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Plotting Made Simple

This is not a treatise on why you should plot (because I don’t always plot either).  This isn’t a “my way is best” argument because I know that’s BS too.  Every book requires different skills or tools.  Right now, I’m at the stage of my writing where I need a quick check sheet, or reminder list, of what I personally need when plotting.  You may find this helpful, or you may run away screaming because I’m bringing out spreadsheets.  Just know that I do NOT always do this — but it does help me organize my thoughts when I’m feeling scattered or stuck.

(Upcoming will be THEME and CHARACTER sheets too.)

I’ve tried every writing software under the sun, from Scrivener to TextBlock to Liquid Story Binder to….Lord, I can’t even  name them all.  I do like many and use many for different things, but sometimes, I need the physical touch of paper and ink.  You may laugh, but there’s something very magical in purple ink.  When I bring out my favorite pen (I’ve resorted to hiding the entire box from the monsters and threatening them with deadly harm if they steal them) and some white paper, my brain is freed.  It touches on something creative – yet also analytical – in my brain that helps me tap down into the heart of what I’m trying to write.

I’ve got Marshall Plan worksheets, character portfolios, etc. that I’ve copied from online and print resources over the years, but there was no one single sheet that let me see the story at a glance.  How LONG is this story going to be?  Am I going to get to page 100 and realize I’m done?  Or page 250 and realize oh, @&#*%, I’m nowhere near the end?  I don’t want to have to carry around very complicated pages and details — I just want something brief and to the point, structured but also very simple and free.  I want to customize it for a short story, or use it for a full-length fantasy novel at the same time.

What I came up with is a basic Act sheet (Excel, pdf).

A few general comments:

  • These sheets print landscape on legal size paper.  I wanted room for my poor eyes to see!
  • The long skinny column on the left is for your character name(s).
  • Use each horizontal row to track a character’s progress through the story.
  • These sheets currently only allow 2 POVs.  I have similar worksheets to track many characters at a time, but I wanted simple, and most romances are going to concentrate on the protagonist and her/his love interest.
  • The large blocks are free form, with space at the top for you to title the scene (if you enjoy that), to jot location, etc.  Whatever floats your boat.

Here’s how I’m using this sheet.  No matter the size of your WIP, Act 1 should be about 25% of the overall length, Act 2 about 50%, and Act 3 about 25%.  This is not set in stone – merely a guideline for a satisfying story.   I’m working on a novella right now, so I don’t need a lot of sections or scenes.  5 per act felt pretty good, and so if I print out 4 of these worksheets, that’ll give me about 20 sections (one page for each act).

If I want to write a longer novel (50-60K, a good length for epub), then maybe I need 8 pages, giving me about 10 scenes per Act, or 40 total.  If I’m going to write a really detailed, longer single-title novel around 80-90K, then I’m probably going to need 3 or 4 pages per Act.

If I want to write a shorter story (around 10K), then I can probably get by with 2 pages, or 10 sections.  If the story needs to be under 5K, then I’ve got to figure out how to tell the entire story on one page in 5 sections or less.  See how that works?

Now if you want a little more structure to your sheets, I created 4 pages overlaid with the hero’s journey.  The major points of the hero’s journey are obviously very flexible.  e.g. you don’t have to have the dark moment happen in exactly  section 014.  This is entirely customizable to your story — so feel free to move the journey points around as needed.  Again, I’m working on a novella length project, so I fit the hero’s journey onto 4 sheets, targeting 20 sections.  Feel free to widen or narrow the pages down to fit your target.

Act 1:  (Excel, pdf)

Act 2:  (Excel, pdf)

Act 2 Part 2:  (Excel, pdf)

Act 3:  (Excel, pdf)

Just so you know, this is still a messy process.  I’m already on my second draft and still have scribbles all over the margins, etc.  But at least I can SEE how much story I have without worrying about the monsters pulling sticky notes off the wall or making flashcards out of my index cards!  I’m also probably going to end up using sticky notes on TOP of the spreadsheet to help me track the romance elements.  e.g. first kiss, or building sexual tension. 

5 thoughts on “Plotting Made Simple

  1. Maybe I should buy a bunch of purple pens 😀

    Love spreadsheets, thanks for sharing these. I’m continually looking for what works best for me.

    Happy New Year Joely!

  2. Thanks, Joely!! Can I mention this on facebook for my writing buddies?

  3. Sherri, I have the POWER!!! (Waves purple pen overhead) Happy New Year!

    Tambo, absolutely!

  4. Happy New Year! Thanks, Joely! These are really helpful and gracious of you to share! 😀

  5. Ahahaha! I LOL’d at the unhidden index cards becoming flashcards — that is what tends to happen to ALL of mine! 🙄 Can’t wait to check out the Excel sheets, so thanks for those — and Happy New Year!! 🙂

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