Plan your NaNo – Organize Your Plot

As thousands of people world wide are gearing up for the insanity that’s National Novel Writing Month (also known as AHHH!), I’m rolling out the ball with post two on the Writing Wednesdays… this time, looking at organization.

Not just how you organize the folders on your computer… though I am a bit OCD about that. Or crazy. Probably depends on how you look at this. No, I’m looking at two things here today:

1) Organizing your plot – aka plotting

2) Programs that help you do it!

Now, seeing as I’m no expert on plotting, I figured I’d refer to you all to some wonderful peeps who are. Namely, Blake Snyder over at Save the Cat and Larry Brooks over at Story Fix.

Blake Snyder’s site is particularly helpful because he takes apart movies, right there on the site so you can see how it works. And as visual as I am, that’s a life saver. Larry Brooks’ 6 Core Competencies go beyond the Beat Sheet, and I found it helpful to wrap my mind around the whole story a bit more. Though what’s really great in combination with Larry Brook’s blog and books? Susan Bischoff’s Blueprint (she also does a series of posts that walk your right through it). Let’s me work through everything in a manner I understand (very similar to the snowflake method, but makes more sense with my poor brain).Also, Larry Brooks is doing a series of posts leading up to NaNo, to help you get your story in gear before the big Nov First.

Now, that I’ve passed out all the How-To’s I enjoy, I figured I’d pass on the programs in which I actually get the plotting done. My all time favorite? Sticky Notes, which came on my PC.

BC's outline in progress

I’ve always loved the idea of plotting by sticky notes, but it never works out as well in real life. I don’t have the wall space and by the time I’m done moving around my stickies, they’ve lost their sticky-ness so many times it’s sad. Seriously, the only thing I dislike about the program that comes with my PC… is the fact that I can’t have ‘multiple desktops/files’ so I can plot out more than one book without having to transfer the outline to Word.  I love the sticky note apps you can get on the iPhone, iPad, and through the droid app-stores too. Portable plotting. -grin-

Another favorite of mine is Microsoft Office’s One Note. It’s for when I’m just starting that idea-gathering stage and just beginning to look at starting a blueprint for a story. I can keep all of my idea snippets and inspiration photos in various notebooks there.

Other Writerly Links:

Kristen Lamb just did a series on Structure – Part one

Chuck Wendig did a great post – 25 Ways to Plot, Plan and Prep Your Story

For those who really love the idea of plotting with Real Life post it’s check out Julie Cohen’s blog

Susan Bischoff’s recent review on Character Arcs will blow your mind – it did mine

And, since we are talking NaNo here, Natalie Whipple’s great tips for First-Drafting

Love to outline?

I’m slipping from hardcore pantser, where I would grab a pair of characters on a complete whim, sit down and write the whole story without knowing where I was going for more than a scene or two at a time… To someone who outlines. In advance. I know, it’s shocking! I posted before about learning to plot. I’d found Susan Bischoff’s awesome posts about her Blueprint, and downloaded the word doc and went… “Oooohhh. I can do that!”

And for getting my initial ideas down and starting to flesh the characters out, figuring out their GMCs, and learning my Key Plot Points… that was gold. I used the blueprint to help me plot the novella I just finished, Unfinished Business, and it worked. I didn’t enjoy plotting out scene by scene, but thanks to her blueprint, I knew where I wanted to go and it wasn’t torture. The story itself feels stronger than those I’ve done on a whim, and it’s weak spots have nothing to do with my outlining in advance, rather how I chose to go about the story itself.

However… it was now time to start sitting down and outline the project I’m currently working on (before I get too off tangent and end up having to cut 60k later to make it manageable :-p), as well as the one I want to start after this… and I’ve been stalling. Until I stumbled across the program, Sticky Notes, on my computer. Pair this with Susan Bischoff’s Blueprint, and we now have outline love. Love! Being able to work with virtual sticky notes, color code easily, rearrange as often as I want… it’s just perfect.

I ended up working out a system. Yellow notes for the scenes I knew I wanted in the story/had already written. Green notes for my Key Plot Points that I’d had to figure out in the blueprint. Pink for my “What if/possible” scenes. Purple for questions I felt I would need to answer. Then I did white for my Antagonist, and blue for my antagonist’s ‘minion,’ who both get POVs in the story. This worked beautifully! As I worked I could fiddle with the pink notes, moving/adding/deleting them as I figured stuff out. I also tended to have a pile of purple ones in the far corner that I weeded down as I came across places those questions could be answered. By the end of it all… I had a pretty coherent story outline, and one I could work on in pieces all day long, by just dropping by my computer and adding a note on occasion.

Sticky Notes outline in progress for Big Cats Don't Purr


The sticky notes, thankfully, scroll when you shrink them, so I’m able to fit quite a large amount of info on each one. (I’d beware if you have a slow computer… this is opened in the background… You can shut off the computer/close the program, but the moment you turn back on your comp it draws all of these back up… so my guess is, it takes a lot of memory to hold a huge amount at one time). There is a max as well… my computer told me I couldn’t create anymore when I hit my 50th… which is fine, it was my last one. ^_^

Also, once done, I just opened up Word, and copied and pasted each note into my document, deleting them as I went. Took me five minutes to get them in a document and saved. Awesome!! One outline done, now all I have left to do tonight is write. For once, I look forward to outlining my next project!

**The program is called Sticky Notes on my computer, I believe it comes with Microsoft Office 2007. I saw it once but couldn’t find it again in All Programs, so I just ran a computer search for it.

Learning to plot?

I am definitely the kind of writer that thrives on sitting down with a blank screen, picking characters out of thin air and running with them. I love the thrill. Ask me to sit down and try and do that and just plot… and I wilt. Several friends have tried to get me to plot… and I admit that I never really saw much difference in how many plot holes I had on those that I had mapped out ahead of time and those I hadn’t… so I chalked it up to something that I saw no point in.

However, when sitting down to tackle my current novella WIP, Unfinished Business, I wanted a game plan. And after reading Susan Bischoff‘s wonderful short story in the Kiss Me, Kill Me Anthology, I stumbled on her awesome Blueprint for outlining. Holy heck. I’ve been doing it wrong!

Okay, so not quite. There’s not really a right or a wrong way to plot… but I’ve been doing it wrong for me. For the way my brain thinks. Her blueprint isn’t exactly how my brain thinks, but after working through it with Unfinished Business and some prelim work on the first book in the series that follows my novella… I realize that what she’s laid out is the closest thing to the way my brain develops an idea. I love it. Love it!!

I am altering it right now with a current novel-length project I just started – it completely side swiped me and sucked me in… but since I had nothing immediately ready to go once the novella is done (and it’s very close to being done), I’m not complaining. If I find a way that not only helps me be coherent, but doesn’t have me whining all the way through the plotting process… I’ll definitely share. Yes, I whine my way through the blueprint. Partly because some of the concepts are ‘new’ to me (as in I definitely don’t think about them ahead of writing :-p). Still, this is an awesome tool. I wish I’d stumbled on it earlier.

Now the true test is going to be if I end up with less plot holes, or if I’m just hopeless all the way around.