25 Ways To Plot, Plan and Prep Your Story

I’m a panster at heart, plotter by necessity — and I always advocate learning how to plot and plan because inevitably someone on the business side of things is going to poke you with a pointy stick and say, “I want this.” Thus you will demonstrate your talent. Even so, in choosing to plot on your own, you aren’t limited to a single path. And so it is that we take a look at the myriad plotting techniques (“plotniques?”) you might use as Storyteller Extraordinaire to get the motherfucking job done. Let us begin.

The Basic Vanilla Tried-And-True Outline

The basic and essential outline. Numbers, Roman numerals, letters. Items in order. Separated out by section if need be (say, Act I, Act II, Act III). Easy-peazy Lyme-diseasey.

The Reverse Outline

Start at the end, instead. Write it down. “Sir Pimdrip Chicory of Bath slays the dragon-badger, but not before the dragon-badger bites the head off Chicory’s one true love, Lady Miss Wermathette Kildare of the Manchester Kildares.” Rewind the clock. Reverse the gears. Find out how you build to that.

Tentpole Moments

A story in your head may require certain keystone events to be part of the plot. “Betty-Sue must get sucked into the time portal outside Schenectady, because that’s why her ex-boyfriend Booboo begins to build a time machine in earnest which will accidentally unravel space-and-time.” You might have five, maybe ten of these. Write them down. These are the elements that, were they not included, the plot would fall down (like a tent without its poles). The narrative space between the tentpoles is uncharted territory.

Beginning, Middle, End

Write three paragraphs, each detailing the rough three acts found in every story: the inciting incident and outcome of the beginning (Act I), the escalation and conflict in the middle (Act II), the climactic culmination of events and the ease-down denoument of the end (Act III). You can, if you want, choose the elemental changes-in-state you might find at the end of each act, too — the pivot point on which the story shifts. This document probably isn’t more than a page’s worth of wordsmithy. Simple and elegant.

A Series Of Sequences

The saying goes that an average screenplay usually offers up eight or nine sequences (a sequence being a series of scenes that add together to form common narrative purpose, like, say, the Attack On The Death Star sequence from Star Wars or the Kevin James Makes Love To All The Animals In Order To Make The Audience Feel Shame sequence from Paul Blart, Zoo Abortion). So, chart the sequences that will go into your screenplay. If you’re writing prose, I don’t know how many sequences a novel should have — more than a film, probably (or alternately, each sequence is granted a greater conglomeration of scenes).

Chapter-By-Chapter

For novel writers, you can chart your story by its chapters. A standard outline is more about dictating plot and story without marrying oneself to narrative structure. This, however, puts the ring on that finger and locks it down tight. A chapter-by-chapter outline is visualizing the reader’s way through the novel.

Beat Sheet

This one’s for you real granular-types, the ones who want to count each grain of sand on your story’s beach (or, for a more terribleminds-esque metaphor, “count each pube on your story’s scrotum”). Chart each beat of the story in every scene. This is you writing the entire story’s plot out, but you’re writing it without much dialogue or narrative flair. It’s you laying out all the pieces. The order-of-operations made plain.

Mind-Maps

Happy blocks and bubbles connected to winding bendy spokes connected to a central topical hub. Behold: example. You can use a mind-map to chart… well, anything your mind so desires. It is, after all, a map of said mind. Sequence of events? Character arcs? Exploration of theme? Story-world ideas? Family trees? The crazy hats worn by your villains? Catchphrases? Your inchoate rage and shame made manifest? Your call.

Zero Draft

AKA, “The Vomit Draft.” Puke up the story. Just yarf it up — bleaaarrghsputter. A big ol’ Technicolor yawn. You aren’t aiming for structure. Aren’t aiming for art or even craft. This is just you getting everything onto the page so that it’s out there and can now be cleaned up. You’ve puked up the story, now it’s time to form it into little idols and totems — the heretic statuaries of your story.

In The Document, As You Go

AKA, “The Bring Your Flashlight” technique. You outline only as you go. Write a scene or chapter. Roughly sketch the next. Then write it. Onward and upward until you’ve got a proper story.

