Plotting Can Be Your Friend

Plotter or Pantser? New writers hear this question often. A plotter diagrams where the story is headed before she gets started, so when she finishes a scene, she knows right where to start the next one. A pantser sits back and watches where the story takes her.

But it’s not as simple as that. Plotters are letting the story and characters take them on the same road, they’re just using a map to find the most direct route. Think about it: You’re driving from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale. Do you plan your trip, decide what cities you’ll need to fuel in and what hotels you’ll sleep in, or do you head east on the I-10 and take a guess at every junction which will get you there faster?

If you have plenty of time it might be interesting to be a pantser, as long as you pay attention to those signs saying “Next Gas 80 Miles”. If you get off-track you can always find your way back. You’ll get there eventually. But the quickest way, assuming you pay attention to the road signs, is to have a plan.

With plotting, you start with the conflict. What goals to the hero and heroine have and how do those goals clash? Yes, they can have the same goal and have all their battles be against an enemy, but what about character growth? What will they learn while working side-by-side to make them worthy of winning love?

Plotting works hand in hand with conflict. If you start with the question, “What does he want and what keeps him from getting what he wants?”, the plot is what’s keeping him from reaching his goal. Most scenes need conflict. If it doesn’t have conflict, it needs to be adding character development or a similar element to the story. Don’t let a scene pass where nothing happens, then you have no plot.

For each scene, answer your question of what stands in his way. You can be as detailed as you like. A pantser might just want to use a single sentence, allowing the scene to develop as you write. A plotter can give an entire overview of the scene.

While looking at the scenes, watch for your turning points:
Point One – life as the hero knows it changes, he has a goal. Usually about 10% into the story.
Point Two – change of plans. Either he realizes his plan isn’t working, or the heroine has set up a new road block. 25% of the story.
Point Three – the point of no return. He’s gotten himself in deeply enough he knows he can’t walk away. 50% point of the story.
Point Four – major setback. It’s really beginning to look like he can’t reach his goal. 75% of the story.
Point Five – climax. The turning points have been building in strength, the boulders in the road getting bigger. This is the spot where he has to bring out the dynamite, put his life on the line, prove to the heroine that she can’t live without him. 90 – 95% of the story.

As a pantser, you might just list those points and let the story take you there. I prefer to at least make note of the scenes in between, the conflict in between, to keep my fingers moving on the keyboard.

Even after you’ve sketched your plot, you might find new ideas flowing when you see where the characters take you. But you know the next spot you need to read on your map so you can easily find an alternate route to get there.


4 Responses to “Plotting Can Be Your Friend”

  1. 1 jenroland
    5 November, 2009 at 7:09 am

    I began my current WIP as a panster, but I have learned the error of my ways. As I begin to tackle revisions, I am plotting and working on my synopsis and back story narrative. I’ve got a lot of changes to make, and plotting is the only way to make that happen.

    I am a convert to the joy of plotting. It allows spontaneity but makes for more efficient writing.

  2. 2 Anaïs Snow
    8 November, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    I’ve just finished my first novel a few weeks ago and I totally wrote the whole thing by the seat of my pants! It was a really fun experience but also a steep learning curve – I began with a clear idea of writing a very genre specific, Harlequin Nocturne-style novel and I ended up with something pretty much completely different. But it’s not the destination, it’s the journey that counts 😉 Might try the planning route next time tho!!

  3. 3 Ari
    9 November, 2009 at 9:25 pm


    That’s great that you can actually end up somewhere through pantsing. I find myself wandering lost, never to finish.

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