The Basics – Plotting
If you’ve never put a story together before then it is very easy to (literally *snort*) lose the plot. Even though most of us have a basic understanding of “beginning, middle, end” it can be surprisingly difficult to recognise the different parts, and to see if certain parts would be better in different places. You’re creating a puzzle with the end image in mind and trying to cut out the pieces on the way. This can be challenging, frustrating, and frequently exciting.
Pantser vs Plotter
If you haven’t heard the above terms then let me give you the quick low-down.
Plotter – someone who plans their books out.
Pantser – someone who doesn’t plot, but instead “flies by the seat of their pants” and completely allows the characters to lead them.
In all honesty, writers are usually a bit of both. Very rarely will you have a writer who is such a complete pantser that they don’t have the slightest clue what happens at the end of their tale. As whimsical and fun as declaring yourself a “pantser” might be, it does give rise to ever increasing anxiety if the muses aren’t speaking to you but your deadline is. And the same goes for plotting, while you may have plotted your story out to the point of scene by scene, there’s a fairly good chance at some point along the way your characters will turn the tides on you and change their route.
The method I prefer, having written my first book entirely “pantser”, my second kinda plotted and my third definitely plotted, is to plot. With my book AfterBurn I plotted it so well that when it came to writing the story I blasted the first draft out in just one month. A month for my longest novel, 150k+ words. Not bad at all! (Though I should preface – the plotting took a couple of years, sometimes you just gotta let things percolate).
Below is a screenshot of the excel sheet I use to initially develop my plot.
To use this successfully I suggest the following steps. Now please keep in mind, unless you’re intending to pop out a book a month (more power to you, I personally can’t stand the thought but many, many successful indies are doing this), you will want to plot, then ponder, then revise your plot.
What do I mean by this?
Get your rough plot notched out using the steps below. Then DON’T START WRITING YET. Take time to think about your plot. Really envision it in your mind as if you’re watching a movie. Discuss it with a trusted someone (someone who isn’t a downer, but ideally has a good feeling for plots. Probably an avid reader and movie watcher – someone you think would be a “great” movie critic). My trusted someone (my other-half) is great to discuss ideas with. He’ll frequently shoot stuff down, or go off on other tangents, but his open thoughts always, always cause exciting breakthroughs for me.
This is also the perfect time to watch documentaries or movies on similar topics to what you’re plotting, or to create Pinterest boards and trawl YouTube for ideas. The beginning plotting stage is the MOST EXCITING stage of writing (until the next most exciting stage *grin* there’s always times to cherish!). Once you’ve done a week/month/year or even more of this (writing should be inspired, if you’re not inspired then take a little more time to find that inspiration) you’ll find your plot will probably change. Sometimes a little, more often a lot! I find that by plotting this way I have less of a first draft/second draft/eighth draft situation, and more of a single draft, with edits. This, when you’ve got a pile of books in your head waiting to be written, helps in the long run.
Steps to consider before using my plotting spreadsheet.
- Characters and their relationships – current AND future (giving you space to plan in those future relationships)
- Timeline – how old is your character and what age are they by the end of the story?
- Both your protagonist and antagonists timelines – I’d suggest using different colours so you know that while your protagonist is off levelling up their training, you know your antagonist is pottering around <insert location> up to <insert evil deeds>. While the reader might never know the particulars, it will allow you as the creator to make sense of those later times where the antagonist appears, allowing for a more in-depth reader experience when your timeline/experiences etc all line up
I could make this list a mile long with extra things to think about, but there are other in-depth plotting books out there – here are a few that come highly recommended on Amazon (these are affiliate links). Personally, I find the only way to really learn plotting, is to do it. Again and again.