Writers in the Storm

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October 18, 2017

Plot Up A Storm with the Team from WITS

plotting your story


You're working on your latest manuscript, or polishing the story idea you want to blaze into Word Glory during NaNoWriMo. This is your masterpiece. The story that will grab your reader and pull him into your world and through the story with you.

It. Has. To. Be. Perfect. No pressure.

We’re not here to give you a lesson in plotting, but it IS just a few weeks until some of you enter into the madness of National Novel Writing Month. And we're in the mood this week to be super-nice to all of our WITS pals - hence Monday's Pimp and Promote.

Plus, some of us here at WITS *cough* are stuck on some sticky plot points. (Yeah, it's me. Laura) (Fae is right here alongside you, Laura.) (And I'm having a heck of a time too. Jenny)

So, we’re inviting you, amazing WITS readers, to help us with our plot nasties and throw out some sticky plots of your own that you need to untangle. 

What about all you pantsers who hear the word "plot" and hide under your desk?

Some of us are that way too. But we still have story lines that must be worked out and plot points that must be doctored. Look down in the comments - we're going to brainstorm right along with you. This is a group effort, so please don't leave us hanging down there with our plot undies flapping in the wind.

We are prepared to roll up our sleeves and dig into these "OMG, what do I do now" moments with you.

"What if I don't have the foggiest idea what 'plot' is?"

Some of you might need a basic framework to hang your story around. The Plot Whisperer, Martha Alderson, provides it! (Click these links, y'all - they are golden!)

Martha Alderson's Plot Planner


Or, if you're a short story writer, you might want to see Freitag's story pyramid. Why use a different diagram for a short story? Shorter stories don't usually have time for the mini black moment / crisis that comes in Act 2 of a novel.

What if you just want a list of plot types? Darcy Pattison's got you covered with her plot templates!

Randy Ingermanson is the 'Snowflake Guy'. His Snowflake plotting method is intriguing. You start with a logline, and build a novel from that. Sound impossible? Read this, and you'll find it isn't!  By the way, his newsletters are packed with awesome free info on time management, craft, and marketing. 

Here are some craft books we recommend that may help you on plotting and story craft in general:

Writing Fiction for Dummies - Randy Ingermanson

Beginnings Middles and Ends - Nancy Kress

Story Genius - Lisa Cron

Writing the Breakout Novel - Donald Maass (don't forget the workbook too)

Planning Your Novel - Janice Hardy

Save the Cat! - Blake Snyder (there are more in this series, if this method resonates with you)

Writing Screenplays That Sell - Michael Hauge

Stein on Writing - Sol Stein

Jenny: Heck, I wrote a whole post on craft books a few years back - check that magic out if you want to find some golden resources.

Most of us at WITS feel like this when it comes to plotting:

“I hate when people ask what a book is about. People who read for plot, people who suck out the story like the cream filling in an Oreo, should stick to comic strips and soap operas. . . . Every book worth a damn is about emotions and love and death and pain. It's about words. It's about a man dealing with life. Okay?” ~ J.R. Moehringer 

And if all of this plotting nonsense gives you the heebie-jeebies...if you are in the J.R. Moehringer writing camp and think plot is overrated, that's okay too. You can read his quote above and smile. You're still invited to provide feedback to other people down in the comments. 

The WITS Blogging Team

70 comments on “Plot Up A Storm with the Team from WITS”

  1. I'm an organic writer. The current WIP, a novella, is giving me fits. First, it's featuring a secondary character from the mystery series, and she's not a cop, so it's turning into a cozy hybrid. Then, because it takes place on a cruise ship, I've got other jurisdictional issues so I wasn't going to have a murder. But a dead body showed up, totally changing the direction. Then I had to figure out how he died, whether it was murder, if anyone was responsible, and if so, how/why he/she did it. My solution seems to be lots more head writing than keyboard time for this one. "Why" is my go to plot detangler.

    1. If it helps, Terry, your plot sounds wonderful! And I like that you have a captive audience, on a cruise ship! Damn the jurisdictions - full steam ahead!

    2. Is your person simply a passenger on this cruise ship? Or is she part of a seminar or department that is more involved? What an interesting premise, Terry! Do you have a tangle to untangle, or did you already get it handled?

