Tag Archives: plotting

Plot 101 wrapup

All this month on Twitter, I’ve shared 101 amazing articles on plotting advice. #Plot101 has been a lot of fun! I wouldn’t want you to miss out, so here’s a list of all the articles I’ve shared.

plot101(This is taken right from my Tweet list, so article authors are attributed with their Twitter handles, or not at all if they didn’t have a Twitter handle, or if it’s an article by me.)

Are you laboring under these outlining misconceptions? @KMWeiland

Got ideas? Put them together to build a novel @JodyHedlund

Can you use coincidences in your plot? @TheresaStevens, @AliciaRasley

Nontraditional outlining @DIYMFA

Outline your novel in 30 minutes @AliciaRasley

Action & reaction to build your plot @JodyHedlund

Pulling your story out of nowhere @NatalieWhipple

Must pantsers plot?? @JamiGold

Should pantsers rely on themes? @JamiGold

Top 10 Plot problems @AliciaRasley

Character or plot? Or both? @NathanBransford

What’s wrong with your opening? What comes next? @TheresaStevens, @AliciaRasley

Plotting a novel with FreeMind diagram @spacejock

Beat Sheets for Pantsers @JamiGold

Is outlining worth it? @KMWeiland

Visual storyboarding with Trello

Prepare with a plotting notebook! @JodyHedlund

Plotting process in action @Janice_Hardy

No plot? No problem! Find one! @JodyHedlund

Plotting a novel in 3 acts @JanalynVoigt

Beat these common plotting problems! @KristenLambTX

Do you have a plot? @NathanBransford

Plot your opening right @JanalynVoigt

Snowflake method of plotting

Plots are like onions. Or parfaits! @Janice_Hardy

Think more creatively: try these ways to brainstorm plot & scenes (I know I will!) @LiveWriteThrive

Are you missing a plot?

Speed outlining

Plotting with emotions @Janice_Hardy

Plot template to keep you on target @Janice_Hardy

When the worst SHOULDN’T happen @Janice_Hardy

5 golden rules for a good plot

3 acts, 3 risks @TheresaStevens, @AliciaRasley

How to get a plot @lucreid

Plotting a character-driven novel: 3 steps @RobynDeHart

Outline your book in two sentences @NickThacker via @KMweiland

Has your plot been done before? Add a new twist @Janice_Hardy

Use characters to max out conflict @KristenLambTX

Ten tools for creative outlining

Romance beat sheets @JamiGold

Dig into your conflict @Vickihinze

How to write a novel @NathanBransford

Outline your novel backwards @KMWeiland

Character-based plotting

Diana Wynne Jones’ plotting method

What comes next? Figure it out! @Janice_Hardy

Novel Outlining!

