Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Whew! Love the energy generated by our Secret Agent contests. Don't you? Hooray for everyone who entered and everyone who critted.

I've already got the winner list. Do you hate me?


Well, I'm in Plot Hell. I've mentioned before that, for me, writing is the easy part. And editing? Absolute bliss. Editing is the MAGIC that breathes real life into a story. But this plotting thing makes my brain ache. Or at least my eyes. I tend to stare a lot when I'm plotting. And my contacts hate that.

I broke down yesterday and wore glasses. You know I'm desperate when I do that.

Glasses definitely don't go with my red hat.

Anyway, since my YA is in queryland, I'm busy plotting the next book. Because I'm determined to not write myself into corners like I did with my get-it-done-before-vacation first draft. Sure, I wrote myself back out again. But I'd like to avoid the mess altogether this time.

So. Here's where you come in! HOW DO YOU PLOT? What's your tried-and-true method for getting that basic plotline down, even if it changes later? How much time do you spend JUST THINKING? (Or perhaps staring.) And where do you think best? The shower? The car? In bed? On horseback? In a dark cellar?

Share! This cross-eyed, plot challenged author wants to know.


  1. I just kick things around in my head until I have a reasonable idea of what's going to happen. That can take quite a while. I do most of that thinking in bed before I fall asleep.

  2. I'm struggling with this right now, too. For me, plot points can drop into my head at any time, but never when I'm sitting in front of the computer. Bit by bit, over time, I eventually get there.

    If there's a tried-and-true method, I'd like to know it, too.

    I have to say, this was the fastest SA yet. I really enjoyed reading the entries and all the comments.

  3. Yellow index cards. Write all the plot points (or ideas, or storylines, or subplots, etc...) on each card. Shuffle them around, try them out in a different order, etc. Yellow is a little easier on the eyes, too! I always find it's helpful to have something I can put my hands on, rather than just have all that junk clinking around in my brain. Good luck with the plotting! And no fair that you already know the winners! ;)

  4. I agree with Ant. I ALWAYS start with index cards (although mine are white!) After I'm happy with the order, I get out a REALLY BIG piece of paper and draw the arcs for each plot and layer. When that is done, I put them into an outline.

  5. For some reason, the combination of music + showering is inspiring for me. I think of the best stuff in there! My cousin has told me that going on a long walk helps her. I think the key is keeping your body doing something active but easy, allowing your mind to wander freely.

  6. I use Blake Synder's Save The Cat beats for screenplays. Nothing says tight plotting like a 110 minute movie.

    Best thinking time: Car, bathtub, bed. I can't move my body and think at the same time.

    Good luck with the plotting!

  7. I always start with a very general outline–I mention the bigger plot point and make sure I have my climax in there, but that is it.

    Then I let it stew for awhile.

    Later, I go back and fill in all the details in what turns out to be a pretty detailed (read: long) outline.

  8. When the idea hits me, I'm consumed with thoughts for a couple of days. I ask: what will happen? What will make this exciting? Will there be a twist?

    Then I create the chapters, where the title is a keyword to help me remember what happens. Then I fill in the chapters with a short paragraph about what will happen.

    And bam! I have a plot and a synopsis.

  9. I plot best on long car rides. This is v. unfortunate because I tend to be the one driving. The handy thing about this is that my iPhone has a voice memo thing, so I can record anything that comes to mind about plot points, etc., and go back later. Before the iPhone had this, I used to keep a pen and pad in the passenger seat and scribble with one hand. The notes were 75% illegible, but it worked out okay.

    I also get a lot about plot from laying in bed with a blanket over my head. No idea why that works, but whenever I need to jump-start a scene, I crawl into bed, pull a blanket up, and just lay there until an idea comes to me. My roommates used to think I was crazy. Especially when I'd sit up five minutes later and get out of bed. "I thought you were sleeping," they'd say. "No," I'd reply. "Just plotting."

    I think they thought I was plotting their demise or something.

