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The Plot Thickens: Plotting for Beginners

I write under the name Lynda M. Martin. Check out my novels, "This Bird Flew Away" and "Fly High; Fly Blind."

Plotting for Beginners

Plotting for Beginners

Welcome to our discussion on plots and plotting. I don't know how many times I've seen a writer sit down before a blank page and work on an introduction to a tale with only the vaguest idea of where the tale will take him (or her—but we will use one or the other from this point on with no concern for PC.) He relies on that mythical muse we read about in romanticized accounts of the writing life. The characters will take him where he needs to go, right?

Wrong. Stories need structure. Unless we sit down and work out the route of our tale before we put one word on that page, we are likely to meander about, drifting aimlessly or detour far from the point. Or we get bogged down in "perfecting" a section, trying to convince ourselves we are making progress. What we need is a map.

A Map for a Short Story

The short story follows a simple form, with a beginning, a middle that builds interest and tension, a climax and an ending. It answers the question all recipients of stories want satisfied: What happened next? That is assuming our story is interesting enough to elicit that desire.

The Check-Mark Form of Storytelling

What Is a Plot?

Here’s a plot for a story:

Dick and Jane, two young people from the upper middle class, equal in class origins, intelligence, compatible in their dreams for the future meet in college and fall in love. Their parents are content with their choice of spouses, and furthermore like each other and become fast friends. Dick and Jane get married and have the requisite two children, both of whom grow up without major difficulties, do well in school, enter a profession and enjoy success, later choosing ideal spouses and providing much beloved grandchildren. Our couple lives in harmony until the day both of them die within minutes of each other, and are buried side by side in the local cemetery surrounded by their loved ones.

Yes, this is a plot, but even in this condensed version the reader could care less, is certainly not enticed to read further, and probably had trouble reading these few sentences without yawning. While all of this may have been of interest to Dick and Jane, we find it bland, uninteresting and somewhat tedious, not the stuff of novels.

What Is Missing?

Conflict and Resolution

Facing a problem, or in the case of a novel, a series of problems, events build up to a climax and drop softly into happily ever after. Without problems and obstacles, we have no reason to tell our story. After all, our story is usually a description of the problems facing our characters, the conflict between characters or our character and another element, and the eventual resolution of those difficulties. Without conflict, there is no story. Isn’t conflict part of the basic human condition?

The following “check mark” story form is the standard basis for the short story, and also holds true to the plot of a novel, though a novel will have layers of conflicts and resolutions overlying the basic plot.

I borrowed this from the excellent book Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway, a text used in one of the many writing classes I’ve taken. As I’m a cheapskate and bought the cheapest paperback edition available, the text printed on the next page shows through, but the information is still clear.

Anyway, the example used here is the classic Cinderella story, which follows the check-mark form perfectly. One picture, they say, is worth more than a thousand words (though writers may resist admitting it) so look at the graphic below which should answer any questions forming in your mind after reading this.

A map of the plot for Cinderella, the classic 'check mark' story form, common to all short stories.

A map of the plot for Cinderella, the classic 'check mark' story form, common to all short stories.

A Novel of the Same Form, but More Complex

The basic plot for a novel will follow our check-mark form, but in order to carry the tale for 120,000 words versus the 5-10,000 words of the short story, our basic conflict must be presented in installations.

Here is a plot for a novel:

Dick, son of recent immigrants who worked hard to put their son through college but still live in a tiny house on the wrong side of the tracks, meets Jane, daughter of an ‘old money’ family who arrived on the Mayflower and entirely due to the hard work of industry baron ancestors live in a gracious estate in a rarified and wealthy enclave. They fall in love and want to get married. Both parents are against the marriage for entirely opposing reasons, and Jane’s parents vow there will be no financial assistance to her if she marries Dick. The two sets of parents meet and loathe each other. Dick and Jane marry anyway, and after years of struggle and sacrifice, they find themselves in a middle class home with the requisite two children, a boy with health issues and girl given to running wild who ends up pregnant at fifteen. Though the couple works hard to overcome these difficulties, the love that brought them together begins to fray under the strain, and Dick forms a relationship with his much younger secretary and believes himself in love. The secretary, Sally, becomes pregnant and Dick is torn between loyalty to his first family and a need to do the right thing by Sally. Eventually, Dick chooses to start a new life with Sally, but it isn’t long before this new relationship wears thin due to the age difference and Sally’s inability to provide the kind of home life to which Dick is accustomed. He regrets his choice, but thinks there is nothing he can do to change his circumstance and vows to make the best of things. Jane who has found a fulfilling job, petitions for divorce. Sally has a miscarriage, and is fed up with Dick’s criticisms and runs off with Billy, a young man her own age. At the divorce hearing, Dick realizes the extent of the mistake he made, and admits it to Jane. Jane, still in love with her husband, listens and in a romantic scene of a great dinner and Dick’s opening up to Jane for the first time in years, followed by torrid sex, they make up and live happily ever after.

Now, How Are We Going to Write This Story?

As you note, told here in linear form it is somewhat boring. We are not going to write this out in dull narration, first, this happened, and then that happened—telling the reader. No! We are going to divide this up into scenes and write those scenes showing and sharing with the reader.

I like to divide my story into ten main scenes (and several minor ones that lead up to the main scene) and our new map will look something like the graph below, borrowed from the book The Writer’s little Helper, by James V. Smith, Jr., who I was once fortunate to meet at a writing workshop I attended and he led.

The opening section, the set up of the problems, is called exposition -- where we give the reader all he needs to undertand the plot.

The opening section, the set up of the problems, is called exposition -- where we give the reader all he needs to undertand the plot.

You still see the basic check-mark form, but now it is replicated in a small descend, great ascend, small descend, even greater ascend pattern, so that our plot is always increasing in tension, conflict and dropping occasionally into resolution.

You note certain terms here:

  • setup of the problem: Dick and Jane meet, fall in love but the disparity in their backgrounds provide obstacles.
  • pivotal set-up complication: They marry anyway; Jane must sacrifice her family; Dick must prove himself worthy of her sacrifice
  • point of no return: They enjoy a successful life but strain in their love appears.
  • complications 4,5,6,7,8: These scenes show the difficulties and strain of home life, Dick's emotional estrangement from Jane, Dick's tryst with Sally, Sally's pregnancy, the deterioration of the new love nest, Sally's new attachment to Billy, Jane's petition for divorce,
  • and 9 the climax: the divorce hearing where Dick realizes the folly of his actions, his plea to Jane and Jane's acceptance and the torrid sex scene.
  • end stuff: the difficulties of adjustment back in the marital home, resolution: forgiveness and acceptance and happily ever after.

You'll notice I haven't addressed the son's health problems, the daughter's rebellion, wild behaviour and just deserts or anything to do with Sally's life, feelings, miscarriage and eventual feelings for Billy.

These are subplots, stories connected to our main plot but not really part of it. Our main plot is the story between Dick and Jane. However, we map them out in the same manner, and weave them into our main plot. We'll talk more about subplots and backplots (things that happened prior to our story we need to know) in a later article. For now, it is enough to know how they are handled—in the same manner.

We need to take our storyline and divide it into the scenes we intend to use. In our next article, we will take our Dick, Jane and Sally plot and apply these rules, an active demonstration of plotting. For now, consider only we work out what scenes will best display our tale to the reader, sketch them out and assign them major, minor or supporting status and with these we build our map. We work with our main plot first, and our subplots second.

Now, our map will look something like the graph below. (Again borrowed from Mr. Smith's fine book.) In this graph we see those scenes we consider pivotal, that is the most important, the ones in which we must use our greatest skills.