Got a theme & a problem? Get a plot! @JanalynVoigt

Having trouble starting your story? @JamiGold

Have you ever outlined longhand? Why you should try @KMWeiland

Bring your characters together to clash–and find a plot @LiveWriteThrive

Leading up to turning points @TheresaStevens, @AliciaRasley

Can pantsers plot? @Janice_Hardy

Do you have too much plot? @Janice_Hardy

Underground outlining

Weave your character’s inner & outer journeys together! @JamiGold

Is this scene moving the story forward? Simple test @Janice_Hardy

What’s the worst that can happen? GO THERE @Janice_Hardy

Outlining as you go: the best of both pantser/plotter worlds? @JodyHedlund

Story structure for pantsers @KMWeiland via @Janice_Hardy

Don’t let plot bunnies hijack your story! @JanalynVoigt

Is this story worth writing? 1/3 @JamiGold

Is this story worth writing? 2/3 @JamiGold

Is this story worth writing? 3/3 @JamiGold

Develop your characters for better plot @TheresaStevens

SHOW your character’s traits in the plot @TheresaStevens

Plotting from character: core conflicts @TheresaStevens

Using opposing characters & conflict to move the story @TheresaStevens

The four parts of a story @storyfix

The turning points of a story @storyfix

What to do in Q1 of your story @storyfix

The all-important First Plot Point! @storyfix

Escape the sagging middle: Q2 tasks @storyfix

Shore up the sagging middle: pinch points @storyfix

Turning points: the mid-point @storyfix

Q3 of your story: THE ATTACK @storyfix

Turn for the worse: the Second Plot Point @storyfix

Q4 of your story: resolution @storyfix

My conversion to plotting

Becoming a plotting convert

Becoming a story architect

Most basic story structure: 3 acts

All about Story Questions

Five act story structure

3 and 5 act structure in action

Pros & cons of 3 act structure for plotting

Intro to the snowflake method

Customizing the snowflake method @Carol Garvin

Pros & cons of snowflake method

Hero’s Journey plotting method

Character archetypes in the Hero’s Journey

Applying the hero’s journey

Combining the hero’s journey with romance @FayeHughes

Drawbacks of plotting with the Hero’s Journey

Plotting with StoryStructure

Story Structure plotting example

Hero’s Journey + Story Structure for plotting

Setting up your story question

Plotting with Save the Cat! @alicross1

Plotting with a beat board @alicross1

Story questions @AnnetteLyon

What are your favorite plotting resources? Are you ready for NaNo?

Plot101 kickoff

October is upon us! Do you know what that means? Aside from Halloween of course—it’s almost time for NaNoWriMo! I’ll be participating once again this year—I’ve already got my novel picked out and I’ve had ideas percolating for about a year.

But ideas do not a plot make, so I had another idea: I should collect a bunch of posts on plotting and share them! But rather than reblogging my old material to the same audience (love you guys!) or just dumping a bunch of links on you, I decided to conquer the . . . penultimate frontier, if you will. It will be my first ever writing series on Twitter!

plot101Throughout the month of October (on weekdays), I’ll be tweeting great articles on plotting from some of my favorite writer/bloggers. We’ll look at cool tools for plotting, finding ideas for your plot, structuring your plot, planning for pantsers (writing by the seat of your pants), and more.

Ready to join in the fun? Come follow me on Twitter! I’m sharing 101 articles on plotting: it’s Plot 101! Beginning tomorrow, all the plot tweets will feature the #plot101 hashtag. Feel free to share your favorite plotting articles, too!

Maybe this novel thing is for me . . .

This entry is part 3 of 13 in the series All my novels

My first novel was inspired by a dream, written longhand, and typed up. I rearranged the elements of one chapter (making it a pretty cool partial flashback)—and that passed for editing. Naturally, when editing doesn’t take any time, I figured it I should start on my next novel as soon as I finished this one.

ideaI just needed an idea.

As any writer can tell you, ideas are cheap. I come across several every day. But very few of them actually inspire novels (it usually takes combining a few ideas to get to that level). As I approached the end of my first novel, I began to worry about the next one. Would I have any ideas? Did I only have one novel in me?

I think that insecurity comes back with every novel and every fallow period. I put immense pressure on myself to be “productive.” I’m almost always multitasking, even on a day “off.” But it’s okay to wait until you find an idea you’re really passionate about.

Fortunately, I had another dream, and once again I had the seeds of a novel.

The book stats

Title: Finally settled on Con Artist
Genre: Semi-historical romance (set in New York in 1974)
Inspiration: another dream
Writing dates: November 2007 – about August 2008. Well, the actual writing didn’t take all that time, but I’m not sure when I finished writing. I stopped editing in about August 2008, soon after my second child was born.
Length: ~70,000 words?
Elevator pitch: Aspiring artist Margaux might be living with a killer. The only person who can help her is Charlie, a handsome reporter—and the one person who could ruin Margaux’s future.

What I learned from writing this book

Uh, wow. I learned a lot from this book. In the course of writing, I was thinking about one character’s backstory, and it just popped into my head: he was divorced, and here’s why, and here’s his ex-wife, and here’s his son. That kind of “speaking” to me is still kind of rare, so it’s still one of my favorite moments about this book.


This manuscript was also a big lesson for me in revision. I really didn’t like how the last third of the book or so ended, so I really began pulling it apart, tackling the events differently, rewriting and changing. Unfortunately, I never did get it to where I liked it okay.

This novel also brought me to my first critique group, which happened to be online. It was a very interesting setup, and it seemed to work well (though I moved on years ago, so I can’t really comment on how it’s working now). I made a good friend (hi, Marnee!) there, and learned a lot about characterization, motivations, character sympathy, etc. But that group also yielded my first experience with a toxic critique partner (not Marnee!).

