How a Master Plotter Writer Gets the Planning Done

I am an annoying mega-organiser extraordinaire. If I can plan it and file it, I’m like a pig in poo. So it comes as no surprise to hear that I am most definitely a plotter rather than a pantser.

For the uninitiated, pantsers are those that fly by the seat of their pants. They can vary in either writing with some notes, to having a few ideas in their head, and seeing what happens as they write.

A plotter is someone who plots out their novel outline in varying degrees of detail, along with other aspects such as research, character profiles, and settings.

I am a full-on worshipper at the altar of the plotting gods, and then some.

Plotting My Novel

I have spent a couple of months planning and researching for my novel. Some of you may be horrified by that. Others may see that as a short space of time. It’s worked for me.

Master Plotter - ideasI never go into anything half-arsed. I have to know what I’m doing in advance. It’s a standing joke that I have inherited my mother’s uber-organiser genes. Bless her though; she’s in a league of her own. She packs for holidays a month in advance. My poor dad is desperate for clean undies and socks by the time they jet off because he’s banned from dipping into the suitcases. My mum has taught me everything I need to know about planning in intricate detail but I’ve modified it to being able to find a fresh pair of undies.

I knew my novel was going to get the full plotting treatment. My last novel, which was also my first, was based around pieces I’d already written. It was a completely different exercise as it didn’t require research, being based upon my own journals.

This next novel demanded to be approached plotter guerrilla style. This is where a book I thought might be useful turned out to be amazing.

Up front let me state that I am not the woman’s secret publisher, agent or publicist. I just found this book incredibly useful. I worked my way through reading K. M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel and using the accompanying workbook. Both are a plotter’s dream! Weiland even claims that pantsers will find some value in outlining too.

With these books I have covered areas I never would have considered such as personality tests for my characters, ‘what if’ plot questions, and delving deep into back stories. I have a huge lever arch file full of my research and ideas, ready to crack the first draft of this novel well and truly open.

Pantsers, this may sound like far too much work to you. To each their own. I admire how you can wing it and see it through. This gal isn’t for turning though!

I Can Show My Pants Too!

Master Plotter - pantserStrangely enough a lot of my short stories are written pantser style. I’m still baffled as to why this is. I don’t plan them out in any kind of detail. I have a rough idea of plot and characters and then I just let my fingers and brain do their thing.

It’s great to have this balance with my usual mega-organiser personality. I enjoy the freedom of starting a story and watching it unfold before my very eyes, just as a reader would. It’s a liberating experience for Little Miss Perfection, that’s for sure!

The Aspects I Cover in My Plotting

This post is dangerously close to sounding like a proper, grown-up writing tips piece. There’s a first time for everything! Here are some aspects I consider when plotting novels that you may find helpful. Many of them are taken from the Outlining Your Novel book.

  • World building – I created a board with all the roads and the layout of the 1980s estate that is a main setting in my novel. I had a lot of fun putting characters in each house too. It felt like playing with dolls houses when I was a kid!
  • Scattering ideas – general plot notes that can be done as a spidergraph, mindmap, or whatever works for you.
  • Asking ‘what if’ questions of the plot, e.g. ‘What if an estate in the 1980s was used as the main setting?
  • Writing a premise sentence – this is akin to writing a synopsis: painful but necessary.
  • Identify conflict and tension points in the plot.
  • The inciting and key events.
  • Creating character profiles for the main characters – I source pictures of what I think they would look like as I’m visual and then compile a list of traits, appearance, goals, hobbies, ambitions, personality profiling etc.
  • Character arcs.
  • Themes.
  • Creating scenes lists.
  • Settings: creating smaller worlds in more detail.
  • Deciding upon voice and POV.
  • Research of key areas I know will feature heavily in my novel. With this one I’ve had a lot of fun researching ‘80s fashions, music, fads, events and school life. I even set up a Facebook group to get input from others who’ve lived through the ‘80s in the UK. It’s a great way to attract potential future readers too. Come and join the fun right here: Living on a UK Estate in the 1980s Facebook Group
  • Outlining the novel scene by scene.

Off I Go!

Master Plotter - ideas lightbulbI’m armed with a folder full of information. I’ve got my extra ideas bubbling around which have room to play even within all the pre-organisation.

My favourite pen, lucky pants (see, still on a pants theme), vat of coffee, and a cheeky Dairy Milk are on standby.

It’s time to write.

Of course it’s never that simple is it? See you in a few years…

About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer. When she's not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, books, the cats, and the husband. Perhaps not in that order.

8 comments on “How a Master Plotter Writer Gets the Planning Done

  1. If and when we ever meet we will get on like a house on fire Lisa because I’m almost the completely polar opposite to you in the way we approach this writing malarkey.

    For example. Two days ago I wrapped up my ‘Senseless’ detective novel which took me 5 months to write (that’s a long time for me) and I was wondering what to do next.

    I have had an idea which has been bouncing around my head for a few years now so I kind of know what its about but don’t know where its going. So I started writing. After the first paragraph I had a (working) title and my main character(s) established. I’ve now got the first 4 chapters written and still don’t know exactly where I’m going but that’s the thing, I love the journey.

    Its not for everybody I know, but it keeps the inspiration going for me. If I knew everything about a story before I started I wouldn’t start, I’d be bored before I began.

    But that’s just me, you keep doing whatever works for you.

    1. I love that we’re all so different and I respect those differences in how we write. I can see how it could be a bit of a thrill to write without knowing where you’re going to land up. I usually get that with my short stories. The funny thing is that I get excited about having a plan to work with and setting myself the challenge of seeing how I will write it. Vive la difference and all that eh?

      Thanks for reading and commenting Ian. All the best with your writing.

  2. I love plotting. I spent 6 months planning my current novel before I started writing it. I’m hoping the planning stage will be shorter this time, because I hope to start writing in 6 weeks. I’m reading Outlining Your Novel right now – great book!

    1. Finally someone that plots in detail! You won’t believe how many people on social media have reacted as if it’s a weird or bad thing! Each to their own. I have no problem with if people plan or pants it at all.

      Great to hear that you’re finding the book useful as well. Thanks so much for commenting!

  3. Best of luck! I’m a kind of plotter, but I find sometimes that when I come to write it, what I’d planned is not what the characters want to do. So I’m kind of a flexible plotter at the moment 🙂

  4. I’m mostly a pantser when it comes to writing, but I do admire plotters for their ability to stick to an outline! I’m actually plotting out my novel for July’s Camp NaNoWriMo, because I’m co-writing it with my sister, so it’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

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