Developing Scene Structure

Each of Our Scenes Should Be a Short Story

Each scene needs to follow the basic form of a short story in that we have a beginning, a middle a climax and a resolution—with the resolution leading into the next scene. Sometimes writers like to use the “cliffhanger approach,” leaving the reader in suspense until the tale is picked up in the next related scene. This can work well in many situations, but overuse will annoy the reader. No one likes to be left hanging. In the cliffhanger, what we have done is taken a scene and divided it—taken part of the scene and moved it further along to the next.

When writing the cliffhanger, it is good practice to complete the scene through to resolution, and splitting it after. This is usually accomplished by injecting an element of a subplot—the story of another character, the ‘meanwhile back at the ranch’ technique, prior to the resolution of the original.

If we were to chart the end result of one scene as a short story followed by another, we would see our checkmarks following one after the other, we hope, on an ascending line of tension and pacing. Here is how the plot of a novel would be graphed on our plot line:

A plot for a novel is ascending short stories

A plot for a novel is ascending short stories

As each scene or chapter has its own climax point, there are many different approaches we may take, placing the climax at the beginning, the middle or the end. And remember, variety is the spice of life. Don't structure your scene stories all in the same manner. Shake it up. Repetition is deadly dull. The one to avoid is the following:

No climax -- no satisfaction

No climax -- no satisfaction

This scene has no ascent of conflict to a climax or drop to resolution, therefore no story structure and is likely to be boring and dull. Remember the check mark, (however distorted) and avoid flat-line writing. Ascent of conflict can be created through situation, action, dialogue and pacing but must reach a peak—somewhere. A tricky approach to scene structure is this one:

Climax too soon, requires careful attention later

Climax too soon, requires careful attention later

At first glance, one might think this the resolution of a previous cliffhanger, but no, remember we've already decided those are one scene later divided by elements of another, and it will work much better if you write it that way—trust me. Continuity is of primary importance.

No, this approach is dangerous but can be pulled off provided the resultant resolution is interesting, vivid and above all short. After all, we don't want a high-energy start that drones off into a tedious, never-ending scene of no impact Best leave this one alone until you're sure you can pull it off. (And even the best of writers need to use a descending checkmark of little "climaxes.) The most commonly used story structure for scenes is the following:

Climax in the middle leaves room for a satisfying resolution

Climax in the middle leaves room for a satisfying resolution

A scene with elements leading to a peak in the middle, followed by a gentle drop into a detailed and satisfying resolution to the conflict is what most writer's hope to accomplish. This is our classic check mark, leaving lots of room for a detailed, interesting, vividly written let down and set up for the next scene—unless it is the final scene. Another strong pacing technique is the scene like this one, most effectively used in those scenes leading up to climax scene:

Peak at the end, satisfying only when used sparingly

Peak at the end, satisfying only when used sparingly

This is not to be confused with the cliffhanger, which, at the risk of nagging I repeat, we've decided is actually a split scene. This is the approach to use when the resolution is apparent to the reader, or we plan to leave the reader with a big question to ponder, or we require a very strong finish which incorporates climax and resolution in one. Example:

"No more," he shouted, and pushed back his chair. "This is it!"

He slammed the door on his way out, and the dull thud echoed his resolve never to return.

The curtain falls and our climax is also our resolution.

A Word on Openings and Closings and the Stuff in Between

The opening scene is your introduction to the dance, and you must frame your invitation in your most engaging, polished and interesting manner, or you'll receive at best a polite 'no thanks' and at worst a 'get lost.' You'll find yourself spending the evening against the wall, unless you capture interest in the first thousand words.

What is the requirement of the opening scene?

We introduce our characters, set our stage and provide the information our readers need to understand the plot. We want action from the first word, and we don't want a long winded set up. We need the necessary information provided as part of the story, not a biography inserted to stop the action. We need to grab the reader's attention from the first word and keep him asking "What happened next?" until the end.

In between

We build our story in installments, a continuous series of ascending rises in conflict, climax and resolution, leading to the apex the "big climax" and a drop through the resolution that leaves us with answers to our questions and an understanding of our characters actions and decisions.