Write A Script

For those of you writing scripts, this sounds absurd. “He wants me to outline my script by writing a script? Has this guy been licking colorful toads?” Sorry, screenwriters — this one ain’t for you. Novelists, however, will find use in writing a script to get them through the plotting. Scripts are lean and mean: description, dialogue, description, dialogue. It’ll get you through the story fast — then you translate into prose.

Dialogue Pass

Let the characters talk, and nothing else. Put those squirrely fuckers in a room, lock the door, and let the story unfold. It won’t stay that way, of course. You’ll need to add… well, all the meat to the bones. But it’s a good way to put the characters forward and find their voice and discover their stories. Remember: dialogue reads fast and so it tends to write fast, too. Dialogue is like Astroglide: it lubricates the tale.

Character Arcs

Characters often have arcs — they start at A, go to B, end at C (with added steps if you’re feeling particularly saucy). Commander Jim Nipplesplitter, Jr. starts at “gruff and loyal soldier boy in the war against the Ant People” (A) and heads to “is crippled and betrayed by his country, left to die in the distant hills of the Ant Planet” (B) and ends up at “falls in love with a young Ant Squaw and he must fight to protect his ant-man larvae” (C). A character arc can track plotty bits, emotional shifts, outfit changes, whatever.

Synopsis First

You might think to write your query letter, treatment or synopsis last. Bzzt. Wrong move, donkeyface. Write it up front. It’s not etched in stone, but it’ll give you a good idea of how to stay on target with this story.

Index Cards

Index cards are a kick-ass organization tool. You can use them to do anything — list characters, track scenes, list chapters, identify emotional shifts, make little Origami throwing stars that will give your neighbors wicked-ass paper-cuts. Lay them on a table or pin ‘em to a corkboard. Might I recommend John August’s “10 Hints For Index Cards?” I might, rabbit. I might. See also: the Index Card app for iOS.

Whiteboard

A whiteboard represents a great thinking space. Notes, mind-maps, character sketches, drawings of weird alien penises. Get some different color pens, chart your story in whatever way feels most appropriate.

The Crazy Person’s Notebook

Once in a while a story of mine demands a hyper-psycho notebook experience. My handwriting is messier than a garbage disposal choked with hair, but even still, sometimes I just like to put pen to paper and scribble. And I sometimes print stuff out, chop it up, and tape it into the notebook. (Example!)

Collage

You’re like, “What’s next? A shoebox diorama of the Lincoln assassination?” That’s a different blog post. Seriously, on my YA-cornpunk novel POPCORN, I took a whole corkboard and covered it in images and quotes that were relevant to the work. Then I’d just wander over there from time to time, stare at it, get my head around the story I’m telling and the feel of the world the story portrays. Surprisingly helpful.

Spreadsheets

Stare too long into the grid of a spreadsheet and you will feel your soul entangled there — a dolphin caught in a tuna net. Even still, you may find a spreadsheet very helpful. Track plots and beats to your heart’s delight. Seen JK Rowling’s spreadsheet for Harry Potter? High-res version right here.

Story Bible

Everything and anything goes into the story bible. Worldbuilding. Character descriptions. The “rules” of the story. Plot. Theme. Mood. An IKEA furniture manual. (Goddamn Allen wrenches.) The BIOSHOCK story bible was reputedly a 400+ page beast, which means that yes, your story bible may be bigger than your actual novel. The key is not to let this — or any planning technique — become an exercise in procrastination. You plan. Then you do. That’s the only way this works.

The Power Of Templates

Film and TV scripts already follow a fairly rigorous template, but you can go further afield. Look to Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT beats. Or Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. Go weirder with the Proppian morphology of fairy tales. You may think it non-imaginative but the power of art and story lives easily within such borders as it does outside of them.

Stream Of Consciousness Story Babble

Slap on a diving bell and jump deep into the waters of the stream of consciousness. Order, you see, is sometimes born first from chaos, wriggling free from a uterus made from fractal swirls and Kamikaze squirrels. Open yourself to All The Frequencies: get into your word processor or find a blank notebook page and just scribble wantonly without regard to sense or quality. You may find your story lives in the noise and madness and that on that snowy screen you will find structure. Like a Magic Eye painting that reveals the image of a dolphin riding a motorbike and shooting Japanese whalers with twin chattering Uzis.

