Saturday, March 18, 2017

Banishing Plotting // What to Plot & What to Not

With Camp NaNoWriMo just around the corner, everyone's scrambling to plot their stories. Maybe you don't ... need to.

I can already hear the cheers from the pantsers and the gasps from the plotters.

While I've always considered myself more of a plotter, my to-do lists began to look like this:

from Dreamstime

I would add things to my lists just so I could have the pleasure of checking them off (especially when I didn't finish some of the larger items).

At that point, planning things is no longer helpful; it was just a tool to make me feel productive, when in fact I was wasting my time and energy. In Michael Hyatt's webinar on productivity, he called "tracking obsessively" a "deadly sin."

I couldn't help thinking as I listened to him that this applies to writing. I have tried to excessively plot my stories and even when I succeed, it's not helpful in the end. I've learned all of this the hard way, and while it's bound to be somewhat subjective, perhaps it will help you weed out some unnecessary plotting.

1 // Characters

Characters are the foundation to any story, so it's very important to have these nailed down. A plot hole dims in comparison to a character with no backstory and depth. My favorite character chart I've found so far is from Jill Williamson of Go Teen Writers. If you need something a little in-depth try this and this from Pinterest.

2 // Trajectory

Especially since I don't plot my entire story in detail anymore, I think it's important to at least know where I'm headed. That's enough for me to get started writing and see where the process of actually writing takes me. This usually takes the form of a chronological sequence of scenes that have popped into my head.

3 // Game-Changing Element

It's nice to know what your plot twist and the climax of your story are before you start writing. That way, you can do foreshadowing and properly build the story around those elements from the beginning. Writing this down longhand in a notebook is usually the best thing for me. Revise it as you come up with developments.

4 // Setting

If it's in this world, this shouldn't take a whole lot of time. Decide what era, and at least what country/state. Do some research on that environment if you need to before you get started. The goal is not to be switching things around too much in the middle of a draft because that makes editing a real pain.

1 // Minor Characters

While you should definitely nail down your protagonist, antagonist, and anyone else you're going to use for POV ... that's about it. The pet dog, mother-in-law, and siblings #4, 5, & 6 have to be vital to the story. As long as you know what makes them vital, there's no reason you have to plan them out any more than that from the beginning.

2 // The Entire Plot

Trust me, I've tried this. I thoroughly outlined the first half of a novel by chapter. It was a stiff and boring outline, but it helped me think through a few little details. After I got past the first chapter, I wrote without ever looking at that outline again. A bunch of bullet point scenes and conversations is enough for me now. You have to be willing to let your mind and story take their own path once you actually sit down to write.

3 // Dialogue

Again, some bullet points of issues you want to be verbally discussed in your book is probably a good idea. That way you don't forget anything. But there's no reason to form a diagram of conversations, because you're not going to follow it. It's a waste of time. You just have to be careful not to give every reply as you instead of as your character.

4 // Themes

This is kind of a halfway one. It'd probably be good to know what one of your themes is going to be. In Martin Hospitality hospitality (generosity, kindness, etc) was a decided theme before drafting. I added stronger threads of grace, forgiveness, fear, finite-ness, trust, & courage than I thought I would once I began writing.

In short, don't overdo it. It's a waste of time if you do. Just make sure you watch for the things you didn't plan, so that you can find them and continue to use them in your story as you write.


What are some things you don't plot? Are you a plotter, plantser, or pantser?? (Obviously I'm a plantser).

Also! The Martin Hospitality Kindle e-book is on sale for $0.99 HERE through March 19th!


  1. The panster in me cheered for this post xD. Though, in all honestly, I'm more of a plantser - I normally (mostly) wing the zero and/or first draft, but everything after that is a bit more planned out.

    Anyways - Thank you so much for this post! I have SUCH a problem with what to plot and what to not ;). A lot of the time I let my characters write themselves, but sometimes that ends up being a giant train wreck. But this post definitely helped me get some things figured out! <3

    ~ Savannah

    1. Hehe, I know. I think I'm a plantser, too. Because I do plot but ... not a whole lot :)

      Sure! I'm glad it was helpful. It still depends on the writer, but hopefully it gives you some tips.

      Yeah, that's one reason I always plan my main characters. They still end up with mannerisms and speech patterns I didn't plan which is nice, but I can keep them true to their personality, too. Otherwise it's really hard for me XD

  2. Great post, Abi! I have gone ALL over the map with plotting.
    With The Sorceress and the Squid I think I had the perfect amount of plotting, it all seemed to come together really well with my mix of forethought and imagination.
    With my next story, Faithless, I didn't outline at all and it pretty much ended up as a huge disaster. That wasn't much fun but it was certainly an experience.
    With my first book (and the books in the same series following) The Awakening, I have done a ridiculously extensive amount of plotting simply because the world is so big and complicated that I would forget most of what was happening if I didn't! So I think partly it depends on what the story calls for, sometimes you can get away with little and sometimes you need lots and it really doesn't matter so long as that story gets done!
    Thanks for your tips, I think you've achieved that nice middle ground - hopefully my next novel makes it there. XD

    1. Thanks, Emily.

      Yeah, The Sorceress and the Squid was pretty awesome. I could tell you had plotted because it came together pretty well for you!

      Eh, I hate disaster drafts XD

      Yes, I understand having to plot a lot for something you create. That's the way my attempt at Dystopian went for NaNo--I had to plan the world a LOT. But I didn't plan much else, so it's still a disaster draft XP

      Hehe, thanks. Good luck! :D

  3. This post is awesome. I'm biased, because it basically describes my plotting methods, but yeah. Though it depends somewhat on the story- some of my stories, I've done relatively detailed outlines (detailed for me, that is- which basically means I made a bullet-point list describing general trajectory and a few major events/conflicts that I wanted to happen) but wasn't even paying attention to them by halfway through the novel. And then other stories I've done no planning whatsoever for besides saying "This is my basic concept" and then gotten partway through the story and been like "Darn it, I should've thought this through a little better . . ."