One note, don't add new characters or situations, nothing new from the scene prior to the apex through to the closing. It is foul play to introduce someone hitherto unknown to us to solve our dilemma—a cheap trick.

What is the requirement of the closing scene?

Many new writers have a tendency to rush the closing. They accomplish a mighty climactic scene, and run to the finish line. This is the time to slow the pace, tie up loose ends and bid a gentle and gracious goodbye to the characters. And, if we've done our job well, our readers will close the book with a mix of feelings—what a great read and I wonder what happened next.

A Summary of the Mechanics of Plotting

I hope this clarifies the mechanics of plotting, In our next discussion, we will go through the mapping and scene structure of a plot, and this should clear up any questions now in your mind, but by all means, feel free to pose them in the comments section.

What have we covered today?

  • in order to write a story, we need a map leading us to our destination.
  • plots are built following a structure of opening(exposition), conflict and resolution.
  • the basic story structure is the checkmark form.
  • the basic plot of a novel follows this checkmark form but is told in installations, in scenes all of which are mini short stories on their own, with openings, middle stuff, climax and resolution.
  • the plot progresses in ever-ascending checkmarks.
  • the opening scene is all-important and must grab the reader's attention.
  • the scenes build to an apex, the climax of the story.
  • the closing falls to a point just below our start in the opening scene, in which we tie up loose ends, bid goodbye to our characters and satisfy the reader's curiosity.
  • nothing new should enter our story from just prior to the climax until the end.
  • subplots are storylines connected to our main plot, but separate and are mapped in the same way as our main plot and woven into our story.

And in review of previous articles:

  • Let yourself write shitty first drafts
  • Know your destination
  • Good stories are constructed, not dished out by the muse.
  • Know your characters before you begin writing.
  • Keep your characters real.
  • Present your characters in direct methods.
  • Stay active
  • Show and share, don't tell and describe
  • Keep your own voice out of the story.
  • Let your characters do the work.

So, get plotting.


lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on August 27, 2016:

Thanks for your comment. Your tale proves my contention that writings is more discipline and construction than art. Keep at it. Learn the craft and work, work and work some more. Stop deleting because treasure didn't flow from your brain at first attempt. Remember, there is no good writing, only good rewrites.

Shaughn RR Johnson on August 27, 2016:

I just wanted to tell you that I have learned so much from your articles. It appears from your in-article comments that we are roughly within years of each other in age. I have been working out a plot for a story in my head for probably twenty years or more, and have tried, more times than I care to admit, putting what I know so well in my head down on paper. Without fail I would write ten or more pages, go to bed, come back the next morning and wonder how I ever thought any of it was worth reading before deleting it all. It's embarrassing. I considered taking a class at the local community college, but time never seemed to allow such a rigidly schedule interruption of my life. I'm now 55 and I suddenly feel that it's now or never, so I made a promise to myself a month ago or so that no matter what, no deleting. I now have 26 page of a dissected intro that reads like a schizophrenic's mind reading session. I knew the story, at least most of it, like the back of my hand, twenty years of consideration will do that. Your articles have helped me to realize that just having the peak moments in a story thoroughly worked out thoroughly in my mind does not mean it will convert perfectly into words. I remembered from school (I'm talking Junior High/High School..) something about doing a plot outline, but I wasn't sure what it was exactly, what it entailed entirely, or how to go about creating one. I have started and stopped so many times that I was pretty certain that if I did it again, I would give up. After reading your Plotting #1, I can't wait to get to that delete key and give it the old "if at first you don't succeed, keep on sucking till you do succeed" reboot. I have to first complete this excellent series you have gifted us newbies with, but for the first time ever I wait...not the right words. For the first time ever I am truly excited because I believe I can do it. Thank you so much for the inspiration to keep trying and learning from my previous attempts. I hope you are still reading comments on this article. I wanted to follow the link at the end of your articles to your home page but it takes me to a web building and domain name server. Tonight was my maiden voyage to this site and there is a lot I don't understand concerning phrases and words on the site. (like hubs...huh?) Did I do something wrong trying to get to your home page or is the link given on here dead and if so are you still editing for new writers and how can I find you?

