Write a Book: Use Charles Dickens’ Method to Plan Your Book


You’ve created a blurb for your book. You’ve even created an outline. Now comes the writing.

Unfortunately, few things go according to plan. When you’re writing a book, nothing goes according to plan.

Although I know that writing a book’s a chaotic process, that doesn’t mean I like it. I’m always looking for something — anything — which will tame the chaos. Otherwise I know that I can get entangled in thickets for days, if not weeks, trying to find my way back to my original inspiration.

Here’s an idea for planning your novel which I’ve never heard discussed. This post, Taking note: Charles Dickens’ Plan Sheets, describes Charles Dickens’ plan sheets:

“On the right side dealt with the substance of the chapters. Thus he usually wrote on the top right of the sheet the name of the novel and the installment number; below the title he wrote the name of each planned chapter. In the space under each chapter he listed the most important events. The “plan sheets” varied very much, as one might expect. Some plans are very full, some remained rather empty.

It’s a simple, paper-based method, which is why it appeals to me. I can write nonfiction books on the computer, but when I’m writing fiction, I always write my first draft using pen and paper. I’ve no idea why this is, but I can’t write my initial draft at the keyboard; when I try I always end up blocked.

What do you think of Dickens’ planning method?

The following two tabs change content below.
Angela Booth is a top copywriter, multi-published author, and writing teacher. She offers many guides, courses and classes to help writers to enhance their skills on her websites. She also provides inspiration and motivation for writers on her writing blogs. Angela has been writing successfully since the late 1970s, and was online in the 1980s, long before the birth of the Web. Her business books have been widely published.

1 thought on “Write a Book: Use Charles Dickens’ Method to Plan Your Book

  1. Thanks for posting this blog. I’m with Dickens. After all we’re still reading him. (I’ve been reading the same TakingNotes blog you cite. I’ve stumbled into it a couple of times. I’m finding Dickens’ Plan Sheets , as I understand them, idea quite effective.
    My day job is teaching. The pedagogy of teacher training is singular: overly complicate some simple idea until it makes no sense, its goal is to make teachers feel inadequate. It’s all cover. I read PhD papers and understand them, teacher stuff…. I could show you things that should be in the Court of Chancery in Bleak House.
    I’ve also read Edward Tufte, the Visual Display of Quantitative Information: he is strongly critical of multiple layers of information, such as outlines that have subsections of subsections of sub….. At least one space shuttle blew up because of over complexity. Dickens’ Plan Sheets (which I’ve yet to see an actual example) are one or two layers deep. His books are complex, but not like Ulysses ( I prefer Mrs Dalloway).
    Tufte points out that great scientists like Richard Feynman never go more than three layers of information to explain extremely complex and radical science. I used to over complicate and never get anything done. Now it all just seems like play. When doing the latest lesson plan method…. I resist multiple layers. What’s the set up? what do I expect to happen? what do I want students to do? what’s the concept? Simple & linear. Only add enough stuff to satisfy the current fad.

Comments are closed.