Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Yoga Plotting

Yoga Plotting? Okay, it's not the greatest title. No, you're not going to break into the Lotus position while thinking up character names, nor will you do Downward Facing Dog to come up with the black moment (although these positions might help!). Yoga Plotting refers to maintaining a flexible attitude as you prepare to write the first draft of your next manuscript.

Stop pansters! Don't run away! The word "plot" doesn't have to terrify. I'm urging both plotters and pansters to consider trying on different pre-writing methods.

I'm a plotter. Can't help it--I was born that way. I'm analytical. I adore charts. Maps excite me. That's kind of creepy isn't it?

Do you know how many ways there are to plot a novel? Countless! Every writer I know has a slightly different method. Some don't plot; they sit down and start writing, and they have no desire to ruin the story by doing any preliminary work. Some do a small amount of plotting; they may know who the main characters are, the setting, and a brief idea of where the story is headed. Others do major plotting; they know every character, every plot twist, and every scene.
I plotted my first three books minimally and filled in the blanks as I wrote, but I struggled through the middles of each of these books. Last summer, I decided to play around with different plotting methods to find the one that would enable me to write the best book possible. After four more books, I found the hybrid plotting method that fits me perfectly.

My only complaint about trying on different plotting methods is that not every one works. Oh, the method works for someone--just not me. I tried the writing every scene on an index card method and let's just say I won't be using it again. Ever. However, I know other writers who adore writing every scene on an index card and poking each card on a giant corkboard.

A few things to ask yourself:

1. Are there sections of a novel that I slow down and struggle with?

2. Do I have a bad habit of not tying up loose ends because I've forgotten what they are?

3. Am I aware of my use of POV? (If it's written in more than one POV, what's the ratio of the scenes written in the various POV's? Is one hogging the spotlight?)

4. Do I forget names of secondary characters, physical attributes of main characters, or other minor details and waste time searching for the data midway through the project?

5. Do I know the main characters' goals, motivations, and conflicts? Are they the focus of the book?

If you have trouble with any of the above, consider trying on different plotting methods. It can be as minor as keeping a log of information as you write your first draft. This sheet could be your master reference so you can easily find the name of the schoolteacher you introduced in chapter two.

If you struggle through portions of your first draft, consider coming up with a more detailed outline. Better yet, determine the major scenes beforehand and spend a little time thinking up intermediate scenes. You can also assign whose point of view the scene should be written in.
Write down subplots as you introduce them. When you're ready to revise, check off the loose ends that have been tied up.

Whether you're a panster or a plotter, I highly recommend keeping a written record of your main characters' goals, motivations, and conflicts. This information will keep your book heading in the right direction.

My current method of plotting is highly detailed. I keep a spreadsheet as a one-stop information station. The spreadsheet contains several pages to keep me on track. I do detailed character charts, GMC's, a brief outline, a one-page synopsis, a four-page synopsis, and a scene chart. The scene chart has been the biggest time saver for me. I'm able to write faster because I've listed each scene, whose POV it will be in, what chapter it will take place in, along with the scene question, scene goal, the characters, time and setting. That's a ton of info to squeeze into one line but it works.

If you're interested in trying different plotting techniques, get a few books out of the library, read author blogs, and check out writing websites--they all give advice on different methods. Try the one that appeals to you most and, while you're doing it, ask yourself if it's working for you. What do you like about it? What don't you like about it? Is there something you can keep from one method but merge with a different technique? Don't be afraid to come up with your own unique plotting method. The goal is to make your writing life easier!

How do you approach a new manuscript? Do you need oodles of details or do you prefer to wing it? Are you willing to tweak your current method? Or do you feel your method is perfect? I'd love to hear from you!

Join me on Friday when we'll discuss what we can do right now to avoid distractions. Let's close in on our goals!


Write Already! It's Wednesday!


  1. Goodmorning Jill,

    The more I get to know you, the more alike I realize we are! I think we plot very similiarly. I have a spreadsheet outlined in my notebook for an overview of each chapter. Then I when I start writing, I outline each chapter scene by scene. With each scene I outline the same things: Setting, POV, sensory details, goals, conflict, hook, etc.

    I also have a four page questionnaire that I fill out for each of my main characters and a one page questionnaire for minor characters. I keep them all with me and refer back to them to remind myself of the unique things I'm hoping to bring out.

    With each book I write, I keep learning what works for plotting and what doesn't. Maybe someday I'll have it down perfect!

  2. Oh my goodness, I guess I have been a panster until this WIP. I actually wote out some notes before I started and have noticed how much more quickly the writing is going. But I didn't plot it all out and I am getting stuck in the middle like I have other books. So I'm thinking I need to sit down and write out the rest of the plot before I forge ahead.Saves time! Thanks for a great post!

  3. Good morning to you too Jody!

    We are alike! I enjoy the pre-writing process. The thought of starting a new book without detailed notes to keep me on track terrifies me. Shuddering right now...

