A Novel in 3 months (week 2) – more on plot

Last movie watched: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
On the iPod right now: Do You Know by Enrique Iglesias

I don’t know about you but once I get a few ideas about my plot, I have to write them down.  This is to a) stop everything getting jumbled up in my head and b) to make sure the plot will actually work.  I use a few methods because I find the writing down and transfer of information helps to reinforce things.  So here’s what I do:


On a large whiteboard, I draw up ten equal parts, which represents 1o chapters (give or take).  The first is ‘first meeting’ and the last is ‘HEA’.  In between I write the important plot points that advance the story forward, and any action that forces a character to do something.  If you’re writing a longer book, you could use a larger board, or two.  Or if you have a large expanse of wall bare, clip up a long stretch of paper and use that.  Or those standing flip charts that you find in conference rooms.

I also end up blue-tacking to my whiteboard any snippets of dialogue or information that I’ve noted on scraps of paper or in my notebook.  Then when I write that in the actual story, it gets thrown out.

Document Map

I then take those scenes and type them into Document Map.  If you don’t know what this nifty little program is, check out my article here.

It’s important to keep your summaries short, so when you’re done, the Document Map will read as a mini summary of your story.  And after every summary, I insert a page break.  I DON’T work in chapters at this stage:  that comes later.

So, in The Magnate’s Baby Promise, my final plot plan in Document Map was:

  • intro Cal GM – introspection
  • intro Ava GM – introspection
  • first meeting – conflict, ultimatum
  • Ava agrees to MOC
  • at Cal’s apartment – revealing character
  • dinner with parents – Cal has doubts about Ava’s guilt
  • morning tension on balcony
  • gyno visit – brief kiss (reveal Cal’s nature)
  • Ava cooks dinner – tension
  • Cal and Ava at party – Cal’s Ordinary World
  • confront father
  • Go to Jindalee – Ava’s Ordinary World
  • Love scene – Cal leaves
  • Ava introspection, returns to Sydney
  • Cal introspection, believes Ava is good person
  • engagement party – Ava reveals past
  • Love scene
  • wedding day – Cal and father
  • black moment
  • in hospital, HEA
  • epilogue

As you can see, I’m a plotter-scener 🙂 And by using these little summaries it’s easy to see if the plot doesn’t flow right or if I haven’t sufficiently increased the sexual tension.  In this book, it was important to show the growth of the h/h’s friendship and trust, which then culminates in a love scene (the ultimate expression of that trust).

And hey, I hadn’t noticed it before now, but you can also clearly see The Hero’s Journey laid out in the plot plan too! 😆


14 comments on “A Novel in 3 months (week 2) – more on plot

  1. I haven’t used Document Map – I’ve heard you talk about it a lot Paula, and it’s been on my ‘must get around to it’ list, but will finally ‘get around to it’ this week. Good a time as any to give it a whirl 🙂

  2. I swear, Anita, it’s fab! Almost makes me forgive the sudden power outs, the Blue Screen of Death and all the other crappy stuff my PC does!

  3. Okay, I’m going to admit this is another area I come undone. My characters hate me writing down plot and having then hang from the wall near my desk. No joke, they stop talking – completely.

    But I so want to give this a go, so I’m going to cheat them and do it in OneNote, or do a spreadsheet, then I can check that I’m on track during the day.

    I’m off to write up my scenes. Wish me luck.

    Paula, thank you so much for your time and your help. I’ll let you know how I fair.


  4. So your story doesn’t move forward because you already know your plot, is that it, Sandie? Do you think that it’s because, in your subconscious, you’ve already gotten to the end (however bare that end may be) and your brain’s just gone – ‘okay, story’s over. Move on to another one’.

    I know lots of writers that can’t work like this. So my advice to you would be a) admit you’re just a pantser and stop this plotting madness 😀 or b) trick your brain by just keeping the bare bones in your head – the main source of conflict, a few key scenes, cause/effect. Or… use the plotting strategy as an editing/revision tool for AFTER you’ve written your story. For e.g. the Hero’s Journey can be a check list, a ‘have I included that?’ to compare with your finished product.

  5. Yes, I have to say Paula, I use my first draft as my plotting. I write in scenes rather than chapters and use the document map to high where each scene begins, once I’m finished writing I go back and read it though as a hard copy making notes.

    It normally means I have to do a mountain of layering, which is why I’d like to give this a go. What I’ve been doing is plot x number of scenes each morning, then write, so I don’t really know the end, but I have some sort of map to follow.

    Maybe I’ll be able to wean myself into this plotting thing. LOL. If not completely plot, I may find some sort of middle ground. I hoping to at least be able to cut down the amount of layering I’ll need to do, during the editing process.

  6. yep, plotting does cut down on time and I learned the hard way, slogging for years over what became my first book because I had no plan. I realized it was just more efficient and my other brain (the one that simply HATES wasting time) must’ve agreed 😀

  7. See, I’m a plotter – no question. I lurv things to be ordered, planned out, lists made, know where I’m heading… doesn’t mean my characters don’t take little detours, but they usually hit the main points, at least for the first draft.

  8. Hi Paula,
    Just reread The Magnates Baby promise .Wow, talk about being organised. Can actually ‘see’ the book in your document map. Off to reread your article on document maps. Managed to open it in word yesterday but have to figure out how to use it. Thanks for all your articles. I visit your site quite often.Your advice in the ‘for writers’ column is invaluable to us aspiring writers.

  9. Just wondering, Paula, how much information you put into Document Map for each plot point? I’m going through mine at the moment, considering the escalation of relationship, and wondering if I should be putting more notes about what happens into the map.

    And, to clarify, do you do it scene by scene?


  10. Anita – I don’t put a lot in the DM summary as you can see… just what the scene is about (and yep, I do it scene by scene). I also used to put a bit more detailed scene summary in the body of my wip. It went like this:
    scene starts – (includes the where, who and in who’s POV)
    scene goal – (what’s the point of the scene e.g. ‘for the heroine to find out the hero didn’t kill her mother’, or ‘provide doubt as to heroine’s guilt’, etc)
    scene reveals – (what a character or reader has discovered by the end of the scene)

    But getting so immersed in the story, I don’t need this extra information; I can pretty much recall it from the brief DM summaries (‘oh, the first kiss… right, that’s when the heroine begins to trust the hero.’) 😀

  11. Thanks Paula. I’ll need to revisit my doc map then. I have the main plot point, but that isn’t necessarily the only scene. Eg one heading is conversation with mentor, but that involves 3 scenes – initial conversation, heroine discussing with clients, and a second conversation.

    Thanks 🙂

  12. Hi Paula,

    Firstly, I am love, love, loving your blog. Thank you for taking the time to put this invaluable information out there for all of us ‘wannabes’, it is very much appreciated.

    A quick question… and one that is probably quite obvious… can a scene extend over more than one chapter? And can a chapter have more than one scene? Ok, that was two questions.

    My plotting is going well, and I have a good idea of the plot (romantic and major plot). My characters have taken on style and substance beyond the gerneric, and I am busy drawing up the scenes. Now I wondering how to best fit them into chapters.

    Thanks again for your help.


  13. Hi Jo! Glad you’re getting something out of it!:grin:

    You’ll find, in fiction writing, most ‘rules’ aren’t really rules at all. I’m going to say yes, of course you can extend a scene over a chapter – sometimes the best place to break a chapter is at a dramatic moment/realisation mid-scene. And yes, a chapter can have more than one scene. I normally try to make 5K/20p per chapter, so one massive 5K scene is gonna run pretty long 😆

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