The cursor blinks–endless, relentless. That blank page stares at you, taunting, haunting.
Head in hands, we sit there, begging our brains to work. But nothing… nothing. N.O.T.H.I.N.G. (or so I’m told). There are a million solutions out there for the malady. Authors write long books about how to turn a nebulous idea into a solid story–how to plot your novel. But…
Note: Links in this post are affiliate links and will provide me with a small commission at no extra expense to you.
In this post:
- An overview of styles to plot your novel
- My journey from pantser to plotter to plotster
- Super Easy Way to Plot Your Novel on the Run
There are three main ways to plot your novel:
You’ve got the plotters, the pantsers, and what I call the plotsters. (Because I think pantters just sounds WRONG).
Plotters: These are the Type A, OCD, and all those other impressive letters (maybe the PhD.s of the writing world!). They plan everything from their plan to find a title for the book to planning when to write down that title, and when to plan the name of that character. Note: they plan for when they’ll plan that. Then they actually plan the name. But these guys are on it.
Yes, they can tell you how to plan a story in precise detail!
I’ll be honest. I didn’t think I was a plotter back in the day. I was what you’d call a…
See, my book writing process usually looked something like this.
- Get book idea.
- Open a new Word document. (You can see how effective THAT was HERE.)
- Find a title I can live with.
- Write the first paragraph/chapter/half of the book.
- Put it aside.
- Work on whatever I was working on when I got the idea.
- Come back and finish.
This is known as “pantsing” a book. Just flying by the seat of your pants, letting the story take you where it will, and being along for the ride. I used to say that I felt more like a transcriptionist for the stories rather than a writer.
Then my editor begged me to read a book.
This book, Outlining Your Novel, is really a FABULOUS book. Not only is the author, K.M. Weiland, a cool beans gal, but she’s really written a great resource for authors to dig every morsel from their story idea and make it the best they can.
She has a TON of questions in this book, and in my quest to see just how hard this whole outlining thing was, I added every single one of them to a spreadsheet.
This is NOT a super easy way to plot your novel–on the run or otherwise.
Then I started filling that in. With a book I’d just barely gotten an idea for. She said, “Plot your novel,” so I did!
That’s when I found out that I’m a liar.
I answered every single question in that book without hesitation. No, really. I knew every last one. It was like I was Anne Shirley in yet another way. It was all “filed away in my imagination.”
Not me. From what her secret about herself was to the name of the family pet I didn’t even realize she had, bam! They filled that form so fast it wasn’t funny.
So, I really tried to plot out everything I did on that Excel spreadsheet. Ya know what? I got tired of it. So Katie kindly created a workbook. I blogged about my workbook process HERE. Yes, I really do buy her books by the case. And yes, I really do use a LOT of them. Not every book gets outlined that way, and that’s because some just flow organically.
Also, if you go over to Katie’s website, you’ll find all kinds of cool stuff about outlining and planning including a novel outline example from one of her books! Look, those books are like a novel planning template!
Now there’s some great novel planning software out there (I’m beta testing some cool stuff that I hope the developer announces soon. Can’t wait to share it with you!)
Yep. I’m a plot-ster.
What’s that? I’ll tell you.
Plotsters: These are authors who do varying degrees of plotting before letting the book take them on an adventure once they get going.
They know where the book begins and ends. And they know where they’ll stop for the night on the road to that climax, but they might toss their map aside and take a back road they discover along the way.
I both outline and “fly by the seat of my pants.” I think most authors fit here to some extent. I don’t think very many people plot out every single scene in such detail that all they’re doing by the time they get started is giving life to those outlined bullet points/beat sheets.
At some point, a new idea hits because of where things went, and bam! They’re off on another track. And that’s okay! Getting derailed may not be a good thing for a book, but getting routed to a more exciting destination? ALWAYS a good plan.
But… while some of my books are more highly plotted than others, some have a tighter outline and others rather loosely planned, one thing happens with every one of those books now. I call it my “super easy way to plot your novel on the run.”
I talk to myself.
Yep. Every one of my books starts out this way now. I get in the car to take a trip to my ACFW meeting in Orange County (3-hour drive), or to go to the airport for a trip (3-4-hour drive depending on which airport), and I talk.
I talk about what I want my character to be like, or I crack up over the silly scenes I create.
Not everything I come up with happens just the way I plan it on these things. But talking them out aloud really gives my brain a workout. Things start percolating. And once they do, look out!
In fact, while I was working on the second Madeline, I actually couldn’t get the scene just right. I got in my car, drove the 1.5 minutes home, and by the time I got there it was all worked out.
Just call me Pavlov’s pup.
Some have asked what I use to record myself. Well, I started out with an Olympus Voice Recorder. Then my kids borrowed it for school, so I used the voice recorder app on my tablet.
That worked GREAT until some update quit working with Google Maps. So there I’d be, trying to figure out how to get from Birmingham to Knoxville by way of Acworth and bam! The minute that obnoxious voice came on to inform me that I’d missed the offramp, it would shut off the voice recorder app
Yeah. Not. Funny.
So I went back to my physical voice recorder. The kids can suffer. Or use their phones. Or both. I’m good with anything, but I need that recorder. And life became grand again.
I learned how to (forgive the TMI, folks) tuck that little thing under my bra strap on my shoulder and I fly down that highway just lost in an imaginary world while trying not to be killed by crazies on four wheels in this one (world, that is)!
Yep. I do.
In fact, I thought I’d share few minutes from the EIGHT Madeline book 2 audio files I found. You’ll find this near the opening of the book, but it isn’t exactly as I wrote it. I made a few changes. There really aren’t any spoilers in this, but there’s one tiny thing that some might consider a spoiler. But I think I put it in the synopsis or a blog post or something somewhere.
So… here goes:
Yep… taunting, haunting… relentless and endless, the cursor blinks… right up to the moment I get back from grabbing a glass of water or a frosty Coke. And then I torment that cursor. Yep. I pound out word after word after word. One chapter becomes two. Three thousand words become thirty thousand–fifty. A hundred. Yes, a hundred thousand. Because that’s How I write.
This week’s challenge was “Plot Away: my writing process.”
Well, there you have it. That’s my “super easy way to plot your novel on the run:
Me, a voice recorder, and the open road. Then if it’s going to be complex or I ‘m not confident, I pull out K. M. Weiland’s books, and I play psychologist as I dig out the nuggets those characters don’t want to divulge. Yes, yes I do.