An important topic that comes up time and again is plotting amongst Book-in-a-week (BIW) writers is plotting. Two plotting books always seem to get recommended and I have given them away as book prizes often:
Besides reading books, one of the best ways writers can learn about writing is by talking with other writers. Last month BIW challenge participants were asked to share their plotting method for BIW challenges or other writing projects as well as any books they go to for plotting direction.
From Karen Smith:
When writing (plotting/storytelling) – I definitely choose to outline, so I know where my story is going. I establish a theme (i.e. mystery-romance or romance-mystery…). I like my stories to begin with my main character in the middle of some sort of problem (the hook). Then I map out how many pages I want my book to be… lets say, 240-pages… never more than 300. I can tell all that is needed in less than… lets say, 500-pages. If you’re a first-timer, don’t do 500 pages! They are too expensive to the publisher. I then divide the number of pages into however many chapters I want. Remember that every chapter has a beginning, middle and an end; keep that in mind and your readers will continue to turn those pages!
From Sue Abell:
My approach is extremely organic. I will either have a dream and a novel idea will develop from the parts of the dream I write down, or sometimes I’ll be in the shower and entire scenes/conversations develop while I’m there. Sometimes my showers can become quite long.
I’ve used the outline approach but it didn’t work for me… well, an actual outline with 1, 2, 3, a, b, c. I start writing ideas for the novel which just start flowing and use it as a beginning. As I get into the novel, more ideas will come and I’ll put them at the end or in the place I’m working — just quick thoughts at first. I often work on one novel for a while until one of the characters from a different novel I’m working on pulls me away. When I return to the 1st novel, I have the “outline” waiting.
That’s just how it works for me.
From M Bonet:
My plotting method is both hodge-podge and… well, somewhat organized.
Basically, I outline the initial plot in either a notebook or Word doc. This plot is then filled in with bits and pieces of dialogue as ideas for either fledged-out or brand-new scenes come to me. Eventually, the outline resembles a bowl of pasta primavera, and not even I am quite sure where each scene goes. At that point, I re-write the outline [with all new scenes/dialogue] on a clean page/new Word doc and start the process over.
Of course, a lot of scenes never quite make it to the finished story. But the outline helps keep me focused on the theme and [planned] ending of the story.
Although I haven’t used it myself [my characters tend to stew in my brain until they’re ready to go and no sooner, no matter how hard I try], my sister recommended the following exercise for character development: Answer the following question about him/her, “What is in your pocket?” The old Hobbit “riddle,” but with the aim of trying to figure out who this character is–even if the content of their pockets never even gets a mention in the finished story.
From Arlene M. Lagos:
I start with brainstorming my who, what, when, where and why then I storyboard the beginning, middle and end in quick sentences. Then I take the Who part and try and develop the personalities, what makes them similar, what makes them different, do they like each-other if so why and if not, why not? Then I try and outline how the story is going to flow with key words and actions. Then I walk away from it for a week or so and let it stew in my brain. Then when I’m ready to write I just write. No punctuation, no quotations, no worries about spelling or wondering if it makes perfect sense at the time. Then I go back later and clean it up, expand the details, put in more information and explanation if its needed at that point in the story. I ask myself, is this the best way to tell this story and I try to think up five other directions to take the story in. I eventually cross those directions off of a list. Every once in a while a new direction won’t allow me to discard it and that is when I know it is the way the story should be written.
From Charlotte West:
There are a couple of resources I discovered that seem to fit me very well. One is the Snowflake software from Randy Ingermanson, and the other is from Jim Butcher’s blog. He tells how to summarize, plot, etc. Before I found these I just free-wrote, and didn’t get much accomplished. The Snowflake method helps you outline and organize, and Jim Butcher teaches more of the mechanics of the writing.
From Carolyn Ann Aish:
Keeping this simple — yet explaining why I do what I do — I am sure others use this method too — and, I keep in mind, simple stories/tales that have been used over and over as movies, such as ‘Cinderella’ – ‘Snow-White’ – and then, Bible characters’ stories such as Joseph – Moses – Esther – (now Esther—a village girl who becomes Queen!).
A. I choose my main protagonist first and write down a suggested title for the book if I can as this helps overall.
B. Next: the VILLAIN – almost all memorable stories / tales have VILLAINS — the more evil, horrible, nasty the villain, and the battle(s) he / she has with the protagonist(s) the more beloved the story becomes. I found it hard to believe that kids would love a book about a witch that wants to eat children! But ‘Bad Jelly the Witch’ has sold millions of copies — AND it was printed from the original hand-written text with hand-drawn pictures!
C. FINALLY – I write down why I am writing this story and what will make it MORE than just a story…
1. Write down the beginning with a GREAT HOOK! Important – the hook(s) in the first sentence are crucial (most of mine are too ordinary and I’m working on improving that)!
2. THE MIDDLE – write down the essence, the main plots of your story, in about 3 – 5 points.
3. THE CONCLUSION – THE END OF THE BOOK – a satisfactory end… and if a series, it must make the readers hungry for MORE…
Feel free to share your plotting method in the comments.