      1. I THINK I figured a way out. My characters are passengers. He's been suspended from the police force (from the last Mapleton Mystery) and she is his girlfriend wanting to have a "no cop stuff" getaway, and she ended up being the POV character. Also, being on a ship means they don't have the same resources they would if it happened in Mapleton. There's also the wrinkle that in the previous novella, the cruise was alluded to and she came back wearing a ring, so I have to work that in, too!

        Only way to tell is to write it. Let my crit partners have at it. I just worry that I'm taking a 'soft' approach, but sometimes you have to see how it plays out.

    3. "Why?" is a great plot hook, Terry. It seems to me that your novella is growing into something more with the additional plot twists. I love mysteries, but it's a genre I would never try to write.

  2. I like Terry's term, above. "Organic Writer' sounds better than 'fill your pantser'. I am one of those. And sadly, 'Why?' doesn't help me. I always know why - I just don't know what comes next!

    My go-to plot untangler is Orly Konig. Thank God. I am ready to head for the knife drawer, because I have some unsolvable problem, and BAM! She has it solved in less than 5 minutes.

    I seriously couldn't write a book without her.

    It's the objectivity - since my deadline isn't hanging over her head, she can see that danged forest I'm foundering in, and head me in the right direction to get out of it.

    1. I didn't know she was your untangler. That's awesome! Are you full-steaming ahead since we talked? Or is it still like walking through wet cement?

    2. I like the term "Organic Writer" too. Because then it means the crap parts of writing your novel are just fertilizer, right? Hey, a bit of manure helps it grow stronger!

      Love that you have a plot untangler! I think my CP may have another nickname now.

    3. Laura, you made my day by saying you depended on Orly to untangle your plots!! My awesome CP is my untangler and without her, I'd still be staring at the trees and missing the forest. I thought maybe I was lacking something as a writer because I was so dependent on someone helping me get untangled. Makes me feel better to know I'm in good company. Thanks!!

    4. I think I need business cards that say "plot untangler" ... yes? HA!
      Now if I could just figure out how to get to "plot writer" ... oy!

  3. I am working out a solution where, in the face of her sister's illness (and absence for a hospital stay), my heroine housesits and cleans out the garage. This happens at the midpoint of the novel.

    I'm working out a few things because I want to keep the action going and not just have this be an info-dump.

    1. How to make sure the garage cleaning is viewed in a helpful light by the reader, and not as snooping. She's not snooping - she's going crazy looking for any task to do to alleviate worry about her sister. She's basically stress-cleaning.

    2. There is paperwork in a box in the garage, with details about their parents estate/deaths, that I need her to find. This includes an abusive vitriolic letter to her sister from their father, and legal separation papers between her parents that the heroine never knew about.

    Questions: (1) I'm worried that readers will see the garage tidying as snooping...any tips on what would make this okay for you? and (2) are the discoveries enough slap-in-the-face action to keep you going as a reader?


    1. If you've set the character up as a "neatnik" type, then cleaning the garage would/should come across as helpful or in character. Given they're family, I think she'd feel justified in looking through the paperwork. It wouldn't make me put the book aside.

      I don't think a book needs to (or should) be all 'slap in the face action' -- Readers need a chance to breathe, regroup, catch up.

      1. Oh, I agree. But this scene is pivotal in that it kicks off a mini-black moment that leads to the end of the book. This is a see-her-world-through-new-eyes turning point for this character.

    2. Jenny, why not drop some hints early that she cleans to burn off the adrenaline energy stress gives her? Have some mini-crisis or anger she needs to work off. BTW this is one of my ways of burning off stress, so I know it's real.

    3. (1) So to be fair, this would annoy me if a family member came to my house and started going through my stuff. (Sorry...you asked.) BUT if I made some comment about how frustrated I was with the state of my house — even if it was in a half-aware, medicated state — then I could see a sibling looking for stuff to do and then deciding they'd help me by cleaning the garage. Point being, as a reader, I'd want some reason to believe that the character isn't just going off on their own and deciding what would be helpful without any regard for what the sister really needs. Could you work in a little something that makes us feel like the sister wants her house cleaned/organized?