~Tanto amore

Point of clarification: I realize that in my comments above I have pretty much violated every rule that you so purposefully laid out for us the readers concerning paragraph formation and the rules which apply, but I figure it's a comment section. Are P's really necessary in a forum such as this. I notice that many do paragraph their comments but is it considered necessary to do so, even if your commenting on a writing forum? I see commenting as sharing my personal thoughts, and my thoughts tend to ramble together into one continuous flow of words. Weird question, I know but one that I'm curious to know. Who knows I may one day commenting on the Queens blog, and you know how the English are with formalities.

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on December 20, 2013:

I can only hope they will be of some service. Thank you you reading and taking the time to comment. Lynda

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on December 20, 2013:

Timeless article but very useful. Thank your for each of your hubs. I will work my way through them. ;-)

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on November 04, 2012:

That is the paperback edition. They buy back old copies at $40. Not that I'll be selling mine. I'll let you know what I think. Hope all is well on your end.

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on November 04, 2012:

Eegads! I have a paperback edition and paid nothing like that. Let me know what you think.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on November 04, 2012:

Oops. Too late. Just now pushed the button at Amazon before I came back to check here. I bought it new since I felt it would become a constant companion for the next few weeks, months, years. . . Anyway, well worth the price at $76 plus tax, free shipping. An investment in my new career and training is part of the journey.


lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on November 04, 2012:

Have you written yourself into a corner? (One of the trials of the seat-of-your-pants approach to writing.)

Is Ms. Burroway's book expensive? I bought mine years ago and don't remember the price. Try Better World Books (.com) where you can find almost everything in used condition and with free shipping. Plus, each book sale earns a dollar to providing books to impoverished children. I buy a lot of my recreational reading from them but they do specialize in texts and resources. Worth a try.

Nice to hear from you, as always, Peg.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on November 04, 2012:

Hello Lynda. You advice here is so timeless and helpful, I had to come back for a refresher course on plot writing. Having read this long ago, you mentioned a textbook that could be of value. After looking at the going price for Ms. Burroway's work I'm sure that investing that much in her book would definitely inspire me to get something out of it.

Yes, I'm stuck in a writer's dilemma of where to go next on my project. You know, when all else fails, "read the manual". lol.

lmmartin on August 12, 2012:

They say that Dame Iris Murdoch never set pen to paper until the novel was completed in her mind, every word in place, every character fully fleshed. HOWEVER, most of don't operate like Dame Iris Murdoch, or you, so this advice is intended for those who have to work at it.

Thanks for your comment.

Mr Love Doctor from Puerto Rico on August 11, 2012:

I have always found plot building advice like this to be a bit disconcerting, personally. Not because it is poor advice, but because my writing brain just doesn't operate that way and I wonder what is wrong with my creative process. To me, the plot comes in a flash, fully fleshed out, every step of the way illuminated. All the characters live to me, every chapter stands out, every plot twist and thickening already there. Whether it's in a dream where I see the entire story play out like a movie, or a chord of music flashes something in my head, or it's a chance conversation with a stranger. I do not need to work the story, ever. It comes to me, and as clichéd as it sounds, I sometimes rush to keep up.

I wrote my best novel to date in literally a day. I dreamed it in the night, arose at 6, went to Starbucks, and spent the entire day till past midnight furiously writing all 22 chapters of it before it went cold. To this day, that book is far my best work.

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on January 28, 2012:

You're so welcome MosLadder. I hope you go on to the rest of the series. So nice to hear you find my work helpful. Lynda

Chris Montgomery from Irvine, CA on January 27, 2012:

allelujah, I couldn't have found this at a better time! Bookmarking for frequent reference. Thank you!

