Plotting: Finding a system that works for you

Plotting know where you're headedIn recent months I’ve been stymied by my work in progress (WIP). Would I call it writer’s block? No. I was struggling to write because I simply didn’t know where the story was going.

You see, I decided to take a short story I wrote for a college class a few years back and develop it into a novella. That meant I had to expand on the plot of the story, and I hadn’t taken the time to do that before I started writing.

If you have no plot, you have no story.

For that reason, I’ve decided to dedicate the month of July to plotting. Because we are individuals, no one way of plotting is right for every writer. So today, I’m offering my recommended resources that are either solely dedicated to plotting, or contain several chapters about plotting within the book.

Books (in no particular order of importance)

How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake MethodHow to Plot a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson. This is not only educational, it’s the most hilarious nonfiction book I’ve ever read. Ingermanson teaches his snowflake method via the characters of Goldilocks, Baby Bear, Big Bad Wolf, and Little Pig, along with a few other fairy tale characters.


Plot & Structure by James Scott BellPlot & Structure by James Scott Bell. Every chapter gives lesson exercises. My copy is highlighted and sticky noted out the wazoo.



Scene & StructureScene & Structure by Jack M. Bickham. Now deceased, Bickham taught at the University of Oklahoma. You may not recognize his name, but you would his movies, the Apple Dumpling Gang from Disney.


20 Master Plots

20 Master Plots and How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias. I recently reread my copy and found the plot I needed for my novella.



Writing the Breakout NovelWriting the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. Another book filled with highlights and sticky notes. I’m still reading my way through.



Writing the Heart of Your StoryWriting the Heart of Your Story by C.S. Lakin. No sticky notes here; I have the kindle version. But plenty of highlights. Still reading this one as well. (Yes, I’ve almost always got 2 or 3 books in progress.)



Don’t forget to check your library for these book(s), and save your book budget for the books that resonate with you.

Blog Posts

“The Snowflake Method for Designing a Novel” by Randy Ingermanson on

“The First 10 Scenes You Need to Plot for Your Novel” by C.S. Lakin on her blog

“How to Outline Your Novel” from K.M. Weiland on

You’ll find plenty of additional great advice on the craft at each these blogs.

I’m in the process of building a plotting system that uses elements from several of these various methods.

No matter how you chose to plot, I recommend you find something that works for you, especially if you consider yourself a seat-of-the-pants writer. Having a basic plan at best can save you months of rewriting and heartache at reworking your story.

How do you plot your story? Leave your comments below.

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  1. sheriena1951 says:

    I’m wondering about combining the snowflake with calendar outline. A general main idea snowflake. Then order it by time. For each chapter do a more detailed snowflake and calendar if needed.

    • I expect for every novel one writes, it could be a combination of several systems that will work for that specific book. Some stories follow a tight timeline and as an editor, I often wish I had a calendar from my clients.

  2. I plot with a calendar synopsis. I did one book with the snowflake method, and it was helpful. But I ended up changing much of the outline when I actually wrote. So, I decide the time frame of my story, and then I actually plot scenes out on the days/times they take place. It’s like my characters have their own planner.

    • Kathy, thanks for sharing your system. I can see how that would work quite well. Certainly would help avoid conflicts in the time frame as well.

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