Plotting and Post-Its

Plotting and Post-ItsThe hardest part of novel writing, for me, is structure.

Like most writers, I’ve always been a reader. Things like spelling, grammar, and even the rhythm of language come intuitively for me. If you read enough books, those elements of storytelling become second nature. You would think novel structure would work the same way or, at the very least, you’d think a degree in creative writing would fill in the gaps.

Untrue. My writing classes dealt with characterization, with description, with plot and setting and symbolism and tone. They dealt with word choice and sentence rhythm. They taught me to think about every aspect of my story—except for how one makes a manuscript hang together for 300 pages. That, I’m having to teach myself.

Perhaps part of the reason for this educational gap is that I started out as a literary fiction writer, taught by literary fiction authors. As the Buzzfeed writer, Daniel Dalton, defined “plot:”

What it means: The events that make up a story.

What it means when you’re a writer: Something genre writers worry about.

That’s not entirely the case, but it’s close enough to ring true.

I’ve been reading hard in my genre (200 books over the past two years) to get a feel for urban fantasy structure. I’ve even marked several up, noting the plot beats and act transitions. I’ve been tearing my novel apart and putting it back together, massaging the plot into making sense, working on pacing and tension. It’s hard. I’ve used up a lot of Post-It Notes.

Luckily, there are plenty of online resources to help when the going gets murky, as it so often does. Since I’m deep in the structural weeds with my revision right now, I’ve compiled some of my favorite links on three-act structure here, for my reference, and for yours.

Janice Hardy’s “How to Plot with Three Act Structure  is probably my favorite reference for its straightforward advice and wealth of helpful links.

Three-act structure is also taught in Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s Book in a Month, and I found her plot development worksheets incredibly useful.

Jami Gold’s article on using the Save the Cat beat sheet is fabulous. Save the Cat is a screenwriting handbook by Blake Snyder, but I’ve never met a novelist who doesn’t love it.

Kate Forsyth’s “Forsyth Triangle” is a great visual representation of how Freytag’s dramatic triangle maps onto three-act novel structure.

Michelle Weidenbenner’s article, “Math Tips for Constructing Your Novel With Susan Meissner gets into the nitty-gritty of how to plug scenes and chapters into the structural big picture.

I know there’s no magical formula for the perfect novel, but having a framework helps. Did I miss any great resources on structure? What do you use?


2 thoughts on “Plotting and Post-Its

  1. Thanks for the shout-out to my blog! I’m a huge fan of story structure–even though I write by the seat of my pants–and I think that knowledge is the difference between my first drafts being a coherent story instead of just a mess. 🙂

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