My first attempts at plotting did not go well. I would get out all of my instructional books, grab a notebook and sit, and think, and hope that inspiration would strike, give up and not plot, not write, and not make any progress on my novel. It wasn’t pretty.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get anywhere. It was just too overwhelming. It was like planning a trip across the U.S. and trying to choose every exit, every hotel, and every bathroom break before getting started. It would be an efficient trip, but not a very joyous one!
Still, I was determined that this time I would plot out the various aspects of my novel before beginning. Why? Because as a natural born Pantser, I often found myself running into dead ends.
Then one day I realized something. When I’m traveling, I use my GPS. It allows me to input where I’m going, and corrects me only when I’m off course. What if plotting my novel could work the same way?
Coordinates Received. Let’s Get Started
Story goal/consequences if the goal isn’t met –Characters, voice, and setting are all important, but if your protagonist doesn’t have something at stake, it’s not a story. In Rebels, Lou must find something significant in her family history or lose her antebellum home. What does your protagonist want and how important is it to them? The more important it is for your character, the more important it will be to us!
Setting – My story takes place in a small Tennessee town, so I listed everything I could think of regarding the layout. Could the kids walk to the town square, or did they need to ride bikes, etc. Because the story happens over the course of a summer, I needed a place where the kids could meet, so I added a church to the map. The more you know about your setting, the easier plotting will be.
Characters –I created profiles on each character, complete with photos I’d found online. One of my secondary characters, Franklin, sounded like a grown-up. This led me to an idea where Franklin was able to call an adult and keep him on the phone while Lou ransacked his hotel room. If you know your characters well, they can lead you to plot turns instead of you leading them.
Ending – You may not know every detail, but list what you do know. Even a vague, she gets the guy, he saves the world, they live happily ever after, will give you a destination to work toward.
I didn’t have my entire story fleshed out, but I knew the basics, and it was enough to get me started. A lot of the really important plot points, like a subplot involving racism, happened organically as I wrote. The Bare Basics method gives Pantsers a framework, but allows enough freedom for the unexpected to happen.
Make a U-Turn
After Pantsing halfway through the novel, I got stuck. I knew where I was going, but there were a lot of different ways to get there. I turned to a second plotting device, the Reverse Outline, which suggests you start with the ending and work your way backwards.
I estimated that I would have twenty-four chapters when the book was complete, so I drew a 6×4 grid in my notebook. I filled in the grid with what I’d already written, then moved to the last spot and starting backwards. For Lou to get to THIS ending, then THAT would have to happen first. Before THAT can happen, Benzer must do THIS, etc.
This method works for other parts of the novel, too. Pick a known plot point anywhere, and work in reverse. Before long, all of the blank spots will be full and you’ll be up and running again.
The Basic Method got me started, and the Reverse Outline helped me reach the finish line.
Of course, when it comes to writing there is no finish line. My first draft needed revision, so I used a third plotting tool, The Hero’s Journey.
I bought a white poster board and divided it accordingly – Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, Refusal, etc. I wrote my scenes on sticky notes and put them under the correct headings. It was a great way to visualize what I had, and what I was missing. It also allowed me to see all of the scenes that didn’t move the story forward and I was able to cut several thousand words, which helped with pacing.
Beginning with The Hero’s Journey would have been overwhelming to me, but using it while revising worked well.
You Have Reached Your Destination
Writing strictly as a Pantser, I wasted a lot of time on dead ends. When I tried to go against my natural inclination and be solely a Plotter, I became frustrated. By using a variety of plotting methods, as I needed them, I was able to move forward and enjoy the process. See what works best for you. As long as you’re moving ahead, you’ll eventually get to your destination. Bon Voyage!
Lisa Lewis Tyre is the author of the upcoming middle-grade novel, Last in a Long Line of Rebels, (Penguin, Sept. ’15). She is a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post, and a founding member of www.MiddleGradeMafia.com, a website to promote and encourage authors of middle grade books. Visit Lisa on her website www.lisalewistyre.com
Lisa is giving away an ARC of Last in a Long Line of Rebels. If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win this ARC, please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing. Good luck!
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