Possibly the biggest effect this book had on my writing, though, was realizing that I needed to plot things out first. This book began to grow into a Winchester Mystery Story as I fixed problems pointed out by critique partners, while also rewriting and scrapping and revising and rewriting the last third of the book. Finally, I really couldn’t fix this, and I was beginning to hate the characters, the book, and writing.

Also, having just recently had a baby about the time I was drowning in edits, I was worried I would never be able to write a novel again. Fortunately, I proved myself wrong. (Next time!)

How about you? Are you a “convert” to plotting? Come share!

Photo credits: idea (lightbulb)—Juliette;
re-envision original series by Briana Zimmers via Flickr/CC

The Winchester Mystery Story (that lead somewhere!)

This entry is part 7 of 14 in the series My writing journey

All stories, says Larry Brooks, have structure. And, to employ my own analogy, so do all buildings. But not all buildings are created equal:

Winchester Mystery House Scary Exterior Tower

You might recognize this place, or the legend behind it. The owner believed that her house must be under construction always, or she would die. But they couldn’t use a master building plan.

Considering that, the Winchester Mystery House is pretty well-built. Yeah, it has stairs that lead to nowhere and doors that open out from the second floor (no stairs on that one—maybe move those first stairs over there?). It’s fun—it’s a blast to explore, and I bet Sarah Winchester had an awesome time throwing in every element she could think of.

It has a decent foundation—instead of leveling it, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake only knocked off the top three stories. After the quake it stood four stories. The remaining structure is a rambling, 160-room, 4.5-acre mansion. It requires more than 20,000 gallons of paint to coat the whole thing once—and once you finish, it’s time to start painting again.

I think we’ve all gotten to the end of a story, looked back and seen our own Winchester Mystery Structure. The Winchester Mystery House has structure. In some sense, it has architecture—but not really. There is no plan, and the closest thing they had to a designer (architect) was a crazy woman.

Winchester Mystery House Stairs to the ceiling

And “rambling” is right. Dead ends, doors and promises that go nowhere, accidental MacGuffins. . . . My real “Winchester Mystery Story” was my second novel. I think I’ve blocked out most of the horrors by now, but I do remember rewriting the last third of the story some three times. Eventually, I got tired of writing stories that looked like they were designed by a crazy woman.

I wish I could say that was my last Winchester Mystery Story, but even in the last few years, with a novel I plotted (though waaay too loosely), I’ve found that same problem of dead ends and lost threads and a plot that meanders without any purpose, etc. While every first draft probably has some ideas that didn’t come to fruition by the end—and they all need editing!—a true “Winchester Mystery Story” might very well be unfixable.

When your first novel is . . . well, your first novel, and your second novel is unfixable, it’d be pretty easy to give up, right? Although I fell out of love with the story LONG before I found a solution to its plot problems, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t realize just how fatally flawed the story was.

winchester mystery house
The whole experience pointed me toward how valuable it could be to actually plan the story in advance. That plotting thing didn’t “kill” my “muse”—instead, plotting helped to strengthen my stories. It seems like a lot of writers experience a “conversion” to plotting once they get over the mystique of the “organic” story. Pantsing does work for some people, but for me, plotting is a much better (and more structurally sound, and less rambling!) way to build a story.

What do you think? Have you ever written a “Winchester Mystery Story”? Are you a converted plotter?

Photo credits: exterior shot and stairs to nowhere courtesy of the Winchester Mystery House; rooves—the_photographer; windows to windows—Emily Hoyer

Plotting a novel with a beat board

This entry is part 23 of 24 in the series The plot thickens (Mwahahaha)

Our series on plotting is a perennial favorite on the blog, so we’re expanding on that series with a few guest posts! Ali introduced me to Save The Cat! and I really loved using it on my most recent manuscript, so she’s here this week to explain the basics of this plotting method and how to use a beat board.

By Ali Cross
Used with permission from this post

I use a corkboard, (but you can use a wall, or whatever) and a stack of index cards (or sticky notes). My crit group just gave me a new package of index cards–they know me so well! Thanks guys! 

Don’t freak out over the size or color of your cards. Just use whatever. You can use colored pens if you want (I usually only use colored pens if I’m beating out a story with multiple points of view–each main character gets their own color.)