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on August 31, 2011:

Why thanks so for the endorsement Suzette. Truly. Nice to know I'm on track. No, I don't teach at a college, I teach a small group of would-be writers on the internet, and wrote these hubs as a resource. I doubt they'd scoop up a teacher of writing who has only a bachelors degree in business administration. My writing knowledge has been picked up here and there through the school of "no time and money for formal education!" But thanks again. Nice to meet you. Lynda

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on August 31, 2011:

I was an English teacher who taught short story writing, and your hubs are spot on. Very well written, great examples, and very interesting and easy to follow. Your diagrams are a hoot! Excellent! To all hubbers out there wanting to the writers/novelists - check out her hubs and take her advice it is correct. And, take up her offer for editing and remarks on your ideas and/or writing. She knows what she is talking about and she walks the talk or whatever, you know what I mean. Anyway, she has loads of experience and can really help you. Do you do teach at a college or university? You should. I know places that would scoop you up in a NY minute. You really have found your calling. Keep writing!

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on April 26, 2011:

Hi deblipp. As is said, one picture is worth a thousand words.... THanks for commenting.

deblipp on April 26, 2011:

Your graphs and maps fascinate me.

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on December 30, 2010:

Thank you Morgan. I hope you find the others helpful as well. Lynda

Morgan F from USA on December 30, 2010:

Great hub! As a sort of newbie writer I found this extremely helpful :)

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on September 08, 2010:

Thank you, Peg. Glad the article was of help. I hope you registered for a signed copy on the book's website... Always good to hear from you. Lynda

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on September 08, 2010:

I've been looking for ways to improve my writing and have found one in this hub, Lynda. As always, you've given others a step up in the process. And btw, congrats on the release date of your new novel This Bird Has Flown (should be underlined, I think). You'll see my name on the "sold" roster when your book comes out.

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on March 05, 2010:

Thanks, as always.

itakins from Irl on March 05, 2010:

Brilliant ,as always.

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on March 04, 2010:

Thank you so much, jlacy, for such a lovely compliment. There is an abundance of good information here on hubpages; I do hope you come back -- maybe even sign up. Home repair for women, you say. What a great idea! Maybe you can post some excerpts and helpful advice here on hubpages -- I know I sure could use it. Lynda

jlacy on March 04, 2010:

Wow. I mean, really, wow. I had no idea this kind of detailed info on writing was available. I stumbled onto hub pages as a result of a google search for home wiring diagrams (I'm writing a home repair book for women) and am amazed to find this quality of information out in the ether for free. Now I want to read your whole series of articles. Yet one more distraction from my own writing. Sigh. I guess it'll have to wait till I'm done for the day. Thank you for this unbelievably valuable lesson in plot structure! I don't know if I'll ever tackle a novel, but I'll definitely save this info for that maybe day.

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on March 02, 2010:

Well thank you Tammy. There is no greater satisfaction than knowing you've helped someone. I'm looking forward to reading more of Abby (so you can shoot me a scene anytime for comment) and believe you have a good story idea there. Thanks for the comment.

Tammy Lochmann on March 02, 2010:

Hi I printed this one so I would have it with me all the time. I have some Ideas of where I am going with Abby but I need to plot it out. This invaluable advice couldn't have come at a better time.

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on February 17, 2010:

Something to come back to then.

Rafini from Somewhere I can't get away from on February 17, 2010:

Sooo helpful. I've almost hit information overload for the day.

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on February 16, 2010:

Love your metaphor, Quill, and look forward to hearing form you on the next, where we will map out Dick and Jane into scenes, and some of the decisions we need to make. I'm still thinking that one out, but probably by the weekend I'll have a start to it. (I'm supposed to be editing my novel, and some other editing work in my lap.)

