Plotting Out a Story

An in-progress shot of my sticky note timeline.
An in-progress shot of my sticky note timeline.

When I first started writing, I’d just take an idea and run, letting the characters and whatever random thoughts that came to mind dictate the path of the story.

The result? Stories that meandered, threads that got lost, and the occasional instance of writing myself into a corner.

So, when Bri asked me to outline a sequel to SHADOWCATCHERS, I knew I was going to have to plot it out properly.

I started by listing a whole bunch of story ideas in a notebook (I don’t know about you, but when I’m brainstorming, the old-fashioned way works best for me – there’s something about staring at a blank screen that just paralyzes my brain). Basically I spent a month just writing down any idea that came to mind – whether or not it made sense, or would require major changes to the original story – letting my mind wander and entertain any and all possibilities of where to send the story next.

At the end of the month I had vague outline-y ideas for stories involving three separate antagonists.  Since I couldn’t very well send the story in three separate directions, my next step was to create a plot outline for my favorite.

I started with a sheet of Bristol board and a pad of sticky notes. I wrote a separate sticky note for each scene/plot element, and stuck them to the board in a line, creating a rough timeline for the story. The sticky note part is essential: I can’t tell you how many times I rearranged events, added (and cut) scenes. As I worked, I referred back to my notes, and tried to work in as any elements from my brainstorming as possible.

Because I knew I had a choice to make, I made sure to plot out the final climactic scene between the protagonists and antagonist. (This one involved a long walk to clear my head and ponder possibilities, before figuring out the final battle’s path).

I was planning to plot out all three antagonist scenarios, and choose the one that worked best, but by the end of the first timeline, I realized I had a winner. Once I had my sticky notes timeline, I typed everything out in order, then went back and tried to refine it into more of a synopsis, rather than a dry account of “then he, after that she…”

Now all I have to do is write the actual manuscript (*adds it to ever-growing to-do list*).

What about you? Do you have a favorite plotting method or tool? Or are you a Pantser? Tell me about it in the comments.

Writer @k_callard explains her method of plotting out a novel. to tweet)

Are you a plotter or pantser? What’s your fav plotting method? Join the discussion on @k_callard’s blog. (Click to tweet)

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