Writing Tip: Plotting Your Novel

Yesterday, I wrote an Inspiration Monday post about breaking goals into manageable chunks.  If you’re a writer, this also applies to writing your novel, in the form of plotting.  Kelly, this one’s for you–you wanted to know if I’d share my goals.  And here goes one.  I need to finish the plotting for my historical novel.   

When I first came up with the idea for this manuscript, I started with the research.  I knew absolutely nothing about the time period, the people, the place, the clothing–you name it, I had to research it.  The more information I discovered, the more I wanted to write.  My protagonist begged me to tell her story, and I became her scribe.  
The manuscript underwent a huge change in the beginning stages–it went from first person to third person–thanks to the wisdom of my incredible critique group.  I have to admit, writing this manuscript in first person was much easier.  I also didn’t worry about the plot so much.  I had a basic idea of what I wanted to happen in the story. I knew the ending, so I wrote towards the ending.  
Now, the story is in third person and it’s added a multitude of layers I want to reveal. The only way I’ll be able to keep it straight is if I have a plot outline I can refer to.  I do have a light outline I can refer to, but it’s not enough.  My story has gotten too complex that I’m worried I won’t tie up all the loose ends.  Remember how I mentioned earlier about breaking goals down into manageable chunks?  Now it’s time to do break down my plot into manageable chunks to make sure it works. 
Not every writer is into outlines, and truly, you need to do what best helps you write.  But there are different variations on how people outline.  Some writers use plotting boards.  I’ve also read about writers using index cards, timelines or even spreadsheets.  I’m more of an old-fashioned outline sort of gal.  It probably goes back to my middle school days where the outline was ingrained in my mind as the only way to map out a paper.  But one of these days, I’d love to try a different method.  
Keep in mind, a good plot has a few ingredients that help make it a success: characters the reader can care about and identify with, engaging dialogue, interesting conflicts or obstacles, good sub-plots, the enticing pivotal moment, and the all-important wrapping up the loose ends.  

A solid plot outline will help you keep on track with keeping the story going.  You’ll be able to see the beginning, middle and end of the story more clearly with the outline.  And the outline gives the writer hope that the story works and can be finished, since it’s broken down into little steps. 
Want to deviate from your outline?  Want to add something new to your outline?  No worries.  It’s your story.  The only thing I’d urge you to do is make sure you review your outline to see if you need to make changes elsewhere to reflect the new development(s).  Hopefully, this will save you from any loose ends.
In case you’re interested in what the outline should like, the outline below will give you a basic idea of what I do.  Mine go in much more detail, but this will give you a starting point.  I’m not sure if the spaces will line up correctly in Blogger, so if it doesn’t, remember to indent for every new thing you’re adding to a scene, to the sub-plot, etc.
I:  Chapter One
   A. Scene 1
       1. Characters
          a. Name A
             1.  description
             2.  mood
             3.  wants
             4.  relationship to Name B
           b. Name B
              1. description
              2.  mood
              3.  wants
              4. relationship to Name A
       2. Place
       3. What happens?
  B.  Scene 2 
You can make this outline as detailed as you like–in fact, I highly recommend it.  Make sure you indent for every new sub-plot, helpful ideas to create your scene, relationships you want to highlight, and all details you want to fit in different chapters.  The more layers you add to the outline, the easier it will be to write your novel.  This outline will help you keep track of your various storylines and get you writing towards your goal.  
It’s time for me to put in the final touches to my plot outline.  How do you plot?
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Vivian Lee Mahoney

Consider yourself warned: I write books about rebels. I'm also a postergirlz for readergirlz, a literary advisory group for teens. Who knew going back to the teenage years would be so rewarding?

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