Plotting Systems—Part II

plot-structureLast time, I surveyed what plotting systems could work for a “pantser” or a “No Outline Person.” (NOP). I’m using James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure. #amwriting #plotting systems #plotsystems. What are you—an OP or an NOP? Click to Tweet

Let’s take a look at the various plotting systems outliners or Outline Persons use, from index cards, to headlights, to the Borg.


Index Cards

IMG_8598.JPGThe most popular plotting system, and I know several authors who use this, is index cards, whether they be 3”x5” or 4”x6”. “Writers have been using index cards since index cards were invented.” Pg. 158 Bell says he thinks little pieces of paper were used before that, and gives an example. One author friend of mine has a huge cork board on one of the walls in her office. She plots out her novel putting each scene’s main points on an index cards, then posts them on her board. The beauty of this system is that you can mix and match, you can add or subtract, change the order, whatever you want. There’s also a novel writing program called Scrivener, that will also put your scenes in index card form and you can play around with them on your computer rather than literally.

The Headlights System

This system outlines as it goes along. “You have an idea as to your direction, but you can see only as far as the headlights. When you drive to that point you can see a little farther…until you reach your destination.” Pg. 163 You begin with what you have, write it, then ask yourself a set of questions to keep the ball rolling.

The Narrative Outline

A long narrative-type outline is called a treatment. “The narrative outline is written in the present tense. It can include a bit of dialogue, but only what is crucial to the story. What you’re trying to create is a large canvas overview of the story.” Pg. 164

The David Morrell Method

Asks the question “why.” “It’s a simple concept. You write a letter to yourself. You ask yourself questions about your idea. The most important question is, Why? Keep asking that one over and over.” Pg. 165

picard as borgThe Borg Outline

Uses a little bit of everything for the OP, Bell’s LOCK system (Lead, Objective, Confrontation, Knockout), writing the back cover copy, creates the overall structure, and does some character work. It even goes deeper than that, by creating summaries of Act I, II, and III, plus chapter summaries. By that time, you’re ready to write the novel.

Here’s a very unscientific questionnaire to help you figure out where you lie on the OP/NOP spectrum. I took it, and it confirmed that I’m a hybrid. Pg. 171

Answer the following questions quickly, recording your first response.

  1. When you to a party, you most look forward to: a) seeing old friends b) meeting new people
  2. If you had to choose which music to listen to, you would choose: a) classical b) rock
  3. What subject were you better at in school: a) math b) art
  4. How would your closest friend place you between: a) control freak b) wild child
  5. Whom would you rather spend an hour with: a) William F. Buckley b) Jack Black
  6. You most like: a) security b) surprises
  7. You would be happier as a: 1) software developer b) poet

If you have mostly a’s, you probably fall on the OP side of the continuum. If you have mostly b’s, you might be an NOP. Choose what works for you.

I’m a hybrid who loves a certain amount of structure, but also writes by the seat of her pants. How about you? How do you write? #amwriting #pantser #plotter Click to Tweet


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