New Novel Worksheets| 3 Worksheets That’ll Help You Get Started Writing Your Novel

by Marylee MacDonald in For Beginning Writers

Starting a new novel scares writers, even authors who’ve been at this writing game for years. In this post I’m going to give you three simple worksheets to help you firm up the novel that’s trapped in your head. Once you’ve put words on the page, you’ll have taken the first step in writing the book only you can write.

To write a new novel–or to tell a story of any kind–you need three things: a person, a place, and a problem. But the writing doesn’t become real until you put words on the page. For that reason, most writers begin with worksheets. I keep mine in an online binder and add information as I discover more about the people in my book.

a young man or woman looking at money at outdoor table

Find an intriguing image and use that picture as a springboard for the physical description of the person in your new novel. What intrigues me about this young person is that she or he is intent on examining the paper money. I’m wondering if s/he’s nearsighted. As for the person’s appearance, I see a wrinkled cotton shirt with a collar that’s rolled down. The homemade pants are gathered loosely around the waist. Are the pants covering other clothing? Image from Flickr via Preus museum

The Person In Your New Novel

Let’s start with your main person. (I actually favor the word “person” because, right from the start, using that word will encourage you to make this person as real to you as your siblings, spouse, and children are real.)

To me there’s a subtle difference between “character” and “person.” The word “character” is pretty close to “caricature,” and I don’t want the people in your new novel to come off as “types.”

When you’re filling out the worksheet, pay special attention to the habits and mannerisms of your person. Speech patterns or a particular way of walking or dressing can differentiate one person from another.

As you begin to imagine how this person might look, flip through magazines or troll the internet to find some images of real people. You’re not going to use their actual names, but you will want to begin assembling a rogues’ gallery that you can refer to again and again.

Role in Story
Name and Nickname
Physical Description
Inner Wounds
External Conflicts


Now, why is place important? Again, to keep it simple, every story happens in a particular time and place. Even if you’re working on a new novel, you may have a pretty clear idea of where some of the events of the novel take place. If you begin making those places concrete, you’ll have a much easier time envisioning your characters’ movements.

man, village, shepherd, cows on the road

Does your novel take place in a country setting with the sounds and smells of animals, or does it take place in Manhattan? Does your setting challenge your person or do they feel at home there?
Image from Pixabay via Herriest

When you’re filling out the place worksheet, pay special attention to sensory details. Use all five senses. It’s easy to forget what a powerful impact smell, sound, and touch can have on a reader. Even in the beginning stages of a new writing project, it’s not too early to make these places “real.” That’s true for imaginary worlds as well as for ones that exist in the so-called real world.

What color is the soil, for instance? Do birds appear at dawn? When characters walk past open windows at dinner time, what do they smell?

Role in Story
Related Characters
Unique Features

The Plan Worksheet

The Plan Worksheet can help you get a grip on plot. What is plot? It’s writers making plans and seeing those plans foiled (again and again).

Put simply, these plans move our heroine or hero from Point A in the beginning of the book to Point B at the end. By the time an author reaches the book’s climax, some characters will have succeeded and others will have failed. The plans the characters concoct will put them through trials by fire, lead them down paths of internal angst, and give them new coping skills to face down dragons. But when we’re at Point A, we don’t know any of this.

Right from the beginning, however, the main person in your story needs a plan. Maybe it’s a plan to find a cheap lunch spot or a plan to fly a paper airplane. The key thing about the short-term plan is that it only has to set your character in motion, to give him or her something to want.

child's hands folding paper airplane

What does your person want? Maybe what they want is simple–to fly a paper airplane that will make it all the way across a room.
Image from Pixabay via vincentvan

The long-term plan will be what your person fastens onto, once they’re presented with an opportunity they can’t refuse.

The obstacles are what get in the way. Just put down three or four right now.

Do you have an idea about what kind of big danger they might eventually face? If not, don’t sweat it. Come back to this worksheet later.

You probably have an idea about what could make your person happy. Is there one single thing that would make their life so much better they’d be willing to go through hell to get it? I’m not necessarily talking about winning the lottery. Sometimes, intangibles like redeeming one’s honor can provide forward motion.


Short-term Plan
Long-term Plan
Stops Along the Way
Who/What Will Block the Path?
Big Danger
Final Reward

Next Steps for Your New Novel

If you have trouble with any of the above, don’t worry. Start with what you know. Come up with a name, a simple description, a place, and then give your character a short-term want. If plot has you baffled, read my post about story arc. Chances are you won’t have a good grip on what’s going to happen until you’ve pitted one character against another.

And, speaking of people, after you’ve taken your first crack at the person, place, and plan worksheets, find out who else will figure in your story. Maybe your person has an ally. How about an enemy? What are the enemy’s short- and long-term goals? And if your novel will have more than one setting, fill out a worksheet for the second location. Doing these worksheets will help you maintain consistency over the time it takes to write a novel.

Finally, keep all of these worksheets in a folder, either a physical binder that will allow you to add pages, or a document in Google docs or Microsoft Word. Once you’ve copied and pasted the tables into your favorite word processor, you’re well on your way to writing your new novel.

Now it’s your turn. Do you find worksheets helpful, or are you able to launch into a story without doing preliminary work. Do you begin with people or with an inkling about what’s going happen? Has anyone ever started with place?

Your comments are valuable to other writers, so I’d love to hear from you.



  • Marylee MacDonald

    Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, BODY LANGUAGE, and THE BIG BOOK OF SMALL PRESSES AND INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS. Her books and stories have won the Barry Hannah Prize, the Jeanne M. Leiby Memorial Chapbook Award, a Readers' Favorites Gold Medal for Drama, the American Literary Review Fiction Prize, a Wishing Shelf Book Award, and many others. She holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State, and when not reading or writing books, she loves to walk on the beach and explore National Parks.

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7 Responses to “New Novel Worksheets| 3 Worksheets That’ll Help You Get Started Writing Your Novel”

  1. Saraweird says:

    Hum… something to ponder! These sheets are useful and may save us headaches!

  2. Anne M. says:

    Thanks so much for taking the time to post these forms Marylee. These are going to form an essential part of my personal writing manual. You’ve performed a great service to us would-be writers and I’m indebted to you.


  3. Cathy says:

    Thank you Marylee, this is going to help me a lot, especially when it comes to place and the use of the senses, my first drafts are often quite sterile.

    I tend to write the story as it comes to me from beginning to end, then go back and get to know the WWWWWH’s and, like Felicia, each individual has an opportunity to ‘reveal’ themselves, their anguish, pain, hopes and dreams, and why they did what they did to be a part of this story. Some times I may even interview them, if their character is too – too sweet, weak, bad, aggressive etc.

    Thanks again, I’ll gain a lot from this post.

  4. I’ve never used a work sheet per se, but I do work out who my characters are. First, doing a short list on 3X5 cards, than a one-page short story or narrative to get a feel for their personality. I prefer the short stories to narratives because I can ‘see’ reactions and how characters handle themselves. Works better for me than a list.
    (Character sketches are actually a part of my 52-Week Writing Challenge.)

    I have NOT done the same for place and plan, and that’s probably why they give me grief. LOL! Will definitely work on fleshing them out better. Thanks, Marylee!