Plotting Can Be Murder
Updated: Mar 18, 2019
Don't let plotting kill your creativity, here are a few of my favorite hacks.
It’s night, everything on your to do list for the day is either ta-done or on the save-it-for-later list. Your house is quiet, your screen and keyboard lit. You hold your fingers above the keys and wait, but that magic flow of what to write next doesn’t come. Now what?
What you need is plotting my friend! No matter where you are at in your manuscripts’ composition, if you get stuck, revisit the plot.
At a writer’s conference I attended, they said:
"There are two kinds of writers, 'Plotters' and 'Pants-ers' (aka writing by the seat of your pants).”
- I consider myself a hybrid.
Here’s how I go about plotting:
I write down the premise for the story. I also write down any and all immediate scenes, dialogue, or plot points that I have for it.
Over the next few weeks, months or years I chew on that idea, to decide whether I’m actually committed enough to that story to write it. A lot of my deliberation has to do with working out compelling enough conflicts or sticking points, and determining if the story would actually hold up. Along the way, I keep a computer document and a physical folder scribbled out notes, of every possible plot point, scene or dialogue that comes to me.
Once I have what I need and my inner writer aligns with the telling of that story, I gather all my random scrap paper notes, weird chunks of text or side notes, and I write a list of bullet points in random order. The goal here is to make sure every idea is gathered in one, easily readable place, so I can consider what makes it onto paper.
When that list is complete, I start dragging and dropping all my points into the most logical timeline of events as a temporary, loose template to follow. (Often as I write scenes and points have to be moved around) Then I start writing.
I usually know where my start point, end point and sometimes midpoint are, but how my story will actually get there I just “pants” it. Other times, I only know bits and pieces. When it so happens that my story winds up taking me somewhere I didn’t foresee in plotting, I will make a note in the manuscript to come back and move the things that needed shuffled around to accommodate the new plot, but actually changing what I’ve written doesn’t come till editing.
Emily’s Plotting Method Listed Out:
-Write down the premise for the story
-Write down any and all immediate scenes, dialogue, or plot points
-Give the idea incubation time (if needed)
-Keep a computer document and a physical folder for writen notes, possible plot points, scenes or dialogue
-Gather all paper and electronic notes, chunks of text and side notes
-Write a list of bullet points in random order - make sure every idea is gathered in one, easily readable place
-Pick your stories start point, end point and if possible, midpoint events/scenes
-Drag and drop all bullet points into a rough draft squence of events
-Use list as flexible template to follow
-Try cutting each bullet point into strips and lay them on a drawn story arch graph, to see where you might need more or less material before you even start writing.
-Try drawing an actual timeline of scenes and events
-Using your bullet points, pick anything off the list that calls to you in the moment and write that.
(Putting everything in order and fitting in the scene can come later in editing, but you can’t edit something that’s not written, so write SOMETHING!)
-Once you’re unstuck, use your pullet points or timeline to pick up where you left off
Plotting While Editing
Once I have close to my word count (or in my case usually grossly over), and a closing scene written, I do a second plotting.
In this plotting I write a bullet points for each of the scenes I’ve written with a short tagline on how it supports, or moves my story. At this point I tend to print out my scene’s bullet point list, so I can draw and mark what will stay, go or move.
I also refer to the (below) Story Arc Graph to make sure my story has the proper story structure, beats and flow.
Using the Story Arc Graph to Check Plot:
1. Always plug in the BIG THREE first: Inciting Incident, Midpoint, Climax.
2. Plug in where each of the other scenes written should go.
This will help you see where you are scene heavy or deficient, or if you are missing any story arc beats.
3. Check what pages your “big three” fall on. They should hit pretty similar to their order;
· Within the first 1-15 pages = Catalyst/Inciting Incident
· Half way through, middle of the book = Midpoint Crisis
· Within the last 5-10 pages = Resolve and Wrap-Up
4. Combine or differentiate scenes that accomplish the same things.
Plotting before and after, will free you up so that once you’re creative juices are going, you don’t have to stop and figure out what to write next, or switch into editing mode to fix something.
Look at plotting not as the enemy of creativity, but an ally and extension to it.