Wednesday, September 29, 2010

From Pantser to Plotter?

I wouldn't go that far. Despite my increasing penchant for planning, I can't deny my natural bent toward organic writing.

Still, I've been letting you in on my authorly journey for some time now, so I thought I'd share some visuals so you can see just how PLOTTERISH I'm looking these days.

I am in the midst of a fairly large revision. While staring at 30 chapters, extensive notes, and a blinking cursor, I decided the best course of action would be to break the chapters into their individual scenes. It took me a whole afternoon at the vineyard, and it was SO. BORING. I don't do well with tedium or anything remotely repetitive, you see.

But I persevered. And ended up with 144 lavender notecards, as such:

Yes, that's a Scrivener screen shot. It's too tiny to read the words, which are mostly cut off because of the size of the cards, anyway. But a simple click on each card reveals the bullet items I included on each to let me know exactly what's in the scene. Part of Scrivener's coolness is that you can drag the cards around. So changing the location of a particular scene is easy.

As I finish each chapter, I color-code the corresponding scene cards. That way, I can see the chapter breakdown at a glance. If I decide at some point to move a scene from one chapter to another, all I have to do is drag it and change its color.

At any rate, I've completed nine chapters so far. So my bulletin board now looks like this:

Isn't that pretty? The uber-dork in me gets all excited each time I get to choose a new chapter color. And the anal retentive administrative assistant in me (yes yes, I used to BE one) is all excited by the high level of organization here.

So there you have it. Breaking the novel into its smallest components has been HUGELY successful so far. Those of you who already use the write-in-scenes approach may be rolling your eyes at my slowness. No matter. I'm absolutely giddy over this.

Mind you, this is a completed novel. I haven't tried my hand at scene-plotting a new story. My brain doesn't work that way! But my love affair with colored notecards is flourishing, and I heartily recommend it to any of you who are feeling overwhelmed with a large, looming revision. Each completed scene feels like a wonderful accomplishment -- even if it's only 280 words long. And you all know how important those little psychological boosts are.

Happy plotting, happy scening, happy editing, happy revising, happy WRITING to you!


  1. I am in awe of the colorfulness and organization of your method. I might just borrow it for my own use. Thanks for sharing. :)

  2. I love, love, love Scrivener for this reason, and many others. And for all you folks out there who haven't come over to the light of Macintoshville, Scrivener is going to have a version for the PC soon.

  3. Nicely done. I also have the same sort of scene break-up in mind for when I'm revising, but there's no way I'm setting up an outline at this stage.

    There's just too much that can change.

    Hope that the rest of your editing goes well.


  4. I have a Mac and my blog Sister LOVES her Scrivener. After seeing your pretty colored note cards, I think I'm sold. :)

  5. Wow. This makes my head hurt! But as someone who is facing a new edit of my work, I'm intrigued. Thank you for the info.

  6. I just started using Scrivener for a new project and I'm excited about its potential to change my writing habits. Like the Authoress I'm a writer, not a planner... but I'm trying to use notecards to do a little advance plotting before I dive in headfirst. Great to see that's working for you.

    Thanks as always for sharing your process!

  7. I've TRIED note cards many times, but my organization style just doesn't work that way.
    Instead I have a notebook full of scribbled notes and Highlighted self-snark within the text of my projects.

  8. Oh, pretty colors!! :-) I am also a pantser...plotting has never really worked for me because once I get writing, the characters usually bash me over the head as I write and say, "No, it happened this way."

    But for a finished product, I can see how this Scrivner would be a great tool. Thanks for showing us.

  9. I'm more of a pantser than a plotter, but . . . I've recently begun titling my chapters and printing off a Table of Contents once I'm done with the rough draft.

    I then, pretty much, have a map of my novel and can break that map down into certain points: introduction of characters, exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, the end, etc. This has come in quite handy.

    Now, Scrivener is supposed to be available for Windows in early 2011. I'll have to check it out then since I don't own a Mac. : )

    Thanks for sharing your process. I love it when writers do that.


  10. Authoress, I've gone through EXACTLY this process with my WIP - only I don't have Scrivener (in fact, had never heard of it when I did it) so I created cute wee text boxes all over my page. And, yep, I got all hot under the colour when I started colour coding, too. I even took my pantsing in hand and boxed my brainstormed UNWRITTEN scenes (ooh's from the crowd) - and I only allow myself to colour code once a chapter is finished. Sounds stupid, but it's a great motivator for me. :)

  11. ...This is the best idea I've ever heard. I have to go do this. NOW.

  12. This is so cool. I can't wait until Scrivener is out for Windows.

  13. My administrator brain is loving this. I also can't wait to see it come out in Windows!

  14. Awesome! Makes me want Scrivener! Good luck with your rewrite.

  15. Ugh, I so need a Mac!! I've been using Page Four which is great for organizing chapters and things but it doesn't have a virtual cork board... ;)

    But, setting envy aside, I'm very, very pleased for you and proud of you. Way to go Almost Plotster!

  16. Thank you thank you thank you for writing this post about Scrivener. I am just about to embark on my next novel, and I've been tweeting about how I'm going to plan this one, after not being a planner for years, and then this lovely post comes along, telling me about a wonderful tool I can use to make outlining easier. Thanks again - love your blog and contests, and all of it.

  17. I, too, love Scrivener.

    For those of you who have Macs, a friend of mine found a free version of Scrivener. It's the lesser developed version, but after looking at what my friend can do with it, I almost want the older version.

    Also, depending on which version you have, you can even change the view from corkboard (with all those wonderfully colored notecards) to outline view. I love the notecards, but sometimes I want to see more than just a few words of what's on the notecard. Outline view lets me see more words, and I think it even keeps the color.

    Last year I got Scrivener for $20 through a discount for completing NaNoWriMo. I wonder if they'll offer it again this year.

  18. Ah! I think I had a little heart attack when I saw those pictures.


    I wonder if I'll ever be a I don't. I get the chills and pressured breathing just thinking about it. I'd much rather have the rush of a blank page with no idea where it's going to lead me. . . . **smile**