  10. Running does it for me--and music. Good luck!

  11. I never get my best plot ideas when I'm sitting in front of my computer. Instead, they usually come when I'm walking or jogging with my dog, or when I'm brainstorming with my husband (who's nearly as devoted to my novel as I am). Then I have to rush to my laptop and type everything out so I don't forget it! Later I go back and try to organize what I've come up with. I use Scrivener so I work with the corkboard tool, which is great.

    But. I'm actually terrible with plot. Everything I mentioned above happens after I've gone through 2 or 3 drafts of the novel, nearly given up, occasionally changed narrators or genres, etc. I usually have to write somewhere around 150,000 words before I even know what story I'm trying to tell. I'd like to leave this habit behind, but it hasn't happened yet.

  12. I stare a lot. And think in the shower. I'm convinced Edison came up with the idea that worked while thinking about it in the shower. (Wait, did they even have indoor plumbing back then? And it WAS Edison who invented the light bulb...right? :) )

    Anyway, congratulations on your return to Queryland, the (un)happiest place on earth. Good luck!

  13. ::completely jealous of Lauren and her Mac only Scrivener::

  14. Wow! These are great ideas! I get my best ideas when walking, or napping. Then, is the ideas stick with me, and I stew over them for days/weeks, I know I'm on the right track. I love the index card idea. I'm really trying to get more organized. I've used Writing the Breakout Novel (Donald Maass workbook to make sure I'm covering all the things I need to cover, and it is really helpful).
    When are the winners announced??

  15. Funny you should ask this.

    Last Friday night we had taco casserole for dinner and anything highly spiced or strongly flavored gives me vivid dreams. I woke with one scene in my head, of a sad, wounded man being looked after by a woman.
    By the time I got out of the shower I had my setting and time period (9th century Cumbria) and I spent the best part of Saturday morning doing research about Vikings.
    I had key scenes in my head by the time I'd finished the initial research.
    It's now Friday and I'm 10k words into a shiny new Viking WIP.
    So: dreams, showers, research usually lead me to a plot.

  16. Usually I get the a scene for a new book when daydreaming to music, or working on a car.
    I try to get it on paper as quick as possible. Then I write notes. "Who are these people?" "What happens to them that makes this worthy of a story?"
    I do a bit of research and that ALWAYS fills in some gaps, then I have a rough outline that constantly changes as the writing progresses. After all, outlines are there to have something to deviate from =)
    Whoah! You're querying finally! Keep us posted and good luck!

  17. Horseback in not the place to do it as riding requires my full concentration-- but the drive to and from the riding club, an hour in each direction, is great for plotting.

    So is walking to and from work. I walk 40 minutes each way along a major international waterway. Very beautiful and lots to look at. Before I start out I think of a scene or an arc to work out and I dedicate the time just to that.

    If I get stuck at a point, like a knot in a piece of yarn and I think and think about it and nothing comes of it, then I consider that that's the wrong path and then try something else. It always feels wrong to change course, but it can bring freshness.

  18. Amen sister,

    I loathe to plot. I'd take some glasses, as long as they are magic glasses that like, make the plot appear on the screen : )

  19. Authoress, have you ever looked at Karen Docter's W method of plotting? (Her website is at I took one of her very affordable online workshops not too long ago and decided the W is both helpful and fun. Because it helps writers get down the "bones" of a story without sending their Muses into into an apoplectic fit, the W works for both plotters and pantsers (and is especially helpful for those of us who pants our way into a corner only to have to back up and plot our way out). The method also dovetails nicely with a variety of writing philosophies/methodologies and is a boon to visual thinkers (IMHO, anyway).

  20. watch out for white dodge pickups because driving down the long highway is my best route to forming a plot, solving plot conundrums, and conflicts.

    Somehow I manage to drive, stay on the road, and fight dragons.

    All at the same time.
    And no tickets...yet.

  21. Funny you should say that, because I looooove plotting. The intrigue of the blank canvas, you know. What I do when I'm starting a new plot is I open a blank Notepad file and write down every cotton-pickin' little thing that comes to mind about the characters, their situation, backstory, scenes, and whatnot. Then I brainstorm more scenes. And more scenes. Then I put them in a temporary order, which usually changes about ten times by the time I'm done writing. Then I brainstorm more scenes.

