The Importance of Plotting

Resolutions blog seriesWelcome to my second post of writing tips to help you turn your New Year’s resolution of writing a novel into an attainable goal. Today I’m going to talk about plotting, and before all the pansters start protesting, let me say that there are several ways to approach this.

You can plot

  • the whole book
  • chapter by chapter
  • in reverse, by writing a summary of the scene you just wrote

I think of plot outlines as roadmaps: they help keep you from trundling down a washed-out road and crashing into a ditch. One reason I hear that people are resistant to plotting is it takes all the surprises out of writing. If you were to plan everything out in minute detail like a blueprint, then I would agree. But the thing about a looser roadmap is detours can come up. Plot twists can surprise you, without destroying the foundation you carefully laid out leading up to it.

So how does one go about plotting? There are dozens of organizational methods one could use, and it really depends on how you work best. I prefer pen and paper for brainstorming. Other people like to use the computer. Some write narrative summaries while others follow formal outlines with I. A. 1. a. Some people use notecards for scenes and tack them to walls or story boards that they can shuffle around like puzzle pieces. Try them all if you want to find what works best for your creative process.

Now, you can plot the entire book. But just like with writing a skeleton draft, such an outline will most likely start with the bare minimum of a storyline. Once you get to writing out those scenes in detail, you’ll find opportunities to expand chapters with character growth and plot development. Skeleton plots are like guidelines to keep you on track, but don’t be afraid to change direction if inspiration strikes you down the road.

Chapter by chapter plotting means you sit down and write out a summary or outline for the next chapter before you write it. This helps focus your thoughts so when you sit down to start writing, you don’t stare at a blank page wondering where to go next.

Sometimes what you write in your chapter plan isn’t what you end up writing. The muse takes over and you whip out several thousand words that had nothing to do with what you planned. Or you sit down without a game plan and just write a scene or chapter. However you got there, once you’re done with a chapter, you might want to write down a summary of what just happened in the book so you don’t accidentally leave out important developments in future chapters or forget to wrap up loose ends.

The great thing about the three approaches to plotting above is you can use just one, or all three in consecutive order as you go. Being organized in your creative process doesn’t have to be restricting. When you have a roadmap, whether it’s looking down the line to future developments, or tracking the progress you already made, it will be easier to not only spot potential plot holes, but know exactly where to go back in order to fix them.

So what about you? What plotting methods have you used in your writing?

Be sure to come back next week for our final writing tip on character depth.


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8 comments on “The Importance of Plotting

  1. I’ve tried plotting the whole thing via the Hero’s Journey, Save the Cat, and Larry Brooks. The most recent using a 3 act, 9 block, 27 chapter format. I’ve not tried individual chapters or working in reverse though both sound like methods to try.

    Great points Angela. I’m enjoying this series.

    • I’ve never tried following a formula before, but that sounds interesting too! One thing I did way back when I wrote my first book was I took one of my favorite novels and outlined it. That helped me get a sense for pacing and development.

      Thanks for stopping by, Raelyn!

  2. Melissa says:

    This is very cool, by the way.


  3. Alina Sayre says:

    Hehehe, as a certified pantser, organization is definitely an area in which I could stand to improve. I’m currently trying the Save the Cat format, but I like your 3×5 card idea. I’m a big fan of surprise developments and giving characters freedom to grow, but I’m finding myself wanting at least a little more of a big-picture plan to keep myself on track. Thanks for this post!

    • Even with my plotting, I have to rely on surprise developments, particularly in character growth, to give a story that extra layer of depth. (And added word count *cough*)
      Good luck, Alina!

  4. Thanks for this post Angela. I’m writing my first novel in first person now. I have written briefly where the character starts and ends up as it is basically a fiction based on last few years of my life. And I’m plotting chapter-wise on a small 3X4 note.

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