Dawn Montgomery


In #amwriting on January 3, 2011 at 11:51 am

Note: None of the links below are affiliate links. They are all links to the books at amazon.com. I am not endorsing any of the products or author information, simply explaining my process with reference links if you wish to follow.

To Plot or not to Plot…does it really matter?

It’s one of the most frequent debates I see on the net. Do you write by outline? Are you an “in-the-mist” writer? Personally, I can’t write by the seat of my pants without getting frustrated. On the other hand, plotting in too much detail kills the story in my head. I’ll write and rewrite dialogue in these never-ending outlines until I’ve bogged myself down so much I never do get around to writing that novel…So how do I find a happy medium?

I’ve poured through almost every writing book out there on the market to find a solution. Morgan Hawke had amazing pointers for writing novellas. I bootcamped in her online writing the novella course and it really got me going in the right direction…but her outline didn’t work for me. Alison Kent’s Idiot’s Guide to Writing Erotic Romance showed me how she laid out her story ideas and developed characters, but it didn’t quite work for me either. I definitely flagged some notes on revising the novel, but again, the initial development phase was where I was stuck. I had to get through that area first… Stephen King’s On Writing and Besty Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees were some of the best books for realistic expectations and grounded me to put forth the best product I could in the first draft.

Angela Knight’s Passionate Ink and Leslie Wainger’s (HQ senior editor) Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies books are go to references for problem areas I know in my writing.

But none of them help me with ever-frustrating plot problem!

I tried storyboarding, detailed layouts, sticky notes, index cards (several different ideas), detailed story script programs, color coding, collages…you name it, I tried it…but not a single one of them worked for me. Every novella was compiled differently. Slowly I developed my own way of sorting through a plot, but it wasn’t a consistent system I could rely on.

My new job here in Alaska has me on the go constantly. When I get home, it’s almost immediately right back out the door for the family. I needed something that was portable, inexpensive, reliable, and didn’t involve carrying around anything too bulky since I have to back off the amount of weight I carry around in my backpack.

I’d all but given up hope until I saw this post by Lynn Viehl on her Paperback Writer blog. I already used her character outline document for all my characters. Her plotting the novel packet was too thick to be easily portable (without being torn up with the amount of bag shuffling I have to do), but I craved the ability to be able to work my way through a novel that way.  I read about her runaway train ideas and likened them to Kim Knox‘s plot bunnies. It made me laugh. Then I found it in an additional reference link at the bottom of the post. The answer to my plotting problem…

Holly Lisle’s Plotting Under Pressure post. I can use notecards and I can do it in a way that doesn’t involve a rule book, instructions, reminders that I’m not doing it right, or the general sense of failure that seems to accompany all my plotting initiatives.

I decided to try it. Three hours. It took me three hours to work through the plot from concept to finish. That may seem like a long time for some, but I was also doing this with constant family interruptions and an emergency run to the grocery store.

Less than two hours later I had a strong synopsis and was well in to my first chapter. Two days later and I’m in chapter five.

Will her plotting under pressure system work for everyone? No, but it worked for me, and that is all I can hope for.

Keep Writing!


  1. So glad you found something that works for you. That must be a relief. Congrats!

  2. Thanks Cate! It was definitely a huge relief.

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