful storyteller.”

PLAN YOUR NOVEL TIP #3: Develop Your Characters by Beth Barany

Today is the third in a 7-post series on planning your novel. In today’s post, we focus on character development.

Keep in mind: Take note of your genre. This will give you a general idea of your story ending and the kinds of characters work best for the story you’re writing.

Time to budget: I recommend you take 30-60 minutes to do this exercise for each of your main characters.

Brainstorm these essential elements for each of your main characters to get you started. Start with your most important character.

  • Goal, motivation and conflict, for both the inner life and outer life: Every main character needs to want something. Clarify that, the reason why, and what’s stopping them.
  • Strengths, inherent and learned: People have inherent capabilities and aptitudes and those they learn along the way. Strengths also include outer things like housing, time, and a support network.
  • Important relationships: Include any and all, including relationships with pets.
  • Appearance: Note their favorite article of clothing or jewelry, their daily outfits, how they would dress up, and how they wear their hair.
  • Education: Include formal and informal education.
  • Home, living circumstances: Include where and what it looks like and how they feel about it.
  • Preferred travel method: This is important if travel is an important part of your story.
  • Backstory as it relates to story problem: Hone in on the challenge or inner conflict your character has at the start of the story and where it originated.
  • The things in her pockets, or backpack, or car, or satchel, etc.: The small details can be the most telling about what’s important to your character.
  • Habits, mannerisms, ticks: Brainstorm what reveals character.
  • Other elements and factors that occur to you as interesting or important — jot them down. Let your intuition be your guide.

PLAN YOUR NOVEL TIP #4: Build Your Story World by Beth Barany

Today is the fourth in a 7-post series on preparing your novel. In today’s post, we focus on world building for your novel preparations. 

Keep in mind: Take note of your genre. This will give you a general ideal of the kind of world your readers expect, so you can give that to them, and also surprise them.

Time to budget: I recommend you take 60-90 minutes to do this exercise from the perspective of each of your main characters. What your main character thinks and knows about your story world will color their choices and actions, not matter the genre, not just science fiction and fantasy. Only use what you need and disregard the rest.

World Building Brainstorming Topics & Questions

  • Language — Does your world have different languages? How did they evolve?
  • Origin Tales — How did the world came to be?
  • Folklore – What is your favorite childhood folktale or fairytale?
  • Family tree – What do you know about your family tree?
  • Jobs/professions — What kind do people have? Do men and women divide work, share it? What kind of training do your characters receive, if any? How are they trained and by whom?
  • Gender roles – What are people’s attitudes about gender roles?
  • Clothing/Costumes — How do people dress? What do your characters wear and why? Where does fabric come from? Who makes it?
  • Weather — Does your place have four seasons?
  • Flora & Fauna – What are some of the important or relevant animals and plants where you are
  • Food — How it’s planted/harvested/hunted/gathered? What do people eat and when? How it’s cooked? Who cooks? What’s poisonous?
  • Geography – What are the main geographical regions of your land?
  • Annual Rituals — What is important to your world and why? How do you celebrate weddings, funerals, birthdays, puberty, other?
  • Technology – What kind of technology exists? How is it powered? Who creates it? What training do they need?
  • Animals – Are there any special or magical animals in your world
  • Religion/Spirituality – What are their beliefs and how will they create conflict and why.?
  • Magic – What are the rules and boundaries around magic?
  • Politics/Power – Who is in power and why? How is power transferred to the next generation? What people do or don’t do to get close to powerful people?

PLAN YOUR NOVEL TIP #5: Brainstorm Your Plot and Story by Beth Barany

Today is the fifth in a 7-post series on planning your novel. In today’s post, we focus on plot and story building tips. 

Keep in mind: Take note of your genre. This will give you a general idea of the story structure your readers expect and help you think of ways to surprise them.

Time to budget: I recommend you take at least 2 sessions of 60-90 minutes to do this exercise for your story.

Plot and Story Building Tips

  1. Brainstorm the high concept of your story. This will help you think of the kind of events and problems you can put into your story. Use TV and movies as references, if that’s easier.


  • The Jewish version of The Da Vinci Code
  • Lara Croft meets Lord of the Rings
  • Snakes on a Plan
  • Die Hard on a Ship
  1. Make a list of all the bad things that could happen to your characters. Then organize the bad things in order of least bad to most bad. I recommend listing at least 20 items. That way your creative mind will reach for surprising things.
  2. Make a list of all the events your readers expect in your genre and type of story, then see how you can twist the events to surprise your readers. I highly encourage you to read and watch widely in your genre, so that you understand the reader expectations.

