Wish plotting your fiction could be easier? If you’re struggling with plotting, try organic plotting. It’s my preferred plotting strategy and works brilliantly, especially if you’re writing a series.
A couple of readers asked for plotting help. One reader has numerous unfinished novels: “I get to 20 pages and lose interest.”
The other reader is ready to give up writing: “My seven novels aren’t selling. I think it’s my plots. How do I create a suspenseful plot?”
Try organic plotting.
Organic plotting your series: the first novel is your plot seed
You don’t need much for organic plotting: just ONE idea for a novel. I’m sure you’ve had dozens of ideas, any one of which you could grow into a complete novel—even a full series of three or a dozen novels.
You can start with a logline for your first novel if you wish:
– the protagonist
– their goal
– the antagonist/antagonistic force
But please, don’t get hung up on a logline, as many beginning authors do. You don’t need a logline. If you have one, be aware that you can change any element of it at any time.
I prefer to start simply: with a single character.
1. Start with a character: life is about to get awkward
Here’s the simple character creation template:
Name + Age + Occupation + Major Attribute + (optional) Big Problem
Megan Summers, 31, resident at a city hospital, loves medicine—big problem: someone’s killing patients. She’s blamed.
As you can see, this simple template contains the elements of a logline, in a more palatable form. When I encourage my fiction students to use this template, they find it not only easy, but also perfect for organic plotting.
One character leads to the next: apply the same template to all major characters. Before you know it, you have several characters, all of whom want something or other, and must get it.
2. Write a short journal entry by the main character: “OMG!”
This step is FUN. Write a journal entry as your main character. Your character is going about their daily life and realizes that something has gone badly wrong. Make this journal entry their OMG! realization moment.
Staying with Megan above, write as Megan: write the journey entry for Megan’s realization that a serial killer is murdering patients.
Free yourself and write: Megan’s journal entry won’t appear in your novel.
Here’s what the journal entry will do for you:
- It will make your character more real to you;
- Gives you ideas for at least one scene;
- (Often) Helps you to develop the character’s voice (style);
- and… It creates the seed for your novel, and ultimately, a series.
The journal entry can be long or short. I prefer a short journal entry, no longer than 250 words. Write against a timer, if you like. Giving yourself just five minutes to write the journal entry kicks your subconscious mind awake.
3. Organic plotting: write the first scene
After you’ve written your character’s journal entry, write the first scene.
Focus. Imagine. Be there. Don’t think about anything other than this single scene. Keep it simple: you’ll rewrite and tweak this scene many times, so don’t get tangled up. Write it fast, without overthinking.
While you’re writing Scene 1, you’ll get an idea for Scene 2. Write that.
Whenever you get hung up, write a journal entry by one of your major characters.
Leave open threads—get into the habit of this. Not only will it build suspense, it grows your novel for you. You’ll close some of the open threads: others won’t be closed in the second or third books of your series.
4. Keep writing, without pushing: allow your intuition and imagination free rein
Write as your inspiration moves you.
For example, this morning I wrote the final scene in the second novel of a series, even though I’m only on the third chapter. You can write chronologically, or skip about.
Here’s the benefit of allowing your intuition free rein: you’ll develop not only the plot for your first novel while you’re writing it, but also an overarching plot for your series.
If you feel as if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re doing FINE. As I said in this article on fiction ideas, I had a miserable time on the first book for a current series, BUT…
While writing the first book, I added snippets of characterization which coalesced to form a BIG idea for the second and third novels in the series. Moreover, suddenly I could see hints of a fourth and fifth novel in the series.
To repeat: allow your intuition to lead. Your intuition is your creativity.
It’s ideal for both plotter aficionados and for pansters. Plottr helps because I write scene and character summaries in detail only after I’ve completed them. Then I can go back and review the scenes; that provides inspiration for additional scenes/ character development/ subplots.
Once I’ve completed another couple of books in my historical series, I’ll write a full review of the app. It’s only now I’m working on the second book in the series that I’ve begun to appreciate how truly useful it is for series’ authors.
Organic plotting: one thing leads to another
In summary: in organic plotting, as in life, one thing leads to another. You don’t need to stress over your plot. Allow it to unfold. Open loops, and keep some loops open. You’ll close them in future novels in your series.
As always: write and have FUN with it. 🙂
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Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.