Quilligrapher from New York on February 16, 2010:

I look forward to each new serving. As long as you keep pouring, I intend to keep drinking.


lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on February 16, 2010:

Thank Ann. How's Sam doing these days? Haven't seen much of her on your hubs lately. I miss her. Lynda

Ann Nonymous from Virginia on February 16, 2010:

Great advice and really, really good presentation and way of explaining, lmmartin!

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on February 16, 2010:

Accepted. It did come across breezy with a phrase like "writing on tram lines bores me to tears," -- kind of a flip derogatory way to describe the process. No hard feelings -- you caught me at a tender point and I did feel I needed to quash the idea planning and structure was not important -- and boring -- for the sake of all those who find writing to see where it goes doesn't work for them (most). Authors tend to be the nicest people in the world and full of encouraging words for those trying to learn. Teachers on the other are trying to make a point,in this case on the necessity or planning and forethought, not enter into debate which degenerates into endless repetition of their respective views.

I hope you'll come back for the next where we will actively work out the "scene" approach to the plot line of Dick and Jane used above. I think it will be fun and enlightening. And you don't have to use it -- but I'll bet you do without actually thinking about it.

I'll bet even further, if we were to map out the plots of your writing, we would still find these forms -- and I'd bet further still, you're using them instinctively, as we tend to pick them up subconsciously as we read. I also wonder if you didn't plot and map to excess if you found it so restrictive. After all, it is your plot and map, and open to change should inspiration strike. Certainly not those iron rails you allude to.

Thanks for your interest, and for coming back to clarify your position. I respect the writing I've seen on your hub, posted two of your articles to my website -- even though we disagree on some fine points -- like the need to specify appearance of characters. Picayune things.

Let's leave at at that, for the sake of others who may shy away from leaving a comment in the shadow of our debate. My statistics show that fewer than one in twenty have commented -- not usual for my readers. I think we might have scared them off, Marissa.

Kate Swanson from Sydney on February 16, 2010:

Lynda, I am so sorry you saw my comment as a "breezy dismissal". It wasn't meant that way AT ALL. I know this method will be extremely useful to many writers. It's probably the best article I've seen explaining how to approach plotting.

All I said was that plotting doesn't work FOR ME, to the point where it destroys any desire to write. I tried the plotting approach, it didn't work and I spent some time thinking that meant I wasn't a writer, would never be any good at it, and might as well give up. Fortunately a published author told me not to worry, that every creative person has a slightly different approach, and that there are many successful authors who work as I do.

So the reason for my comment was for anyone who, like me, might try the method and be discouraged if it doesn't help them. They may be in the minority but they do exist!

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on February 16, 2010:

Hi resspenser, sorry you're not feeling well and I hope it wasn't the thought of all the work ahead of you in planning that caused the pain. (smile here) Planning ahead is not as much work as it looks, and if you think about it, many of us know this form by instinct. It is the natural form for storytelling. I'm glad you find this article of help and I think the next one, where we plot out Dick and Jane's story will help even more. I truly believe we learn by seeing and doing. Thanks again,


lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on February 16, 2010:

Thanks papajack. Not only do I teach writing with structure, I practice it, and it works -- works well. We can write like artists, but unless we know where we're going, it is unlikely to be a coherent whole. It's my belief and experience, that planning is as important as the writing itself.

I'm sure there are those who can do it all mentally, just as there are some who can do advanced algebra in their heads. I'm not one of them, nor do I think most people are.

Thanks for the comment. As you can see, I'm feeling a little bruised at the moment.


Ronnie Sowell from South Carolina on February 16, 2010:

And I am one of them too! My tummy hurts (owwww) but I still took the time to read this hub and was thrilled with it! Finally something I can use to plot my mystery. I guess I sort of knew some of the things mentioned here but this is something I will use again and again. In fact I am going to print it out to refer to as I plot.

Thanks for helping us poor mortals.

papajack on February 16, 2010:

On the other hand, as one who has been completely frustrated with writing from the seat of my pants, this roadmap approach is the answer to my dreams. Thank you so much Lynda for sharing this with us.

