Plotting Systems—Part I

James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure

James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure

In his book, Plot & Structure, James Scott Bell talks about two kinds of fiction writers: OPs and NOPs. To outline or not to outline, that is the question. #amwriting #tooutlineornot Bell encourages new fiction writers to try a little of both.Let’s look at what Bell says in Chapter 10 of Plot & Structure on Plotting Systems.

You’re either an OP (Outline Person) or an NOP (No Outline Person). He says this about NOPs. “These happy folk love to frolic in the daisies of their imaginations as they write. With nary a care, they let the characters and images that sprout in their minds do all the leading. They follow along, happily recording the adventures.” Pg. 152

The OPs “…seek security above all. They lay out a plot with as much specificity as possible. They may use 3” x 5” cards, spread out on the floor or pinned to corkboard, and rework the pattern many times before writing.” Pg. 153

Know this: there is no right or wrong way to plot or write a novel. Whether or not you find yourself an OP or an NOP, it’s OK. Be who you are. This post is more about how to recognize what category you belong in.

I found a couple of paragraphs about a writing mentor, Jerry Jenkins, whose CWG classes I took, when he talked about the Left Behind series.

From Pg. 154

Jerry Jenkins is the author of the best-selling fiction series of all time, Left Behind. Ultimately, it will be fourteen books (which it was), with a prequel and sequel. Naturally for a project of that length, Jenkins must have constructed a huge outline, so as not to get lost.

He didn’t. “My structure is intuitive,” Jenkins says, “and I write the whole manuscript, beginning to end, chronologically, bouncing from perspective to perspective by instinct. I’m gratified people think it looks carefully designed, but it’s not blueprinted in advance.”

When readers ask him why he chose to kill off their favorite character, Jenkins responds, “I didn’t kill him off; I found him dead.”

Meghans ChoiceI’ll admit I’m a hybrid. I need to know what my story is about, what I want it to say, and how to get it there. But, when I “mapped” out “Meghan’s Choice,” I didn’t outline every scene ahead of time. I had three key events I wanted to happen, and actually started with the last event, figuring out how to write a story around it that could include it. I knew the choices my lead character was going to make. But I wasn’t formal about it.

My three key events were: 1) Meghan moves to St. Louis (and I had to give her a really good reason why) 2) a tornado 3) a gunfight. I based it on Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake method. I thought I can do that. “I like to structure a story as “three disasters plus an ending”. Here’s a link to the page.

Bell encourages beginning writers to do a little of both. An NOP could look at their first draft as an outline. An OP could work on their outline as a first draft.

How about you? Are you a “Pantser” (the Non Outline Person who writes by the seat of his pants), or do you like detailed structure like an Outline Person? Or are you a hybrid, like me? Leave a comment and let me know.

3 Comments on “Plotting Systems—Part I”

  1. Hi Donna, I’m am a planster. I write whatever pops in my brain first, usually the three disasters! Then I briefly plan what should happen in between. But my characters have minds of their own. They decide what happens next!


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