Deb Joanne Plotzes about Plotting

I’m not much of a plotter. At all. Not even for these posts, which I’m sure comes as no surprise to those of you who read my posts regularly (and a big thank you to you for sticking it out with me).

Yep: I’m a total pantser, as in, I completely fly by the seat of my pants when I write books. For those who know me in real life, this might come as a surprise, because I’m a total anal organizer and lay all of my plans out before doing just about anything. But, for some reason, writing is different. Maybe it’s my brain’s way of letting go and taking a little holiday, but I just can’t outline in any sort of cohesive way. And I’ve tried. Recently. And it was a big failure. Let’s just leave it at that and move on.

So just to illustrate how much of a pantser I am, here’s what went down when I wrote my last project.

Stage 1The Idea. Joanne is getting into her shower, complaining to herself how she needs to shave her legs (TMI? Sorry). She gets a picture in her head of a scene where a teen girl tells a boy she won’t shave her legs for him. TAA DAA the idea for a YA book is born.

Stage 2The Execution. With nothing other than that one snippet of a scene in her head, Joanne sits down at her computer and starts writing. Note: There may be a few times in this stage when Joanne will enlist her husband, telling him she needs ‘plot assistance’, which means she is stuck and needs a sounding board for ideas. Husband usually suggests a car chase, a really inappropriate love scene or a flashy sword fight, Joanne disregards these ideas, but then, through talking out her story issues, is usually able to figure out where to go next.

Stage 3The End. 60,000 words (and a few months) later, there’s a completed book sitting on Joanne’s hard drive. Somehow, a plot happens. Sure, the book will need work and that may include some after-the-fact plot tweaking, but generally, the plot gets worked out through writing.

Stage 4The Outline. Now that the book is finished, Joanne is able to finally write an outline.

This may sound like a tongue-in-cheek account, but this is exactly how I write. So, what does this have to do with plotting? Er…not much, but this is how I work.

But wait, I think I can offer up something of substance. I recently discovered a new tool that I think is actually going to revolutionize how I write. I don’t know that it will make me a plotter, per se, but it will make my manuscripts more organized and keep ME more organized and not have to use eight-thousand stickie notes as I’m writing. You may have heard of this tool: Scrivener.

Now, I’m still new to Scrivener and I have yet to write a whole book on it beginning to end, but after discovering it recently, I did paste half a book into it and went from there and it really did make life a lot easier for me.

Not only is it a word processor, where you can actually write your book (or screenplay) but you can organize it into chapters and even scenes within chapters. You can have separate files for details (settings, character sketches, addresses, people’s names etc) which, for me, a person with a horrible memory, have already proven to be invaluable.

I’ve captured a few screenshots and put them below (click on each for a larger picture). Keep in mind, I’m a newb and don’t have full knowledge of the program yet, but what I’ve used so far, I’m loving. AND it was only forty bucks and change. Can’t beat that, right?*

(Please don’t judge the writing in this sample – I quickly threw it together as an illustration and isn’t representative of any of my actual works-in-progress 😯 )

*I am not being paid by the fine people at Scrivener to talk at such length about the program, but hey, if they want to send me a few bucks as a thank you for pimping their great product, I’m not going to stop them.

So what do you think about tools to help you plot? Do you use Scrivener? Story Boards? Color-coded stickies? How do you stay organized?


16 Replies to “Deb Joanne Plotzes about Plotting”

  1. Wow! Now I understand why you like track changes, Joanne–this Scrivener software is intense! I had never heard of it until today (where have I been???) but I’m fascinated by it. Terrified–but fascinated 😉

    1. Erika, I downloaded a free trial of Scrivener for Windows (used to be you could only get it for Apple). I haven’t played with it much yet, since I’m so close to the end of my current WIP and I didn’t want to screw with things, but I’m thinking of trying it out with the next one. I’m not expecting miracles, but maybe it can at least give me the appearance of organization.

      1. You’ll have to let us know, Linda. I’m always open to trying new software–but as you say, not in the middle of a project—but when starting a new one, why not? It might be worth a shot!

    2. It really is a great program – not only does it organize the file, but it actually helps me visualize the book by scenes and chapters, which is actually quite helpful.
      AND it builds a synopsis from the little index cards, so I can see at a glance how the book is structured.

  2. Joanne, I can relate. Dedicated pantser here, too. But I’m trying to incorporate a little bit of structure into my writing. Not succeeding very well yet, mind you, but trying. Maybe next book! *grin*

  3. That is so funny! when I read the post from yesterday, I kept thinking to myself, “what is a panster?”. I was too embarrassed to comment because I didn’t want to be embarrassed. Whew. I feel much better now after reading your post.

    I cannot imagine writing a book the way you described. Wow. I’m a plotter (and an over-planner) for sure.

    1. Don’t be embarrassed, Missy! It’s amazing to see how different people write in such different ways. I’m sure there are as many ways to write a book as there are writers writing them! You write, non-fic, right? I think plotting is definitely important in non-fic – as was illustrated by Rachel’s post on the proposal:

  4. I also can’t imagine writing a book as a pantser, and I marvel at you who can! The biggest thing I’ve ever finished was a rather long short story, and I would have been lost without my outline. I can’t even imagine writing 60-80 thousand words without one. I love Scrivener as well, especially the way that you can create individual scenes and then easily reorder them as you see fit. There was just never a way to do that before with other word processors. You’d have to cut and paste, which was a real pain and a total time-waster, as I’m sure you know. Great post!

    1. Hi Shelby, the functionality of Scrivener is great, isn’t it? I love that it was made just for us writers and they’ve thought of seemingly everything. I resisted looking at it for a long time (being that I’m a pantser and think of myself as a very linear writer) but see such great value in it even for those of us who don’t outline.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I’m a pantser and member of the Scrivener fan club. I did a dance around my kitchen when they announced there would be an iPad version out this year– I truly can’t imagine writing without it. And since I not only pants, I also write completely out of order (kissing scenes first TYVM!) Scrivener is a godsend for organizing and rearranging scenes.

    Linda, I can’t wait for you to try it! Joanne, enjoy!

    1. Yay, Tiffany! Wow, I am in awe of a pantser who writes OUT OF ORDER!!! *bowing down to your awesomeness* – I don’t think I could ever do that, but yeah, Scrivener is totally perfect for you.
      Thanks for visiting!

  6. Okay, I don’t know what’s wrong with me today but after reading this post all I can think about is the fact that you have to remind yourself to shave your legs (said the very dark hairy cousin-in-law)…OMG…so jealous. You see, if I skip a day, well the Forestry Department is involved. LOL Oh, I’m also thinking that Derek and Mark enjoy the same kind of books…and movies. 🙂 🙂

  7. That’s how I used to write. Now my agent makes me write a synopsis…single spaced, up to two pages before I start. I basically use it as an outline to get me going and then I forget all about it. So…ummm…yeah, I guess I still write like this.

  8. Joanne, thanks so much for the heads up about Scrivener. I too had never heard of it but, like Erika and Linda, maybe it will be just what I need to get myself organized? Worth a shot!

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