The Ultimate Plot Creation Resource List

quill-175980_640Once you’ve figured out the basics of your world and gotten to know your characters pretty well, it’s time to start thinking seriously about the plot. If your novel planning process is moving along at the proper pace, you should already have an idea what your plot looks like.

Now it’s time to figure out all the details. Well, not all the details. At least a few details should be figured out as you go along, because the best stories grow organically.

But you do need to know the basic structure of your plot before you start writing the first draft of your novel, at least if you want to write a first draft you might actually be able to salvage someday. So I’ve compiled a pretty large collection of resources designed to help you plot a novel.

Remember: there is no right or wrong way to plot a novel. Try as many as you need to until you find the one that works best for you.

Plotting Resources

1. The 4 Story Structures That Dominate Novels – This is an article on Writer’s Digest that details different story structures commonly used in novels. If you have only a very basic idea—or no idea at all—how your story will be structured, this is a really good place to start.

2. How to Structure a Story: The Eight-Point Arc – An explanation of one way you can structure your story. It’s a fairly detailed article that should give you lots of food for thought.

3. Nanowrimo Prep: The Ultimate Plot Development Guide – I haven’t actually read through this whole thing yet, but there’s an interesting article and a downloadable guide that comes with a plot building worksheet. This seems like just as good a place as any to go when you’re prepared to start fleshing out your plot.

4. The Snowflake Method – One method for planning a novel that lots and lots of writers absolutely love. I find this kind of outlining to be way too rigid for my tastes, but to each their own, right?

5. The Best Approach to Story Structure: From Aristotle to Dramatica – This is a pretty interesting article with a lot of food for thought on the subject of story structure/plotting. Some good reading to do before you start nailing down the details of your plot.

6. How to Create Story Structure to Die For – A fairly detailed article about creating excellent story structure on the Write to Done blog.

7. 25 Things You Should Know About Story Structure – Although I’ve only read one of his books I can tell you Chuck Wendig is a great author. He’s also a great blogger and seems to me to be an all around great guy. If you found Limyaael’s rants entertaining, you’ll love this—and find it useful to boot.

8. Novel Plotting Worksheets – If you really prefer to use worksheets to plot your novels, or you’re simply interested in trying a different approach, you can find a couple novel plotting worksheets here. You’ll also find a handy character chart and a link to a resource with more worksheets.

9. How to Create a Book that will Keep Readers Reading – Plot Worksheet – This is a pretty detailed plot worksheet that should help you create an engaging story you’ll actually be able to edit into a publishable novel.

10. Writing a Young Adult Series – An article that, despite its focus on one genre, can be helpful to anyone planning a series. You might not be writing every book in your series during November, but you should have an idea what they’re all going to look like, and what the overall story is. This article has some useful thoughts on how you can do just that.

11. Plot Structures for Books in a Series – More thoughts on how to structure novels within a series.

12. The Challenges of Writing a Series – And one more post on the challenges of writing a series because frankly, it’s challenging. After all, you want to set things up in the first book so that there’s appropriate foreshadowing for things in later books, which means you need to outline the whole thing before writing the first book.

13. Michael Crichton’s Method for Plotting out a Story – I think the title really says it all for this one.

14. How to Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps – If you don’t want to use a worksheet but you still want to create a solid outline before you start your first draft, this article can help you do so.

15. Plot Development – A pretty detailed article about plot development that should help you create something worthwhile, especially when combined with one of the outlining methods linked to in this article.

16. Golden Rules for a Good Plot – Five rules and a couple useful links that will help you write a novel worth reading.

17. 6 Writing Outline Templates and 3 Reasons to Use Them – An article about the importance of outlines, with links to outline worksheets you can download.

18. Plotting a Romance Novel – If you’re considering writing a romance novel—or you’ve already decided it’s a good idea—this article is for you. It might also be helpful if you’re trying to write a book where romance is a major component, but not actually the main storyline.

19. Outlining Your Novel: Why and How – Another great article about the purpose of outlines, along with a guide to creating them.

20. First Steps in Plotting a Novel – A brief article that will help you plan the beginning of your novel.

21. Plotting a Novel – This article details the Marshall Plan for Novel Writing. There’s actual software for this available if you’re interested in using the method yourself. From my understanding there’s also a book, if you prefer to learn that way.

