Plot out your idea: 3 methods5 min read

by | Aug 12, 2016 | Writing | 0 comments

You’ve got a new idea. It’s exciting, it’s terrifying, and it’s trying to be *drumroll* a story. You’ve let it marinate in your brain for a bit, maybe you’ve jotted down a few notes so a strong wind doesn’t sweep it right out of your head, but now you have to expose it to some harsh conditions.

You have to add a plot.

Suddenly that beautiful ephemeral wisp of an idea that only lived inside your brain needs some stuff to happen to some people in some sort of order.

What a palaver.

math-1500720_1280What can help is finding a way to plot that suits you, and that suits what you’re writing. It might be you find a method that consistently works for you. Maybe you find you use different methods to suit different stories. You could even throw all of them together in a big-experimental-pants-in-tumble-dryer-type-mess. Whatever method takes you from that first wisp to the full on generation-spanning fully-conceived story arc is golden.

So what methods are out there? More than I could list, certainly, but three of the most tried and tested methods are below.

The I-don’t-have-a-method method

You’re excited by your new idea and you just start writing. And writing. And writing. You end up with a giant mess, a severe lack of cohesive story arc, and a lot of unexpectedly interesting things that you can salvage. This is the vomit novel.

But once you have your vomit novel you can pull it apart and see what’s working. What are those key motivators for your characters? Have you identified all the major crux points? Is the pacing right?

You can now take your vomit novel and put the timeline in place around it, remove the gaping plot holes, and make sure the character development doesn’t suddenly happen all at once two chapters before the end.

The post-it note method (also known as the index card method)

1924057_528328381385_9181_n2If you like re-working things quickly and really love/need that perfect structure (crime and mystery writers, ahoy!) then this one works well.

Your big events are all on post-it notes. Quickly! Jot them all down now whilst I throw exclamation marks at you! They might even be colour coded by location or character (wow, you’re a pro at this), but they are in perfect bite sized chunks and super agile. You can now shuffle them around on the wall until you find the best way for them to all fit neatly into the overarching story. Or until the post-it note glue stops being sticky and one falls behind the sofa and gets lost. (And you wondered how plot holes happened.)

If you’re even more savvy you can use the objects and events tools on Plotist, so you can avoid those plot holes.  (I’ve definitely found eating breakfast a lot easier since I reduced the number of post-its I was using…)

The structured approach

Here you can slot your ideas into place by following models from the experts. You could do a bit of research into good old Aristotle’s three act structure (a little more detailed than just beginning, middle, end), or you could try plotting your idea directly against one of the seven basic plots. Christopher Booker laid these out in his 2014 book as:

  1. Overcoming the monster
  2. Rags to riches
  3. The quest
  4. Voyage and return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

If you read up on them, each of these plots has a solid segment-by-segment breakdown of required story elements which can help you to plot out your own narrative and pace the events.


Whilst using any of these three methods you can also, of course, utilise Plotist!  View our tutorial to see how you can make use of our fabulous timeline feature to keep track of your heroes and villains (despite all the shenanigans they keep getting up to)!

Hopefully those three methods can give you a good start, but there are plenty more out there. What have you used in the past? What has and hasn’t worked for you?

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