      (2) I'm totally there. I'm reading, reading, reading.

      1. I'm with you, Julie. Don't. Touch. My. Stuff. Not that I have anything to hide, but it seems that my friends think my stuff is unorganized (Don't start on me, Laura!) and they want to help me. Although, I do remember looking for one piece of legal paperwork after my mom died and a friend came over and helped me go through every box that I had moved from my mom's house. We found it! What about upping the stakes and having the search sister not tell the other one what she's done?

        1. The search sister absolutely does not tell her big sister what she's done - not to be devious, but because big sister is not always conscious when she sees her.

          Once she finds the letter and the paperwork, she kind of wants to "unsee" it. Of course, she can't and it weighs upon her. However, some of her own growing up stuff is in the garage, and wearing those clothes is how the sick sister's pals discover that she's been in the garage.

          But this is so INTERESTING how some of you are like "don't touch my stuff!" That feeling in the reader was one of my worries with this scene, so I'll have to smooth the way to this, as Julie suggested.

    4. I agree with Terry. If you make her a little OCD, then the cleaning binge is a natural thing. When I get stressed (or am avoiding writing), I go into what my wife calls "nesting behavior." As for the paperwork, she can knock over a stack of boxes or trip and drop it, spreading it all over the floor. She can find all kinds of things while picking up and re-boxing it without being accused of snooping.

      1. NICE fix, Eldred! Even better if some damp from the garage floor damages the box. I'll have to think about all these responses as I rewrite the scene. This is so helpful!!!

    5. I'm similar to Julie. It would bother me if anyone cleaned any area of my house while I was vulnerable, even when it needs it. Especially if I had sensitive documents in the room being cleaned. However, I totally understand that people stress clean and I've had people "help" me by cleaning when I'm vulnerable. Even though that stresses me out (mainly because I just don't like my privacy invaded like that -- feels wrong even when people are genuinely helping).

      That said, your character still needs to clean the garage. What if you've established she's a neat type, also that she knows she *shouldn't* clean (that her sister usually gets upset when her things are meddled with), but she's compelled to just organize / straighten up a bit. She fully intends to respect her sister's privacy and only shift some boxes around and maybe sweep, but not actually go through anything. Then, her booty or arm or whatever accidentally knocks over a box of papers that spill out. Your character doesn't mean to snoop, but finds the papers for the estate and vitriolic letter from her sister. For me, that would be more acceptable than intentionally going through her sister's things (even if helping). If I were her sister, I'd still be upset that she was cleaning / found things I didn't want her to see, but it'd be somewhat easier to forgive if it was an accident. It would feel less like an invasion of privacy.

      The other way wouldn't be a deal breaker for me reading the story, but I'm sure I'd have a visceral response if that happened in my real life.

    6. Okay, Jenny, you obviously have a lot of great ideas here, but just in case you want another one... (ha--actually, I'm just having fun) Maybe it's just the way my darker thoughts tend to work, but in my neck of the woods, the one thing that would really inspire cleaning out the garage is finding a critter in it! Around here we have badgers and raccoons that love to get into all the mess, and they can be nasty and scary to come upon at night---definitely inspiration to get the junk out! Of course rats and mice can be equally inspiring, or even a stray cat nesting somewhere to have her kittens. Nothing like that sort of encounter to make one realize that the space needs some help, and of course we don't want sister coming home to that!

      1. That is EXCELLENT food for thought, Colleen. And totally logical why she wouldn't ask permission if she hears a scurrying, or sees a squirrel disappear under the roof line. Hmmmm.

      2. Oh, I like the critter idea! If the sick sister is a person who would have issues with people going through her stuff (like me -- nothing to hide, but am fiercely private), she would never ask someone to go through her things and would probably know exactly where every document might be so she could direct someone, if needed. Or maybe that's just me, but if I'm going to ask someone to help me with something, I make sure I have specific directions so they don't derail into forbidden territory. I may have a problem / control issues. Anyway, I would have a huge problem with someone going through my stuff to help me clean just for cleanings sake. Even my own mother. However, if they were chasing a rat or accidentally made a mess (or both) that resulted in them needing to clean that up and they found something by accident... there would be no snooping misunderstanding. They weren't "looking" to find something or actively going through things... it just fell into their lap. And you can't unsee something once that happens.