22. How J.K. Rowling Plotted Harry Potter with a Hand-Drawn Spreadsheet – Admit it. Every time you finish reading a book that leaves an impression, you want to know how it was planned. Well, J.K. Rowling’s actually enlightened the public to a fair bit of her writing process. Enjoy!

23. Famous Authors’ Hand-Written Outlines for Great Works of Literature – On this site you can actually see the hand-written outlines several famous authors have created. I don’t know how much it will help you plot your own novel, but it is really cool to see these famous novels planned out like this.

24. 7 Ways to Add Great Subplots to Your Novel – This is another article from Writer’s Digest, this time discussing how to add interesting subplots to your novel. After all, the best novels always have more than one thing going on.

25. 5 Ways to Write a Killer Plot Twist – Everybody loves a good plot twist done right. This article will help you get it right every time.

26. What is Plot – How to Write a Story from Beginning to End – A fairly detailed article that will help you think your plot through properly and make sure you write a story actually worth reading. After all, you don’t want to spend an entire month on something that isn’t worthwhile, do you?

27. Special Fiction Writing Week: Creating a Plot – You’ll find some great information on plot creation in this article and you’ll also find a couple useful links. Realistically, Men with Pens is a blog you should probably be following anyway. Just thought I’d throw the idea out there.

28. Thoughts on Plot by Famous Writers – This is a great collection of quotes which will hopefully help you plan a better novel and stay inspired when the plotting gets tough.

29. Before You Can Write a Good Plot, You Need to Write a Good Place – An article discussing the importance of your setting to creating a great story.

30. The Best Advice on Plotting I’ve Ever Heard – A pretty useful article that happens to be located on a writing blog you might want to spend some time exploring before moving on to the next resource.

31. Plots and Stories – An article that outlines the differences between plots and stories, discusses how they work together, and how stories without strong plots can still work on occasion. There’s some pretty interesting stuff here.

32. Constructing Plot – This article goes through the various elements of plot and shows how you can use them to construct a worthwhile novel.

33. 5 Major Plotholes in Otherwise Great Movies – Okay, I’ll be fair, this isn’t really a writing resource. At the same time, everything is a writing resource. Movies, just like books, consist of characters, setting, plot and story. And knowing what to avoid is just as important as knowing what to do.

34. How to Write a Good Game Story – Again, this article isn’t focused on books, but it is focused on story and plot. And studying any kind of story is worthwhile, so it’s on the list.

35, It’s Just a Phase – This article walks you through the creation of a phase outline, which is a pretty intensive form of outlining I find way too extreme that might just work for you anyway. There are also a lot of useful articles on the Forward Motion website.

36. 25 Ways to Plot, Plan and Prep Your Story – Another great article written by Chuck Wendig. If you go through all 25 you’ll probably end up with a pretty solid plot. I’ve never worked through them all in order from this list, so if you do, I’d love to hear about it and the results you get.

37. Choosing the Best Outline Method for You – One last article from Writer’s Digest which will help you decide which of these many different outlining methods you can actually use.

Outlining a novel might seem tedious, but it’s essential to creating a worthwhile first draft. Even with an outline you might find your first draft too messy to be salvageable, but I can almost guarantee you’ll be able to tell your story is still worthwhile.

Outlining your novel before you begin also helps you decide whether or not you actually want to spend a month or more on this novel. After all, you can’t really know if an idea is worthwhile until you’ve spent some time examining it and discovering more about it.

If you know of any plotting resources that really should be on this list, let me know in the comments below or shoot me an email at diannalgunn @ gmail.com .

Bringing your Ideas Together

Earlier this week we went over a few ways to find ideas for your Nanowrimo novel. With any luck you successfully used one of the brainstorming techniques I mentioned on Monday and came up with a few ideas or managed to flesh out an idea you already had.

Today I’d like to help you organize those ideas. While having a mind map or a right brain left brain list is great and either can be used as a basic guide, a linear list of ideas–or a few lists consisting of different categories of ideas–is sometimes more helpful. Personally, my mind maps tend to be horribly disorganized and messy, so I myself will be doing this exercise as soon as I finish writing this post.

First, you need to find a good place to put all these ideas. You can use a folder, a spiral notebook, a binder, and probably a couple things I’ve never heard of. The important thing is that you find something large enough to hold all your ideas and small enough to fit next to your computer in your workspace. I personally keep binders for all my novel length projects. I like binders because it’s easy to put in dividers and keep them organized, and because my binders are big enough that I don’t want to take them everywhere but small enough that I can take them places.

