Category Archives: plotting

Outlining for Plotters

I’ve been asked to talk about my writing process, so for those who are interested, here it is!

I maybe don’t have a ‘process’ like many other authors. I don’t have a dedicated workspace – I generally write on the train. I don’t have writing habits – no coffee, no food, and no particular habits. As I write on the train, I have essentially made myself my own captive audience, and due to patchy mobile reception on my train line, I don’t even have the distraction of social media much. 

What I do have is a series of habits that might be useful for writers who consider themselves plotters.

A significant portion of my writing process occurs before I even start. I write character profiles. For the current WIP I even did Myers-Briggs personality profiles for the two protagonists. I world-build, including a map and profiles for each of the main kingdom/countries with details of people, clothing, currency, trade, politics and architecture. I plot.

Yes, I plot a lot. If you read my post How To Use GMC Charts to Plot you know about that part of it, but it’s not the whole. 

Before I start writing, I outline the entire plot from start to finish. The GMC charts help me to find plot details to add to that outline, to make sure the motivations and conflicts make sense, but some plot details are inputs into the chart where others are outputs. Before I start writing I know the start, the finish, and every intended major plot point along the way. 

Plenty of minor details get made up as I go. In the current WIP, unplanned events included the unexpected shooting of a protagonist, a mercy killing, sapping of the castle wall, and explosions. So I certainly don’t allow my outline to strangle the story. It’s a road map, and one that helps me to ultimately get where I am going, but nothing stops me taking the scenic route – and I frequently do. 

Once I have my major outline done, I do a chapter by chapter outline. This helps me to know what main plot points to cover in a chapter, where to break chapters and scenes and what hooks to include to keep the reader reading. I won’t stick to this either – I’m currently several chapters behind where I’m supposed to be because of new plot points I’ve added, but it’s still a good guide.

The advantages of heavy outlining in the beginning are:

  • Improved logical consistency – it’s much easier to make the story hang together if you know in advance where it is going. You can fix this in subsequent drafts, but it can be harder to do it that way, and which you prefer will depend on how your brain works;
  • It serves as the basis of your synopsis;
  • An outline can allow you to more easily condense your story to one line in the beginning, which can help you to better understand your own theme and the main plotline;
  • Reduces the risk of writer’s block;
  • Helps you to plan the novel’s expected length and know if you will or won’t hit target – this can be important for certain genres that are sticklers for word count;
  • Able to better plan chapter breaks and hooks to hold reader’s attention.
A writer may be too….

Once I’ve done all this planning, I can generally sit down and just write. I rarely spend much panning time after the initial phase – if I’m writing, I’m typing. Very rarely will I appear to be just sitting and thinking – I’ve already done it all! If I need to refer back to my outlines, I do. Hmmm, what am I writing today? Oh that’s right… and away I go. 

The only thing that really stops me after I start writing is if I suddenly need unplanned research. Check out my upcoming post on the weird and wonderful things I’ve unexpectedly needed to research mid-book on April 24. 

This is an A to Z Challenge post. If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my March Newsletter if you missed it. 

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How To Use GMC Charts To Plot A Novel

Goal. Motivation. Conflict.

These are three of the basic building blocks of a character that drive plot. In other words, what does the character want, why, and what’s stopping them getting it? This is the core of your plot, and when two characters both have the same goal, or otherwise interfere with another’s goal, things start to get really interesting.

GMC charts are used to track all the goals, motivations and conflicts of all the major and important secondary characters. It not only cross-checks that all your characters are doing things for good reasons (and not just because the writer wants them to) but that everyone is sufficiently impeded from getting what they want.

Conflict is essential.

It also helps you to plot, as the chart can help you to spot associations you might not otherwise have made. He wants this, and she wants that, and if she does this, look, it gets in his way…

Here’s what a GMC chart looks like:

Private Life
Professional Life
Personal Life
Goal: Deal with her emotional issues about men
Motivation: Necessary to heal her dying father
Conflict: Has a lot of baggage including a history of child abuse, and rape.
Goal: To leave her life as an assassin
Motivation: A lover and a baby make her reconsider her life path
Conflict: 1) Risks letting her adopted father die if she does, 2) Her fellow assassins may try to hunt her down and kill her for betraying them 3) Her lover doesn’t know she is an assassin.
Goal: Identify and neutralise a bounty hunter in the castle
Motivation: If she doesn’t, he will kill her first
Conflict: His identity is unknown
Goal: Find a magical artefact to heal her adopted father
Motivation: Love
Conflict: The artefact is hidden in the castle of a mad duke
Goal: Use Aldenon to get access to his key
Motivation: Gives access to the room where she thinks the artefact is hidden
Conflict: 1) Her fear of men 2) She finds herself genuinely attracted/falling in love
Goal: Relationship with Aldenon
Motivation: Falling in love
Conflict: He has a secret keeping them apart
Goal: Help Raylee find the missing girls
Motivation: Genuine concern for her new friend and a touch of self-interest
Conflict: Limited freedom in the castle and doesn’t want to blow her cover
Goal: Kill Danek
Motivation: Revenge
Conflict: She’s pregnant and her adopted father is protecting Danek
Goal: Wants to be an assassin
Motivation: Assassins have more power than spies
Conflict: Jeharv won’t agree
Goal: Wants to be master of the Order
Motivation: Wants more power and sees an opportunity when learns Jeharv is dying Conflict: Astarl is trying to save Jeharv
Goal: To steal the artefact and become immortal
Motivation: Largely opportunistic – sees an opportunity to steal the item from Jeharv
Conflict: Needs Astarl to find it but taking it from her won’t be easy, and doesn’t want anyone to know he has betrayed them yet.
Goal: To distract and ultimately eliminate Astarl.
Motivation: To secure the artefact
Conflict: Astarl is a canny assassin and not an easy target.

This is only a short extract showing two characters from my book Deathhawk’s Betrayal, but you can see that not only does each character have multiple goals, but the goals can be categorised according to which part of a character’s life they affect:
  • Private life – the character’s innermost life, kept hidden and private – secret fears and desires;
  • Professional life – the character’s work; and
  • Personal life – The character’s friends, family, living arrangements, personal goals etc.
There are multiple goals because the protagonist (and possibly the villain) will have a main goal, and then also various sub-goals that help them work towards the main goal. Tracking out each interim goal can be useful to focus on sub-plots.

You can also see from this sample how Danek and Astarl’s goals overlap, which breeds potential for conflicts. You might also see how two otherwise unrelated characters can be linked, so that their goals and motivations clash with one another.

This is only a tool for identifying plot weaknesses and opportunities. Once you’ve gotten this far, it’s up to you where the plot and the characters take you.

GMC charts are tools for plotters more than pantsers. Sure, you can stop halfway through a novel and whip out a GMC chart to see what direction you’re taking, but as a pantser you probably won’t want to do that. A GMC chart can be most useful in the initial stages of planning, midway through a novel to check the direction you’re headed in, and after a first draft has been written and before revisions, to find where plots can be strengthened or linked.

This is an A to Z Blogging Challenge post. For more information about the challenge, check it out at A to Z Blogging. If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my March Newsletter if you missed it.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!