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August 16, 2011

It's back to school with Michelle Miles: Plotting 101

I’ve never been much for plotting. In fact, I’m the type of writer than when I get an idea, I just start writing. That idea can be a character showing up in my head that starts to talk. Or a dream I had that tells the entire story from start to finish. Or sometimes it’s a snippet of conversation I’ve overhead in an elevator. Or a title that jumps out that begs for a story to be told.

When it begins in my head is when it begins on paper. At least for me.

I realized that part of my writing problem, though, was that I didn’t plot much (or ever) and then I’d get stuck. And stare at a blinking cursor. Delete large chunks of text that didn’t advance the story.

I’d been thinking about plotting for a long time, trying to figure out what would work for me but nothing seemed to. I got the Break Into Fiction book and tried all the templates. I got bored with that after the third one. I had the, “Meh. Not so much,” attitude about it.

I tried note cards and writing down specific scenes that I had in mind for the story and then arranging them in order of the story. While that was fun and all (I love note cards!), it didn’t work for me either. Anything too specific took all the fun out of writing for me and then why write the story?

I tried to storyboard. That didn’t work either. Another “too specific” problem that made me lose interest in the story.

What I did like and what did seem to work was just writing a blurb. A general, albeit brief, roadmap of where I wanted to go. But it wasn’t enough and I knew this. I still struggled with the story and got stuck. I’d waste weeks sometimes months staring at that darn blinking cursor. But I still couldn’t shake the feeling of writing and plotting. I wanted to up my output and the only way I was going to do that was (1) have more free time and (2) learn to plot a little.

I was unemployed for about three months, which was great for the writing. In fact, I had a character show up and start talking so I allowed the muse to wander. I’d been stuck for a while on a couple of things and nothing I tried seemed to work. The muse refused. And very stubbornly.  I allowed my muse to write this story, unplotted, for about 30,000 words. Then I stopped and scribbled a few notes about where I wanted the story to go. That was good enough for the time being.

But then I sold my historical/paranormal. And I knew it would be a sequel. I had nothing done on the second book. All I had was a title, the main characters, and a vague idea of the story. One day, while everyone was away and I was home alone, I took out my Heroes & Heroines Archetype book and started to study it. I figured out who my H/H were, what their archetypes were and wrote it all down. I also wrote down two of the secondary, but important, characters archetypes.

Then I took down my 20 Master Plots book and read through that. I decided what type of story this was going to be. It was, obviously, a romance, but it was ultimately a quest story. With some Good vs. Evil thrown in for good measure. I did a little world-building, too, while I was at it. I realized something: doing this exercise gave me lots of insight into who my characters really were deep down and what my story was actually about.

Then I wrote a six page, single-spaced synopsis. Not very detailed but enough to give me a general roadmap of where I wanted the story to go.

Two weeks later, I got a new job. Thankfully, I had the roadmap to guide me and managed to write nearly 10,000 words on the sequel. My muse has decided not to cooperate much with me anymore. She’s a fickle wench. But I’m forcing her to stick around, even if I have to tie her up and threaten to take away all her shoes.

I’ve yet to attempt to recreate this with another book. I want to do it, though, because I think it’ll help with my output and get me writing a little faster. At least, when I figure out my new schedule with the new job, the kid going back to school, yadda yadda. It’s always something.

Michelle Miles writes contemporary, paranormal, and fantasy romance. She’s really trying to turn over a new leaf and manage her writing time better by doing more plotting and less pantsing. To learn more about her and her books, visit her website at


Bailey Stewart said...

Good post Michelle! I've yet to find a plotting device that works for me. Even back in school when I had to do reports, I did the outline last, otherwise I couldn't stick with it.

Char said...

Great post! Michelle, I could be your twin, for I've done the same things to avoid actual plotting. And I've stared at the cursor, too. I'm working on a new ms right now and I got as far as writing the dustjacket before I started my chapters. I'm not stuck yet, but I know I'll have to break down and actually Plot It Out. ::gasp:: I downloaded WriteItNow and that really does seem to help -

Char CHaffin

Jody Vitek said...

Fun post to read Michele. I used to be a panster too, but never had the problem where I stared at flashing cursor. I would run into the problem where the story didn't contain what was needed and had too much excess unneeded stuff. I've since become a plotter, after using several different methods and it works great - for me. It doesn't always mean I stick to it though. Sometimes change is for the good. Happy writing!

Pamela Stone said...

Boy do you have me down. All those fancy tools that other writers rave about just shut me down. I've tried them all and the only one that I do finally get some use out of is the story board, but trust me, it's not detailed. I'm the first to admit that I'd have sold sooner had I really studied plot though.