Once you’ve chosen your storage method, it’s time to sort through your ideas. Create categories for plot, world and character on separate pages. With any luck you’ll have had a few ideas about each of these while brainstorming. Create a simple list. For example, your character page might look something like this:

Characters

  • Young female MC–Potential names: Valtessa, Vamira, Kari.
  • Tribal chieftain, MC’s grandfather, needs a name
  • Young male MC–Potential names: Kormir, Thorin, Kaldon.

And so on and so forth. Make sure you put every idea you’ve decided to keep into one of these categories, and if you feel the need to create another category, feel free. Simply writing these ideas down into lists will probably give you more ideas–expand the lists as much as you can. The more you know about what you’re going to do with this novel, the easier it will be to write–or to decide how you want to change your approach.

If you’re going all out and creating an intensive plan and world, this is a great time to grab and label some dividers and to make sure your binder’s well stocked with both lined and blank paper. Graph paper is particularly good for anyone looking to create maps. If you’re going to keep it basic, I’d still suggest stocking it with paper in case you find quotes you’d like to include online or decide to take on dares–or make notes to yourself for when you decide to edit the monster. If you decide to edit the monster.

Where do you like to store your ideas?

Plotting in Three Parts


Today I’d like to introduce Anne Marie, author of La Dame a La Licorne, brought to you by Musa Publishing. This will be her ninth year participating in Nanowrimo. Lucky for those of you scrambling for ideas and trying to figure out how you’re going to outline a novel before November first, Anne’s got some ideas of her own about outlining which I hope you’ll enjoy.

For the past eight years I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month (aka: NaNoWriMo or NaNo). Every year I’ve tried a different approach to writing. I wanted to prove to myself that there isn’t one way to tell a story, and the methods outside my comfort zone might actually work better. Besides, what’s comfortable about writing 50,000 words in one month? Answer: everything when you’ve got the NaNo community with you each step of the way.

There are at least three types of writers: Outliner, Beader, and Pantser. I’ll detail each method, and what to do before and during November. I hope it helps you reach the finish line on November 30th (or earlier).

The Outliner:

You’re the type of writer that wants to know exactly how you get from the beginning to the ending. You write pages and pages of detailed character sketches, setting description, research notes, twists and turns, and how each scene will play out.

Before NaNo, make sure you don’t write down any dialogue or actually description you’re going to use. It’s tempting to dive in before October. If you get stuck, put your outline away for a week. Return to it with a fresh mind and see if you can improve it during the last week before November 1st.

During NaNo it’s helpful to check your outline and make sure you’re on track word-wise. There is no set word count for a scene; however, if you have twenty-five scenes that run two thousand words, and you write a scene a day, you’ll finish with days to spare. Since the daily word goal actually is 1,667, you might want to write a scene with that word count in mind. For a thriller writer, your scenes may be shorter to keep the pace fast. That’s fine! Just know, roughly, how many scenes it will take to reach that daily goal.

The Beader:

Much like the Outliner, you have a pretty good idea how your story starts, important scenes in the middle, and how it ends. What you don’t yet know are the linking scenes between big events.

Before NaNo, the big scenes are what excited you to begin with. Concentrate on how to link the explosion on page 1 with the alien invasion on page 15. Read books in your genre. Talk to your friends. Ask them how they would logically get from explosions to aliens. Day-dream.

During NaNo, your daily payoff will be to write those explosions and invasions. Which means, you should start each day writing the linking scenes. Your reward will be writing those scenes you’ve been thinking about since October. And rewards never hurt. If you don’t make your daily goal with a linking scene and a big scene, write half of the next linking scene. Generally, you’re going to be writing more linking scenes than explosions.

The Pantser:

You throw caution and preparation to the wind. You might have a vague idea about the topic you want to write about, you might not. You might know a character’s name, but then again, you probably don’t.

Before NaNo, it might be helpful to brainstorm some big general ideas that won’t tie your free spirit down. Where do you want to start? Where do you want to end? It’s always helpful to have an ending in mind, so that you know where to steer your NaNo ship.

During NaNo, every day is going to be a new adventure. Sit down and follow your characters. Throw everything in their way. They want to go to the mall today? Make it rain. Give them a flat tire. When you get stuck, stop and think about how you’d get out of the situation they’re in. Make it worse.