Visual Storyboards

Sometimes the words only come when given the bolstered boost of a visual hook. Sketch it out yourself. Get an artist friend. Find images from the Internet. Ingest some kind of dew-slick jungle mushroom and paint your story on the wall in an array of bodily fluids. Sometimes you really need to visualize the story.

The Test Drive

Take your characters, storyworld and ideas, and run them through a totally separate story. Let’s call it apocryphal, or “non-canonical.” It’s not a story you intend to keep. Not a story you want to publish. You’re just taking your story elements through their paces. Run them around a test drive. “This is where Detective Shirtless McGoggins solves the murder of the goblin seamstress.” Sure, your Detective lives in the real world, a world not populated by goblins. Fuck it, it’s just an exercise. A test run to find his voice and yours.

Pants The Shit Out Of It

All this plotting and scheming just isn’t working for you, so go ahead and pants the hell out of it. (Me? I don’t wear pants. Pants are the first tool of your oppressors.) Sometimes trying to wrestle your story into even the biggest box is just an exercise in frustration, so do what works for you and what doesn’t. Once again, however, I’ll exhort you to at least learn the skill of outlining — because eventually, someone’s going to ask for a demonstration of your ability.

* * *

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104 comments

  • How did you know exactly what I was doing tonight? I’m sitting here with no pants on (the Chuck Wendig Method©) working out my outline.
    I started trying to get too much detail, chapter by chapter. I see now there are better ways. Basically I want to get from the beginning to the end. And I have to go through the middle to get there.
    Geez, it’s like a metaphor for sex.
    OGX out.

  • I really need to get myself a whiteboard.
    Excellent post, I find it sort of impressive how many of these I have tried on non-fiction projects. In fact now that you mention visualizing I wonder if I could adapt my always successful science fair boards into story outlines. Hmmm…

    I need a large three section foam board, stick glue and paper STAT!

  • Now this is a tasty post.

    Especially fond of the collage. I make a new folder on my desktop, title it the name of the project and fill it full of crazy shit. Pictures, relevant bits of info and random inspirational what nots. When I’m writing I’ll throw up a patchwork of images/texts by the word doc.

    All that colour and madness in the corner of your eye keep you on the crooked and narrow path.

    Fond of notebooks too. But mine are written by a spasticated inebriate monkey on acid. I need several translators just to get it to resemble gobbledegook. Hence my liking the printing out and taping in idea. *swipes*

  • Just a note on index cards: I’m a big fan of them, whether it is planning out a single story/novel, or collating a whole collection of notes and ideas for future projects.

    But, whatever you are using them for, I’d recommend getting a physical index board/cork board and actually pinning the cards up. If you put this board up in your office, or wherever you do you writing, you’ll see it constantly. Even when you’re not working, or thinking, or planning, with every glance at the board your mind (conscious and subconscious both) will have stuff ticking over in the background.

    If you use an index card app on your iPad or iPhone or whatever, or use some kind of computer application for creating a corkboard, it’s handy and convenient, but you have to open the index cards/corkboard to look at it.

    Obviously you’ll do that when you actually sit down and start planning, but never underestimate the value of that constant physical presence that you’ll see all day, every day. Your brain will work wonders when left to its own devices, but to do that you have to SEE the cards.

    • @Adam:

      I’ll agree with that. At least, if your goal is to have something ever-present and top-of-mind.

      That said, I’ve used the Index Card app without a corkboard and it’s less for serving as an unconscious worker and more for doing some hands-on outline rearrangement at that moment.

      – c.

  • Definitely the scripting method. A basic setting for each scene, action cues and dialogue keeps things skeletal enough that I don’t trip over myself on the first pass. (Oddly enough, this seems to come through in the final product as one of the most common comments I get on my novel is that it “feels cinematic”. Happy accident, that.)

    I also use the corkboard for digital Post-It’s (as I don’t have a Mac or iPad and can’t use Scrivner) I like that I can change the notes color to group them by chapter or section and that I can open a new tab or board if another story idea tries to worm its way into my writing time. That way, it’s easy to keep the shiny new idea and not lose momentum on what I’m actually doing.

  • As one who has always hated outlines, these options are priceless. I’ve gotten in the habit of outlining by chapter AFTER the first draft has been pantsed, but the tent pole idea has promise.

