Craft Corner: Plotting Tips

Welcome to the Class of 2k21 Craft Corner! These posts will be dedicated to sharing writing tips and tricks we’ve picked up on our journeys to publication. Each month features a new theme with insights from members of the Class of 2k21; this month, we’re discussing plotting.

Whether you are a long-time creative with too many ideas to wrangle or a beginner with no idea where to start, we hope you’ll find something you can apply to your writing journey. Let’s get started!

Jessica Vitalis: I’m a reformed pantser, but I don’t consider myself a full-blown plotter. Instead, I prefer to begin with a short synopsis that identifies character arcs, themes, and major plot points. I also find it essential to know how the story ends so that I know what I’m working toward. My favorite book on plotting is Story Engineering by Larry Brooks; using a four-act structure that allows me to break the story down into distinct parts before and after the midpoint instead of thinking of it all as one long act really transformed my writing. I find it especially helpful to think of act two as a time for the main character to react (also known as the “fun and games” portion of the script) and act three as the place for the main character to go into “warrior” mode (i.e. making an executing a plan) to be especially helpful.

Louisa Onomé: My drafting process is pretty chaotic, to be honest! I’m a pantser, though sometimes I’ve been known to plot a few things here and there. After I have my initial idea, I tend to flesh out the world and characters next. Rather than knowing the ending, I like to have an idea of what the climax should be, and then I write towards that. For me, endings should cap off the emotional journey of the character, so I tend to spend more time on trying to figure out where I want my characters to be when the story is done. It’s so fulfilling to come to the end of an emotional journey, especially one that unfolds as I’m writing! I guess that’s one main reason why I can’t completely let go of pantsing.

Kalena Miller: I am a hardcore plotter. Honestly, it’s the best part of the writing process for me. (The number of novels I’ve plotted but never written a word of is really quite sad.) Especially when writing stories with multiple POVs (my debut novel has four alternating narrators), getting the bones of your story on the page first is crucial. This doesn’t mean that I know every beat or every scene before I start drafting, but I do try to know two key things when I map my chapters: 1) How does the character grow or change during this chapter? and 2) What’s the ending beat? The second one isn’t necessary, but it’s probably my best tip for plotting. If I know what happens in the last line of the scene--maybe Tommy falls through the ceiling or the hot air balloon bursts into flames--I know what I’m writing toward, which helps with those super important things like momentum, tension, and pacing.

Thanks for joining us! Craft Corner will be back in March with thoughts on character development. (Make sure you subscribe so you don't miss any fabulous posts in the meantime!)