Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pick a Flavor: Three Ways to Plot Your Novel

By Debbie Maxwell Allen 

Just as each of us lean toward a particular flavor of ice cream (or none at all), so it is with plotting our novels. You may just write freely, with no forethought, or develop pages of outlines. Today, we'll look at three ways to plot a novel. You just might hit on the perfect method.

Index Cards. The old standby is still going strong. This is probably the most popular method of plotting. Whether you use colored cards or plain white, they can be shifted around and added to until the plot is just right. I researched a few writers who do a great job of explaining how they plot with index cards.

Author and teacher Holly Lisle takes you step-by-step through Notecarding: Plotting Under Pressure. With her system, you don't even have to have an idea of what's going to happen in your story. Also from Holly Lisle: a Plot Mini-Course sent to you via email.

Author Marilyn Byerly uses index cards and a more character-driven approach to come up with a great plot. Once you know your characters well, inventing conflict for them is easy. Check out Using Index Cards to Plot a Novel.

Writer Phoebe A. Durand posts on A Guide to Creating Changeable Novel Outlines. If you have small children who like to shuffle your cards, or worry the wind will scatter them, don't worry. You can use the virtual index cards in the free trial of Scrivener, a great writing program. 

Sticky Notes. These little squares have a lot going for them. They're bright and colorful, and they won't get mixed up if a draft blows through. Here are a few ways to make use of them.

Author Sara Cypher uses sticky notes to plan around a plot arc and a theme at the same time. Her method is very visual, and I plan to try her How to Plot a Novel soon.

Farrah Rochon, with Novel Spaces, starts with making notes on "what has to happen" and "possible scenes". She then makes a poster with a story arc and uses different colors to keep track of characters. Check out the photos in How I Plot a Novel. 

And Holly Bodger has an ingenious method for keeping track of your main plot and your subplots, so you won't leave any loose threads in Creating a Plot Graph for Your Novel

Virtual Plotting. Besides the virtual index cards in the Scrivener Software, there are several programs that allow writers to visually map all their ideas for plot and character right on the computer. This is perfect for writers without a lot of space to spread out, or who want to carry their ideas along with them.

Author Simon Haynes uses FreeMind software (a free download) to plan his novels. Using screenshots, he takes you through the steps he uses to plot his novel.

John Barnett also uses FreeMind software, and has created a YouTube video to take writers step-by-step through his plotting method. 

Or, you can try outlining like author Janet Evanovich, who describes her method as "the easy way".

If you need a few more tips, especially for NaNoWriMo, check out Jennifer Blanchard's Tools to Help You Plot Your NaNoWriMo Novel. Great info.

You might also be interested in free resources from the Plot Whisperer, a free course in 20 Master Plots, or free plot tools from Save the Cat. And a popular method for NaNoWriMo's is Rubik's Cube Plotting in 9 Easy Steps.

So how do you plot your novel? Let us know in the comments.

Debbie Maxwell Allen writes young adult historical fantasy in the Rocky Mountains. She blogs about free resources for writers at


  1. I've been using the "Storyist" app on my iPad. It has a place to keep info on my plot and characters, pages on which to write my manuscript, and note cards that I can access as I write. The best of all worlds. Happy Thanksgiving, Debbie!!

  2. I've heard great things about Storyist. Didn't know they made an app, too!



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.