Monday, October 22, 2012

The Plotting Process

I'll continue this week with processes that a writer uses. 

First, a few words on actual structure. I'm coming at this from a mystery writer's perspective, so my notes and sources are generally skewed in that direction.

For physical structure, I like to use the W plot. Kris Neri first introduced this to me, but many writers use it. It's very hard to find a good picture of it, but this site includes a simple diagram a little over halfway down the page. For mystery fiction, it's useful to put one more hump in it. Point A starts at the top left, B is the bottom of the first downstroke, then C is up, D is down (but not as far down as C), E is up (but not as far up as D), F is way down, and G finishes with a big upstroke.

A: Begin and immediately start a struggle for your protagonist
B: Pull the rug out from under her
C: Allow her some progress toward her goal
D: Give her a hurdle and make her think that her goal will be in sight once she leaps it
E: Move her close, but then make things worse
F: This is the low point of her struggle, she despairs that she will ever reach her goal
G: She finds a way to prevail

This works for a broad overview of the plot. You can also use one for each subplot and plan where they'll overlap and/or intersect.

I like to brainstorm with myself a bit and set up plot points. If I can end up with at least 12, I distribute them into Act I, Act IIA, Act IIB, and Act III. If I can work from point to point, putting at least 5400 words between points, I know I'll end up with a 65,000 word novel on first draft. From there, I usually layer in some texture. I revisit dialog and description, and try to put as many of the 5 senses into each scene as I can. I make sure each scene has a goal, conflict, and resolution. That last should lead to another goal set up to keep the story going.

Sounds simple, but the plot points tend to morph during writing. Some don't work out, others have to be added, always paying attention to the ebb and flow of action that some call scene and sequel. Character refuse to play the role you've assigned to them, and other characters pop up unbidden and interrupt things. Yikes! How did I ever write a novel?

So, I guess, it's complicated. I'm open to suggestions on how to plot here! It's good to see how others do it.

To prepare this blog, I googled around and found some sources new to me. These folks have some good thoughts on plotting for fiction:

Here's a fun one:


  1. An entire lesson in one short post! Thank you.

  2. As you know, there's more to it than that, but this is a start anyway. Thanks for coming by!

  3. Thanks, Mary Ann! I really like that last one for weird stories.

  4. I plot as I go. That way, I'm not disappointed when a plot point doesn't work out. The characters and plot evolve as I write. Either I'm lazy, or just afraid if I plotted it all out ahead of time I'd lose interest and not write it at all. I have as much invested in finding out whodunit as my readers will this way. I try to have interesting characters to drive the story, and I try to have unique beginnings to chapters and chapter endings that make the reader want to find out what happens next. Those are about my only guidelines. Now, editing is a different story. That has to be, for me, a more thought-out process. That's when I go back and check such things as structure.

  5. Different strokes, Jan. I also have the plot morph as I write, and do lots of editing. In fact, that's my blog next week.