  22. I just puke crap on the page, making things up as I go along. Sometimes the characters take me for a ride and make a U'y right out from under me.
    I know the beginning, a couple of points in the middle and the ending--THAT is the extent of my plotting. If I get stuck, I take a shower or walk.

  23. I've always had a hard time plotting and nothing seemed to work for me. Then I came across Helene Boudreau's web site.

    On her October 15, 2009 post, she wrote about writing a synopsis in nine easy steps. She said she uses the same formula to plot het novels. I tried it and it worked for me. For the first time in a gazillion years I was able to plot a novel. And it was in 9 easy steps, just like she said. So you may want to give that a try.

    Helene the October 15, 2009 post -Synopsis Writing in 9 easy steps.

  24. Shower. That's why my next one will have large light colored tiles and a grease pen. An underwater keyboard pullout and embedded monitor?

    I don't outline. I don't do the organized, step-by-step approach. I find my iterative writing process is used by a minority of writers.

  25. In the car on the way home from work. On the drive I see trees, deer, Sugar creek, and the occasional run down trailer home. It takes me about thirty minutes and I never tire of it. My best ideas have come from the drive. The problem, I can't write while I'm driving and it doesn't work if someone drives :-).

    Plots have come to you, they cannot be forced. Sketch out an idea then daydream or throw it around at a crit group, they can always point out holes and give ideas.

  26. Two plotting tools I've found helpful, taught in online workshops:
    The Conflict Grid by Lyn Cote
    Kara Lennox's Plot Doctor.

    Good ways to see if the dots are connecting and why or why not.

    I'm sort of in the Jennifer Crusie style: staring out the window for several months, then typing like heck. Not efficient at all. But then, didn't Michelangelo say he sculpted the David by getting the marble block and then taking away everything that wasn't the David. It's just not easy! Good luck to all!

  27. Mostly, I plan my plots when I go for my daily bushwalk near where I live. I walk along the dirt road, down to the riverbank and sit on a log on the jetty. It’s so quiet and calm there, all you hear is seabirds and the odd motor boat. It’s easy for me to plot this way because I’ve set my series here in this beautiful village. I pretend I’m a child and wonder what I would be doing if I was. Most of my ideas for stories come when I’m walking or when I’m in the car on my own. I talk to my characters and ask them questions. My MC always answers, you can’t shut Molly up.

    Once I have the story idea, I try to imagine what would actually happen to a kid and what they would do in that given situation. Then as soon as I start writing, the plots just flows, taking a few twists and turns along the way. I never know where it will lead until the end, so I get entertained too.

    Listening to great music works me too. Last night I watched the movie, Ghost, and the beautiful music gave me an idea for a plot for a Y/A novel I'm working on.

  28. I love to plot with Authoress.

  29. I tend to have a general idea of where my story is going and I write a short outline as I go. The chapter name and a few sentences of what is happening. I end up cutting and shuffling the chapters many times in many revisions. The outline helps me keep it straight.

    Janice Hardy had two great posts this week on using the three act structure for plotting a story. The link is James Scott Bell in Plot & Structure always talks about this way to plot. I try to use this in plotting my stories. When I am having a problem with plot, I tend to think about it while I am going through the day and at some point seem to figure it out.

  30. I've just been reading about scene charts. I'll be using them from now on. What a great way to speed up your writing progress.

  31. Is that because you're writing a love story, Mr. A? :)

  32. I plot mostly when I should be sleeping. Ideas roll around more freely at night. I usually see the final scene first, then the first scene. That's pretty much it and then I start writing :)

  33. I usually come up with one or two lines of dialogue and build the rest of the scene around what would make the characters say those words.

    Then I talk to myself...a lot! It helps if I am moving, so I talk while I am folding laundry, doing dishes, etc. (Only when I am the only one home!)

    Like others have mentioned, I also plot in the car. The invention of cell phones have made my self talk less embarrassing. Before if anyone saw me rambling away to myself while driving, I tried to play it off as if I was singing. Now they just assume I am on a blue tooth!