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on February 16, 2010:

Thanks hello, hello. You are, as always, so polite.

Marissa, I understood exactly what you said, but not why you felt the need to say it. Perhaps if you stop and think how it may affect one who worked for several days to put knowledge together in a way most likely to help those who asked for it, to have your first comment one such as this breezy dismissal. This article is in response to writers who asked for help in this area.

I think the difference between us is this: you see writing a novel as some kind of art form dependent on talent, a free flowing muse and a free way with the paint brush. I see writing a novel as a discipline, a structured exercise that anyone can learn, and the art only comes in in the use of technique -- which can also be learned. It is true that some have an affinity for words, while others do not. But so many writers who do write well have expressed their frustration at bogging down, losing their way, unable to use their fine words to form a structured whole, and have asked for help. This article is for them.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on February 16, 2010:

Thank you for another educational lesson on wrting. I have learned a lot from it.

Kate Swanson from Sydney on February 16, 2010:

Lynda, I didn't mean to say your advice bored me to tears, but that the process of writing to a predetermined script does.

Bagley didn't write whodunits, he wrote adventure, which is more about writing towards a goal (finding the diamond or escaping from the whatever) than building a logical puzzle. I can see how it would be impossible to write a whodunit without meticulous plotting!

Most of what I know about writing, I learned at various writers' forums and courses when I first started writing again. I was lucky to meet a few published authors and it was interesting to find that they all approached writing differently.

Did you ever see the Rolf Harris series on painting? Each week he had three experienced artists painting a portrait. Some created a detailed charcoal outline first, while others roughed in with watery paint. Still others jumped straight in with big swathes of colour, with no preparation at all. All of them produced good work. You're a charcoal outliner whereas I'm a big swathe of colour girl - I don't think that makes either of us wrong.

lmmartin (author) from Alberta and Florida on February 15, 2010:

Hi Marissa - Thanks for the compliment, but I'm not sure what to say next. There is nothing like writing an article based on all the classes and years of learning you did to be told the technique "bores me to tears." I'm going to assume you meant it tongue in cheek, rather than a dismissal of all these fine ideas used by most professional writers and respond.

Writing to find out what happens next doesn't make sense in the slightest to me. Although at times an idea strikes me while I'm writing a scene and my characters go off to places I haven't planned, by and large I need to know where I'm going; otherwise I'd have nothing but a meandering mess. When I sit down to craft a scene, I know exactly where my destination is, and now the trick is to get there, while developing character, tension, conflict, texture, dialogue, good language, setting, descriptive passages. I'm not one who can do all this without knowing why. My brain isn't the sort that can work out the story and do a good job of writing at the same time. As for Mr. Bagley, how anyone can write a whodonit without knowing who did it, is beyond me, but I'm sure there are those that try. God bless 'em.

I don't consider using structure and a plot line "writing on tramlines." On the contrary, it is writing with purpose. It liberates me, leaves me free to use the tools of my trade, words, in the best possible way to tell the story.

Most of us need the discipline of the craft. It's that simple, but if you can build your novels without working out structure, I doff my hat to you.

Gus, thanks and howdy to you, too. Yeah, the sad truth is one picture does speak a thousand words.

Gustave Kilthau from USA on February 15, 2010:

Howdy Lynda - I particularly enjoyed the graphs (which told the story nicely).

Gus :-)))

Kate Swanson from Sydney on February 15, 2010:

Excellent Hub - it probably highlights why you're a published author and I'm not. I couldn't structure a plot like this to save my life!

I tried once - and I discovered that I write to find out what happens next. As soon as I'd worked out the whole storyline, I lost interest in writing it. It's all sitting there ready to go, but it will just stay there, because the idea of writing on tramlines bores me to tears.

I take some comfort from the fact that some successful writers do buck that system. Desmond Bagley was famous for writing his thrillers with no idea what happened next.