Plotting – it isn’t easy

A few days ago, I received a review for my newest release, “Whistle Down the Wind”, and one of the things the reviewer mentions is that “Stone builds her plot easily, making the readers truly wish they were part of this fascinating relationship.” As I forwarded this to my various Social Networking links, I commented that I hoped my critique partner, Saralynn Hoyt didn’t see it. She knows how hard it is for me to plot out my books.

Saralynn responded with a post that really made me think about the way I plot. She mentioned that I use maps, photos, notes, images and notebooks. She suggested that I used the “scrapbooking” method of plotting my books.

I think she described it perfectly. I carefully construct a variety of things for my books, beginning with a “mindmap” that is a visual diagram of my characters, their motivations, the time period and any initial details that come to me. I add a “T-shirt” for each character, which is actually their underlying issue, things like “I don’t trust anyone” – “I have Father issues” basically like the thing they did in “Glee” where every character had to create a shirt that told someone a thing they wanted to hide about themselves. It’s an idea I borrowed from a parenting class I took, because the instructor suggested everyone had this t-shirt, but it’s invisible.

[sample Mindmap, it’s not pretty but it gets me thinking]

Then I create a list that I call, “20 Things That Could Happen In This Book” which is a brainstorming exercise to come up with major plot points and action. Some of these plot points won’t make sense as I write the book and I won’t use all of them. New ones will develop as I write the first draft, but I will have a skeleton to hang the pieces of the story on as I begin to write it.

But I won’t be writing yet. I’ll go through my collection of character photos, clipped from magazines or printed out from the internet. This is to give me physical descriptions of my characters so I can “see” what they look like. I’ll add the maps of the area, timeline, character notes, and sort it all neatly into a 3-ring binder.

I stock up on binders, organizers and notebooks in September, when all the school supplies go on sale. I’ve even blogged here about how much I love loading up on writing supplies so I’m ready for the “new school” year. Each notebook sits waiting for the idea to hit, the characters to grow, the story to develop.

When I launched this latest book with a blog tour, I was grateful for my lovely notebooks. I wrote 15 blog articles about the research, the characters, the setting and the story, and all I needed to find the ideas were my notebooks. In the case of this book, there are two notebooks, because it will be a four book series. I needed a series research bible and a notebook for each of the individual books in the series.

My critique partner shudders when she sees my process, because she’s much more of a “pantster” who can sit down and write with just her research notes. It would terrify me to do that, because it would be like the dream where you’re walking down the hall in High School, heading for a test you haven’t studied for– and you’re naked!

The most frequently asked question at author events is: “What is your process when you’re writing?” I think all writers are looking for the magic: the method that will make it easy, help the words flow and keep the muse hovering as the pages fill with words that thrill and amaze the reader.

But, for most of us, writing is hard. Writing well is even harder, as we struggle to transfer the amazing story that is in our heads to the page. We develop systems, create methods and search for inspiration. For me – this is what works.

I wish you well in finding your own writing path.



10 responses to “Plotting – it isn’t easy

  1. Excellent post Deborah. I’m a pantser, but I wouldn’t mind trying something like your mindmap. Sometimes pantsing feels like navigating a highway without a map – I get there eventually but it takes more time.


  2. raymondbolton

    Great technique, Deb. Thrillers require a great deal of organization and I think I just might steal an idea or two.

  3. Thanks Eden and Raymond! I’m lost without my “maps” and guides. I like to make Altered Books too, so I think this method goes along with that. Steal away – that’s what sharing is all about!

  4. Lovely description of a process that could help so many. I see a nonfiction book idea here Debbie — as if you have a spare moment 🙂 Congrats on the release of WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND – sounds like a wonderful read and know having an insight into your process will make reading it that much more fun!

  5. Thanks for sharing your experiences on plotting. It is a time-consuming, difficult task, and we know a writer spends a great deal of time planning when she/he delivers a stella book with a believable and captivating plot.

    And I agree with Mary about the non-fiction book. You have something going on here. Best of luck on your new release ‘Whistle Down The Wind’.

  6. Thanks Mary and Ana. Hmmmm, at the very least I have an idea for a new workshop. I just LOVE putting those PowerPoint slides together. That must somehow go along with the “scrapbooking method”…

  7. Thanks Deborah! I was so glad to read this, because I basically plot the same way and my critique group thinks I’m crazy – many of them are pantsters!

  8. I write by the seat of my pants, but I see ideas here that can be incorporated into that. My characters will wear T-shirts from now on!

  9. Darlene! There are two of us. Shhhhh, don’t tell. Even pantsters can benefit from our wisdom. I strive to make plotting fun! Thanks for stopping by!

    Anna, my critique partner refers to her t-shirts, even though she swears she’s a total pantser.

  10. Pingback: Plot Thickenings |

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