Monday, August 15, 2011

Plotting Your Book

By Pamela Moeng

Daydreaming about writing a book is one thing. Actually sitting in front of a keyboard to bleed, as Hemingway suggested, is another thing.

When I was in the midst of writing my first romance novel, I asked a writer friend about her method of writing - she had recently sold her own novel to a prestigious publisher in the UK. I was horrified to hear about her chock-a-block notebook full of characterisation, the multitude of differently coloured post¬¬-its stuck all over the place, and the whiteboard full of story arc diagrams. A world away from my own more organic and intuitive method for crafting my novel.

A few years on and I’m thinking ‘well it sold, so I must have done something right’, but a little voice is nagging me ‘but it can’t hurt to find out how other writers do it, and give their methods a try’. So I opened my net book and surfed Google: how to plot a book.

The good news is that there are as many ways to plot a book as there are writers and none espouse their methods as the end all and be all. The bad news is that people who are unsuccessful at using my organic, intuitive approach can “create interesting characters who do interesting things, but they don’t key in to the deepest fears, don’t make the characters suffer and change and grow” (

Now I hate the idea of my characters suffering but I do love the idea of them changing and growing, so I kept my hand on my keyboard and surfed for other gems about plots. Randy Ingermanson advocates his own Snowflake Method. Randy has an informative website and a free newsletter that you may want to subscribe to: (

Randy says there are ten steps of designing your novel. Step 1 is to write a one-sentence summary of your novel. Step 2 is to take that sentence and expand it to a paragraph describing the story, major disasters and the ending of the novel. Step 3 is to write each character’s name, a one-sentence summary of the character’s storyline, the character’s motivation, the character’s goal, conflict, epiphany and finally a one-paragraph summary of the character’s storyline.

Step 4, take each sentence of your summary and expand it to a full paragraph. Step 5, write up a one-page description of each major character and a half-page description of each minor character. Step 6, expand the one-plot synopsis into a four-page synopsis.

Step 7, expand your one-page character descriptions into charts that have every detail about each character from birthday to favourite food and perfume. You may not use most of this information, but it will inform the choices you make for each character as your novel progresses. Step 8, take the four-page synopsis and list all the scenes you need to turn the story into a novel. Randy uses a spreadsheet for this. Step 9 is optional, according to Randy. Here is where you take each line on the spreadsheet and write a number of paragraphs describing the scene. And finally, Step 10, write the first draft of your novel with all the information that you’ve developed so far.

Randy reckons that his Snowflake Method takes 150 hours and produces a solid, saleable novel. He teaches the method and says some writers love it and some writers hate it, but it works for him. He believes in it so strongly that he’s developed Snowflake Pro software to make the task even easier. Visit his website for a full description of his method and the opportunity to purchase his software.

Darcy Pattison’s website says there are nine ways of looking at plot, some of which are plot equals character; plot equals a branching structure; universal plots; and, plot patterns. In regard to the universal plot, it is said that there are only two plots in the world. A stranger comes to town or a character goes on a journey.

Pattison’s website lists a number of books to assist writers in learning about plot and how to plot a novel. Among the books listed as valuable resources for writers are Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham, Steal This Plot by June & William Noble, 20 Master Plots by Ronald Tobias, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, and The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus.

Leonard Crane, author of Ninth Day of Creation, also urges new writers to read James Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Novel.

If none of the above is helpful, you may want to search the Internet for free book planning software that will help you plot your book.


po said...

Wow Pamela, this stuff is all very useful and interesting. Thanks!

damaria senne said...

This is a very good post and something that I have been wanting to learn more about. Thank you very much for researching and writing about this.

Pamela said...

It was a pleasure because it helped me think about my writing in a different way.

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