Novel Prep Guide Shareable.png



A book is made of ideas. To write one, you have to know how to build ideas.

In this video I cover how to rock a brainstorming session. Here we go!

(This video doesn’t look as snazzy as my more recent ones do, but I promise all the advice is just as good.)


Plot Embryo

life itself has a rhythm, and when you play in that rhythm, it resonates.

This is a new addition from last year, and oh boy, I LOVE this technique.

This video will teach you how to structure any protagonist's story or one with a heroic, happy or hopeful ending. 

This one will teach you how to structure any antagonist story, or one with a villainous, sad or tragic ending.

Okay. Love it yet too? Just wait, you will.

But hold your horses just a second. This is important.

Because this is a new addition, it needs a bit of wrangling to make it fit with the rest of the How to Build a Novel (HTBN) system which makes up the Prep Guide.

It’s still crucial to UNDERSTAND motive, conflict and effect in the HTBN videos coming up, but you should treat the plot embryo as a SHORTCUT through all the practical applications I go over in the following videos.

It can, for the most part, replace the process of brainstorming and creating write ups, and rinsing and repeating.

Until it comes to putting together your outline that is: most of that still applies except you’ll be drawing plot points largely from your embryos instead of write ups.

So, just quickly, here’s the workflow I propose to marry the two systems. I’ll skim through it here, and go over it again at the end. Everything will make more sense when you’ve seen the videos. (Prepping a book you've already started? Your shortcut is here)


1. Set up a blank Plot Embryo.

2. Set up a new Motive brainstorming page for your main character or character group.

3. Pull out any existing ideas, characters, themes etc you have and have them in front of you. Refer to them for subsequent steps.

4. Start scribbling options for the embryo quadrants and character motives in pencil. (If plot points occur to you, throw them in, but focus on the internal and external change first) BROAD STROKES HERE.

5. When you find EITHER a motive or a set of plot quadrants you like, use that to extrapolate the other one.

6. Do whatever you gotta do to create all the plot points and complete your Plot Embryo.

8. Use the HTBN magic questions where necessary to generate or flesh out missing plot points. Very roughly, Motive questions should help with YOU and NEED, Conflict questions with GO, SEARCH, FIND, TAKE, RETURN and Effect questions with FIND, TAKE, RETURN, CHANGE.

9. Write a scene card for each plot point. Each plot point may need multiple scenes, and there may be scenes of ‘connective tissue’ required in between. Write these out too.

10. Pick a short name for this plot, whether it’s the main plot or a subplot or something in between. Pick a colour for it. Write the plot name in the bottom right corner of every card.

11. Next to that write which plot point this card is ie. 1: you, 4: search etc. (You may have multiple cards for the same plot point, remember.)

12. Repeat process for any other plots in the novel.

13. When you have all the cards for all the plots, start putting them together into a final order.

14. Number the cards in the top right corner. This is the scene number.

And you're done! Go ahead and scroll, but come back here to refer to the workflow if you need to!



Characters are the heart of your story, And their motives the lifeblood of it

As you can see in the Plot Embryo, the whole plot and themes should emerge naturally from the character’s motives.

Remember: you want to take away the theory from this about how motive works, but the Plot Embryo should allow you to skip the practical advice on brainstorming and creating a motive write up.

Treat seperate motive brainstorming as a good bonus technique to bust out if you’re having trouble with the YOU and NEED parts of your plot embryo.



A story without conflict feels pointless. A story with great conflict is addictive and powerful

Chances are you’ve heard of conflict before – us writers are always talking about it. But what really is it, and how does it work?

(Again, remember to skip the practical excercises in this video and focus on the theory. But if you need to, brainstorming conflict questions is a good bonus technique to help you with the GO, SEARCH, FIND, TAKE and RETURN plot points.)



If nothing changes, it’s not a story. So what changes?

How does your conflict work out? How do your characters grow throughout your story? How does it all end?

(Again, skip the brainstorming and write ups here unless you need extra help with the FIND, TAKE, RETURN and CHANGE plot points.)



Well, your story’s gotta actually take PLACE somewhere, right? This week we build worlds, bedrooms, coffee shops, damp graveyards, magical physics and planetary orbits.

Questions you could brainstorm:

  • Where does my protagonist live?
  • Where will the majority of the story take place?
  • How could this location be interesting and cool enough that I want to write about it?
  • How does this [fantasy or sci-fi element] work?
  • What does this important object look like and how’s it work?
  • How does the magic work?
  • How does the FTL drive work?
  • When does the story take place?
  • How does the main character experience the world in the story – have they lived there their whole life? Are they seeing it for the first time?
  • How does the location make you and the MC feel? Is it beautiful? Creepy?
  • How can the world be a CONFLICT for the MC? What elements of the world could get in their way?

On creating settings and locations

On Worldbuilding

Since I don't have any videos of my own on the other half of worldbuilding: not the locations in which your story takes place, but the rules of how your story world works, I'm tagging in fellow novelist and YouTuber, Vivian Reis!

Extra Credit

Holly Lisle

Holly is a self-proclaimed Worldbuilding Addict. She has a tonne of great advice and systems for worldbuilding in her courses How to Think Sideways and How to Revise Your Novel. If you’re looking for something more specific you can buy her Create a World Clinic, or Create a Culture Clinic (if you can stomach the cover art – it’s really not my thing, sorry Holly! There’s some great worldbuilding advice in there). If you’re writing a fantasy or sci fi book which requires a lot of worldbuilding, Holly’s your ticket.

Kim Chance

Jenna Moreci

Kristen Kieffer (She’s Novel)



So everything you’ve done so far, plot embryos, character building, worldbuilding… each of those is a power ranger.

Stay with me.

Each of those is a power ranger, and outlining? That’s mega morphin time. All of them come together into one, super story robot with a sword big enough to slash your way through your first draft.

Like I said, this part is still largely the same – this is just the physical process of turning your ideas into an outline you can use to guide you, except you’ll be using the plot embryos as your ‘source material’ rather than individual motive, conflict and effect write ups.

And remember that each plot point from your embryo can easily be split into multiple scenes, you’ll need a card for each of them!

The End

Welp, that’s it for the Prep_tober Novel Prep Guide!

If you’ve put these techniques into practise over the course of the month, you should have a great foundation for your NaNo Novel and be itching to start writing.

Don’t worry if you haven’t finished absolutely every part of every section – you’re laying groundwork here, not picking out paint colours.

How did you get on with your prepping?


Did you find the Complete Novel Prep Guide useful? Was there anything I could have done better?

Name *