Mapping Out Your Journey – Plotting, Part I

If you were planning on going on a month long vacation, would you leave without mapping out your route? Would you take a single step out of the house if you had no idea where you were going? No!

So why is it people start writing novels without plotting? A novel is a multi-year commitment; why cripple yourself at that the very beginning? Sure, you may get pretty far. But sooner or later you’re going to get stuck. Writers block happens when you don’t know enough about the scene. How do you fix this? You plot.

Trying to write without plotting, called pantsing, leads to a whole host of problems. Plot holes, inconsistencies, too many subplots, not enough subplots, not enough material for a novel, the inability to foreshadow… the list goes on.

I’ve heard some people say, “I don’t like plotting because it no longer feels like I’m truly writing. I don’t get to discover the story as I go, it takes away all the wonder.” Folks, let me tell you something. I plot things out to the point where I’ll have all the dialogue written for a scene. And I still get giddy while writing certain scenes. In my experience, plotting doesn’t take away any of the wonder, it gives you the confidence to keep writing.

Alright, you’ve convinced me why I need to plot. But how do I plot? When plotting, I use three steps; the Three Act Structure, the Bare Bones, and the Full Plot.

The Three Act Structure

If you have an idea for a story, you probably already know what the inciting incident is, and your probable end. (For those of you who don’t know, the inciting incident the the event in the protagonists life where nothing can go back to being the same. It’s when the story really starts.) A Three Act Structure is just three sentences long.

  1. Inciting Incident
  2. Middle Point
  3. Climax

And with this three sentences, you have the main idea for the beginning, middle, and end of your book.

The Bare Bones

My next step for plotting is writing down the bare bones of each chapter. This works best if you’ve already done the What If Questions, explained in my post Developing Your Ideas. You basically write a three act structure for each chapter, but in one sentence. Or, if you’re like me, you write down three to five events and just stick a comma in between them. You keep doing this until you’ve gone through hit all Three Act Structure points and the resolution. This is like the outline of your outline,

The Full Plot

If you don’t restrain yourself, this part can get tedious. You go chapter by chapter again, and just write out a few words for each main thing that happens. If you wrote down three big things in your Bare Bones plot, now you can expand upon those three things and add in some subplot points. By the time you finish this final step, you’ll have a cohesive plot that shows you where to go, but doesn’t take away any of the joy of writing. Another upside to doing all three of these steps is that when you finish, you’ll have spent enough time thinking over your plot that you’ll be forward thinking when you write, a great help when it comes to foreshadowing.

A few last notes. I was on the group chat for CWW and happened to say that I technically hadn’t writing more than one novel. Two of my stories ended up being novellas because I didn’t have enough material. One of the CWW members said, “Wait, you plot your novels and novellas the same way?” Yeah, I do. With a novel, I just add in more subplots and material to beef it up. The same goes with novelettes. Same steps, less material.

And remember, it’s always, always, ALWAYS worth spending the time to make an outline. You will never regret.

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