Writing Tools: Novel Plotting Sheets
When I first embarked on the journey of writing a novel-length story, I had no clue what to expect. I read a lot, so I knew what made up a story and what I liked. I had ideas bouncing around in my head for what I wanted my story to be, and once I felt ready, I got to writing. All was fine and dandy until life got in the way, and rather than having a steady flow for writing regularly, I’d find myself going weeks without typing a word.
Needless to say, I ran into some issues.
Primarily, I couldn’t remember where the hell I left off in my story. Or what predicament the characters were in. Or what I already wrote (and I’d end up writing something similar again later on). I soon learned pantsing a story wasn’t for me, especially if I had gaps in my writing schedule.
I’m not sure why winging it would have been my first thought when it came to writing, especially since I’m a natural control freak. In my day job and my personal life, I’m a project manager. I’m the person who gets an ask, plans it out, creates checklists, and keeps everything moving so we hit our deadlines. With so many moving parts and such a wide range of projects, having tools to keep the details straight and deadlines top-of-mind is crucial for me to stay on track.
So, I became a plotter.
I realized rewriting and editing are my least favorite parts of writing. Being so critical, remembering every single detail, and trying to catch every issue is mentally draining. Pantsing it only made the process that much harder. There was so much more I needed to rework, and it was taking the joy out of writing. I get that some people don’t mind this. Some people like the creative freedoms that come with winging a story and going with the flow. I like that too, but once the rewrites started, I learned it wasn’t right for me. I love writing and didn’t want the stress of the rewrite process to deter me from wanting to write more. I had to change.
Currently, I’ve written a total of four novels (and in the process of plotting another one) and one novella. Once I knew pantsing wasn’t going to cut it, I looked into new ways to plan before writing. I first started with Scrivener. I loved that I could storyboard and had sections to put in character details, research, and so on. But as I began writing, I realized I wasn’t referencing them because it annoyed me that each aspect was in a separate tab. Poking around messed up my writing flow. Maybe there was an easier way to set it up, but I tend to quickly move on from things that don’t work for me.
When I started editing No Place to Hide (originally a story I pantsed), I found that I needed a tool to help keep everything straight. After all, this was a mystery, so there were a lot of details I had to remember. When I started the editing process, I decided to use Evernote’s novel plotting templates to help me see the elements of my story and identify any plot holes or loose ends.
You can find the templates here.
The templates include things like plotting, three-act outline, timeline tracker, chapter outline, character lists, and more. I downloaded them and made little tweaks to work with my style of planning.
These templates were a game-changer. I used them from the get-go when I began outlining Saving the Winchester Inn and was so thankful for it. Not only did it help ensure my flow was good, but it showed where I left off whenever I got back to writing and made the editing process less painful.
Clearly, a tool like the worksheets are great for plotters, but it’s also great for pantsers. You still have the freedom of writing with no boundaries for your first draft, but then can use the sheets during the review and rewrite process. It’s a win-win.
Writers: What tools do you like to use to plot your stories? I love discovering new things!
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