  34. Take this with a grain of salt. I'm extremely unpublished and my entire fiction output (not counting resumes, etc :) consists of a prologue and 3 chapters of an aspiring YA novel.

    But I have a pretty good idea where the rest of the novel is going.

    How did I get to a plot?

    I did something that is probably not recommended at all. I started with a theme. I started with something that had been burning inside me to get out and communicate to the world. Finally I thought, this should be a YA novel.

    My first choice, rather than becoming a writer, would have been to be young and musically talented. Then I would have started a kick-butt rock band called Dandelion Lawn. Since none of that is happening for me, I thought I'd put it into a novel. A writer is a faint echo of God - a creator just as He is The Creator. I could create my dream band and bring it to life on the printed page.

    Originally I thought of a male protagonist. But a teenage guy naming a band Dandelion Lawn isn't very plausible, even to me. So my protagonist became a young girl.

    In order to get *her* to believe in Dandelion Lawn as a plausible band name, I had to invent her eccentric Uncle Bill, who shows up at her middle school graduation party with a dandelion bouquet and gives her a cryptic speech about the symbolism of dandelions as a lesson for life. (Something I did in real life, with a young friend, except it was her high school graduation). Since I now had a graduation party scene, I thought I might as well get a bass guitar into her hands, so her dad gives her one.

    Since my theme has a lot to do with the kind of people who thiink they're better than others, I invented an exclusive private prep school which my girl would normally never have darkened the door of. But her parents persuade her to try for a scholarship, and somewhat to her own surprise she is accepted.

    Well, I don't want to give you a blow-by blow of the entire plot. But a lot of the process has had to do with deciding certain things that *must* happpen in a certain way to illustrate the theme. Then, treating those as constraints, I fill out what else has to happen to make those key elements believable, necessary, and hopefully entertaining.

    In the middle of all that, I sometimes see other things that would enrich the story. I already had figured out that her friend Jimmy's mother should die of cancer. But then I realized that this works much better if she loses her big brother, serving in Iraq, at about the same time. So now I have to give her that brother and put him in Iraq.

    For me a lot of plot is just thinking about what has to happen in order to make the story do certain things I've already decided on. Part of the reason for this is undoubtedly because my background as a reader has been almost entirely old-school science fiction. And that school of SF is almost emntirely about starting with assumptions and rigorously extrapolating consequences.

    So at this point, I know ehere the story starts, I know how I want it to end, and I've got certain stuff I want my girl to learn along the way. And I just keep dreaming up more incidents that fit into that framework. (like when her pastor ticks her off and she writes and performs a "Christian punk" piece called "Blessed are the Hypocrites" that gets her kicked out of the contemporary worship band.)

    So, I guess this isn't really a "method" of plotting. But it kind of expresses how it feels when it's happening.

    For what it's worth,


  35. Such great ideas! And, as one frequently written into a corner, useful. All I have to add is a way to solve plot roadblocks. I find if I think about the problem last thing before bed I often wake up with the solution. Not exactly dream it--just set my unconscious working through the night.--Hart

  36. I, ah, don't plot really until the book is completely finished. And then I do half-assed two-line chapter aims of what needs to be accomplished because I can generally keep the plot in my head.

    Yeah, I'm not very helpful with plotting questions.

  37. In my dystopian (agented but not yet shopped), I wrote a standalone first book but wove in the subtle things to expand into a sequel. When the agent asked for synopses for the next two, it was pretty easy to use those same threads. They were already there.

  38. I loved reading the comments. Everyone has their own sprecial way of getting that story to fall into line. But my technique is sure to elicit sounds of pain and despair:

    I plot best by writing my synopsis.

    A nice, tight, one-page single space synopsis, in fact. As long as I have point A and point Z, I can just brainstorm my way through the remainder of the alphabet.

    This technique makes sure I end up with a manageable story line, a cohesive *story*, and a follow-able plot. It also leaves enough room for unexpected twists and turns inside the story.

    Plus, it takes the sting out of writing the synopsis later, thereby reducing future sounds of pain and despair.