Making stuff up as I go.
That’s how pantsers write their stories. And there are lots of writers who are good pantsers. I’m not.
As for me, I believe in a having a good plan. a roadmap if you will.
But I don’t want my roadmap to be so rigid.
So when I come across craft books that teach you to list down every nitty detail of the book before writing, I feel caged.
That’s why it’s safe to say that I’m a combination of a planner and a pantser.
Sure, I wish I can just be a panster 100%. But with my ADD-like personality and as a working mom, there are lots of things I have to think about. I don’t have the mental energy to be a pantser.
As a busy work at home mom, there practical benefits of being a plantser. (Hint: You can get the best of both.)
So before I show you how I plot my novel using Trello, let me show you the benefits of a plantser.
1. You’re in control
I agree about letting your characters reveal themselves to you. But as the writer of your own story, you should be the one in control, not them.
Let’s say you are the parent and your book is your kid. Letting your kids do as they please without responsible adult supervision can lead to disasters. Or worse, you might be raising a spoiled brat. You have to have some sort of control.
Same with writing a book.
Being a plantser gives you that control and authority with your book while allowing your kid to grow in independence.
2. You can say goodbye to writer’s block
Because you’ve planned your scenes, you won’t have to stare at the blinking cursor wondering what to write about.
3. You can manage self-doubt better
I find it easier to convince myself that even if what I’m writing now is a load of crap, I know the whole story idea makes sense. That gives me hope that if I just keep going and keep writing, I can edit the hell out of it later.
4. Enjoy the freedom
I plot my novel but there are some parts of it that have grey areas. It’s not perfect and that’s okay. Because I trust that as I am writing the story, more ideas will come to me. If I wait until I have all the details laid out, I might not be able to write and finish at all.
So now that you know the benefits of being a combination of a planner and a pantser, let’s dive into plotting. Note that much of the techniques I wrote here on how to plot a novel is based on Shaunta Grime’s The Plotting Workshop. Also, I’m using the Three-Act Story Structure.
How to Plot a Novel in 4 Easy Steps
Step 1. Know your 5 key plot points
Want to know if your story idea is a novel idea? Pun intended. 🙂
It’s your five main plot points. If you have these, you know you have a solid idea in your hands.
What I do is list down my five key plot points so that I don’t forget them.
The five key plot points are:
The Inciting Incident
This is the event that disrupts your protagonist’s ordinary world.
Your protagonist accepts the challenge or adventure.
The Midpoint Crisis
This is a big win for your protagonist. But not bigger than your Third Act Twist.
The Main Climax
This is the lowest point of your story. It seems like all hopes are lost.
The Third Act Twist
Your protagonist finally wins the battle.
To learn more about these events, read The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.
I also suggest watching this video by Mary Caroll Moore. It helps you visualize the highs and lows of your story.
Step 2: List down scenes for each act
Each of the five key plot points belongs to a particular Act. Using these key points, I list down possible scenes that fit each Act.
Step 3: Create your storyboard (I use Trello)
After writing down my main scenes, I create a new Trello board. You can use an actual board but I prefer to use an online software. Maybe it’s the virtual assistant in me that prefers something I can see and use on my screen.
If you use an actual board, use sticky notes to write down a single sentence description of your scene. Because you’re using a sticky note, you can move it around. This will come in handy later on when you need to move around the scenes.
If you’re using Trello, instead of sticky notes you’re going to use your Cards as your ‘sticky notes.’ Cards are movable, too. You can drag and drop them anywhere. That’s why I like Trello. 🙂
Step 4: Create 9 columns on Trello
On the first column, I list down names of my main characters. Each card is one character. I attach an image of an actual person to help me visualize.
I don’t know with other writers but when I’m writing I feel like I am the protagonist. So, to give my characters personality other than myself, I give them faces of actual people.
The other 8 columns are for the 8 sequences.
Each of your Acts has their own sequences. You can read more about it here. At the end of each sequence is a “mini-climax”. If done right, this will make your book unputdownable.
So, why do we have eight sequences? Because Act 1 has two sequences, Act 2 has four, and Act 3 has two. A total of eight.
Here’s a screenshot of my Trello board for my novel Hidden. I blurred the details because I don’t want to give you pre-mature spoilers.
That’s pretty much how I plot my novel!
Things worth noting when plotting:
Your midpoint climax mirrors the tone of your story ending
I’ve mentioned this above but it’s worth repeating.
If your novel has a happy ending, then your midpoint climax should be happy or victorious on the part of your protagonist. Watch the W-Plot by Mary Caroll Moore to see how this looks.
For example, in the movie Wonder Woman, the midpoint climax is when Wonder Woman was able to defend the No Man Island. This was a victorious event for her and her allies. It mirrors the victory she’ll have towards the story’s ending.
This happens at the end of the fourth sequence, at the start of the second half of Act 2.
Your plot may change
When I finished plotting my story and started writing there were lots of things that have changed. This usually happens with new authors, I find. And that’s okay. Don’t be hard on yourself thinking you’re not good enough.
When this happens, it doesn’t mean your original plot was a waste.
In fact, your original plot gave birth to the new one. You need to start somewhere. Sometimes you start a story in the wrong place, sometimes there are better scenes you can think about when you write.
Keep it simple
If you find yourself on a dead-end when plotting, remember to keep things simple. Especially if this is your first novel.
A simple plot doesn’t mean a boring story. Do your best to make your story interesting but don’t cram all ideas you have into your novel. Don’t let perfectionism get the best of you.
Use a planner and word tracker
Since you have eight sequences, you can now plan how many words or chapters you plan to write for each sequence. From there, plan how many days, weeks, or months you’ll write the book.
For example, if you plan to finish your novel in 100 days, then divide 100 days by eight sequences.
That gives you about 12.5 days to write each sequence.
This is just an estimation though. It doesn’t mean you should write each sequence for 12.5 days. Some scenes are much harder to write, some are longer, some are shorter.
This just gives you an idea to keep yourself on track on your writing project.
And if you prefer to divide 100 days by chapters, that’s okay, too. Do what works for you.
Over To You
How do you plot your novel? Are you a plantser like me? I’d love to know how you plot!