        All that is to say, I think a critter would be an excellent reason for her to be in the garage and find the docs without making us fiercely private people feel like trust was being violated.

  4. I start with at least a semblance of a plot, but often the characters run away with it and turn it into something different than I envisioned. But I couldn't even begin without that basic plot. One resource I heartily recommend is K.M. Weiland (https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/). She has written a series specifically on preparing for NaNoWriMo (https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/preparing-for-nanowrimo/) and I find her approach to outlining is fun and different from others.

  5. Jenny...I would have the same reaction as some of the others about anyone cleaning/sorting my junk, even if it was needed. If you want to make sure you don't put off readers by having that action in there, could the housesitting sister be looking for some kind of documentation for her sister that is in the hospital? (And there's all kinds of possibilities as far as what kind of documentation her sister has her looking for.) So the housesitting sister turned the house upside looking for the documents and hasn't had any luck and in desperation, goes out to the garage and is met by all kinds of boxes, bins, etc. If you want to have her decide to clean and sort while she is looking through the boxes, bins, etc. for the documentation, then it wouldn't feel like snooping. That scenario seems plausible to me since the sister is in the hospital and can't look for these documents herself.

    Not sure if that suggestion would work for you but thought I would throw in my two cents worth. 🙂

    1. Oooooo...what an excellent suggestion, Beverly. I'm interested in how many people are chiming in to say, "hands off my stuff." This would be an excellent way to make her behavior sanctioned, rather than selfish.

      1. I was going to suggest what Beverly did! Her sister needs some insurance documents and in her medicated state, she doesn't remember that the other stuff is in the same box.

  6. I'm with Julie on the garage scene. Have the ill sister mention that she wishes she were well enough to clean the garage (and maybe another area of the house). She's normally organized but has let the cleaning go because she's been sick. The MC cleans for her ill sister as a gift because she cares about her.

      1. Why can't her sick sister ask the protagonist to find a document she needs (being a Brit, I'm not sure what insurance documents etc she might need which seems the obvious choice, but if not, I'm sure you can think of something - old letter, address of friend she's lost touch with - endless possibilities!). Once the investigating sister discovers what she's meant to be looking for is not in the obvious place, she starts searching piles of older papers in the garage.

  7. Jenny, maybe sick sister is desperate for her to find something. The sick sister's secret? or something she needs to send to end a relationship, so the housesitting sister is helping. I like that she finds the "needed" doc but discovers the other. How does this lead to the black moment?

    1. Sue - all great considerations for my re-write.

      This scene leads to the black moment because my heroine is a nun who became a nun for all the wrong reasons and those reasons have everything to do with her family and their dysfunction. The sick sister is the older one and she purposely pushed the younger sister away from the house and chaos, and toward the Church with their mother.

      The heroine thinks her big sister forgot about her, where in reality, the big sis has spent her whole life protecting her. To realize this, and then have her sister become so ill with kidney disease that she needs a transplant is devastating and is part of her black moment. She feels that she is finding all of these truths out too late to do anything with them.

      1. If the sick sister needs a transplant, the family will be desperately trying to identify all relatives, no matter how long lost or distant, who might be a transplant match. The heroine could be searching through old boxes for names, address, old family Bibles, and any clues to locate long lost relatives. Perfectly appropriate behavior for a heroine.

  8. Jenny, another possibility to use (if you go with the scenario of the sister asking her to look for a specific document,) would be to have the needed doc either be in the same box as the other ones, or have the box fit the description of the box she was told to look for the document in. As for the cleaning of the garage, she could have gone to search for the box but a cursory search did not turn it up. The cleaning aspect could naturally evolve from the legitimate search proving unfruitful on round 1.

    1. As someone who really doesn't like people going through her stuff, why would I put that document in the same box with my biggest secret ever and then send my family member there? It would be like saying to your mother-in-law, "Hey, could you go grab my allergy medicine out of the cabinet?"...where I also just happen to store the sex video your son and I made! I might buy that it's in a similar box, or maybe she gets sent out there, can't remember exactly what the box was supposed to look like, and opens the wrong one.

