The Plot Thickens

I’ve written about plotting versus pantsing before–plotting a story as opposed to writing it by the seat of your pants–but this month has given me a new take on the whole issue.

At the end of January, I joined the Winter Writing Festival sponsored by the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood blog. It’s almost over (sadness), but if you’re a writer, you really should consider joining next year–it’s been transformative. At the same time, I’ve been taking a wonderful workshop on novellas by Catherine Chant which has given me a ton of ideas on plotting and structuring a book. I’ve also been reading Debra Dixon’s book on Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. (Apparently I’ve been busy, now that I think about it!)

I’ve always been opposed to in-depth plotting of a book before I start writing, because, well, it’s boring! But I have also noticed that failing to do any plotting at all leads to a very bad book (for me, anyway). So I did a sort of hybrid I like to call plantsing, in the hopes that with just a little bit of plotting–a moderately detailed road map, I suppose–I could let my creativity run free and still stay on course.

Well, that didn’t really work either. I still got stuck in the middle of my book, and couldn’t get past it. Now maybe it is my lot in life always to get stuck in the middle, and if so I can accept that, but maybe I really need to get past my aversion to plotting. As an experiment, the novella I am starting in March will be plotted–beat sheet, character descriptions, GMC charts, maybe even a plot arc. Will it stifle my creativity and get stuck again, or will I breeze right through? Stay tuned…

How do you feel about plotting? Any methods that work well for you, or methods you’ve rejected?

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About Marin McGinnis

A lawyer in real life, Marin McGinnis feeds the more creative part of her soul by writing Victorian era romance and mystery. She's spent almost half her life in a tree-lined, unabashedly liberal suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She's been married to the same great guy for over 20 years, and has one teen-aged son. They all live together in a drafty old house with their two standard poodles, Larry and Sneaky Pete. While her very first book will languish under the bed, the next book, Stirring Up the Viscount, won two contests in 2013 and was published by The Wild Rose Press in January 2015. Her next two books, Secret Promise and Tempting Mr. Jordan, are also available from Wild Rose Press. Marin currently serves as President of the Northeast Ohio chapter of Romance Writers of America and is hard at work on the next book. You can find her here, at, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

12 Responses to The Plot Thickens

  1. nina croft says:

    I think, for me anyway, plotting releases creativity. It allows you to stop worrying about what happens, and how it’s all going to work out, and just let the characters go and do their thing. And I find, if I know what’s going to happen, I write faster, which means my natural voice comes through.
    At the moment, I like Larry Brook’s Story Engineering, but I change from book to book.

  2. Becky Lower says:

    I use the beat sheet and a GMC chart for all my books. Don’t spend a lot of time on character descriptions, since that’s easy to work into the book, or the overall arc. It I can get my beats right, the arc takes care of itself.

    • I always do a character sheet, even if I’m mostly pantsing, because I usually forget what color the heroine’s eyes are, or how old the hero is, or the butler’s name. 🙂 But I am new to writing down GMC. I always held a vague idea in my head, but that’s proving to be insufficient.

  3. I am definitely a panster. I let the characters tell me their story, which means I toss more than a few pages in the end! Good post!

  4. Barb Heintz says:

    I’m a Gemini. We start in one direction, then a quick shift to the left before I pull myself back to center. I write as I read. I like to be surprised where the story leads. I tried plotting, and the book ended up totally different. Maybe that’s why I haven’t published yet. Great post Marin.

  5. DeeDee Lane says:

    Hi Marin, I admire you for trying new methods until you find something that works for you. I do a bit of a hybrid version myself – plot the story out but then at some point say I’ve got to start writing this to keep it fresh. I’ll be curious to see how your novella process turns out! Good luck!

  6. I’m mostly a pantser, but I do need to know some milestones (usually the opening scene, turning point and closing line) and then I amble my way from one to another of them, making it up as I go. If I plan too much I get bored, but if I start without knowing where I’m going to end, I don’t even make it to the halfway mark.

  7. I’m a plotter. I tried to pants a story, second in a series, in July and I’m still forcing my way through it. Never again. I’ll plot my stories so I’m not flogging my way through ever again.

  8. Plotting has always been a writing-killer for me. Too much plotting/outlining/planning takes the fun out of it. I’ve actually just written my story in the outline/plotting. Why bother to write the story out in novel form? I have tried plotting…it always kills my story. I do better as a pantser, but then, I hardly ever finish anything. And sagging middles are my downfall. That, and filtering words, which I apparently love. Good luck, and keep us posted!

  9. Marin, I’ll really be interested in how plotting worked for you. I’m a hopeless pantser. I’ve tried plotting numerous times and my problem is the ideas don’t flow when I’m thinking logically. To unleash my creativity, I have to start writing the actual story. On the other hand, in the old days, when I was traditionally published, I had to give my editors short synopses before they could contract for the books, and somehow I managed it then. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m no longer forced to plot makes it so hard for me. My muse is a rebel, for sure!

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