Note: this post was originally part of a writing series, and some comments may refers to that.
Some people hate plotting. They often call themselves “pantsers,” because they write by the seat of their pants. Many people who hate to plot ahead say that they want to be able to discover things along the way.
Well, guess what – when you plot ahead of time, you still discover things along the way! They might be small and delightful things, or they might change your plot significantly.
A plot is a road map. A road map doesn’t keep you from getting caught in a thunderstorm, or taking a side trip. It doesn’t even prevent you from changing your mind, and deciding you’re going to drive to Kansas City instead of Chicago.
It just keeps you from running out of gas in some crappy place in the middle of nowhere, with no cell phone service, wondering why you even left home.
I encourage you to figure out some important events ahead of time because lots of newer novel writers have trouble making things actually happen. But things have to happen for your story to be interesting. (Of course, many of you reading this don’t struggle with action at all.)
Anyway, good news! I have one recommendation for people who love plotting, and two recommendations for people who can’t stand it. And of course, most of us fall somewhere in the middle.
For People Who Enjoy Plotting
Do you like plotting worksheets? I recommend Jami Gold’s, which are legendary. (If they’re helpful, consider buying one of her novels! I did, since I’m linking to her.)
If you have your own method, than obviously, do that!
For People Who Hate Plotting
Okay, I have two different things you can try!
1. The Snowflake Method.
Several people have told me this really worked for them. I have yet to try it, and I should. I might love it. You can read about it here. It’s still a somewhat elaborate way of plotting, but it seems to feel comfortable for people who are dubious about plotting.
2. My “One Index Card” Method.
I’m calling it this because it’s so minimal, you could probably do it on a 3 x 5. Just figure out these things.
THE INITIAL THING THAT HAPPENS.
Something needs to happen near the beginning of your story that jogs your character out of her normal rut. (As I said last week, she could be jogging herself out of her own rut!) What is it?
THE FIRST BIG THING THAT HAPPENS.
This could be about 1/4 of the way into your story.
THE SECOND, EVEN BIGGER THING THAT HAPPENS.
This could be about 1/2 of the way into your story.
THE THIRD, EVEN BIGGER THING THAN THAT HAPPENS.
This might be between the halfway point and the 3/4 point.
THE HUGE THING THAT MAKES EVERYTHING SEEMS HOPELESS.
This might be around 3/4 of the way into your story, or it might be a little later.
Your character takes her most dramatic action yet. (She’s come a long way from the girl we met on page one!) Could be good. Could be bad. The end!
Just a Few More Notes About Plot…
No matter how you approach your plotting, the big things that happen are probably going to be turning points for your character. He may have to make a decision, or take an action that he would never have imagined himself doing.
Hopefully, these big things are related. You probably don’t want a story where, say, your character’s big events are adopting a kitten, starting a new job, surviving a plane crash, and then surviving a nuclear holocaust. Those events escalate in drama and excitement — honestly, I’ve read worse stories — but they probably don’t hang together.
What holds your big plot points together? Usually, it’s a goal your character pursues, or a problem or situation she’s been thrown into.
Think about your plot points in relationship to your characters. These events should challenge them, and help them change and grow. (That’s a nice way of saying that you should be putting them through a little hell, even if it’s basically a light or funny story.)
I don’t have anything about character in my “one index card” method, even though character and plot are woven together. My suspicion is that that your storytelling instincts will activate anyway and you’ll naturally make those connections.
This post is a quick treatment a complex issue. I recommend GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon as my favorite book on plotting — honestly, it changed my life — and I know there are other good books out there, too.
Do you have plotting tips you would like to share? Let us know in the comments! Happy writing!