Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Preparing to Write Part 3: How to Create a Plot Guideline & Outline + Giveaway!

The past two weeks, I shared tips on how to brainstorm and "plan" your story. (Yes, planning is different than plotting!) This week, I will be discussing how to plot and outline your story. 

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To be honest, this is probably the most difficult step in preparing to write--at least for me it is. Although I don't plan every single scene of my book before begin writing, I do like to have a general guideline to follow. And even if you are a panster, I recommend that you do the same. 

➙ Creating a Plot Guideline

I have found that, when I take the time to create a plot guideline before writing my first draft, I end up saving myself a lot of stress (and writer's blocks!). 

First, your protagonist must have a desire. Your readers don't want to read about your protagonist's uninteresting day-to-day life. They need something to root for. And the conflict that you weave into your novel should be stemmed from your protagonist's desire.
I'll be honest with you: I used to skip over this part. My "story starter" never began with a goal--and because of that, I completely forgot to establish a goal within those first three chapters.

This is what I did in the first draft of Purple Moon, and it resulted in a character-driven novel that lacked a well-developed plot. (I had two professionals in the industry tell me that my plot was underdeveloped.) 

So what did I do? I went back to the very beginning and gave my protagonist an obvious desire. I then had to weave in plot threads that stemmed from Selena trying to reach her goal, but never quite making it. 

This is why it is crucial that you establish this before you begin to write.

In Brandilyn Collin's book Getting Into Character, she gives a great general plot guideline to create while preparing to write:       
1) Begin with a desire.
2) Weave in four obstacles that will prevent your protagonist from reaching this desire.
3) Then, create a denial, which is when the character realizes that reaching their desire is impossible. 
4) If natural to the flow of your story, create a devastation. This is usually when your protagonist has hit rock bottom and is even worse off than they were to begin with.
5) End with your protagonist either reaching their goal in a different way than they had hoped, or realizing that it wasn't what they wanted after all.
"[Desires] set the course for conflict, dialogue, and choices within a scene."  ~Brandilyn Collins
➙ Creating an Outline

Once you have created your plot guideline, you can then create an outline for your novel. This can be as brief or as detailed as you'd like.

I prefer to create a "broad" outline, which contains the major events of the story. I do this in the form of a timeline so I can keep track of when each scene takes place.

To begin, I write down Ch. 1 through Ch. 30 on a document. Although none of my books end up finishing with 30 chapters, I like to plan it this way at the beginning so I can have the same general story structure for all of my novels. This helps to plot and gives me an idea as to when certain events should take place. (It isn't until the last couple of drafts that I arrange my chapters so it is more natural to the flow of the story.)

How I outline: (For the big-picture outliners)


Fri, March 21: Sally hangs out with her best friends at the park
Sat, March 22: Sally finds out that her family is moving to another state in only one week


Sat, March 22: Sally breaks the news to her best friend
Sun, March 23: 
Mon, March 24: Sally's final week at her school. Has an argument with her mom at home about the move. 


Tues, March 25: Sally packs for the move
Wed, March 26: 
Thurs, March 27: 
Fri, March 28: Sally's friends throw her a surprise goodbye party
Sat, March 29: Her family's moving day. Sally then finds out the truth behind why they're having to move so quickly--and when she finds out, she refuses to leave.

(Don't worry, this outline is a demonstration only. =) )

As you can see, I left a lot of room for developing the story's details (pansting) as I write. The dates that do not have a scene should be written anyway (as shown above) so you do not confuse yourself. (It is also a good idea to leave the dates in case you want to add or rearrange your scenes.)

Also, I recommend you find a calendar that corresponds with your dates. This will especially come in handy if you ever get confused and for some reason lose track of the dates (which I have done a few times). For example--since the above timeline fits this year's calendar, I would Google "March 2014 calendar" and save the image I find (below). 

Is it necessary to know the dates? Definitely. Otherwise, you might get in trouble later on. Also, if your story contains certain holidays, you will need to plan ahead so that it falls on the correct date. Creating a timeline not only prevents confusion, but it serves as a great visual guideline as well.

