The Best Online Resources for Outlining, Drafting, and Revising Your Novel

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If you've ever tried googling some simple writerly phrases such as "how to write a query letter" or "novel plotting for dummies," you'll know that there's a vast sea of information out there for the intrepid writer to explore. But sometimes it can be exhausting to swim through all the murk in order to uncover the real treasures -- those websites and tools that you'll revisit time and time again as your writing career progresses.

That's where we come in! I've been sailing the Digital Ocean for years now and compiling a map of my favorite hotspots along the way. I've separated them out by steps in the writing process, so you can see my favorite resources for when you're just starting an outline, through writing your first draft, and up to the dreaded editing stages.

Outlining:

1. The Snowflake Method.

Explains how to build an outline from the inciting idea up.

Useful for: assuaging the look of terror upon your face as you stare at your blank word document and wonder how the hell to start your new project.

2. LOCK System.

Summary of the LOCK (Lead, Objective, Confrontation and Knockout) system of editing from our very own Curly McGee, paraphrased from James Scott Bell’s speech at the 2011 Writer’s Digest Conference.

Useful for: figuring out the basic ingredients of your story. The main character, his/her goal, what stands in the way, and how it all goes down in the end.

3. The Baby Name Wizard.

Searchable graph of popular baby names by gender, region, date and popularity.

Useful for: naming your characters! I realize this reference is a little bit out-there, but I use this site every time I sit down to start on a new novel or short story project, so I couldn't not include it here!

Drafting:

1. The Emotion Thesaurus.

Gives you a page-long list of descriptions related to emotions like anger, grief or happiness.

Useful for: those moments when you look back at your last 3 scenes and realize your character’s reaction to EVERYTHING is to smile/grin/smirk. This has now become a published book, but you can still read sample entries on the right-hand side of that site, if you scroll down!

2. Google Documents.

Google’s online document storage service.

Useful for: Writing first drafts on multiple computers. Save yourself the hassle of carrying around a USB stick or constantly emailing yourself updated drafts. Just log into your Google account, write in the word document (which looks just like word and saves automatically as you type). No need to worry about backing up your story — it’s accessible from anywhere you are.

3. Scrivener.

Writing software designed specifically for storytellers.

Useful for: organizing scenes/chapters/sections in your initial draft, keeping track of which characters appear in what scenes, and my personal favorite, outlining the scenes on shift-able note cards for a birds-eye view of your novel. Also, full-screen mode is your distraction-vanquishing friend.

4. Freedom.

Internet-blocking software for Windows or Macs.

Useful for: when you know you won’t be able to resist the lure of checking your email, Facebook page, Twitter and blog, instead of writing your next chapter. Just tell the timer how long you want to write for (five minutes, an hour, two hours?) and bam. Self-control problem solved. You can no longer access the internet for that length of time.

5. Write or Die.

Set yourself a word or time goal, and either reach it or suffer the consequences.

Useful for: beating down that inner editor to power through your first draft. If you don’t write fast enough (you set your own pace), the application punishes you by starting to delete what you’ve already written. So keep the words flowing! Worry about how good they actually are later.

Editing:

1. Dan Wells on Story Structure (Parts 1-5).

Breaks down plot structure into its most basic 7 elements.

Useful for: your first terrifying foray into editing that shiny novel you just finished. Also quite helpful for outlining.

2. Revision Spreadsheet.

Guide to creating a scene spreadsheet to help in your editing.

Useful for: getting down to the scene-by-scene nitty-gritty, so you can figure out exactly where your plot needs some electroshock therapy to keep the reader hooked from beginning to end.

3. Plotting Along.

Keli Gwyn explains her good old-fashioned pen-and-paper approach to honing in on her plot.

Useful for: when you feel completely overwhelmed by the size of your novel, and you just wish you could shrink it to a single page in your head and stare at it until you figure out what’s wrong.

Those are some of my personal favorite references -- websites I have bookmarked and returned to time and time again. But as I said before, there's a whole sea of information out there, and hundreds of great websites still left to discover. What are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!