    One comment on the "Minor Characters" thing- while I agree that you don't need to plan out your secondary characters as much as your MC(s) and antagonist, if they're going to show up regularly, even if they're not strictly POV characters, it's super helpful to know something going in about their personality, background, and appearance. Or, at least, I find it is. That said, character development is my favorite part of a story, so maybe that's just me.

    1. Thanks, Sarah :) Really?! I wasn't sure if anyone plotted like me, so that's really great to hear.

      I know, I never use outlines as much as I think I will, either ... so I kinda quit making them :P You're right, though; it does depend on the story a lot of the time.

      I think you do have a point about minor characters. For all the Martins, I gave them hair color, age, and one distinguishing personality trait before I started writing. I didn't do anything for Hollie--she just ... came together. As did the landlord and landlady. So it depends XP I wasn't planning on all the characters before I got to writing that part, so some of them were forced to come together in the moment! But it is fun to plan them all for sure :D

  4. Ahhhh, such a good post, Abi! I'm...not really sure where I fit in the writer spectrum. XD I pretty much pantsed my first novel, but like I said, it's my first real novel so I'm not really sure what my niche is. But these tips are great! I've always had a hard time knowing what to plot so this is really helpful. :D

    Now to decide what to do with my next novel. I barely started it so there's still time to decide whether I should plot a little. *strokes chin thoughtfully* XD

    1. Thanks, Mary! I'm glad it can be a point of reference for you, even if you haven't found your own medium yet :D

      Hehe. Yeah, you should give a little plotting some thought! Even just recording all the things I have flitting around in my head as chronological bullet points is really helpful. That way I'm sure I won't miss anything. It helps organize my thoughts, even if I still write by what's going on in my head. Does that make sense? XD

  5. This is such a great post, Abi! I'm definitely a plantser. For sure. :P This is so helpful, because I've always struggled with knowing what to plot and what isn't necessary. I hear about all these writers who do these extensive outlines and stuff, and I began wondering if I was supposed to do that to. After a while I figured it didn't really matter. Each of us has a different way of doing things and that's okay.

    Thank you for doing this post. I really needed it. :)

    1. Thanks! Yay, you and me both ;D To each his own for sure, but I haven't found extensive planning to be all that helpful just because I get good ideas in the middle of a story that obviously I didn't plan for ... I do like at least organizing my thoughts before I begin writing, though.

      Sure thing! :D

  6. This is so helpful. I love it.
    On my current WIP I have outlined the book by chapter (I know, I know, everyone says not to, but whatever) and it has been a life-saver. The parts of the book that don't interest me I can skip and just come back to later when I'm more interested, so I've been writing in a very non-linear fashion (which will make for some interesting editing... half the time I have no idea what the timeline of events is.)
    Wonderful post as always!
    BTW I just finished Martin Hospitality. I read it in two days and I loved it.

    1. Sweet!

      I outlined my first book by chapter and used it for like the first ... three? And it was really boring detail stuff that I had to edit to keep from sounded stilted. My entire outline was dry instead of being very helpful. It helped with a tad of foreshadowing, but that was really it!! So I've given up on that for my Christian Contemporary series. I wrote chapter 12 and then from beginning to end. That helped me get into it, and I made myself push through the dry parts of writing because I was afraid I would never go back to fill in the blanks!

      I hope editing goes okay for you with all of that! Non-linear writing can help you stay engaged in your story more for sure :)

      Thanks :) That's awesome!! I found your review on Goodreads and was so excited to see that you liked it :D I'm impressed at how fast everyone reads it XD

  7. I am personally a pantser!

    I just like randomly writing/typing out things on screen. However, I do write out a few sentences on what I want to write before I type stuff out. Glad to see both methods work out for you!

    Also, are you doing NaNa next month?

    1. Yep, same!

      Yes, very smart. Writing just a little out before I begin always helps me organize my thoughts.

      I am doing NaNo in April, yes :D Are you?

  8. *laughs nervously* Camp NaNo is...not my most organized time, to be honest. I kind of just go crazy on it and have fun. I'm TRYING to structure this year.

    Don't know how that's going to go.

    - Aimee (To the Barricade!)

    1. Hehe, mine either, really. I only planned this so much because it needs to be my next published book! :P

      Good luck!! :D

  9. Really helpful!! Ha I've attempted plotting out the entire novel and I can attest you make a good point. And GOSH the theme. I've recently run into the problem of trying to come up with your theme and message before writing the story....didn't turn out great either.

    Are you doing Camp NaNo?


    1. I'm glad! Yeah it's just not worth it to me ... and I hate getting disillusioned with my story because I take on too much plotting :/ Yeah theme is hard ... I try and have some theme arc decided before I start, but I don't really know what that is for MH#2 yet. Blech. Trusting God and letting go of the past? Maybe? I'm hoping more theme comes together than that, though, because that doesn't seem like very much. *sigh*

      Yes! Doing mock NaNo which is March 15-April 15 AND Camp NaNo which Apr 1-30. I'm aiming for 50k (or about half the novel) before April ends. *sweats* So far I've written about 6k

  10. This is such a good way to think about this!!! I'm definitely an over plotter, so this is very helpful. XD

    1. I'm so glad! As a reformed over plotter I can sympathize ;)


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