Again, this outline is recommend for those who want to plan the "big picture" of the novel rather than the details. This method gives you plenty of freedom to rearrange the outline as you write your story.

Other ways to outline: (For the detailed outliners)

If you prefer to outline every detail before writing, I recommend the Microsoft Word outline feature. I tried this for a while and found it very helpful. (However, if you use this method, I recommend keeping another document for the timeline of your novel.) Click here for instructions on how to use this feature. 
You could also use apps, such as:

No, not every writer needs to outline. However, if you are a panster, you should at least create a plot guideline so your story's focus will remain clear, and to prevent losing your way as you write.

     ✎ Are you a big-picture or detailed outliner? How do you create your outlines? 

♡ ♡ ♡


One person will win a free two-week writing mentoring course through my Write Now program

The winner will:
  • Receive critiques on their writing
  • Receive lessons especially designed to fit their writing needs
  • Have the opportunity to receive feedback on their current novel
  • Set reasonable goals for their writing
  • And more!
(Recommended for ages 13 - 25) 

Interested? Enter below! =)

a Rafflecopter giveaway
photo credit: Rennett Stowe via photopin cc
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  1. would love to win. Just got 36th place in the Burlington Writing Contest

  2. I love this post! I never thought about using an calendar! That's useful.
    In Christ,

    1. Thanks, Sarah! I didn't use a calendar when I wrote the first draft of Purple Moon, and it just caused way too much confusion. Glad that you found this helpful!

  3. I've been in luck (Or providence) the last few days. I'm working on plotting two books and all these plotting posts are just on time. :)

    Can't wait to see the results of the contest. :)

    1. Whoops!! I used my mom's email to comment. haha

    2. I'm glad you find them helpful, Brooke! =) Thanks for commenting!

    3. I did too, Brooke. :P And I did it right after I read your comment! Pah, I'm so silly. :)

  4. Great post Tessa! Thank you so much! (And for the giveaway too!) *winks*


  5. Does your novel need to be finished to enter the contest?

  6. Do youhave a like rules to what i can write if i win your contest? Like my entry from the Burlington Writing Contest was the first draft a mini story from my blog

    1. If you win the giveaway, you won't need to write anything new. The story you used for the contest would be fine. =)

  7. Like the draft frim my blog i wrote the story for my blog and i ended up spending more time editing the contest version of my blog ministory than writing like mynfirst draft was very dark.

  8. The calendar idea is great! I used to think I was a pantser, but I've decided I'd rather be a plotter. It's like a scale. The less you plot, the more you edit. Personally, I'd rather plot than edit.

  9. Very interesting ideas! Thanks, Tessa! :)

  10. Hm. I don't think it posted my comment earlier. Weird. I love the calendar idea! I used to be a pantser, but I've switched to plotter. I see it as a scale. The more you plot, the less you edit, and vise versa. Personally, I'd rather plot than edit.

    1. Ha! Oh look now it shows up! Whoops.

    2. Lol that's fine! But that's a really good illustration! I'd much rather plot, too. It's sort of like a puzzle--if you complete an entire puzzle but have all of the pieces in the wrong places, then what was the point of putting the puzzle together before you figured it out? Because now you're just going to have to go back and rearrange all the pieces, which will make it harder than it was to begin with.

      Thanks for commenting!

    3. Exactly! That is a lesson that I learned the hard way.

  11. Great idea for the calendar! I'll have to use it.

    1. Trust me, it saves so much time! You could even print out a new calendar and write the scenes on there. (I've done that before too.)


  12. Wahhh!!! I don't have a Pinterest account yet! :(

  13. This is all really good advice!

  14. Whoa, good points Tessa. I just discovered that my main character is devoid of a desire.

    Making a time line is a really good idea and I will definitely be doing it. I have figured out that being a panser is really hard without knowing where your going.

    Thanks Tessa!



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