    I do use a spreadsheet to keep track of my characters, but again, it’s assembled after the first draft (or possibly mid-way).

  • Great post. I think I have used most of those methods, generally pants-free. Unfortunately for me, they do generally lead to procrastination. I am using index cards. Alexandra Sokoloff has a nice rundown of the method in her book.

    The problem for me is that if I overplot, it takes something from the story for me. Currently, I am using a Flashlight/tentpost hybrid. We’ll see how that works out.

  • This is everything I ever wanted out of a plotting post, and more.

    I am plotting my next novel. The idea came easily. The characters? Like a hot knife through butter. I should have been suspicious.

    But the plot? Ye gods, the plot has been a nightmare. I am finally starting to get some view of what might happen, but all of my usual tricks have failed me. This is an excellent smorgasbord of nifty plotting ideas.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the note card suggestion (I will use them as soon as I know what the scenes are), and like Adam Christopher, I prefer the old school corkboard method. Partially so I can see them, but also because I like touching them.

    What? I can hear you snicker. No really, something about shuffling through the cards and putting the scenes in different orders helps me see the novel. It’s like playing god. “Maybe I want the end at the beginning!” I move the notecard, and lo, it is so. It’s very freeing.

  • “the ones who want to count each grain of sand on your story’s beach (or, for a more terribleminds-esque metaphor, “count each pube on your story’s scrotum”).”

    I read this and thought, “Man, that’s a tame one for Chu–ah. There he is.”

    Seriously, if you actually wrote placemats and such like you always joke about, I would find and read them. Your voice is that much fun.

  • Outlines make me want to cry and throw things. I do have a kind of sort of a story bible. I have a work sheet I fill out for character bios- I’ve done maybe half of them, and I really need to add a rules sheet- it’s urban fantasy- but I’d just rather pants- the -shit out of my story. Unfortunate I have chosen to write a series and people will expect some kind of consistency so maybe I should put a bit of time time the story bible so I can keep up with all the crap

  • I swear I’m using about half of these for the project I’m working on right now. Started off with tentpoles in a notebook with basic world building…moved to a word doc and story bible with pictures of how I imagine the characters, locations i want to use (it’s set in Vegas, so I want to be true to the location), profiles on the characters with their friends/enemies lists, powers, fears, motivations, sloppy synopsis that i keep fleshing out as I go. At this stage, I’m doing a lot of “write to the next plot point, outline, write, outline, write repeat”. Some of that writing is pantsed. And all of this is to get the zero draft out (I know I’m not going to make word goal on this one, but my mantra is to tell the fucking story).

    I’ve done the character test drive thing several times in the past. One of them (for a future project), I posted on my blog here: http://jamiewyman.blogspot.com/2011/06/eli-character-screen-test.html

    I admit, I’m still figuring out what works best for me as a writer by experimenting with everything. Each project, though, has its own traps and hordes of orcs. The project I’m on now is the most complicated web of intrigue I’ve ever built. Not quite the zombie romance I’m querying which is all about laughter and looking past the outward bullshit to the center of a person. I do find that casting my characters helps IMMENSELY. But your mileage my vary.

    Great post. As always.

  • Plot is thought. (Here, incidentally, is what plot is not.) Some people write it down. Some people keep it all in the head. Nabokov used to write the entirety of his novels, soup-to-nuts, on notecards.

    Here’s a fast-and-furious version of the method I use:

    Here’s how to create a setting:

    One hour before nightfall, on a pink-and-blue evening in the second week of September, 2011…

    Here’s how to create a character:

    a solitary man traveling on foot …

    Here’s how to introduce a situation:

    entered the small, tree-shadowed town of Clifton — an isolated village about which many rumors circulated.

    Here’s how to introduce tension:

    Several people from their windows and doors eyed the traveler with suspicion …

    Here’s how to heighten that tension and begin your plot:

    and yet one, a willowy woman upon her doorstep, who had never laid eyes on the traveler before today, felt an icicle skewer her heart the instant she saw him — and saw also the strange and unmistakable key he wore on a chain around his neck.

