Planning Out Your Plot

Planning Out Your Plot

A Lesson by A. Siemens

A little lesson on how to plan out your plot, with a little something extra by my favourite newsletter writer Holly Lisle.


Let's start this off with my opinion: I hate the stupid idea of a plot line. I hate the whole Rising Action, Climax, and Resolution idea. I do not write to add these elements, it's just how it works. Don't worry about fitting these in, if you know how a story works they will follow. 

How do you write a plot? Everyone works differently, everyone has a different way to create a plot. I start with a simple idea, and create a brief plot. And by brief I say something like "she was born to a pirate captain and was raised as a pirate herself. Suddenly, it all crumbled. She was captured and her father was killed. She was left to rot in a cell, constantly beaten by those wishing to uncover the location of her father's hidden treasure. Finally, they sold her as a slave to a rich family. All was well, until the Master almost beat his wife to death and the pirate's daughter killed him to protect the Master's wife. She ran away...". 

That's how I make a plot. I have some hints and ideas to follow, but it still leaves from for the little details and any twists that may pop into my head. Personally, I like it that way. It's somewhat vague but tells me what's coming up. 

You don't want to start off a novel or story without having a plot somewhat formed in your head. Otherwise your plot will be meaningless to your reader. Your ideas will bounce around in your head like a two year-old high on sugar. 

Think about the story, let it flow. If it's boring, use my favourite writing tip, add a piece about your character that you didn't even know! Kill off character, do something out of there that will send your readers on a big adventure. Stories tend to create themselves, and that's how it should be. Write loosely so you can give it room to build. If all else fails, chat to a friend or fellow writer and ask what they would do or recommend. Don't feel like you have to follow their suggests (after all, it's your story!), but they can give you some ideas that could really help. 

Now, if you're new and haven't known me very long, I'm a huge fan of Holly Lisle's writing tips. She is an amazing writer and knows how to teach. Here's here view on how a plot should work, and why is should be plotted loosely not a strict 'this, then that, then this happens, etc'


"1) You'll keep your main story in front of you.


A loose plot outline is NOT one of those A,1,a

outlines you learned in school. Neither is it

a 30-page condensation of your entire story

such as you'd do to sell a book on spec*.


You do it with index cards, and you just hit the

high points---what your main characters will be

doing. By having these index cards available and

in front of you, you remember what you're writing,

and why---it's easier to stay on track and to

avoid those "but what if I did this instead"

digressions that can leave you with a whole

lot of pages and no coherent story.


2) You'll allow space for surprises.


With a loose plot outline, however, you are free

to follow those brilliant side ideas will actually

add to your story. You don't have to walk away

from a rigid 30-page outline---you just have to

rewrite a handful of index cards to fit your new


3) And you'll save your sanity.

Overplanning a novel makes you feel like you've

already written the book---why would you want to

do it again. It's like working in a straightjacket.


As one of the world's (reformed) great overplanners,

I have been this route. It will suck the joy

right out of creating.

Underplanning, however, leaves you in a constant

state of anxiety. You have no idea what happens

next, you never have a clear vision of what it is

you're trying to create, and when you finish, you

don't know whether you accomplished what you set out

to achieve or not.

Having started out as a pantser**, and having finished

only some very bad short stories and one utterly

irredeemable novel while doing so, I can attest to

both the anxiety and the constant feeling of trying

to work my way through fog.

Neither straightjacket nor fog allows you to do your

best work.

A loose plot that contains flexibility, elbow room,

and a sense of direction without a sense of

confinement does.


You can do this."

"*ON SPEC---You sell the book before you write it,

based on a synopsis, an extended outline, and

sample chapters.


**PANTSER---someone writing strictly by the

seat of the pants, with no planning whatsoever."

I strongly recommend signing up for her free, weekly writing tips and joining her free plot course. The links will be at the bottom. If you're looking for a more in depth look at plot, you should really think about buying her plot clinic book. It's so helpful and, no doubt, will help you grow your plotting skill. If you listen to her, you will improve and become a better writer. 

Previous Lesson


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Posted 4 Years Ago

thank you, this is much appreciated

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Posted 5 Years Ago

In truth, most of the time I'm about 25% Plotter and 75% Pantser. Sometimes it works perfectly, and sometimes the story falls flat and I forget it even exists...
Bleeding-Schizo: Yeah, I also end up with waaay too many ideas in a day, which are even more annoying: I can't throw them away; they stick in my head until I write them down somewhere...
Anyways, these two lessons are very helpful, and they're being bookmarked!

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Posted 6 Years Ago

I know exactly what you mean by overplanning. I'm starting to do that now in my novel! It sucks really bad and it's making me more frustrated than a pregnant woman being single and living in a car. (No, I've never been in this position, but I know it's frustrating. I watch too much television.)

And with the fact that I watch too much television, gives me more ideas for the book than I want to care for, and a problem I have is setting those ideas to the side or getting rid of them because they're not in my original plot for the novel.

Now, jumping to the part where you mention about the 30 page condensation of a novel. I sometimes find that easier for me than index cards. I tried that once and completely forgot about them because no matter what I do, I misplace them. And I put them in a special box ...

So, for the novel I'm currently writing (which I'm seriously to the point I'm close to an end, that I don't want to write it anymore.) Is that I wrote a loose plot of about four paragraphs long and each paragraph explaining; how it started, where the problem is going, what my character does to make the problem worse, and why this problem started in the first place.

I don't know if this is helpful or not, but going back to what I said; I'm so close to the end, I want to throw it away. It always happens like this because I confuse myself on what I want to do in the end, especially if my main character goes to a place I can't get enough research on and how much I want to write on that part makes me so full of anxiety I can't write on it for days. I like to blame it on my mind because it completely skips that part and goes straight to the end of the book.

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Posted 7 Years Ago

I totally agree that overplanning is a Bad Idea. Once you've done all that, why bother to write the story? You already know exactly what happens... I do think, though, that there are different degrees of partial planning, and what may look like no planning at all to one writer is more than enough for another.

Holly Lisle's writing tips (I get them, too) are generally good, as long as you keep in mind that her way is just the way that works for HER - not everyone writes the way she does, and not everyone should try to do so. Like her "Every day, write 500 words and then STOP" advice. Some people don't get burnt out from writing more than that. Some people are successful writers without even writing every day - they write thousands of words a day for a month or two and finish a novel, take several months off to rest and generate new ideas, and then start up again.

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Added on June 15, 2011
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A. Siemens
A. Siemens


I'm a (currently) unpublished author from Canada. I've been writing since I was very young, and have been making up stories for as long as I can remember. I've recently finished my first full novel, b..