I’ve never been good at plotting. I get most of my story ideas out of thin air or during brainstorm sessions with my sister or best friend. Throughout most of my writing “career,” I have struggled with plots. When I want to write something new, I use an idea that I have in my head and just start writing.
Some people call this method “writing by the seat of one’s pants” or “pantsing.” Do successful writers “pants”? Yeah, some do write this way successfully. Do some people struggle to write in the moment? Yeah, they do. I do.
Recently, I decided to rework the entire plot – or at least most of it – of my novel, Absolution. Well, I’m thinking of changing the title but for frequent readers’ sakes, I’ll keep calling it that. Anyway, I had only written about 14,000 words. I was a few chapters in and I had no idea how to write multiple point of view. My characters kept changing their personalities and storylines and relationships and it was a mess. I had to do something about it.
I did a bunch of research on plotting. “How to plot a novel” was probably my most frequent web search besides Pinterest and Nameberry…and YouTube, not going to lie. I love PolandBananasBooks (A/N: Watch her writing chronicles! They inspired me to write and keep going even though my story is garbage). The final conclusion I came to was that I needed to start from scratch and make a scene list.
Scene lists seem like they’re just for screenwriting and movie shoots. You know, “lights, camera, action” and then “CUT!” or “SCENE!” and the whole lot of it. Having scenes in a novel is so important. I’ve known that for a while now, but I never put it into correct practice.
What I’ve been doing the past week or so is putting scene information into an Excel or Google Sheets document. I have a color-coded column for Point of View, a column of information pertaining to the scene, a goal word count, and a first draft word count. The first draft WC obviously isn’t filled in yet because I’m not done plotting and haven’t even thought about starting to write.
Making a scene list has taught that I am definitely a plotter. If I don’t know where my story is going, my inspiration will either wither and die or my characters and plotlines will run wild.
I’ve also gotten to understand and plan out more detailed subplots and my characters are becoming themselves without even writing them.
A warning, however! Using a scene list does not guarantee that your story is going to exactly go to plan. Be flexible in your plotting and take notes. I have pages and pages of notes on the scenes I’ve created. Also, know that making a scene list will not eliminate writer’s block. While it helps work through the plot holes, you still will struggle with finding inspiration and ideas. The good part about struggling now, though, is then later, even when it’s hard, you’ll know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.
Here are some statistics for scenes:
- Assuming your scenes are about 500 – 2000 words, you should have around 2-5 scenes in a chapter.
If you aren’t splitting your book into chapters until after the first draft, that’s fine! Write in scenes, though.
- Only write a scene if it: A. Moves the main conflict/plot, B. Shows character(s) development, or C. Is crucial to foreshadowing.