    Here’s how to further develop your character:

    The traveler was a man of medium height, lean and lithe, thirty or perhaps thirty-five. He had wheat-colored hair cut high-and-tight, and there was in his posture a certain military mien, an excess of energy which set him apart.

    Here’s how to further set your scene:

    The day was dying. Wind went warmly about the grass. The village was silent.

    Here’s how to introduce foreshadowing:

    He passed by a small cinema the lights of which shed a crimson sheen over his hands and face.

    Here’s how to introduce a new character, a potential conflict, a new paragraph:

    Among those watching him was a strong-looking young man, alone and hatless, who stood half-hidden with the statuary, in the black shadows of the conifer trees. He and the traveler looked in some way alike, yet the man in the shadows was younger, and his face was charged with suffering.

    Here’s how to intensify your plot and introduce dialogue:

    Quickly the woman left her doorstep and, with a tremor of intent, approached the traveler.

    “I’ve been waiting for you,” she said.

    Here’s how to develop your main character through dialogue:

    “Yes,” he said.

    Here’s how to intensify your situation again and at the same time give the reader an idea of your novel’s theme (which in this abbreviated example is: superstition in an insular society):

    At last her eyes went to the strange-looking key that he wore around his neck. She’d been avoiding it, but now that her eyes were upon it, she couldn’t look away. The key was very beautiful, entirely real, modern and yet somehow science-fictional. It looked completely different from the way it had once been described to her. In its silver glint, she caught a quick reflection of the stone gargoyle perched on the building behind them. Her heart paused a moment and then released a thunderous beat. A rill of sweat slid between her breasts. Unexpectedly, she felt a sexual surge shoot through her.

    Here’s how to raise tension through dialogue:

    “Time is running short,” she said. “Come with me.”

    Here’s how to further develop your plot:

    She said no more after that but turned and walked toward the cinema that stood burning with a hellish glow in the August twilight. The traveler followed.

    She hadn’t noticed the man watching from the shadows.

    But the traveler had recognized him instantly.

  • My current process tends to go:

    1. Notebook
    2. Tentpoles
    3. Fill in gaps between tentpoles with some more cool stuff
    4. Vomit draft based on this crude “outline”

    After that I crack open the index cards and try and turn the vomit draft into a coherent story without so many plot holes where the characters wandered off on their own track or I fudged things to keep the story moving. Gods know there has to be a better way, but if so I haven’t found it yet!

    BTW Index Card for iPad syncs with Scrivener (the Mac version, at least). There’s a also a more free-form app called iCardSort, and a great mindmapper called iThoughtsHD. Some of these touchscreen apps are almost as intuitive as the physical equivalent, and much better in some respects than desktop versions.

  • I just always seem to vomit it out with a pen and paper until I get to the end of a paragraph. Then I type it out (with heavy editing) onto the computer and get stuck into the next paragraph. After I’ve done a few chapters/paragraphs I print it out and glue the printed version inside a new note book, and the next edit is hand written on the blank page beside it. Return to typing it into the computer. Repeat and rinse…

  • I write a tag line, query, and synopsis, and then usually break it up into scenes before I ever do prose.

    Really really like the idea of writing a screen play version for the novel though. That would be wicked quick and fun. Love me some dialogue without bogging down in description.

  • Oh, this is so fabulously helpful! (And not just the last suggestion.) I’ve already incorporated a couple of these techniques into my writing habits and will be trying out several of the others. Thank you for this post!

  • Very helpful to me, thank you! I just found you last night through Google, and I already added you to my blog-roll. Okay, so I just started this new blog after giving up on writing 5 other ones at the same time, and yours is the ONLY link in my blogroll.

    I did most of my recent outlining inside my head, then I just wrote down a list of characters and wrote the climax of the story (my husband got a kick out of me saying “climax” about half a dozen times when I was telling him about this), then I wrote like mad for three days till I had punched out 24,000 words all over the place.

    I’ve even started thinking about my next original story. I’ve got about 15 notes on my iPhone that somehow appeared with story ideas and character notes that I need to sort out.

  • So many options, just proves that everyone has to find their own best way. I have a time line with notes about where in the story the key changes should happen and I stick stickynotes on the time line with my ideas.

