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5 Tips To Begin Plotting Your Novel

This week my focus is on PLOTTING -- one of the most critical parts of writing any novel. In addition to having my latest book on plotting published, (more on that later) I also have another reason for thinking about how to plot this week. I am beginning work on a new book based on an idea that's been rolling around in my head. How can you go from idea to story? I've taught this class numerous times and I always come away from the classes with new ideas from students. Here are five good ways to begin plotting:

Start with the 5 Ws.   Over the years, as a TV news writer, I quickly learned that starting with the 5 Ws  was always a good place to begin work on any story I needed to write, whether it was a :15 headline or a 5-minute long series piece or even an hour long documentary. What are the basics?

1. Who?
2. What?
3. When?
4. Where?
5. Why?

Most of these are self explanatory, but let's run why they are so critical and how they can help you get started with your plot.

1. Who is the main character or characters, and that is always a good place to start. Even if you are starting with an idea of an event, someone is going to need to react or be part of it. Knowing WHO that character is can send the story in many directions.  A policeman might be expected to start to solve a crime, but a taxi driver wouldn't care, unless someone was killed in his cab and he's suspected of it, or the grandmother stumbles across a body in her backyard and her grand child is being accused of burying it. Then those last two people might want to get involved and become part of the story.

2. What is the event that sets everything in motion?  Does a space ship land on a farm and begin to burrow underground? The teenage son of the farmer sees it but when he brings the sheriff and his dad out to show them, all is looking normal. But suddenly his friends are acting strange and so are some of the other towns people. Now your story is started and you can get your plot moving.

3. When is the time the story takes place. The story of a  mail order bride from Ireland arriving in 1860s Colorado is going to be a very different tale than one about today's mail order bride who might meet her husband on the internet. And she probably wasn't ordered via mail -- the two met from different countries online, but she is still may face culture shock.

4. Where is the setting for the story, whether it's 1860s Colorado, a farm in the South, or New York City in the summer. Determining the setting for your story will help to figure out what your plot is going to entail. You might still have car chases running from the bad guys, but will it be on city streets, or over bumpy country roads?

5.  Why is the real question you need to answer and that is what will get your plot moving and then keep it moving. Why is that space ship in the cornfield? What do those strange people want and can your hero or heroine prove what is going on?  We may not find out until the very end. Why was that person murdered in the cab? And why did that mail order bride decide to come to Colorado and can she survive?  Why is a question that you can keep asking with each event in your book and before long the plot is coming together. In writing novels I always put the Why at the end because that basically is what begins the story. If I can figure out the why then the plot will begin to flow.

But if you're still confused about plotting, you might want to look into the new book just published on Amazon for Kindle and ereaders -- Seven Ways to Plot.  It is the first entry in the Let's Write a Story Series I am co-authoring with Sue Viders, who was one of the co-authors of the popular writing book, Heroes and Heroines, 16 Master Archetypes. In this book we look at seven different ways to plot and help you decide what method can work best for you.

Seven Ways to Plot is currently available at
Our next book in the Let's Write a Story series will be on creating characters, one of my favorite parts of writing a book.


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