Learning a new trick: Plotting

Up until now, I’ve been a one trick pony.


Well, and hope. Hope that it’s a good story. Hope I can figure out how to make people like it. Hope it flows well. Hope it checks all the boxes.

My lovely writing mentor (whose name shall remain secret so that y’all don’t try to steal her from me) bought me a couple books off Amazon a few weeks ago and shipped them to me. She said she hoped they’d help me.

Imagine my surprise when, as a pantser, two books on PLOTTING showed up.

I have to admit, I was really skeptical. Like, this is totally going to cramp my style! I can’t plot. It’s too boxy.

However, as any book lover does with new books, I started to read them. And I realized that maybe I’d kind of had this whole outlining/plotting thing totally wrong. You see, when I thought of plotting, I was transported back to high school when we had to make the DREADED OUTLINES for research papers. You know, where you needed to have the topic sentence for every single paragraph and points below it.

The truth is, I had no frame of reference for what novel plotting looked like. Enter Take Off Your Pants and Save the Cat!

These books are similar in that they talk about various beats a successful novel has (or perhaps should have) but they also talk about FLEXIBILITY. These people are speaking my language! I learned that I don’t NEED an extensive outline. I can just have a couple sentences describing each BEAT (which type written takes up 2-4 pages) and then build the novel around said beats.

Pretty cool, actually.

I’ve been working on this fantasy novel for some time now, Tamerna, and I’m wondering if plotting it would help, right?

But I’ve got some people saying there’s too much bloat. I’ve got others saying it should be broken into three books. I have another who threatens bodily harm if I change anything other than polishing work. Plus, I’m super attached to it.

So, instead of starting with Tamerna, I decided that I would tackle a different story. One that I’m less attached to.

I’m attempting to turn it into a trilogy. Right now, I have a rough draft of a basic (partial) storyline. But I’ve struggled knowing how or what to do with it, so it’s just sat and sat. Enter my new books.

I now have a full trilogy outline, outlines for my 3 major characters for EACH BOOK, character development (from the Character Traits book in the picture), character arcs, AND I even built my own religion (based on 23 internet articles about creating fantasy religions – thank you people who share questionnaires online that I can fill out to make a religion).

It’s taken WEEKS of work in reading, crafting, letting my poor arm rest because I wrote so much my arm HURT, plotting, thinking, planning – all stuff I’ve never done before (okay, plus a few days of just feeling plain overwhelmed by it all).

I feel that now I’m actually ready to write.

Okay, after I type up all my outlines and send them to aforementioned writing mentor for her to peek at (7 front and back pages down, 16 to go…).

So, all that set up to come down to my conclusion.

Plotting has been (gasp!) helpful. I have a better understanding of the story I want to try to tell. I understand my characters better and they are more rounded already. I know how to get them to behave consistently basted on character archetypes.

AND, even though I somehow have to pull together FOUR separate outlines per book, I still feel like I have TONS of freedom to write the rest of the story. I have a grasp of the arc and how I expect the characters to change, some of the personal challenges they’ll need to overcome, and how their storylines all weave together.

It almost feels like I MIGHT know what I’m doing.

The best part is that at the end of this practice round, I’ll have a trilogy to publish! Which buys me a couple years to work on Tamerna, right?

I am surprised. I didn’t expect to like plotting. In fact, I EXPECTED to hate it. To disregard it. To ‘thanks but no thanks’ it. I don’t know if I could plot a novel that I DON’T have drafted, but I suppose time will tell in the future. I have drafts of somewhere between 3 and 5 Tamerna books that I can plot out and mess with to improve and also get published. The sheer scope of what I’m trying to do is intimidating for sure. I have to NOT get caught up in the future of all the things and focus on what’s in front of me, but I think with my writing mentor’s help, I’ll get there.

PS. The bottom two books in the picture are books recommended by the Chicago Manual of Style, which yes, I am also slowly reading. I haven’t even peeked in those covers yet, so I can’t speak about them at all yet, but rest assured, I will chat about them once I have. One thing at a time.