#JuNoWriMo Prep: Planning an anthology!

Hey guys,

So I have only just learnt about a specific technique for planning, well I guess it could be used to plan any form of novel but I have taken the original idea and adapted it specifically for the use within an anthology.

First of all lets consider what an anthology is…

When I first considered writing anthologies, I was naïve in my reasoning. In my head they were literally just a collection of short stories, that authors had all these short pieces that they were ‘practicing’ with and decided to try and sell them.

Oh Gosh. I was wrong.

Anthologies are a collection of short stories, but they should in turn tell a story of their own. Whether it is different fragments of one longer story or several stories that carry the same message or theme. The key thing is that they fit together.

The Spinal Tap method of Planning

Okay, so I recently learnt about this method and realised that just altering the layout of some of my planning, I basically have it. So I learnt about this method through the Word Nerds and have applied it to my anthology outline for #JuNoWriMo

Spinal tap planning method

This lovely visual representation of the spinal tap method was created by Meghan Jashinsky on her blog so I highly recommend checking her out and giving her a follow because she give some excellent advice and the writing and publishing process!

So the spinal tap method comprises of three separate sections, the spine, the external arc, and the internal arc. So lets look at each bit in a little more detail.

The Spine!

So the major element of the outline is to determine the spine, now the spine can consist of several elements but essentially they are key points throughout the story. This could be:

  • Chapters
  • Scenes
  • Only key scenes

Each vertebrae in the diagram represents one key point, which is great for considering the order of events that happen in story. This is great because it can be easily adapted to the style of story you are writing, chapters work wonderfully for long or full length novel, scenes work well for novellas of long short stories, or even smaller scene breakdown for shorter short stories.

The External Arc!

On the left hand side of the spine is a column of details that pertain to the events that happen outside of the character, these are plot points that push your story forward. They may be the key things that happen to the main character in each chapter/scene and how they push the story forward.

For Example

Chapter 1:

  • MC meets LI and LI’s girlfriend
  • MC is attacked on route home
  • MC’s father doesn’t care and leaves her home alone
  • MC’s mother wont answer her phone

As you can see (because graphics aren’t my thing!) the bullet points represent what would sit down the left had side of the spine on the chart, for the first vertebrae only. They are all things that happen to or around the Main Character, who they meet, any key events.

The Internal Arc!

So, we know what is happening around the MC, but what is happening inside? The internal arc represents the trials the main character is going through and how this may effect the outcome of different actions. These are all internal.

For Example:

Chapter 1:

  • MC is lonely because she has been single for a while and is starting to see herself as un-date-able.
  • MC thinks she feels a spark when she meets LI, gushing with insta love
  • LI’s girlfriend arrives and MC feels like she has been lied to and thinks he did it for a joke- reinforces her ideas about herself.
  • MC refuses to walk the normal way for fear she will be made fun of by everyone who saw so she decides to take the different route
  • MC is terrified of telling her father because she broke the rules about getting home and he will punish her for it
  • MC is lost and distraught as her mother usually has all of the answers but she is ignoring her.

As you can see, both the internal and external arcs follow a similar pattern, but one is outside of the character and the other is inside the characters head. Considering both elements allows for conflict to be developed, a balanced conflict that isn’t completely ‘oh the world is against the main character’ or ‘oh all the problems are in their head and nothing is actually happening’. There needs to be a balance of both internal and external conflict, perhaps her fear of others ridiculing her makes her self blame and she cannot report the attack any further? Perhaps her mother not answering makes the main character break more of the rules her father has set even though she fears his punishment. Layer the conflict on.

So, how did I alter all this to fit an anthology?

I followed the spinal outline…


As you can see, the spine isn’t just one ‘section’ of vertebrae, there are four distinct regions and each control a certain portion of the nervous system. I did the same with my outline, for my anthology, there are 5 or 6 short stories each telling one overall story.

So, I plot the overall story onto the huge spine, consider the entire story you want to tell. For mine, it is the story of Romeo and Juliet, the Shakespearean classic; so I plot out each of the key stories that build the overall story. For mine in particular, there will be different points of view for the short stories; with both Romeo and Juliet telling their own accounts of sections. To tell the difference, I personally use a colour coding system. There are a few things I always like to keep in mind when plotting out an anthology:

  • The stories are all trying to fit together, feeling part of the story as well as feeling unique to be their own
  • Each story needs arc of their own, hence breaking the large spine into parts (similar to the human spine)
  • Consistency is key, using the internal and external arcs will allow you to remain consistent in a certain characters fears or reactions even if you may not see them for a short story of two

So, however you decide to plan, its almost time for #JuNoWriMo!

Until next time,

Helen x


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