    I'm not sure there is a perfect plotting method--just a perfect-for-right-now one. I love my current system, but who knows how I'll feel in a few years? It's always good to keep learning new tricks!
    Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Hi Terri,

    I know quite a few pansters, and I have to say, they all write terrific books. Don't you think as long as the end result is good, it doesn't matter how you get there?

    If plotting out the rest of your book doesn't appeal to you, but you want to speed up your writing, you might want to try briefly outlining the next few chapters. Then you won't be in a rigid outline, but you'll have an idea of where your characters need to go.

    I'm not a believer in squeezing into something that doesn't fit (although I had to this morning, because none of my jeans seem to fit anymore!). You might find that a small amount of outlining, only the next few scenes or chapters, speeds up your process more than a full outline would.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Great post!

    I've discovered that I pretty much need to have a roadmap of my plot. I leave room for surprises, though, so it's not HIGHLY detailed, but it's the main plot points.

    I also keep a journal with all my information in it that I carry around with me. Helps me stay "in" the story. :-)

  6. for the first time, i used a plotting tool on this WIP...and loved it! Jeff Gerke's How To Find Your Story is simply amazing. before i knew it, the plot was laid out in front of me...and its good! :) (IMHO) i can still take slight deviations, but it keeps me on course, and i love that. great post!

  7. I love your blog! I think your information on plotting is excellent. I have tried many different forms of outlining, and I've combined a few methods. One works when you're FINISHED with the novel, so then it becomes an awesome tool for rewrites and edits (which is where I do the most important writing anyway).

    Thank you for stopping my blog! Much appreciated. :)

  8. I love it when other writers share great ideas.

    Melissa, I like the idea of carrying around a journal just for my current book. I can't tell you how many times I've been in the car driving, had the old lightbulb come on but had no paper to write it on!

    Jeannie, Jeff Gerke huh? I'll have to check his book out. Don't you love when it all comes together?

    Lady Glamis, I'd love to hear more about your plotting tool to use AFTER the first draft. Have you blogged about it? Would you consider it?

    Thanks everyone for your fabulous contributions!

  9. Good discussion going on over here. By chance, I'm plotting my next WIP and finding that I am running into the same problems that I had/have with my finished manuscript. So, I picked up a few books and am trying to find my way through those issues.

    Mine are mostly issues regarding conflict and tension.

    Maybe by doing the background work on WHY I'm having these problems, I will be able to fix it in my existing work and move forward with a better tool kit.

    Good stuff. And, thanks for visiting my blog. Always fun to meet new friends :)

  10. Hi Tess,

    Thanks for sharing. I overhauled my last book due to conflict/tension problems. Since I write romance, I work hard to make sure both the heroine and the hero have clear reasons they can't be together. If only one has issues, the book gets boring pretty quickly! (In fact the more forces working to keep them apart, the better, in my opinion.)

    Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Jill, unfortunately I can't publicly share the diagrams I use because they are copyrighted by a professor friend of mine who hasn't published her work yet.

    I am hoping to share in bits pieces some of the process I use. I have already shared some of this information as my series of Inciting Incident posts you can find here. Sorry if they're confusing. It's a tough concept to wrap your head around.

  12. Thanks for coming back Lady Glamis, and I completely understand you not being able to share.

    I understood your post. It's important to make sure the character who has to choose to leave his ordinary world (via the inciting incident) is the focus of the book. That character will be the one who experiences the black moment, who will have the tough choices to make, and who ultimately will change because of the lessons learned. Even if the book is told in multiple viewpoints, the focus must stay on the main character.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  13. I first began writing my MS as my dissertation for uni. It was originally supposed to be a short story and cap out at 15k words. I had a goal of what was going to happen at the end, but that was it.

    In a week I had flew by 15k and ended up with 23k and I just couldn't stop. I just had to write it. This is when I sat down and mapped out the rest of the book, making an outline of each chapter and what I thought would be enough to fill the chapter, but not too much that the chapters ended up being 80 pages each. Just one or two bullet points.

    I finished my first draft about two months ago. Or so I thought. I had completed my outline, but the more I read and revised, I decided that it needed at least two or three more chapters at the end. It just wasn't done yet. At first, I thought that maybe this would be a sequel, but it kept nagging me. I ended up adding a couple of chapters, then a couple more, then a couple more and now i'm making up my outline as I go, and i'm pretty sure when I get to my new "ending" that will be it.

    I think outlining deffo kept me from getting those middle of the book sags, but it also stunted me a bit at the end. The characters weren't done yet, but I had thought I was.

    So anyway, I guess I do plan a bit, but only with simple outlines and I won't be keeping them strictly anymore. I play fast and loose.

    PS, thanks for commenting on my blog and adding me on Twitter!

  14. Cassandra: Thanks for coming by and sharing. Whenever I hear the words, "I had to keep writing," I smile. Isn't that the truth? I'm so glad you kept going until it was just right.

    I'll bet your next book will be easier to write because you learned so much on the last one.

    Have a wonderful weekend!


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