  • Reading through this list was painful because while I THOUGHT I found a happy medium by writing the story bible (which is really the most fun) and outlining a chapter or two ahead of time, now I find out that there are twenty more other ways to write. See, I like to get it down in one shot. Two (or if I’m feeling really scandalous), three shots, at the most. Now what is all this mumbo jumbo about fleshing it out and finding the story in there somewhere?? Experimenting with your characters? Le gasp! Reverse outlining and synopsis-first sounds like the next step for me — thanks again for your lists, Chuck. Cheers!

  • I use the iron & ionization method. As I do some sort of methodical chore (I’m a housewife, I have a lot of them) such as ironing, vacuuming, dishes, folding, ect…I’ll think of my story. And I’ll work out a scene. I’ll discard the first 8-100 ideas for the plot (they’re the easy, lazy ideas) until I get into the ideas that don’t follow the path of least resistance. Those are the truly original ones. And then after the chore is complete I’ll run over to the computer and write that plot point down.

  • Love this post and the commenters` explanations of their methods, especially because I`m just finishing up the outline for my NaNoWriMo story. I`ve used a lot of the ideas in this post for this one story, actually.

    I started with character sketches, then typed out random crap about the story as it came into my head (I also used a notebook, but my notebooks always contain multiple stories, shopping lists, rough drafts of letters, etc.), Used bubbl.us to do a mind map of the 3 central plots, used tentpoles, then sequences and eventually wrote a scene-by-scene description of each of the three stories (which all kinda intertwine). Because it`s a fantasy(ish) novel, I also wrote definitions and descriptions for various places and terms – and I cross referenced everything in my OpenOffice document, so that if a character description says a character is from such-and-such a place, I can click the place name and get zapped to the part of the document that describes said place. I`d love to use the index cards method, but I move a lot, so I have to limit my non-computer planning.

    I also wrote a synopsis (as if for a book cover, rather than for a submission – it doesn`t contain the conclusion or any twists) and designed the cover art because I find having a clear visual idea of the finished product keeps me inspired.

  • There is a saying that goes, “Animators are actors with pencils.” I think that the same is true for writers. Whenever I want to write anything creative, I talk to myself, imagine that I’m in the story, and act things out. I find this especially helpful when I’m trying to develop a character. If you imagine yourself as the character, and actually pretend to BE him/her, it helps a lot. Sometimes I’ll have a conversation with the character and myself (so really just myself). Gets you into the groove.

  • What a great list. I’ve done most of these for one script or another and I would just add – Never underestimate the power of postit notes. No matter how many different methods I use to get the structure, characters and stories started I almost always end up using different coloured sticky notes to finalise the structure of a play or story. Different colour per storyline, laid out in sequence so you can interweave them and see at a glance when you’re neglecting one (“haven’t had a Green story postit for half a foot, let’s put it in there”), or missing a chance to be a structural smartarse (“that yellow one and the pink one both mention boiling horses – put them together!”). A bit of a challenge with the seriously multistranded plays – the last time I did one of those we had to tiptoe around the living room and hall in the tiny amount space the epic multicoloured story had left us. And you should open front doors with care if you live someplace windy (like Scotland) because there’s nothing more annoying than having to retrieve a scene from the garden….

  • Notebook, Tent poles, In the document. (all scribbled about in the starting notebook of course)

    I get lost if I try to barf it up but feel the need to leave myself lots of wiggle room for the characters and story to go in whatever direction they need to. Coming into act three of my novel, the tent poles aren’t even in the same places now as they were when I started. I only do a detailed outline a couple chapters out and I’ve managed to find scenes that were completely unexpected along the way.

    I’ve enjoyed this though and it’s given me more to think about as I get ready to map out the next chapter. Danke yet again.

  • If I can be shill-y for a moment (for stuff that’s not my own) — the Index Card/Corkboard method is greatly helped by using Scrivener, as the organizational side of that program is built on that model.

  • This is so tremendously helpful, thank you. I’ve been flashlighting & tentpoling for the first 20,000w but am feeling increasingly anxious about how my different story strands should play out. Time for some index cards and story bible I think!

  • I tend to do a combo of “zero draft” and “in the document as you go.” I’ve tried a lot of other things, but this is what feels the most comfortable for me. The hardest part is convincing myself that, no, it really is OK to write a ridiculous, completely illegible “draft” that’s nothing more than fragments of scenes and images. A lot of times I write it long-hand just so I have an excuse for nobody but me to see it.

