Writing Tips: Plotting Your Bestseller

Posted by: Pamela Foster



“How’dya  come up with the idea for that story?”

That’s the question I hear most from non-writers.

Well, that’s the query I hear the most after, “I’ve got a great idea for a story.  How ‘bout I tell you about it, you write it and we’ll share the profits?”

For writers, a more pertinent query is, “After that first scene comes to you, how the heck do you plot your way through three hundred pages?”

The answer is that we all do it differently.

Staci Troili uses a plot board that would send me screaming into the woods.  http://stacitroilo.com/2012/07/30/how-project-planning-in-corporate-america-helped-me-write-novels/  But it works for her.   Her books are wonderful.

Dusty Richards tells me he doesn’t know until he writes each chapter what’s going to happen, says that’s the fun of writing.  Since he’s published over 100 western novels, I’m going to concede that method works for him.

Claire Croxton insists the first thing she does when sitting down to start a new novel is find perfect names for the cats. Again, the method works for her.  There’s nobody better at southern snark than Croxton.

Here’s what I do:

I generally start a new book with a vision that comes to me while I’m gazing blankly off into space or washing my hair in the shower or staring at someone at Walmart,  er I meant to say Neiman Marcus, and wondering what on earth they think they’re doing.

Once I have that first scene, I start writing.  This means I often flounder around a bit in the beginning of a book. End up with half-a-dozen false starts on my computer.  But, eventually the characters take shape and stumble through their story for me.

In case you’re not already thoroughly confused about how best to plot, click this link to find out what everyone from L’Amour to King to Irving have to say about plotting.  http://matadornetwork.com/notebook/thoughts-on-plot-by-famous-writers/

Here, finally, is my point.  There are people out there who will share with you what works for them.  Take advantage of that knowledge.  Part of the writing process is sorting through all the expert opinions and dividing what works for you from what you need to drop like a hot rock.

In the end, it’s your story. Only you can find it and only you can tell it.

Join the discussion:

So, how’dya come up with story ideas?  Once you’ve got that idea like a splinter in your brain, how’dya plot the rest of the book?


10 thoughts on “Writing Tips: Plotting Your Bestseller

  1. I like Wal . . . Marcus too! My ideas come from something I want to say but can’t because it would step on toes. I feel fiction is the best anesthesia to address delicate subjects. My book is about personal prejudices. We all can see it in others but usually not in ourselves. My WIP (work in progress) is about letting the past darken our future. So my fiction is actually my message.

    • Oh, tips. I forgot to add them.

      1. Daydream your story and ask what if?
      2. Jot down ideas, I call them “thought plots.” Remember, just because you write or type your ideas down doesn’t mean you HAVE TO use them. Nothing is set in concrete.
      3. Get to know your characters. As Sister Jan says, interview them. I list my main characters, my secondary characters and some fun minor characters.
      4. When you get to know your characters write down something they would NEVER do, then have them do it. This gives a delicious conflict.
      5. Think of your setting, and add interesting things in it. Don’t forget weather, animals, and bugs. Things we deal with everyday but is left out of most novels.
      6. Write your first draft. Remember, just because you draft out your entire manuscript, it isn’t unchangeable. In fact YOU WILL change it. So have fun and let the ideas flow no matter how crazy they are. You can clean it up later.

  2. Great post Pamela. I’m a pantser all the way. The only plotting I do is when I’m developing an idea. I write it in a circle in the middle of a piece of paper and shoot lines and cirlces off of it as fast as I can. It could be anything from location, to a scene idea, to a character name. Whatever comes to mind. I let that stew for a few days then I begin.

  3. I wrote The Red Kimono as a pantser — the story came to me as I wrote it. However, after taking Bill Bernhardt’s writing class. I’m tryout outlining with the sequel. I like it so far. It’s interesting how story ideas came to me even as I outlined. The story may change as I write it, but the good thing is, when I’ve let the story sit for awhile, I have the outline to remind myself of where it’s going. With my menopause mind these days, that helps a lot.

    I listen to the radio on my drive to Tulsa every week and get lots of ideas from stories I hear. Bad thing is, I have to jot them down, either on a scrap piece of paper or in my iPhone right then or I’ll forget. I also like getting ideas from conversations I overhear.

    Great post, Pam!

  4. Pingback: Tuesday Tip « Adventures in Writing

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