This week I’ve been working on plotting the last book in the College Fae series, Storm of Songs. I’m using an online app called Milanote and thought I’d show you how I use it to keep track of my notes and to build my story. I’m also going back and using this app to make my “bible” for the College Fae series (something I should have done starting with book 1, LOL).

If you love storyboarding, moodboarding, and using cards or Post-it notes to plot your stories, and also love to see things visually, I highly recommend this app for creatives. Let’s get started with how it works —

The Main Page

On the main page, it will show your projects as thumbnails. As you can see, I have A Spell of Rowans and Storm of Songs. The dashboard is on the right, and your projects are in the squares. One thing I liked about Milanote is that it was more intuitive to use (drag and drop) and I could dive in and get started pretty quickly.

Milanote novel plotting, main dashboard
Main Dashboard area for Byrd Nash projects

When you make a new board all of it can be changed to suit you. Right-click to see options for colors and templates.

Milanote novel plotting, customization
New Boards can be customized by right-clicking.

Templates

Milanote also has templates, several of which are for authors! I suggest starting with a test template and playing with it so you can get a feel for how the software works. To find a template, just open a new board and it will pop up a window at the lower right for you to select from.

Milanote novel plotting, templates
Milanote Template options for Authors

However, I’ve created my own template, basing it on a typical novel size for my writing. My Book template has 40 columns, each column represents a chapter. I know that for me, hitting 80,000 words is about 42 chapters. Compare this to my novellas, which run about 20-30 chapters and about 30,000 words. I’ll be setting up a different template for them.

Columns

To calculate how many columns you may need for your book, figure what your typical word count is per chapter (mine for a novel averages between 1800 to 2200) and divide into the total word count you want to achieve (80,000 divided by 1800 = 44).

Byrd Nash Book Template

Each chapter (a column) has four cards: Summary, Action Points, Characters, and Timeline/Setting. My cards have a color tab. This is all customizable, so you can set these cards to whatever suits you, and change the colors to ones you prefer. As I work through the re-write, I mark important things (like plot holes I need to fix) in red bold.

Each card has a colored line across the top that helps me reference them easily. On my “board”, Chapters 5-35 are collapsed/reduced, so I can see the entire spread. Once I fill in info the column remains open. A column can hold as many “cards” as you want.

That’s when I started using bold to highlight important plot points. And I used red on items that on the read-through were not explained well or needed to be resolved (i.e. plot holes). Once you start filling in the columns, they will become uneven in length across the row.

For me personally, I move everything down as I like the headers to align across the top. I also use arrows to show the movement.

Milanote column sample with four cards and how you could use them for plotting your book

This really helped me a LOT when writing A Spell of Rowans, because it deals with secrets and mysteries that are slowly revealed, which I needed to track. I especially needed to keep track of several different times/dates that were important. Here’s how I used it for Chapter 1 of A Spell of Rowans (read the first chapter on the book page).

Byrd Nash, A Spell of Rowans, chapter 1

Writing tips and how Milanote helps

Here are some tips about writing I’ve learned that are beneficial in planning your book:

  • Word count should be pretty consistent across the book. For example, Chapter 1: 1800, Chapter 2: 1750, Chapter 3: 2000, is great. But when you have word counts like Chapter 1: 1200, Chapter 2: 2800, Chapter 3: 1800, you have problem with pacing that needs to be resolved.
  • You need to review how much booktime each of your key characters get. For example, the College Fae series has two main characters: Logan and Brigit. In outlining the book, I need to be sure they get a rough 50/50 POV in the story. If writing in first-person POV, you will want to balance out how much your adjacent characters get in the book.
  • Track where the action is happening. This can help you refer back to descriptions, so you don’t mistakes of calling the walls blue when they were painted pink.
  • By plotting you can see the rise in action or tension. I like to have some sort of action scene or revelation happen at least every four chapters, maybe every three.
  • Make a character outline early and keep adding to it as you develop your character, especially if you are a pantser. It will help prevent mistakes later on.
  • With early plotting, you can easily move around chapters, or split big chapters, on the board. For example, yesterday I realized I was putting in too many slower chapters at the beginning of Storm of Songs. I moved out one to a chapter that doesn’t happen until halfway through the book. It worked perfectly!

Other Templates

Milanote offers a number of other helpful templates.

Characters

Here’s there standard one, which you can keep or adapt to fit your needs:

Novel character board milanote

Here’s mine for Brigit, the dryad, and Logan Dannon from the College Fae series. You can add as many images as you want as well as hyperlinks to more material.

This can help you make your series “bible,” the reference guide you use to keep track of character traits, such as eye and hair color, or how the character changes from book to book.

Brigit character bible in Milanote
Logan character bible in Milanote

Worldbuilding

What about worldbuilding? If you’ve got a map and want to collect images to remind you what your towns or countryside look like, check out this template:

Milanote worldbuilding mao

For College Fae, I’ll be making a geographic map of Europe – fitting in the mythical land of Bewachterberg into it, as well as doing a map for the campus of Leopold Otto University and the city of Geheimetür.

Scrivner

For those using Scrivener, you can make something like this using their Corkboard option. You can also use the Scrivener column (far right) where you can input keywords/meta data in Scrivener. For me personally, though I just prefer the graphic representation that I get from Milanote. But I find Milanote more graphic and easy to work with then Scrivener in this respect (I use Scrivener for writing).

Milanote Pricing

Milanote is an online app with a free or paid subscription. I checked out several online software apps for author plotting with free trials such as i.e. Evernote, Campfire, Dabble, and Plottr (most of these offer a free trial and go on sale at NaNoWriMo). For me personally, I found Milanote fit my needs best for it had the right ratio of graphic to text, and was very easy to get started right away. I also thought it had the most firepower for doing what I wanted, and the best layouts.

Milanote pricing

I’d suggest starting with the free plan and see if it is useful to you. If you need more space (like I did), upgrade to the paid subscription ($95.90 billed annually, or $7.99 a month for US clients). Use London20 to get a discount of 20% off!

I found it a super useful tool and I hope you do also!

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