The NEARLY ALWAYS OCCASIONALLY BORING task of plotting a story

We ALL know the problem with plotting is that it can be SO BORING. My plotting up until a couple of years ago consisted of some hastily typed notes at the beginning of my manuscripts. I swear I fell asleep if I spent any more time plotting – it  was seriously SUCH a YAWN-fest.

I can see the value in plotting, however, which is why I want to share what HAS worked for me. In this post, I’ll cover a method that I found REALLY easy, but in the end was not QUITE for me. In another post, I’ll cover another method that I used for my manuscript currently on submission.

I actually learned this method from fellow writer Charlotte Nash, who I heard speak at a conference in 2013 about how she wrote her debut novel in THREE WEEKS (GRRR!). I promptly cornered her and garnered as many tips on plotting as possible (thankfully, she was absolutely lovely and extremely generous with her advice). She told me the trick is using palm cards (you know the kind you use when debating?).

As soon as I got home from the conference, I rushed out and bought a big stack and started plotting out each scene separately. I used the FRONT of each card to describe a scene. I also noted the date and location. I used the BACK of each card for any foreshadowing relevant to that scene, e.g. the reason Finn is evasive when Lise asks about his family is…

One of my unfinished manuscripts, which I’m determined to return to ONE DAY (I got slightly distracted by another manuscript), consists of a fully plotted stack of about one hundred or so cards. The feeling whenever I hold that weighty stack is so SATISFYING. I basically have an entire novel in the palm of my hand and it only took me about two months (which is REALLY quick for me).

The obvious downside is that I can’t back palm cards up on a thumbdrive—which means if I lose them or (heaven forbid) my house burns down, I have NOTHING but my unreliable memory.

If you do use this method you might want to photocopy your cards (I REALLY need to do that) OR transcribe them into Microsoft Word or a program like Scrivener. (Scrivener is actually an electronic version of what I just described, plus it has the ability to store links and files relating to your manuscript, e.g. websites that have helped with research or images that have inspired characters or settings.)

The one problem I found with this method (which may not be a problem for you) is that it was a bit too prescriptive (and—as a result—a bit too restrictive). I knew EXACTLY what was going to happen scene-by-scene and while it was saving me a heckload of time in terms of writing and editing, the pantser in me (check out this post if you need an explanation) grew extremely BORED and, before I knew it, I’d moved on to a new manuscript and let this one sink into the depths of my hard drive.

I recently found this method SO helpful when it came to editing an existing manuscript, though. It allowed me to lay my entire story out on the dining room table so I could identify and fix a few structural issues.



2 comments on “The NEARLY ALWAYS OCCASIONALLY BORING task of plotting a story”
  1. I only write short stories right now, but I do little plotting/outlining. Too much pre planning sucks the life out of the story for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah – this method did the same to me in the end, but the last method I tried was more light touch and really worked. Looking forward to sharing it!

      Liked by 1 person

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