Monday, August 24, 2009

WORKSHOP: Plotting Your Way to a first Draft

Plotting Your Way to a first Draft
By Carol Shenold

My name is Carol Shenold and I’m going to tell you how to plot your way to a first draft. But I guess you want to know who I am and why I think I know best. I don’t, but I do have a method that works for me.

I have three published Tali Cates paranormal mysteries in both ebook and print format and one Urban Fantasy novella in both formats, all were published by Eternal Press. I’ve been writing for over twenty years and have several nursing textbooks out there also. I’ve written newspaper columns, been clinical editor for technical magazines and published magazine articles. I’ve had stories published in Home Life, Chicken Soup anthologies and pet magazine. I live in Oklahoma City with my daughter, two cats and a puppy on crack who lives to eat cat poop. I’m a nurse and work full time.


Now, that warning label. You know the one, it tells you if you do this, take that, you could end up with these six fatal diseases. Okay, it’s not that bad, but just understand, everyone is different. All writers have there own way of doing things that works for them and what works for one, won’t work for the next. My method works for me. The good thing is, you can take all or parts of my method and add to your own and come up with a workable plan.

Many writers want to write a book. Once they get into the writing and realize what a commitment it is, they have second thoughts, or middle-of-the-book doubts. Sometimes you can avoid these issues by doing some homework before you begin the fun stuff of writing.

If you start a road trip without a plan or map, you can find some exciting places, or you can get lost in a wilderness and give up. My idea is to have a map and not get so lost you give up. You can still chose to go on the exciting side trips, but you know where your ultimate destination lies.


I do best if I have a working title to use and a premise to keep in mind. My current WIP(work in progress) is Changeling. That will not be the final title, too many books and movies out with that name. But it works for now. The premise, A half fairy-half human fights prejudice and danger to solve a string of fairy murders and earn the respect of her fellow Paranormal Unit workers. In the process, she discovers a greater sense of self, purpose and family.

Since I write with a lot of humor, the premise isn’t as serious as it sounds but is definitely a dark paranormal.


Now comes the picky part. That homework I warned you about. Don’t you hate homework? But, if it helps you avoid the saggy middle, it may be worth it (No, I don’t mean midriff, so let’s not go there. Just wrong on so many levels don’t even start on the belly button ring. Sorry, digression. So, where to start?

Write a paragraph about your plot. Next, write a two page synopsis, present tense with the major plot points and characters. I know, what a pain, but this will help later. Also make yourself a list of all the major characters, first and last name, short physical description. Trust me. You will forget someone’s last name in the middle of the story. I’m serious, it happens.


I know, you haven’t written the story and I’m already talking markets and we don’t even believe in writing to the market, just write the story you feel, the one you want to write. I agree. But if you know where you want to go, what genre, then look to see how many words you want to write, how many chapters, pages etc. Then you can set yourself a goal of how many words, pages a day or week you need to write to get the first draft done in a reasonable time for you.

For my genre, 80,000 words is reasonable. I broke it down into chapters, 30, and decided I could mange 800 words a day, five days a week. I know writers who write 3,ooo words a day or at least a chapter a day. I work full time as well as write, so I’m not that prolific. Plus I have to put in marketing time for my other books.


This is not you grandmother’s outline, or even your mothers. You need about two sentences for each chapter to tell you what needs to happen in that chapter to propel the story forward toward the plot points and climax.

What? I forgot to mention that? Oops. A screen writing tip is to have something happen that changes things and adds difficulty to the hero’s ability to meet their goal. A quarter of the way through the story, have an incident that puts a new spin on the story, half way, have an incident that changes things you took for granted, thought you know, and the incident ¾ of the way through that leads to the darkest hour and precipitates the climax. You need to know who-done-it before you write so you can plot toward that.

Once you have the plot points, fill in the rest of the chapters and scenes.


Many writers use a vision board, a collage on poster board with pictures of plot elements, characters, anything that figures strongly into the story. For Changeling I could have iron stakes, fairy wings, a necklace with s red stone, a girl with long red hair, a wolf, a wizard, Dallas skyline, a pixie and and elf.

Another good tool is a white board and post it notes. Have a post it note for each chapter with one for each scene below it. Use different colors for scenes with different purposes, romance, murder, sub plot. See if the colors are distributed evenly so you don’t have all the romance or murder up front and nothing interesting in the middle (Yup, the saggy middle again.)


This is a tool for you, just write yourself a note on your map that says what day of the week, time of day, each chapter covers so you know how long a time period the events cover-the shorter the better unless you are writing a generational saga. Plus, if you start the story, and Halloween is a pivotal time, you don’t want to take six months to get there if the beginning of the story it’s already October.


Nike.Chillemi said...

Thanks this was very helpful. You presented the information in a very easy to understand way.

Chicki said...

I love to find new ways of plotting my work. Thanks for the ideas!

maxxgrl said...

Thank you, this information is very helpful as I plot my first draft. Initially I just wrote, and each day I became discouraged (mainly, because of that inner critic) So here I am starting over, this time with a roadmap to keep me focus on that final destination... and it's helping. I still want to backspace and edit but I'm resisiting temptation. how do you keep from going back to edit, or where in your 1st draft do you revise what was written?

La Monica R. Smith said...

Great tips for a pantser like me who has a tendency to stray. Thank you!

La Monica R. Smith said...

Great tips for a pantser like me who has a tendency to stray. Thank you!

Carol said...

Thanks, guys, I'm glad the information has been helpful. I got the idea from a screenwriting workshop years ago and then the no revision came later and really helped speed up my productivity.

maxxgrl, I just have to make myself not go back. Really, working full time and getting 800 words done a day, I don't have a lot of time to go back or I wouldn't meet my word goals.

If I can't get the word goals done during the week, then I'm stuck doing 4000 words on the weekend, really tough for me, so editing usually has to wait.

Ty said...

Great workshop! I learned I work much better outlining story lines before I start writing.

I'm glad to see you mentioned visual aids. I'm a very visual person, so this past weekend I decided to try using colored index cards to plot out my manuscript. I have all the cards pinned on a board. I really like taking a glance at the cards and moving them around. :)

Susan Falck said...

I love plotting the bumps and making that road map. And yet I'm always surprised at the extra twists that happen along the way.
I have a long wall on my side of the bed that I can't wait to cover with notes as you suggested.

Carol said...

Ty and Susan, I love the white board with post-its too. I have to do the map first and then put scenes on the board so I can move them around as needed. And, even with the maps and boards, my characters seem to do whatever they want, take side trips, ignore my suggestions.

Melissa said...

Wow, this was so helpful to me. I am one who definitely starts rewriting before the whole story is even written so your tips will help keep me on track. I like the idea of visual aids--it helps me feel more connected to the story. Thanks so much for sharing!

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