My Two Bits on Plotting

Some people claim to be Pantsers while others are Plotters. Most published authors are a mix of the two because it’s necessary to use both types of processes. Like a tourist, you need to know where you’re going but you still want the joy of discovery.

I started writing as a full fledged, card carrying Pantser. I loved to wander into a sory with no idea what would happen. It seemed fun at the start but you can’t build a house without a plan. To save time, let’s agree, for the purpose of this blog post, that plotting is going to happen as part of the writing process for your manuscript.

I’ve read and listened to several writers explain their process for plotting. The best podcast that I’ve heard on the subject has been Katy Weiland’s Helping Writers Become Authors , but I use a slightly different approach for outlining than she does.

Most writers use Scrivener to write with. This software gives you most of the tools and all of the ease of working on every stage of your project that you are going to need. But, in my more complex works, I tend to have more than one story line and I rely on visuals to see the key points in the plot including the crossover stages where the storylines meet or overlap. To do this (no groaning, please) I use Excel. It provides me with an infinite legth of columns and the ability to colour code my sections, insert, delete and move bocks of storyline easily and , by extending the notes for the individual scenes to the right of the plot point (cell), I can add scenes and notes

Remember, you’re establishing the key plot points in teh story and then the scenes that make up each stage in the plot. This is the advantage of Excel. I know there are lots of programs available to do this but I’ve been using Microsoft Office since the early 90s and it’s fairly natural for me to use these programs. I’ll even edit blocks of text in Word si I can drop them into Scivener wasily.

It’s important in your plotting stage to think in terms of the big picture. Without too much fine detail, these are the actions that will affect the direction of the storyline. The individual scenes are the subplot actions, the boxes to the right of the main ones, that help you put words on the story. It’s similar to putting skin on a constructed sketaton.

The single best advantage of plotting using Excel is the ability to see how long the different sections of the story are and how much space you are allotting for character development - especially at the beginning - and how quickly you move from the climax to the solution to the end of the story. You’ll be able to visualize how much of the story is taken up introducing characters versus moving the action.

K. M. Wailand (I’m using her proper name here) recommends using Scrivener for plotting. I tried it and also the complimentary program called Scapple, but I found the process easier on Excel. Then, by transferring the individual blocks in Excel to Scrivener using the cork board option, I can create the whole story complete with scenes and notes ready to start writing.

Every writer has their system and you do not need to follow someone else’s process. But it’s very useful to know what works for others so you, as a writer, can develop one that works for you. I know of many authors who use Excel but they weren’t the reason I ended up using it. I wasn’t able to find a program that worked for me as easily as Excel. That’s the whole reason for my choice.

The only advice I will give you is this:, if you are planning to write a good book, even if you have already writen one in first draft, take the story apart and plot it out before you commit to writing the final draft.

There you go. Two bits worth.