Breaking it Down: Plotting

Updated: Apr 30, 2019

Plotting is hard. And let's be honest, it's not for everyone. Plenty of authors are pantsers, and it works for them! First thing to recognize is that it's okay to have your own style of writing, and that what works for me might not work for you.

Until my latest WIP, I never planned out my plot. I have tried, years and years ago, long before I got serious about writing, and I found myself stuck. I would hit the points I plotted and get stuck on those in between scenes, unable to find a suitable segue. A lot of projects got tossed because of that. Since I've started actually finishing my novels, I've let the characters and story take me where it wanted to go. For some people, that works, for me, though, I'm realizing it doesn't. All of my stories were lacking appropriate character development, and my world sometimes felt shallow. So now, I plot.

Before you plot, you need to worldbuild, and decide on at least your main characters. There are different levels of plotting, and different levels work for different people, so let's break it down.

What works for me: basic outlining. Based on my general idea of my story, I did a 25 scene sketch. I let the idea of each scene take me to the next one, making sure I was clear when my main characters were introduced, when the main conflict was introduced, and any other major plot events. The 25 scene sketch gives me a guided path without making me feel like I can't change anything. I check my scene plan as I go, but I also listen to the story. Does the scene transition feel organic? Does it still make sense? Do I need more than one scene here? Is the story taking me in a different direction? I have a general idea of what I'm going to do without feeling like I have to stick with it if I can't.

What works for others: in-depth outlining. You plan everything. Exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. Remember, climax is the peak, but falling action should be short (or non-existent if your climax is also your resolution, something that can happen with cliff-hanger endings). You're outlining not just the chapters, but the content within the chapters. Note the setting, note all of the characters involved, note the goal at the start of the chapter, and whether or not your character achieved it by the end. How did the character (not) achieve their goal by the end? Who/what was involved with helping or hindering your character (if anyone)? Is this developing the plot? Is it establishing a subplot?

And there's always an in between, some combination of the two that you have experimented with that works best for you.

Writing is a journey, a long path that has so many forks. Many of those forks lead to the same destination, but some of them have better scenery.

You might not find your best option right away. Be willing to try out different levels of plotting. You may be pleasantly surprised! I know I was!


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