Writing Resources: Plotting Help

My awesome critique partner Rachel (who has a new blog, check it out!) is editing her YA SF book and trying to work out the plot issues. I went through the same thing a few months ago and thought I would round up some of the resources that helped me. If you are also struggling with plotting or outlining then this post will help you too!

I Am Not A Serial Killer (John Cleaver Books)1) Dan Wells' Story Structure:

Dan Wells is the author of the I Am Not A Serial Killer series (which I really enjoyed - can't wait for the third) and contributes to the Writing Excuses podcast, so I've been a fan of his for a long time. His presentation on Story Structure changed the way I will outline my books forever. When Dan showed all the different plots of The Matrix using this system, something just clicked in my brain and I had a million ideas for making my book better.

Dan's system suggests you start with the ending and work from there using 7 different steps, but I think even if you don't know the ending yet you can still use it.

Elana Johnson's post about writing a synopsis covered this system, but I highly recommend watching all of the videos and downloading the Powerpoint presentation too. Yes, the videos are long, but just find a block of time and watch them anyway. Take notes. Trust me on this.

The Healing Wars: Book I: The Shifter2) Janice Hardy's Plan:

Janice Hardy is the author of the Healing Wars series (starting with The Shifter), and I've mentioned before how amazing and helpful her writing blog is. She has two posts where she talks about her method for plotting and outlining here: I Love It When A Plan Comes Together Part 1 and I Love It When A Plan Comes Together Part 2.

Much like Dan, Janice figures out important events in the story but then applies these plot points to chapters in her book. I love this method because she works out how many chapters (for example: 60k book, 24 chapters, 2500 words per chapter) and then figures out which chapter these events should take place.

Using her system I planned out my book with 25 chapters of 3000 words each, for a total of 75,000 words. Once I knew this I realized the midpoint had to happen in chapter 12 or 13, and so on. It seems obvious, but it wasn't until I read her posts that I figured all this out. Of course, once you write the book things deviate a bit, but at least you'll have a general idea of what needs to happen in certain chapters, so you can stay on track.

Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need3) Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet:

Save the Cat is one of the best writing books around. I could probably write an entire post about this book and the companion books because they really changed the way I look at both books and movies. Then I told my husband, and now we'll be watching a movie and he'll turn to me and say "that was the Save the Cat scene" and I'll nod sagely. But we'll get to that another time.

Save the Cat is a screenwriting book, but don't let that throw you off, because many of the things that make a good screenplay also apply to good books. In particular, the 15 step Beat Sheet really helped me organize my plot, and you might like it if the 6 or 7 steps in the previous two methods felt too sparse for you.

For a brief rundown, check out this site which explains each step in detail, and you can see the steps applied to the movie Wedding Crashers on Blake Snyder's site. However, I recommend reading the book itself for a more in depth look at the beat sheet, and I also recommend the companion book Save the Cat Goes to the Movies if you want more examples of the beat sheet used to examine movies such as The Matrix, Alien, Ocean's 11, When Harry Met Sally, etc.


I suggest trying these different methods and seeing what works for you, or using them all together. I used all three to revise my current book, and whenever I feel lost I go through each system, step by step, until I feel better. And for my next book I plan to use these three methods to outline first, before I start writing.

Do you have any other good plotting resources?