I seldom stare at a blinking cursor. Either I just start writing the story as my muse suggests or if that isn't working, I get up and do something else. The characters are still in my head and eventually tell me what they want, but not while sitting and staring at a blinking cursor. Yes, I do sometimes have to delete big chunks of story.

I have devised my own system of keeping track though since I am not a chronological writer. I put all those things down in bullets and I add to them and shuffle them around as i go. The bullets range from a few words to a chunk of story if a particular scene comes to me. It seems to be working to some extent.

One of my critique partners is a plotter though and she really helps by asking, "What's the purpose of this? Where are you going with the story?" Uhhhh. Hmm. Not sure yet.

Good luck.

Sophie Oak said...

Nice post. We've talked about plotting before - I know what it feels like to stare at that cursor. It can drive you mad. It sounds like you've found something that works for you! I'll have to give it a try.

Denise McDonald said...

I am so bad when it comes to plotting, if I plot out the book, I know too much of the story and then don't want to write it. I need to get better at it though because there will come a point when I *need* to get something done and I will think myself right out of it... I have the 20 Master Plots book so maybe I should open it some time...LOL

Diana Cosby said...

Hi Michelle,
Interesting topic to our writer's hearts. I think to plot or not, or to whatever degree is personal. There is no right or wrong way, but each author's way. And, I believe that as we grow as authors, or styles change. When I first began writing, I did character charts, massive plots, etc . . . Now, I have a synopsis, do a few character notes, then I begin. It's interesting how we grow.
Congratulations on your new job. I hope it as your writing every success! *Hugs*


Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

I think it is interesting how we get our projects launched. Most people have no idea. And the outline? Please. I'm with Bailey and did it afterwards. LOL

Thanks, Michelle, for demystifying how some writers work.

Michelle Miles said...

Thanks all for stopping by! It's taken me a long time to figure out this process. Hopefully I can stick to it :)

Phyllis said...

Great Post, Michelle. I am totally a pantser, but have become --as Author Kathy Ivan phrased the term -- a hybred writer. I write as a pantser, but at some point, I do need figure out where it is going, so I plot.

I admit, none of the methods you mentioned have worked for me either.

Kathy Ivan said...

Thanks for coming by today, Michelle, and telling us about how you plot. We've got an interesting mix of plotters and panters as part of the Princesses, so we each approach our work in different ways.

I tend to get the kernel of the story idea first, since I write romantic suspense, and have to begin figuring out a few things, like who's the bad guy/gal, why are they doing the bad thing to my H and H? Then my main H and H begin to get fleshed out. Of course, at this point, I'm not writing anything down, its all in my head, because I'm a procrastinator supreme. LOL

I also will bounce the story idea and characters off my sister, who is a great sounding board. She can spot a plot hole or problem from a mile away and she's usually right (almost always but don't tell her I said so).

Again, thanks for you interesting and insightful blog post.

Avery Michaels said...

Great post, Michelle! I took C.J. Lyons class 'Character Driven Plotting' and it resonated with me to where I plotted my new WIP easily.


Caroline Clemmons said...

Yes, it is always something, isn't it? Thanks for sharing, Michelle.

Yasmine Phoenix said...

Great post, Michelle my TwitterMate. I'm a plotter and my characters get in the way, or should I write get their way with the plot. My storyboard looks like diagramming sentences, which I was pretty good at in high school. I'm also linear in my writing which creates problems at times when it comes to rewriting.
Thanks, see you on Twitter.

Liz Lipperman said...

Great food for thought, Michelle. I am a total plotter. I start with a title and a blurb and add plot points. Since I write longhand, I start at the empty page without that. I have to admit I usually go down a different road several times in the story, but it helps to have some kind of outline to follow.

So now I call myself a Plotster.

And I have to admit, the Plotting Princesses are a huge help.

Michelle Miles said...

Liz - I like that. A plotster! I think I could be one of those, too :)

Thank you to everyone who stopped by today! I'm sorry didn't get to play more but the Day Job keeps me busy. :)

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

I like plotster too!

Sylvia McDaniel said...

Okay, I admit it, I love my storyboard, I use the hero's journey and plot the heck out of the book before I write the first word. If I don't know where I'm going, I'll take a winding road to nowhere. I know that when I sit down to write a scene, what has to happen, but if something better pops in, then I change it. I wish I could be a panster, but I'd have the blinking curser syndrome even more than I do now. Knowing where I'm going lets me concentrate on the emotions of the characters.

Phyllis said...


Once again, Liz, you've come up with the perfect name for such pantser/plotter hybreds.

I guess I must lay my personal claim to the term, 'cause it's what I am!