How to Plot a Book

I was out running with a friend one weekend, we were chatting about books (while we walked up a hill too steep to run up!) and he asked me how I go about planning a whole book. It’s a great question and I imagine every writer will give a different answer.

So, how do I plan my books? If you’ve ever done any writing you’ll be aware of the plotter verses pantser debate, ie. do you plot your stories or just write by the seat of your pants?

I’m most definitely a plotter. I’m a very organised person (as my family will attest to!) and I need to have the plot skeleton of my books fully worked out before I can start writing. Some things happen when I’m writing that I hadn’t planned for, especially conversations between characters, but I’m okay with that as it helps add a wee bit of sparkle. But overall, I have the whole structure of the book mapped out and I know I need to hit certain points in the plot by certain word count milestones.

I do sometimes find it daunting, though. Starting from 0 and working towards 100,000 words can seem like a long, long way to go. So, what I do is split my book into four sections—act 1, act 2A, act 2B and act 3—and focus only on one at a time, ignoring the others.

Have you ever done any research into story plots? If so, you may have come across the book Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. I was recommended it a few years ago and it completely changed how I approach planning my books. You’ve likely heard about the three act structure for stories, which comes from ancient Greek plays. Well, this book goes further and splits stories down into 15 acts, or beats as they’re called in the book. I swear, after I read this book I was seeing these 15 beats everywhere! In books, Hollywood films and tv series.

This doesn’t mean that all stories follow the same formula—they definitely don’t—but there are certain things in a plot, like a catalyst that forces our hero out of their comfort zone, or a moment where our hero has to dig deep inside themselves and find the strength to go on, that we as humans can all identify with. And I like that. It’s comforting to know that despite liking different stories or genres we all respond to the same beats and they tug on our emotions in similar ways.

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