Lisa Lewis Tyre: At The Intersection of Plotting and Pantsing and GIVEAWAY

Tyre3My 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

tyre1I began my novel, Last in a Long Line of Rebels, (Penguin, 9/15) by using a plotting method known as the Bare Basics. This method asks only that you write down a few basic points:

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

tyre2After 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_tyrehead (1)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, a website to promote and encourage authors of middle grade books. Visit Lisa on her website

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!

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Lisa’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

If you haven’t registered for #KidlitSummerSchool yet click HERE.




134 comments on “Lisa Lewis Tyre: At The Intersection of Plotting and Pantsing and GIVEAWAY

  1. Thanks for demonstrating these great plotting devices and showing us how they can work together to get a writer past stuck.


  2. Laurie Young says:

    I’m so impressed by how many different ways there are to approach plot. I love reducing the plot to a few basics, before getting started. So much easier than outlining! Thanks!


  3. Lisa,
    Plotting a novel seems overwhelming to me too. Your approach makes it doable . I love the GPS analogy and the flexibility of methods. This post is a keeper. Thank you!


  4. Laura Rackham says:

    Just when I think I understand plot…you show me so many new ways to look at it. Humbling and SO helpful-thanks.


  5. Wendy says:

    I think I can, I think I can . . (firing up my revision engine)


  6. bucklessclass says:

    I love the idea of using different plotting tools at different times in the writing process! Thanks for the insight!


  7. laura516 says:

    This method sounds like just what I need! Thanks 🙂


  8. Heather Pierce Stigall says:

    I fall between a pantser and plotter too (depends on the story). These techniques could be very helpful. Thanks!


  9. I LOVED this post. When it comes to everyday life I’m a list maker…but writing? I’m so much more of a write-first-ask-questions-later kinda gal. And time and time again I get stuck. All these options sound great for getting the momentum going again. Thanks!!!


  10. tinamcho says:

    I love your analogy of the GPS for a basic plot outline of our novel. And working in reverse. Thanks for sharing these tips! Congrats on your forthcoming novel. Sounds intriguing!


  11. Darshana says:

    Thanks for the post! Will have to try this out.


  12. Janet Smart says:

    Good advice. I’m sort of stuck with one of my stories. This might help.


  13. SevenAcreSky says:

    The GPS analogy was great…there is a destination, and the author needs to know it to make the journey meaningful. You mapped out the experience perfectly. Thanks, Lisa!


  14. hethfeth says:

    Lisa, thank you for helping your fellow pantsers to get over those plotting humps and still maintain our seat-of-the-pants integrity.


  15. Margaret Greanias says:

    Thanks for the different approaches. I’m writing my first novel and so far, I think I’m a plotter and using all the tools I’m learning here at Kidlit School to help me nail down my story.


  16. Val McCammon says:

    I totally love the connection to GPS and how we can input the goal and use the tools to correct when “pantsing” bogs down. I plan to try each of these techniques! Thanks, Lisa.


  17. Lisa, thanks for sharing! I like to stake out all the details before writing the big picture too. Do you keep pinterest boards for your story-plans or use any other e-media to help as your pre-pantsing?


    • Lisa Lewis Tyre says:

      I use Evernote occasionally. I keep a notebook handy and will print out the photos of characters and glue them on a page with notes about their personality, likes and dislikes etc. But Pinterest sounds like a great idea.


  18. Juliana Lee says:

    I can totally relate to your mapping and GPS analogy to plotting a story. Like you, I know my destination but not every rest stop, hotel, and fuel station along the way. Finding them is half the fun. And now, when we get off track we can always rely on GPS to recalculate and get us back on track. Save travels!


  19. Nadine Gamble says:

    I can barely plot a picture book at this point, but it’s great to see how I could expand when/if I’m ready. Thanks so much!


  20. Priya says:

    This is definitely something I must try. thanks 🙂


  21. doriskstone says:

    Thanks for the tips, Lisa. I can’t wait to give them a try!


  22. Stored in my Writer’s Toolbox.
    Thanks for the share!


  23. writersideup says:

    Lisa, I love the plotting techniques you’ve mentioned here because they’re simple! I have quite a few books I have yet to read, but know I will be referring to this post and others here in “School” because they’re so spot on. Thank you for this!


  24. Your techniques for plotting are so encouraging, Lisa. Plotter + Panster = A destination
    ~Suzy Leopold


  25. MaDonna says:

    Thanks for your ideas, especially the Reverse Outline. That was new to me.


  26. I love this hybrid model. Very flexible and pragmatic. I feel like the problem described here was principally responsible for at least four of my failed grand projects… Thanks for sharing!


  27. susanzonca says:

    Wow, a triple play! Such helpful devices to get me moving. Loved the concept of even knowing what my characters would smell, see, hear.


  28. ptnozell says:

    I love your realization, Lisa, that getting too bogged down in a detailed Plan didn’t work for you, but that as needed you could pivot & plot. Sometimes I find myself frustrated as I try to use a method that works for one successful author but just doesn’t seem right for me. After your insightful post, this fellow Pantser may have found the courage to try different plotting methods as needed. Thank you!


  29. Debbie Vilardi says:

    What a great overview of plotting methods.


  30. Cindy C. says:

    I like your hybrid method, Lisa. I’m attempting PB’s which don’t need elaborate plots, but still….thinking about charts, graphs etc sometimes gives me the hives!


  31. Lauri Meyers says:

    That pretty much sounds like how I actually drive– lots of wrong turns but I have fun on the way!


  32. kpbock says:

    These are some excellent strategies!


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