Now, using a couple strips of masking tape, divide your corkboard (or whatever) into four even sections (three strips of tape.) This denotes Act I, Act II part one, Act II part two, Act III.

It should look like this:

ACT II part one
ACT II part two

Now, get out your beat sheet and your index cards.

On your first card, jot down your notes for the Opening Image. Tack it/tape it/whatever right at the beginning of your Act I section.

Your next card is #6 on the Beat Sheet; the Break into Two card. Place it at the very end of the Act I section.

Next, #7, B Story, at the beginning of the Act II, part one, followed by #9, Midpoint, at the end of that section.

#10, Bad Guys Close In, goes at the beginning of the second Act II, followed by #13, Break Into Three.

Your last section starts with #14, Finale, and finishes with #15, Closing Image.

Now, fill out your cards for the remaining beats and tack them to your board where they belong. You’ve probably got some scenes in your head, so jot them down on a card and figure out where they belong. Your beat sheet should give you a pretty clear idea where it goes on the storyboard. Go ahead and stick your cards up there.

Action scenes, or beats that involve multiple scenes to play out, get stuck to the board in cascading groups. You can see what I mean in the photo of my board:

It’s easy to see where the holes are, but I’m not worried. In fact, I’m kind of happy about it. This outline keeps me in line by pinning down the beginning, middle and end, but allows me the freedom to work out all that fun middle stuff.

If I get an idea for a scene I can write some notes on it and add it where it belongs. That way, I’ll know exactly where to add that scene once I catch up to it. And when I’m sitting there, all out of Mike ‘n Ikes, my mouth hanging open as my gears try to get the writing going, I can look at the board and know what I’m supposed to work on next.

Whew! That was a lot of info! If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer in there. 

About the author

Ali Cross is the sensei of the writer’s dojo where she holds a black belt in awesome. She lives in Utah with her kickin’ husband, two sparring sons, one ninja cat, two sumo dogs and four zen turtles.

She’s the author the young adult urban fantasy series Desolation, and a member of the Author’s Incognito Executive Committee.
Blog Facebook Twitter

Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat plotting method

This entry is part 22 of 24 in the series The plot thickens (Mwahahaha)

Planning out a novel? Be sure to join my newsletter for a FREE plotting/revision roadmap, and check out the full series on plotting novels in a free PDF!

Our series on plotting is a perennial favorite on the blog, so we’re expanding on that series with a few guest posts! Ali introduced me to Save The Cat! and I really loved using it on my most recent manuscript, so she’s here this week to explain the basics of his plotting method.

By Ali Cross
Used with permission from this post

A couple weeks ago I posted some pictures of my office, including a pic of my new “beat board”.

Several of you asked me to explain what this is and how I use it. I’m borrowing heavily from a post I did pre-NaNo 2011, so some of you will have heard this before. But for those of you who are new to the wonder of Beat Boards, strap in and let’s go!

I am completely gaga over the screenwriting book, Save The Cat. If you haven’t read it yet, I completely, 100%, highly recommend it. In the meantime, here are the highlights as they apply to me and how I write a novel.

Using the document below I fill in a sentence or two that addresses that “beat” or plot point (I’ve also included a question that helps me in this task). You can go here to get a fantastic beat-by-beat breakdown of where these beats should land in your manuscript, depending on the anticipated length of your novel.

If you’d like more information, there’s lots to learn on Blake Snyder’s website


1.Opening Image: Set the scene. Who is/are your main character(s) and what is their world like before your story begins?

2.Theme Stated: What will your character’s arc be? What is the moral of your story? Usually the theme is stated by a supporting character. What is the moral of your story?

3.Set-up: Pretty self-explanatory, right? This is where all the pieces are put into play. Who are the main players and where is your story set?

4.Catalyst: Again, you know this one. A chain of events that set things into motion. What happens to change your main character’s world?

5.Debate: This is where your MC has to make some decisions about what he’s going to do. What choices does your main character have to make?

6.Break in to Two: The transition from static MC to MC on the move. What new adventure is your character on?

7.B Story: This is where you move into the second act of your story, or, the dreaded middle section. (duh duh duhhhh) It’s usually the B story, or the love story, or the big action/adventure story of your book. What is the new relationship in your main character’s life?

