The Many Stages of My Plotting Method

Most of the writers I know personally are either pantsers or plantsers. I’ve always considered myself a plotter, but none of the well-known methods worked for me. I can’t use a synopsis to plot because my brain no longer cares about the story by the time I’m done. The snowflake method felt too messy and confusing to actually be a plot. The concept of “beats” seemed too tidy to work for every story, but it is structurally sound. The “hero’s journey” model is very similar. 3-Act structure was too broad. So, I set about creating my own method that was just right for me.


The main problem with all the methods I’ve read about (and this is for me, personally) is that they didn’t allow the logical and creative parts of my brain to work together. At least not without serious burnout issues. In the end, I came up with something that I was already familiar with and used on a regular basis.

Checklists.


Basic, I know. At first, I thought it should be more complicated than that. It was, essentially, a list of scene descriptions. So, I added to it.

On the right is the scene list. Just quick descriptions of what happens. On the left is my unnecessary over-complication. An emotion map. Kind of a “how happy is the protagonist from a scale of 1-10” survey for each scene. Not super helpful, but it made me feel productive. Once I realized the emotion arc wasn’t helping, I nixed it in favor of a short scene title and longer description.

This is what my working plots look like. In this format, I can see all the scenes at once and rearrange as needed. This is also where I tend to dodge plot holes and inconsistencies that would require a rewrite. Once the scenes have been correctly placed, I have taken my plot to a spread sheet.

This is where I decide which scenes will belong to which POV character. My short descriptions are back, highlighting what each POV character would notice in every scene. Then the spreadsheet is printed, marked, and typed into a new document as a bullet list.

This is the version I write from. The different POVs are marked by different colored highlighters and organized chronologically by week, day, and location. This, again, keeps me from creating plot holes and inconsistencies when I write. It isn’t fool proof, but it does help. Then, as I write, each scene is marked in yellow to show that it was completed.


Why Does This Method Work?

This method allows me to warm up my creative muscles and problem-solve on a small scale, while still being organized. It satisfies my need for achievement and shows progress at a glance. Because checklists make me happy.

It’s also quite flexible, as it can be as broad or specific as you want it to be. It can also work with other plot structures, playing on 3-act structure, beats, or the hero’s journey models depending on your story and thought process.

My favorite reason for using this method is a bit controversial. I like writing out of order. Sometimes, I’m not in the mood the next scene. I also really hate writing the beginning of the story. This method allows me to have productive procrastination for when I’m avoiding the tough scenes. I’m still getting scenes written, which builds my confidence and creativity to finally tackle the mental blocks.


Maybe this method isn’t for you. Maybe you’d like to give it a try. For me, this method has been a life saver. If you try it, let me know! If you have any questions about this method, its development, or other aspects of my writing process, drop a comment here or on my Instagram @abrigailjulian.

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