  9. Okay, now that Jenny's got lots of ideas, how about this?

    How do you handle being in a tiny space station (one bed, one bathroom, no extra space/closets) and now you suddenly have a prisoner (crashes onto your station) that is a mortal enemy? There's no brig. no rope or handcuffs, or a barricaded facility--but there is an intelligent computer. What do you do for three-four days, trapped with this person (who's an assassin) and you have no weapons? Who sleeps where (you can't give them the run of the station)--if you even get to sleep?

      1. There are sheets and a bedspread. The prisoner is a hand-to-hand combat assassin, so I don't know how close I'd want to get to her...Too bad there are no "meds." But that does get me thinking of innovative ways to use what's on had. Thanks, Rachel!

        1. Love the lasers! Throwing one more idea out there since you mentioned meds. Your intelligent computer could emit a frequency that manipulates the assassins bio electricity and disorients / incapacitates her.

          Idk -- just more ideas, though I'd probably use the lasers.

    1. Fae, is this for your Athena revision? I'd say an intelligent computer could do a "corral" with lasers. She'd be able to lock all opening cabinets via programming. The hero has the suit to be able to go outside the pod so perhaps he could sleep in the greenhouse area. Does this help? I think of this because it means that the "jailor" is an impartial machine, and because if the assassin could compromise the computer, she could get to everything else.

  10. Yep. Upping the stakes!

    I hadn't thought of Eve using lasers as a cage. Interesting idea, since she's got eyes and ears everywhere. I could revamp her into a laser --or some future tech-- welding jailer. That would make Athena hate her even more than she already does by the time she gets off the asteroid. Although, there's no doubt who controls the computer. He's going to be in deep trouble, too. Thanks!

    1. I don't think she even needs to "wield" the lasers from a single spot. He would have programmed her to have the capability to corral something he didn't want to get out. No way on this pod that he wouldn't be ready to protect against some life form. You are awesome at world building, I'll bet these lasers could be a specific color - disintegration lasers or something - that Athena would understand to avoid. Maybe she holds out an item of clothing to test it and it poofs to dust in her hand.

      1. You know me--I love coming up with new tech! Thanks. Eve's got the whole place "covered" as it is, so he can access her from anywhere (even the shower!), so adding a capability for something else is something that can be done. Thanks!

        1. Another awesome idea if you use "disintegration lasers" (or whatever you decide on) - Athena throws her favorite weapon at him...maybe one of her super-sharp boomerang stars, an it poofs or melts as it goes through the laser field. The bonus of that scenario is that it would really piss her off because she's attached to her weapons AND later on, when she and Drake and Eve are all friends, she can use this same technology on someone else...like an Emperor's minion or a spy.

  11. Wow, love this post and all the comments! Gearing up for NaNo is hard when you're a pantser. I definitely find the closest hiding place when someone mentions plotting anything. I've tried numerous times, but the anxiety takes hold and I break out in a cold sweat. I'll just keep plodding along in my own way.

    1. LOL. Trust me, we understand! But we wanted to put out some resources for people who want to plot, but are fumbling. And we wanted to be sure to help people untangle plot lines that are bugging them. If you look above, you'll see Fae and I totally had one each. 🙂

      1. Any chance there's a facebook group dedicated to plot problems like this? Or could we create one? I don't have an issue now, but it'd be great to be able to throw up a smoke signal when I do...

        1. It really would, wouldn't it, Rachel. I can make one if you'd like. Although, if you are a member of WFWA (Women's Fiction Writers), we do quite a bit of brainstorming in there.

  12. I have a vague idea for NaNo this year. I know all the details about my SEAL, he's been uncooperative when I tried to write his story before. I am sticking him with a snarky Viking Ghost. I debated making the ghost visible to the entire squad, but haven't decided. Perhaps making him seem a little off and have them concerned for his mental health? Usually, I'm an organic writer with a bit of an idea of where I want to go. But this year I have no clue.

  13. […] Writers in the Storm has an excellent article on different ways to plot your story. From a basic framework, such as Martha Alderson’s Plot Planner, to Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method, this article has lots of ideas for you, even if you’re a freewrite kind of novelist. […]

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