Friday Forum: Plotting

Several Forums ago, our heroine took on the task of converting the reticent to outlining their novels. In that article, dear Reader, we looked at good reasons why one would convert to being an outliner and a few simple techniques to getting one’s feet wet doing so.

This time we’re diving into organizing the novel in new ways. Some novelists are born organizers. They’ve never approached a piece of fiction without carefully drawing out the story and character arcs, developing the plot scene by scene and knowing exactly what the secondary characters are going to do.

As I mentioned in that previous Forum, I am a recent convert to outlining and organizing. Weeks have passed and I’ve seen what an amazing and positive difference doing so has done for my stories. I have become greedy for new tools. This Forum is going to share some of them with you.

Theoretically, no two stories are the same. (Good ones, anyway.) Neither are two snowflakes. Have you heard of the Snowflake Method for plotting? creator Randy Ingermanson‘s article How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method is an intriguing look at a new way of fleshing out your project. There are some great ideas here. Make sure you read the entire article to get the full impact of the process.

Lazette Gifford‘s It’s Just a Phase has been sending ripples through the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter lately. An article from 2003, it still has some terrific ideas for plotting out a novel in a new way. Not as restraining as the typical outlining format, it still allows for both the fleshing out of the story and the growth that may be wanted along the way. You’ll definitely want to give this one a look.

In fact, those ripples I mentioned brought a new blog post from @johannaharness, founder of the #amwriting hashtag. It expands on her own experiences with phase drafting. Titled quite simply Phase Drafting, she shares her own embracing of the concept and adding a twist or two of her own.

I’ve stolen another one of her ideas for this Forum post: Big Board Planning. When I thought about combining a little of this, a little of that and bada-bing, using my pile o’post-it notes on big folding display boards, my heart went pitty-pat. Just think how much easier it is to visualize your organization this way! And when writing time is done (is writing time ever really done?), fold them up and put them away. Easy to mix and match, move scenes around. What’s not to like?

Saoirse Redgrave (Shannon Delany), author of 13 to Life, was just kind enough to share another exciting plotting method with several of us on Twitter. (If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, you may want to take a close look.) She called it “Fast Drafting” and described it as follows:

1.) Turn off your internal editor (you don’t need her complaining right now).

2.) Start writing, accepting the fact this is a draft & drafts aren’t perfect. (#2 is muy importante 😉

3.) Write 5k each day for 14 days. What some call a dirty draft.

4.) This gives you about 70k (a real, honest-to-gosh book length) in 2 weeks.

5.) Take a step back–set the ms. somewhere for at least a few days w/o editing.

6.) Approach it with fresh eyes (yours or a crit partner’s). Where are the gaps?

7.) Play “yes and” with your crit partner or yourself while revising–this means accepting changes and giving the “what if”& “what else” more opportunity to grow.

8.) Polish, but not obsessively (obsession is not healthy & breeds self-doubt).

9.) Get your query and synopsis super tight–high concept tight.

10.) Send your baby out.

She commented further, “Interestingly enough (at least to me) is the fact that most authors never finish a ms, and many who do never send it out. It cannot be published until it’s done and in front of publishers.”

(Thanks so much for that!)

As you can see, there are a number of methods available to help you with the plotting of your novel. Fiction done well is a remarkable thing. Use all the tools at your disposal to create the best story you can.

You don’t have to get bogged down in a method that doesn’t feel right to you, though! Take what works for you from each and meld it together until you have your own method. Consider it a buffet and yes, you can go back for seconds.

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17 thoughts on “Friday Forum: Plotting

  1. Saoirse Redgrave September 11, 2009 at 11:13 am Reply

    Thanks for mentioning my thoughts on plotting with my modified fast draft method.:-) I have to give credit where credit is due, too–I wouldn’t have thought about fast drafting 13 to Life book 3 except that bestselling author Ann Aguire (Blue Diablo, The Sirantha Jax series and upcoming Doubleblind– said that’s what she’s doing with her YA WiP Razorland. Totally kicked my butt into gear! 🙂

    I also remembered that author Candace Havens (The Demon King and I, Dragons Prefer Blondes) is also a big supporter of the fast draft method–check out her website for her workshops teaching it (and how to get through the revision process that follows).