  • I make post it notes that include characters, and plot points and stick them on my fridge. I can arrange them into a time line, and add information to each post it note, and rearrange them as needed. Plus, it allows me to get up and move around instead of sitting at the desk.

    Excellent post by the way.

  • “The key is not to let this — or any planning technique — become an exercise in procrastination.”
    Aah, yes… Been there, done that, got the index cards and research reams but not the wordcount to prove it.

  • Nice article, I found it funny that some of my methods were actually listed in here. Crazy persons notebook to mind mapping or just chapter to chapter. I can plot, now I just need to get enough discipline to actually finish more than one story.

  • I’m a big fan of The Crazy Person’s Notebook. Of them, I have many. At least five per completed book… Didn’t know it was a thing until I read this post. Now I feel pigeonholed. Thanks a lot.

  • Personally, I find brainstorming a random list of scenes (some are tent poles, some are not) then using a big poster board divided into squares (one per chapter and midpoint, first turning point, second turning point and dark moment marked) and a bunch of different color sticky notes for each character/major element in the story gives me a great visual of my plot and plot holes. I can see patterns in the colored sticky notes (cue dancing magic ‘shrooms… or not). Using the rule of three also helps because I can pull up four colored sticky notes for that thing even if I don’t have a clue what the hell it is and find a place for it on the poster board. I just label it fear thing 1, fear thing 2, fear thing 3 and fear thing payoff. Eventually the spider monkeys in my cranium figure it out.

    I’ve also used Spiderweb Plotting to figure out really hard to peel apart subplots in my story and figure out when and where they need to hit to make the whole story web hang together without the spiders sucking dry reader’s eyes in boredom. Each chapter or switch in character POV for shorter works is a ring (think of a bullseye) and the subplots (in various colors so I can track them) start in various points and radiate outward, or crisscross like a spiderweb. Have pics of what a spiderweb plotting board looks like for anyone interested.

  • This is a very helpful post. I used to be in academia. I never did outlines for any of my papers, but I researched the shit out of them, to the point of getting lost in all of the research. Plotting out a story puts me in the same spot; I can plan the hell out of what I’m *going* to write, but then I get stuck and don’t know what to do with everything I’ve got. How do you bridge the gap between plotting/outlining and actually start writing? Maybe this is a topic for another post, and maybe only I can answer this for myself. Anyway, I love your blog and thanks for the great advice.

  • September 22, 2013 at 11:46 PM // Reply

    Haha, nice. I’m planning to do some of these. But one of the things I like to do is I take my characters and I just write out a script-type-thingamajig with them talking to me. Most of the time, they complain. Extensively. The things get pretty dang funny and they have absolutely no use whatsoever.

    Other times, I shove them into a chat room and have them all chat via Instant Messaging.

    And yet I have never, ever finished a regular plot line of my stories in anything but this inescapable, indefinite void of chaos and destruction that I call my mind.

    Sometimes I wonder about the state of my own sanity…

  • This was a very good post. Currently I am writing a story inspired by the Mortal Instruments series, it contains vampires, werewolves, nephilim etc. In my previous stories I have found myself just writing a story and occasionally whenever I feel a lack of creativity I just go back and edit what i have done to make it sound better. But for this story i am setting up a word doc. with dot points for the main points and finer details of the story. Again this post was very helpful. (Comment if you like the Mortal Instruments)

  • I found your blog thanks to a frustration fueled Google search on “how the f*** do I plot a novel?” God I love how Google knows me. Anyways, great post, very funny and just what I needed to break me out of this book-mania which has been driving me crazy this week. I’ve had this idea jumping around my brain for months now and finally I just started writing. It’s a mess, a glorious mess which keeps growing as I let it flow. I need to get a plot map soon or the darn thing will become “Harry Potter”x 2. Hence the search for outlining advice. For me, it’s music that sets scenes running in my head. I hear a song and bam, I can see my wacky characters doing things, saying things etc. Very distracting, especially when driving. I’ve been using post-its, and my walls are starting to look like modern art installations…
    So thanks for the laughs, I think I’ll give the no-pants method a try sometime :)

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