PLAN YOUR NOVEL TIP #6: Discover Your Character’s Worst Fears by Beth Barany

Today is the sixth in a 7-post series on planning your novel. In today’s post, we focus a unique way to develop conflict in your story for pantsers.

Keep in mind: Take note of your genre and review the information you drafted about your characters.

Time to budget: I recommend you spend at least of 20 minutes to do this exercise for your story.

Uncover Your Character’s Worst Fears to Discover Your Story Conflicts

I’m a pantser. That means I like to write my stories by the seat of my pants. The problem was, when I started writing novels, the inspiration for my story and the love of my characters wasn’t enough. I needed a way to figure out the story, but all the standard plot tools didn’t work for me, or not very well. I was still stuck on how to create a compelling story that would keep me and my readers riveted to the page and caring what happened to my dear characters.

One day at a writing workshop, the teacher had us brainstorm our character’s worst fears, and then think of the worst thing after that, and even further, think of the worst fear after that.

I did this exercise and shuttered in fear at all horrible things I dreamed up for my character. And then I experienced an Aha. The Aha wasn’t that I scared myself with my imagination, even though that’s what happened. My Aha was about using my strength of knowing my characters well to craft the story from start to finish.

So that’s what I do now. I start the novel preparation process for all my novels and novellas with drafting my characters. Then I spend extra time on uncovering their worst fears.

Here’s how you can do the same…

Exercise: “List of 20”

On a piece of paper or on your computer, list from 1 to 20.

Then set the timer for 10 minutes.

Now brainstorm your character’s worst fears. Keep moving your hand across the page to uncover more worse possibilities.

You may be surprised at what you discover.

Review your work and if need be, organize the fears from bad to worse. You may discover that you just created the outline of your story, your plot.

PLAN YOUR NOVEL TIP #7: Plot Using the Problem-Solution Tool by Beth Barany

Today is the last in a 7-post series on planning your novel. In today’s post, we focus on a simple tool to design your plot called “Problem-Solution.”

Keep in mind: Take note of your genre and review the information you drafted about your characters and your world.

Time to budget: I recommend you spend at least of 20 minutes to do this exercise for your story.

Design Your Plot with the Problem-Solution tool

When I was first starting as a novelist, I wanted to write a novel, but I didn’t know where to begin. In my search for useful resources, I found the book, The Weekend Novelist, and used it as a guide to write every weekend to get going. One of the tools I really liked was the “problem-solution” tool, helping me design my story plot in a quick way, once I knew my characters well (as shared in the previous 6 tips.) Since plot was so confusing to me, this tool helped me get a handle on it. Hope it can help you too.

Here’s how it works:

What’s the starting problem of your story?

What’s the solution to this immediate problem?

What problem is caused by this solution?

Create a new solution,

which creates a new problem.

This leads to a new solution,

new problem…

etc. until you get to your story resolution.

Here’s an example:

Example from Beth’s work-in-progress notes:

Problem: Isabelle has a crazy stalker ex-boyfriend.

Solution: She moves continents, from France to the United States.

Problem: Thinking she’s left her past behind her, Isabelle has horrible dreams since she’s arrived in the States.

Solution: She works harder than ever and does often without much sleep to cut back on dreaming.

Problem: She begins to have waking dreams that make doing her work and living a normal life difficult and affect her ability to notice who is around her.

Solution: She’s jolted into reality when ex-boyfriend nearly attacks her in her lab.

Design your plot with the problem-solution tool and find your way into your story.

This is the end of the PLAN YOUR NOVEL TIP series.


Then get the tip sheet, “10 Questions to Ask Your Characters” here:



Award-winning novelist in YA fantasy, Master NLP Practitioner and certified creativity coach for writers, Beth Barany’s courses are packed with useful hands-on information that you can implement right away. Beth runs the Writer’s Fun Zone blog, for and by creative writers, where you can download her free reports on book marketing and novel writing. She is also the author of The Writer’s Adventure Guide, Overcome Writer’s Block, and Twitter for Authors.



Ezra Barany started his career of freaking out readers with his suspense and thriller stories in college. In March 2011, Ezra unleashed his first novel The Torah Codes, which became an award-winning international bestseller. In his free time, he has eye-opening discussions on the art of writing novels with his wife and book coach, Beth Barany. A physics teacher, Ezra lives in Oakland with his beloved wife, working on the third book in The Torah Codes series.


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