I love to plot, almost more than I love to write. Thinking up the story is my favourite part – partly because it’s easier than writing the story.

I love the moment when the whole storyline clicks into place in my head. At that moment there is no other way that the story could go together. I say ‘at that moment’ because later you may realise that really the story should go this other way, and at that there’s no other way it should have gone.

I have fallen foul of this with my most recently completed novel draft. I reread it an said to myself – Why didn’t that happen? That would have made much more narrative sense.

That doesn’t mean that my first plot ‘click moment’ wasn’t true and right. I had to write to that plot before the second variation clicked for me.

Back to plotting: I am very methodical in my scene outlining and in writing to that outline. I thought that I would share my outlining method with you. (No download I’m afraid, as I outline using paper and pen, but it’s ridiculously simple.)

It’s a table on a landscape oriented page with the following column headings:

  • Scene – A thin column for the reference number of this scene. Useful if you are going to write out of sequence.
  • Who – A thin column for a list of the characters that appear in this scene. Don’t have anyone there who doesn’t need to be there.
  • Where – A thin column noting the setting.
  • When – A thin column for the date or time of day when this scene occurs. This is useful if you have multiple threads to interweave and keep track of. If I’m writing a single threaded story I often tend to just put NEXT in this column unless elapsed time is important.
  •  What – The biggest column. What happens in this scene? A list of all of the important beats.
  • Why – A medium width column. Why is this scene in the book? There has to be a character or plot reason for this scene to be in the book.  I used to have a second ‘why’ column that I used for character motivations, but I found that this often duplicated information that I had put in the ‘what’ column.

For multi-POV stories I use coloured felt tips to mark which scenes belong to which character. This gives me an at a glance view of the balance of the story.

What are your thoughts on plotting and outlining? Let me know in the comments.

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