Do you HATE plotting? Many authors do. Others are convinced that they “can’t plot.” Either way, these non-plotting, outline-averse authors are pantsers: authors who write by the seat of their pants.
Plot? Who needs to plot, or outline? Well… maybe you, even if you are a pantser, especially if you habitually start novels you never finish.
Ultra-simple plotting with three steps to success
Last year’s classes on plotting were fun. Amazingly all the pantsers discovered that yes indeed, they could plot, in a fun, minimalist kind of way.
We discovered a fun new way of plotting: I call it the “open the door” method. With this method, you’ve got a clear visual of your plot. It helps.
Look at your plot like this:
- You’re standing in front of a closed door. Look around… when you open the door, you’ve done the setup of your novel;
- Next, explore the darkness. Careful — don’t stub your toe!
- You reach another door. Open it gently (you’ll need to fight to open this door.) Then SLAM the door, and step away.
This method is fun, and helps you to structure your novel.
1. Entry: open the door with the setup
You know that the first 25% or so of your novel is the setup. You get to know the main characters. If you’re writing a mystery, the detective goes to the crime scene, and we learn a little about his (messed up, always) home life.
The setup ends when you open the door. In the Hero’s Journey, the Quest/ Adventure begins.
Getting back to our mystery novel, our detective tries to get someone else to take the case, and fails. He’s stuck with it. Moreover, if he doesn’t solve the case, the results will be dire. The setup ends/ he opens the door when he sets off to hunt for clues and question suspects.
2. Walk around in the dark: nasty surprises
The “walk around around in the dark” phase is the long stretch of the novel from the 25% point (end of the setup) to the roughly 80% point, which is the Dark Moment/ All is Lost/ Ordeal in the Hero’s Journey.
I love the Dark Moment. Prepare for the Dark Moment (80%) as soon as you open the door and start exploring. However, there’s a long stretch between 25% and 80%: this long stretch is often called the “saggy middle.” Your sole aim is to stop the middle sagging. 🙂
Imagine you’re walking around in the dark. Do you:
- Find a torch?
- Tumble off a cliff?
- Meet someone threatening, who injures you?
Pantsers love the idea of walking around in the dark, because they know that the midpoint’s coming up.
At the midpoint — the 50% point of the novel — there’s a BIG change. In our mystery novel, the detective gets fired, and it’s his own fault. He faces his demons. Often, he has a drinking problem, or a drug problem, and he knows he has to overcome this.
In a romance, the hero and heroine make love at the midpoint.
3. Open the door gently, then SLAM it — and step away
As we’ve said, at the 80% point it’s the Dark Moment, or the All is Lost Moment. You’re heading for another door, which is the Climax; the Big Fight at around the 95% point.
At the Dark Moment, your hero loses big: it’s his fault. His negative attribute (carelessness, bad temper, dislike of authority) or whatever it is, means that he knows that there is no way he can win.
Of course he does win… 🙂 However, at this stage, it looks as if he won’t. After the Dark Moment, the hero pulls himself together, and decides that he will win, or die trying.
And it’s onward to…
The Climax: the big fight, or reveal, before your novel is DONE
In a mystery novel, at the Climax, the detective discovers the killer, and captures him. Or, if you’re writing a cozy, your Miss Marples character calls all the suspects into the library, so that she can reveal the killer.
The Open the Door Method helps you to visualize your plotting journey
Students who are pantsers enjoy this method of plotting, because it’s visual. You know where you should be at the 25% point for example: you know that your setup should be done by now.
Give this plotting method a try. It’s sufficiently freestyle to please most pantsers. Have fun with it. 🙂
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I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly.More info →
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