Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Picture from stock xchange
In gearing up for NaNoWriMo fellow proser Trisha blogged last week about plotting.   It's a brilliant post about how to determine when to deviate from that all so sacred outline.  Check it out if you haven't read it yet.

Anyway, her post got me thinking about plotting.  I've been wanting to write a post about plot for a while now since it is a crucial element in story-telling, but the problem is that I don't really know how I plot.

I come up with a story idea, and I think about different directions the story could go.  Most of the time, the ideas get stashed away and are pulled out every once and a while until a solid story starts forming and becomes really interesting, then I think about it more and more until I have a vague idea of where I want the story to go. Only when I have a crude outline of the major plot points in my head can I start writing.

But I've only just begun plotting.

I've heard that there are two different types of plotting. A panster or discovery writer who comes up with an idea and just starts writing with little or no idea of where the story is going, and an outliner who drafts a meticulous outline of the whole story before the writing begins. I’m sure that there are some writers who fit these extremes, but my guess is that most fall somewhere in the middle.

I'm a half-outliner, half-panster. I know where I'm starting and where I want to go, and maybe even a few stops on the way, but I have no idea what roads I'm going to take, and I'm pretty flexible. I may discover a better destination along the way. But I can't just get into the car and start driving. I have to have some idea of where I'm going before I can even write one sentence.

It is figuring out which road to take on my journey that most of my plotting takes place.  And things change and develop many times in ways I couldn’t predict before I started, but I always keep my eyes on the ending, and the story moving forward.  So plotting a story is a journey for me, and while it isn’t easy, I do enjoy the ride.

I’m not sure if how I plot is helpful, but I have learned a few things through my plotting that I’d like to share.

1.  Plot, characters, and setting are all intricately connected.  

Like I said above, I start out with a story idea.  Then I develop the plot and character and setting all at the same time.  I start with a scenario and then think about what kind of world would this happen in and what of person would do this, and I start world-building and characterization which feeds into plot which affects the world-building and characterization, and eventually, they are all so intertwined that I have no idea what came first.    For me, developing the story this way ensures that characters, setting, and plot all integrated  and, hopefully, all fit perfectly into the story I want to tell.

2.  Small plot points are key.  

In my experience, the large plot points are the easy part, not that it's all that easy, but deciding that I want my character to get from point A to point B is much easier than actually getting her there.  Those small plot points are what I struggle the most with, but in the end, that journey the characters go on is much more important than destination.  But figuring out those small plot points, those pathways, are what I struggle with most in writing.  The only I get through them is spending a lot of time thinking real hard, going for a run helps too.

3.   Listen to the characters. 

I don’t know how long it will take for me to learn this.  I’ve ran into this problem a few times, when my characters want to go one direction and I want them to go another.  I fight them every time because I have a plan and they are ruining it, but I’ve learned (slowly) to listen to them.  Whenever I fought them, I’ve had to go back and rewrite huge sections of the story.  So listening to the characters is vital.

4.  Keep up the tension.  

Most of the problems I've had with my plotting was lack of tension or falling tension.  The conflict and tension need to keep rising to keep the story going.  There can be breaks and moments to regroup, but even then there needs to be forward momentum, but mostly, the tension needs to keep rising towards the climax.

5.  Plotting is like a puzzle.    

I actually love plotting even though it is hard for me.  It's like a puzzle, that you shouldn't be afraid to play around with and try new angles.  But once you get over some huge hurdles things just start falling into place, and that feels like magic when everything just starts to click together and just feels right.  It's awesome.

So those are my plotting tips.  What are some of yours?



  1. I think your post. It made me think of an interview with one of the Writers in the Children's Writers and Illistrators Market. The auther of "Only the Good Spy Young." I never have heard her books, but she talked about her writing style and she has a story board with post it notes everywhere with where the story is going and all the charactors. She said that with each scence her main charactor changes a little and evolves into a slightly different person. I liked that. One thing that bothers me sometimes when reading (especially since authors write series now more then one book) is pointless sidetracking off the main story to just have a side adventure that does nothing for the charactor or the story. In real life sure that happens but in a book I like it all to fit together.

    1. I meant I like your post not I think your post. What does think your post mean???

    2. LOL, I think your reply. :)

      I'm not a fan of pointless sidetracking either. Every scene needs to have a point IMO, it can be there for characterization and growth, but it has to change something either internal or external or it shouldn't be there.

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. I agree. I've tried one story where I only had an opening and I figured it out as I went. In the end, I finally figured it out, and someday it could make a decent story. I'll have to throw away what I've got and start over though. It's a huge mess. Huge. It turns out that, for me, writing without some idea of where I'm headed is a lot like outlining, except much more time consuming. But I can't stick too closely to an outline either. I love these tips!

    1. That sounds just like me except I can't even write a word without some idea where I'm going. I've tried, but I can't. I'm sure if I could, it would be one meandering mess. :)

  3. It seems that you got into more than plotting, but writing is more than plotting. I like the map analogy, though, in your picture. As I write I follow a general direction, but am more than willing to take a different route if a sign crops up along the road that leads to an interesting place. I think that's the outliner/pantser combination dilemma. What along the route is going to turn out interesting and what isn't (and non-interesting diversions will lead to rewrites).

    Personally I outline by creating one or two sentence scene descriptions from start to finish and then let the story flow from there. It generally works well for me.

    1. Yes, I really can't separate plotting from the other elements of the story. For me they are so intricately connected that I can't really pin point which element I'm working on. If that makes any sense. I think that is why it is so hard to explain how I plot.

      Thanks for sharing your process. I find it real interesting how we each have developed our own methods.

  4. One of the biggest things I've learned is to never be afraid to change my strategy, or to constantly try more things. As I grow as a writer, some of the things that didn't make sense to me before might later fit my stories better, or an older, favorite method might start holding me back.

    Thanks for the post!


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