Tuesday, January 04, 2011


Plotting Yields
A Good Map
Plotting versus Pantzer (writing by the seat of your pants) is an ongoing controversy. I believe I’m a combination, a Plotzer. A firm plot outline is like a road map: it’s a great guide that speeds you on your way with no misdirection. Like any road trip, however, the author can choose to take an occasional sidetrip, hence the Plotzer designation.
 Before I learned about plotting, I had trouble with my work having a sagging middle or the final work turning out too short. Fortunately, I was able to attend an all-day “Story Magic” workshop by Laura Baker and Robin Perini. If you ever have this opportunity, please do yourself a BIG favor and attend. I’m sure the people around me that day saw a light bulb switch on.

What a great concept--at least for me. A few in the workshop were not as impressed as I was, much to my surprise. My friend and plotting partner, Sandra Crowley, was one of those like me who thought “Story Magic” a terrific concept. Believe me, this does not stifle creativity; instead, plotting stimulates your brain.

The “Story Magic” process is copyrighted by Laura and Robin so I can’t divulge their secrets. I can share with you that the plotting board is greater, in my opinion, than sliced bread! One of the great things about it is that when you’re finished plotting, you have a detailed outline from which to write and fashion your synopsis. For me, this outline speeds up the writing process and allows me to finish more books in a given time, plus it helps me write a better book. Not a bad deal all around, right? 

Divided Plotting Board
To create your plotting board, trek to your office supply and buy a folding “science board” that costs around ten dollars. Or, you can use a sheet of poster board that is less than half a dollar. For a novel that will be 85,000 to 100,000 words long, divide the board into four rows and then divide each row into five sections. I’m not that great at math, but this should produce twenty spaces. Let’s say that each of the spaces represents a twenty-page chapter. In the first space, write “Inciting incident.” At the end of the first row, mark in “First turning point,” and at the end of the second row, “Second turning point,” and at the end of the third row, “Third Turning Point.” At the end of the bottom row, write “Resolution.” Back up to the third from last space and write “Black Moment.” These turning points and the black moment are general guides and you may need to shift them a chapter or so. If you want a short novel, say a category romance, simply leave off one row. Now, drag out all your colored sticky notes. Come on, you know you use them. I choose pink for the heroine, blue for the hero, yellow for secondary characters, and other colors for plot points, and romance points.

Sandra Crowley
 Having at least one more person to brainstorm with you while you do this is helpful. When Sandy isn’t in the area, I can email her or talk to her on the phone. Face-to-face is best, but Sandy has moved to Colorado and is only back in Texas once or twice a year. We make good use of the time she is able to visit me, though. This year we plotted several books for me to work on during 2011. At times, other author friends like Ashley Kath-Bilsky, Bobbye Terry, Geri Foster, and Jeanmarie Hamilton help me with plot questions, and so do my sweet Hero Husband and my Darling Daughters.

Start with the inciting incident. This is the second that life changes for the hero and/or heroine and launches the book’s quest. You can jot down bits of dialogue on the sticky note, stage directions, scene's purpose, turning points, and anything you choose to help you remember an idea. Using a different color sticky for each person is important. Here’s why: When you are finished, you can look at the plotting board and see if there are holes in your plot. For instance, what if there are no blue sticky notes for several squares? What if there’s a plot turning point, but not a romantic turning point? One glance at the board lets you know if the plot has problems. Once you spot a problem, you can fix it and not have to spend time writing only to delete a scene or two.

Plotting Board Almost Completed
When you are finally satisfied with the sticky notes on the plotting board, simply gather them IN ORDER. Secure them together and you have your entire book’s plot in your fingertips. Easy, peasy, right? Don't panic, it takes practice. If you have a question, email me and I’ll do my best to answer your question.

Please return on Friday for my Friday Friends blog with historical and paranormal author and editor, Paty Jager.

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1 comment:

Bobbye Terry said...


I've read your books, so I know this method must work for you. I believe a lot of authors would benefit from it, and though you are a veteran writer, I believe this would work very well for new writers too. Then, in particular, writers often lose interest about ten to twenty thousand words in, primarily because they can't figure out where to go next or how to keep the pace moving.

All that being said, I am a true pantser (or pantzer as some write it). As long as I know my inciting incident, all my major plot points, including darkest moment and ending, I can fill in the rest instictintively. Sometimes I sit back and wonder who wrote that, but I believe some writers, after writing for a long time, develop my knack. My two cents...

Bobbye Terry aka Daryn Cross