The Sweetie Chronicles

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~William Wordsworth

How I Plot My Novels

Since I'm at the very beginning of plotting Book 4 of the Peachville High Demons series, I thought I would do a post about the way I plot a novel. In writer's circles, there is a lot of talk about whether you are a "plotter" or a "pantster". Basically, a plotter is someone who plots their novels out ahead of time. Often, these plots are detailed and exact down to each scene and character motivation. A pantster is someone who writes 'by the seat of their pants'. No plot. Maybe a general idea of the central story action, but nothing specific and always open to whatever the writing brings.

So which one am I? Neither. Or both. When I first started writing, I thought for sure I was a plotter. I plotted to death. Literally, I took the life and spontaneity of my stories out by over-plotting. When I finally decided to let go and trust my instincts and trust the process, I realized that I don't need to plot and control every detail of the novel.

When I first start a new project, I set out my story grid. You can see it here in this picture. Usually, I use little sticky tabs in different colors and separate a piece of paper into a 4 act structure. (Yes, I know most people call it a 3-act structure, and it really is 3 acts, but it makes more sense to me sometimes as 4 parts instead of just 3. A big part of writing is figuring out your own personal process, so this is part of mine.) I got the story grid idea from Alexandra Sokoloff. She is kind of my personal hero, and I owe a lot of my organizational skills to her. If you are a writer and want to know more about story structure, please check out her blog or her book, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors.

Anyway, this is how I start, but I don't usually fill out all the scenes before I start writing. I figure out the basic climaxes, the central story action, and how I want the novel to start. The notecards in the bottom right corner are another tool I use in plotting. I put colored stars at the top left corner of the notecard. The color of the star matches the sticky tab on the story grid and each fifth card has a red star to indicate a mini-climax or climax in the story. Some kind of twist or reveal of important information. I fill out the story grid and the notecards as I write, always allowing myself permission to make changes, throw out scenes, move things around or whatever I need to do to make the story better. And yes, I use my hello kitty ruler to create the story grid :).

My personal process is all about exploration and trust. In my first draft, I let myself be free enough to just get the story on to paper. But also to explore possible story avenues. If I thought a scene would go one way, and it starts to go in a totally different direction, I have to trust that my instincts are right. I go with it and let the new scenes take on a life of their own. Characters sometimes surprise me. They don't always turn out to be the people I thought they were. Take Brooke for instance. I never realized how jealous she could be. In Bitter Demons, she sort of took on a life of her own. I don't know exactly where that comes from. Either someplace deep inside of me OR some stream of ideas in the universe I just happened to tap into. But no matter where it comes from, I have to trust that whatever comes out when I'm writing is the right thing.

My first draft is exploratory, but I'm not sailing completely blind. I have an idea of where the story begins, what's generally going to happen in the story, and who the main characters are going to be. After that, I just write, write, and write some more. I let the story consume me and take me over for a while. I live inside Harper's mind for a while, experiencing her world along with her. By the time the first draft is complete, I usually know exactly what needs to happen in the novel. Unfortunately, that usually also means scrapping most of the first draft and completely rewriting the whole novel. It's just part of the process.

I'll try to post another picture later in the week (or month) with more filled in tabs and notecards so you can see what it all looks like when it's finished. My timeline for Shadow Demons is to finish the rough draft by April 15th and to complete the final draft by May 13th. Hopefully, the book will be formatted and uploaded by May 17th.


Tammie March 26, 2011 at 6:40 PM  

Ya!!!! Can't wait!!! Hurry Hurry HeHe Love your work!

Claire April 19, 2012 at 3:15 AM  

I'm trying to figure out a system... Would love to know a bit more about how exactly you use all the stationery...

Sarra Cannon

Young Adult Indie Author

I always secretly wanted to be a cheerleader. And a witch. Now, I write about both. The first five novels in my Peachville High Demons Young Adult Paranormal series are available now in ebook!

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Sarra's bookshelf: sarra-s-favorites

Beautiful DemonsThe Time Traveler's WifeLoveroot: PoemsFear of FlyingWe the LivingAnthem

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