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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Write Like an Onion

No, I do not mean your writing should smell bad.  Rather, writing a book is like growing an onion–it happens layer by layer.  One doesn’t typically bust out a perfect best-seller in the first draft.  (And if you do, well then kudos, but most of us aren’t gods.)

Writers are told the most important thing in writing is to just get something on paper (or Word, since most of us are computer trained by now).  A messed up paragraph is easier to fix than a blank page.  I, for one, enjoy watching my novel transform from superficial first draft to detailed final product.  There are so many aspects that make up a good book–plot, description, characterization, emotional investment, grammar.  (It’s amazing how much that last one comes up in book reviews.)

I don’t know about most of you, but I’m guessing that like me, you can’t keep all those aspects at the forefront of your brain at the same time.  Maybe you’ve got one down really well, but it takes a few rounds to nail another.  That’s okay because it’s all part of the process of writing/growing a novel.

Everyone’s process is different too.  My first drafts are all about plot and pacing.  That comes easiest to me.  Then I have to go back and work on adding subtle characterization to make my characters really pop.  Grammar is not an issue, but there are some technical aspects that I need to focus on one at a time, like passive voice (“was”) clusters.  In the revision process, I go over each chapter again and again, each time with a different focus, adding another layer.

When it’s over, I’m exhausted.  But seeing how my novel changed and grew makes all that work worthwhile.

What’s your growing process like?  Do you know which layers you tend to apply first?  Last?  Do you struggle with this concept, pushing yourself to write down the first words perfectly? 

Take a look at this video of flowers.  Notice how the first petals push out, and then later how more petals emerge and fill in the center.  Like a fully bloomed flower, a great novel is full of rich complexities–and they didn’t come together all at once!


Phoenix Feather is on SALE now on Amazon for $.99!  A sweet romance with a slight supernatural flair.

Believe It Or Not

It’s time for Friday Fancies and I’ve been thinking about excitement vs. believability.  Every work of fiction demands at least some degree of willing suspension of disbelief.  The more fantastical the story, the more suspension required.  There is a line, however, and if the creator of the plot crosses it, he or she could shatter that bubble the audience has been happily maintaining.

Where is that line?  I’m sure it varies depending on the genre and story, and of course everyone has their own personal preferences.  The example I’m going to use is from the series premiere of Terra Nova, a television show about humans traveling from a dying future earth to prehistoric times in order to start over.  There are quite a few things the audience is going to have to take the story creators’ word on.  Hey, these people are living with dinosaurs; how awesome is that?


Warning, I’m going to talk in detail about one of the last scenes in the episode, though I won’t be giving any plot arcs away.

In this episode, one of the things that happens is a group of teenagers sneak outside the perimeter to have some fun.  They get stranded and attacked by slashers–mean dinosaurs with tails that could slice you in half.  They manage to take cover in a rover, but the power cell is dead and they still can’t escape.  One of the girls has a panic attack and decides to make a run for it, despite her friends trying to hold her back.  And she runs right into a couple slashers.  *Cue commercial*

Think the girl dies?  Commercial ends and the rescue convoy finds her staggering through the jungle bleeding to death.  That’s where they lose me.  Sure, a girl getting ripped up by dinosaurs is exciting.  It gets the heart pumping, the pulse racing.  You’re wondering whether she’s going to make it or not.  Here’s the thing–she shouldn’t have.  No predator is ever going to let their wounded prey simply limp away into the night.  In Jurassic Park, the characters were often saved by a bigger and badder predator coming in and eating the attacking dinosaur, but that’s not what happened here.

I’m not saying I wanted the girl to die.  I probably wouldn’t want to watch the show if that were the case.  But having her run off into the night to get slashed up a bit for excitement’s sake and then easily escape death by digestion feels like it crosses that line of believability.  At least for me.

So I pose the question to you guys: Where do you draw the line?  What kinds of things pull you out of the story?  What kinds of things are you willing to forgive?  If you watched the episode, did this bother you, or did you gloss over it, engrossed in the excitement?  I love hearing from you!

I’ve also got a mash-up of some very thoughtful posts for you.

Have I mentioned I can be a total douchebag?” by Natalie Hartford–Natalie talks about how competitive attitudes can ruin good ole fun.

Please Don’t Close Your Eyes, Because I Can’t See Your Soul” by Diana Murdock–The eyes are the window to the soul that cannot lie, so what does that mean for interaction on social media?

Why Busy People Need Poetry” by Alina Sayre–Btw, Alina’s one of my besties and she’s new to the blogosphere, so hop on over and wish her a warm welcome.  🙂

Are You Hungry Enough?” by Marcia Richards–Marcia talks about what happens to dreams put on the shelf.

Wander Off Trail” by Kate MacNicol–You never know what you might find.  Kate found alien babies in the woods.

Why It’s Worth a Watch Wednesday – Studying the Behaviors of the Criminally Inclined” by Tiffany A. White–Tiffany reviews one of my favorite TV shows: Criminal Minds.  If you don’t already watch it, she’ll tell you all the reasons why you should.