How I Plot: 2019 Edition

Some people use beats. Some use acts. Still others use the Story Grid structure. Personally? None of those methods work for me. I use lists.

Let me explain

When I get a story idea, the first the I do is write down a basic character sketch of my main protagonist(s). (For more on my character development method, click Here) Then I write a blurb or two and a logline, just to get the story idea on paper. I also do some more random things, like coming up with a quote and a Bible verse for the title page. Basically, the first things I establish are character and theme.

And then I set it aside. And wait.

But while I wait, I work. Daydreaming about the protagonist does count as working. As does coming up with support characters and spending more time getting to the know the cast of the book that’s playing in my head like a movie. This goes on for months.

I’m a character-centric plotter. The story is about the characters and their growth. Which means that my plot is flexible. Over my months of daydreaming- brainstorming sounds better- certain scenes lock in my mind, and my imagination builds off of them.

By the time I sit down to plot, I typically know the majority of the scenes that will end up in the book. So, I take my story binder (yes, I have a binder for every story) and a fresh sheet of notebook paper or two to my desk and start plotting. I glance at my blurb and logline for reference to keep me on track.

At the top of the page, I write my working title, then I begin my bullet-point list of scenes. For example:

Examplora: A Novel

Alexander goes to school Tuesday

  • has a harder time in English than usual
  • singled out by teacher
  • friends comfort at lunch; depression swing

After-school job

  • serves ice cream to little kids; misses Allie and Nora
  • flat bike tire; has to walk home

Now, at first glance, this plot probably doesn’t look all that helpful. But when I look at it, I know the protagonist is dyslexic and is living with his 3rd foster family in the last 18 months. And Allie and Nora? Those are his younger siblings, twins, that have been separated from him for the last year. Each bullet point triggers a visual scene in my mind as though I were the main character.

Each title is a setting change and where I indicate the day of the week the following bullet-ed scenes occur on. Each bullet-point is not necessarily a scene, just a trigger. A prompt, if you will. If I have multiple POV characters, I have columns to the side of this list where I give myself a perspective prompt for that character. If I’m unsure which POV the scene will be in, I write prompt for both. I have also done this using spreadsheets. I know. Nerd.

This list is like a checklist for me. As I write a scene, I can see the direction it’s headed and play it out in my head. Once I’ve written it, I highlight it and move on. I also like variety, so this method allows me to write out of order (gasp!) without losing flow. Yes, I write my scenes out of order. Since my characters write their own scenes within my framework of prompts, the don’t always end up in the same order I imagined them in. As I write the first draft, I’m able to re-arrange my scenes and fit them together like puzzle pieces.

So there you have it: my bullet-point prompt plot puzzle. How’s that for a tongue twister?

Naturally, this could change at any time, but if you plot this way, let me know! If you don’t, how do you plot? Let’s chat below!

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