Whether you’re an Outliner, Beader, or Panster, NaNo teaches you how to embrace your style in thirty days. Remember, this isn’t a polished piece. If things aren’t flowing the way you want them to, don’t delete. Put a note in the document. Trace your steps back to the last point the story was working. Continue writing from there. When you go back to edit, you can delete all the non-working words. When I know I’ve gone on a dead-end tangent, I make all the text red.

Good luck! I hope to see your purple “Winners” bar on November 30th. To follow along with my progress, you can find me here.

Bio: Anne attended the University of Colorado for a BA in English Literature, where she fell in love with folklore and myths from around the world. She adores languages, great white sharks, and the impossible. Her work usually includes one of those three things. She currently lives in Aurora, Colorado with Brody the beagle. Once a week, she posts a short story at Cimmerian Tales (http://cimmeriantales.wordpress.com). You can follow her on Twitter @annemariewrites.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Starting a Project

This is the beginning of a series of posts about plotting and outlining. During this series of posts we will look at various aspects of plot and story, and then we’ll talk about different types of outlines. The goal is that this series of posts will help you plan out your next novel-length project.

Since we are at the very beginning, today I would like to talk about that beginning. These are some of the important things you have to consider when you’re going from a basic idea to a planned story.

1. Why do I want to write this story? There are many different reasons why we choose to write the stories that we do. They range from being as simple as the story needs to get out to as complex as supporting a political movement. Why are you writing this story? Is it because it just came to you, in a seeming flash of brilliance, or is there a specific point you are trying to make? Every good story has a point to it, but some stories come out of their point, while some points just grow with the story. You need to know why you want to write the story, not just because the purpose will help you tighten the outline and the story itself, but because then if you ever get lost you can remind yourself what your original purpose was, and why this project is important.

2. Who are the main characters of this story? Right now you have an idea. Let’s say that your idea is that a poor urchin discovers their royal blood (because it’s easy for an example) and needs to reclaim their throne. The main characters include the urchin and the urchin’s best friend/love interest who will help them reclaim their throne, as well as some mysterious royal person who gives the royal urchin the insider information they need to reclaim the throne. This question is about finding out a little more about the royal urchin and their best friend. It’s about deciding their names, their genders, and their backgrounds. You don’t need to know everything at this stage, but you need a basic idea of who your main characters are. This will make it easier to plot your novel, and once you’ve got the basics, the rest of the character usually comes easily.

3. What kind of place is this story set in? A lot of you will already know this. Many times I know the world before I know too much about the story-and I almost always know the world before I know the main character’s name (they’re not forthcoming about that kind of thing). You don’t need to know exactly where every part of your story takes place and you don’t need to think about it too much-we’ll talk about setting later-but it’s good to know what kind of world you’re starting off in, even if you don’t know much about it. You should at least know whether or not you’re going to be working in our world, and what kind of era you’re working in-are you working in something like the middle ages, or something like Star Trek? This will tell you what kind of setting research you might need to be doing. Setting is also a great place to find new story ideas.

4. What is the underlying conflict of this story? Every good story has multiple layers of conflict. They have external conflict and they have internal conflict. The main characters’ quest to reclaim the throne is interesting, but what really drives us is the conflict going on in his head: conflict about his past, conflict about his future. From our example above, you could say that the underlying conflict is the character wondering about his poor friends: will he have to leave them behind? Is it ethical to leave them behind?

Knowing the underlying conflict of the story helps you to plot it more thoroughly. You can remind yourself to put it in various scenes and to make sure it’s always lying there, just under the surface. It means you don’t have to go back afterwards and put in the introspective scenes, you can plan for them to be there the first time.

5. How long is this project going to be? Now, I think I’ve made it clear that I’m talking about novels here. There is prep work for short stories but it’s a lot less intense. But there’s still a wide variety in novel lengths. What you say now probably isn’t your definitive answer-the story length will change somewhat with each draft, even-but it’s good to have an idea. You can go for a shorter novel of around 50, 000 words or a big book sitting at 150, 000 words. For those of us looking to break into mainstream print someday, publishers like books between 80, 000-100, 000 most of all. But don’t let that discourage you-if your book is twice the size, that means it can be two. Honouring your story and letting it end when it needs to end is the most important thing; you can’t cut it off too soon or let it live for too long. The completion of the story is more important than the word count.

So what now?

Keep thinking about these questions. Over the next week, spend some time getting to know your characters. What they like, what they dislike. What they’re afraid of. Whatever might be useful to your story-or just interesting background information. Next week we’re going to talk about the importance of setting to plot.

What do you ask yourself when starting a new project?