8.Fun and Games: Pretty much more of all the love, the action or … whatever! (Yeah, you can tell I love mid-sections!) What kind of trouble does the main character get into?

9.Midpoint: This is like a mini act-break. It’s the corner you turn toward the second half of your book, like your MC is standing on a cliff and needs to decide: fight or flight? What happens to make the character think everything is awesome or everything is awful?

10.Bad Guys Close In: Your MC hasn’t jumped, but the bad guys are almost there and …. maybe there’s still time to jump! What stands between your characters and what they want?

11.All is Lost: It looks like the Bad Guys are going to win. Sad. 🙁 What happens to make your character think they’re not going to get what they want?

12. Dark Night of the Soul: Your MC has to decide if he’s just going to give in, or if there’s still some fight left in him. Why does your character consider giving up?

13.Break into Three: Another all-important corner. This is where the MC makes his DECISION. And we being our movement forward with purpose. What does the character do to make a last ditch effort to get what they want?

14.Finale: Wrap up the B story, wrap up the A story. What does your main character do to turn things around?

15. Final Image: Usually a mirror image of the opening scene. This shows us how the MC’s life has changed, how the theme played out and how all the questions you posed are answered. What is your character and their world like now that their adventure is over?

Yes these are overly simplistic, but you get the point. Answer these questions, get these “beats” straight in your head and ta da! You now have all the building blocks necessary to get to work on your manuscript.

Next time: how to use the the beat board . . .

What do you think? Have you read Save the Cat? Come join in the discussion!

About the author

Ali Cross is the sensei of the writer’s dojo where she holds a black belt in awesome. She lives in Utah with her kickin’ husband, two sparring sons, one ninja cat, two sumo dogs and four zen turtles.

She’s the author the young adult urban fantasy series Desolation, and a member of the Author’s Incognito Executive Committee.
Blog Facebook Twitter

Write that Novel 3!

Looking for a story idea? Here are a few titles that just might get you started.

  • Courage in the Face of Commas
  • All’s Well That Doesn’t End in Murder
  • It’s All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses Their (His/Her) Life
  • Romancing the Keystone State
  • The Top Ten Things I Really Shouldn’t Have Had for Breakfast
  • Zen and the Art of Golf Ball Fishing
  • Monster Sandwich

So write that novel—but what’s the plot? Share your craziest idea for a book with any of the above titles in the comments!

Photo by Malik M. L. Williams

The basics of plot

Last week at ThrillFest, NYT bestseller William Bernhardt gave eight basics of plot as part of the CraftFest track. And my favorite point might just be his first.

1. Plot is the writer’s choice of events to tell the story of the character’s progression toward the goal or desire.

Sometimes as authors, we can let our characters run off with our story. That’s all well and good until suddenly they’re far afield from what we’d planned and going off in another genre and not even doing that well and stuck in a corner, and none of us knows how to get out. (Been there, done that!)

We, the authors, are in control. We get to choose the events. We get to create the characters. Your characters not doing what you want? Change their motivations. Work harder on getting to what they really want, and then manipulate the story circumstances or character so what they want will get them to do what you want.

This reminds me of a great example from a writing book I know I’ve read (I want to say Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure, but it might be from Donald Maass or Sol Stein). In this example, the author needed the character, a nurse, to go back to check on a patient. Not hard, right? But the nurse was also busy, the patient on the other side of the complex, and a capable staff the nurse trusted was attending to him. So why would she make herself late and give herself the extra work when she knew the patient was in good hands?

I can’t remember the exact solution, but the author found some little detail that would bug the nurse—thinking she’d left something undone, perhaps. The nurse thought about that nagging little detail, watching the clock count down until the moment she could run back and check on it. This transforms the character action from the author jerking the character around to the author guiding the character and molding her into the person who would do exactly what you need her to.

This relates well to Bernhardt’s second point:
2. The plot must be right for the character—and vice versa.

The rest of the points:
3. The plot is composed of a series of conflicts. (See point 8 here.)
4. The protagonist should fail many times before succeeding.
5. The protagonist’s story is only as interesting as the antagonist makes it.
6. Readers like to be surprised.
7. Readers hate coincidence.
8. Conflict can be inner, personal or external.

What do you think? What’s your favorite “plot point”? (LOL)

Photo by Matthew McVickar