    Both women are powerhouses in the fiction world–find them and follow them to learn winning techniques. Me? I’m still learning. 🙂

    Author of the 13 to Life series (coming from St. Martin’s Press in 2010)


    • Jessica Rosen September 12, 2009 at 3:58 am Reply

      So appreciate your time and your help with this post. I learned so much, from you and everyone who contributed thoughts to the article. With NaNoWriMo coming up, I feel the pressure to both finish this novel (book #2 in the series) and do some outlining for the next book, which I will be doing for NaNo. The Fast Draft method you taught me – and thank you for the attributions above – makes me more hopeful that I’ll be able to accomplish these things in time for the dreaded day of November 1st.

      Looking forward to keeping in touch,
      Jessica Rosen


  2. Shannon Morgan September 11, 2009 at 9:07 pm Reply

    I wholeheartedly rec Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. It’s a great way to approach building characters, world, and plot without getting overwhelmed.


    • Jessica Rosen September 12, 2009 at 4:02 am Reply

      Thanks for stopping by and giving some input, Shannon. I was fascinated by the detail that it’s possible to create and organize without, as you said, it becoming overwhelming and taking over. I need methods that leave wiggle room for the story to grow and change a bit as I write. The Snowflake Method seems to fit that description. I look forward to trying it when I rewrite the first book in the series, which needs so much in the way of revision that I’m starting it from scratch.

      Thanks again and take care,
      Jessica Rosen


  3. Ben Dawe September 13, 2009 at 11:40 am Reply

    I like the fast pace and achievability of this technique. Great stuff.


    • Jessica Rosen September 19, 2009 at 7:03 pm Reply

      I agree, Ben. It is a great exercise in just writing out the rough draft, leaving the editing for later. Thanks for stopping by.

      Take care,
      Jessica Rosen


  4. Jamie D. (@Variety Pages) September 14, 2009 at 10:23 pm Reply

    I’ve awarded you the “Honest Scrap” award – if you have time and are so inclined, head over to my blog (linked) to grab it (if not, that’s fine too). 🙂


    • Jessica Rosen September 19, 2009 at 7:05 pm Reply

      Hey, Jamie, thanks! Just back from a week away, be right over shortly.

      Take care,
      Jessica Rosen


  5. stinginthetail September 20, 2009 at 12:46 pm Reply

    so far going very well with using the snowflake method you mention – will keep you posted on twitter 🙂


    • Jessica Rosen September 20, 2009 at 6:25 pm Reply

      I’m glad the technique is working out for you. Your comments on twitter indicated that you discovered you were already on the ball, better organized than you’d thought, as you explored the Snowflake technique. That’s great news.

      Enjoying tweeting with you.

      Take care,
      Jessica Rosen


  6. […] Friday Forum: Plotting – This is the one that is so popular. It covers the Snowflake Method, Phase Plotting as well as Fast Drafting. Take a good look at this one. It may well be exactly what you need in order to inject a plot that moves the whole way through your NaNo. […]


  7. […] particularly when I’m writing quickly. (I’m using the Fast Draft method explained in Plotting.) Let me give you some […]


  8. […] author of 13 to Life (which is due out in June 2010!), described in an interview written in the Friday Forum: Plotting article. That meant I wrote a huge 5k per day, day in and day out. Those of you who put in massive […]


  9. fritz blog » Link dump February 5, 2010 at 7:29 pm Reply

    […] Friday Forum: Plotting � Girl Meets Word (Writing,Plot) […]


  10. […] but particularly when I’m writing quickly. (I generally use the Fast Draft method explained in Plotting in 2009 for my rough drafts.) Let me give you some […]


  11. NaNoWriMo: Tips and Tricks by JC Rosen September 24, 2012 at 3:28 pm Reply

    […] but particularly when I’m writing quickly. (I generally use the Fast Draft method explained in Plotting in 2009 for my rough drafts.) Let me give you some […]


  12. […] Friday Forum:Plotting Jessica Rosen’s focused Friday link love forum.  Pantster or plotter, you should find some useful info here. […]


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