(NOTE: There’s a list of resources on plotting and Scrivener at the end of my lengthy tale :))
A long time ago, in galaxy far, far away (Oregon, circa 2005) there was this girl who boldly proclaimed that she would NEVER be a plotter. She had just finished her first book (it took her two years to write it, but she was all brimming with false confidence after typing those magic words “The End”). After all, she told stories to herself all the time–what use did she have for something like structure? All she needed was TIME for her characters to tell her their stories to completion.
[Insert evil laughing here]
And I know it works like that for some people. They sit down at the computer and the story unspools, and they are productive, bestselling authors with a process that works for THEM. They write a first draft, and maybe it’s golden. Or they have a process where the first draft comes relatively quickly and then they spend a long time on edits, and edits are where they do most of their structure, and it works well for them. Whatever works for the individual author is all that really matters.
But the thing is, pantsing was NOT working for me. I wrote five books in nine years and I had quite a collection of unfinished three chapter starts. All five of those books never sold, and all had serious structural flaws that require the sort of gut level rehab that has landed them permanently under my bed.
Then in 2012, I decided that a book a year (or longer) was not going to get me sold and that I was tired of crying my eyes out over huge plotting issues discovered in the critique process. So I took several online classes on plotting, trying to find a structure that would work for me. The “W Plot” with Karen Docter changed my writing life forever, and I wrote 4 books in 2012, 3 of which sold.
In 2013, I worked on the book-which-would-not end and somewhere around draft number five, I read “Save The Cat” and used a “Beat Sheet Calculator” to attack the structural issues that were plaguing my earlier drafts. That final massive overhaul landed me my editor and agent and gave me a new plotting tool.
From late 2013 to present, I’ve written five books using screen writing tools, most notably beat sheets and Alexandra Sokoloff’s Writing Love book. My process evolved from post-it notes on a large “W” diagram to using digital notecards with Trello and detailed outlines with Workflowy. I usually spend 3-4 solid work days plotting before I start drafting.
Enter Scrivener for my latest WIP. I was skeptical. I tried an early version of it years ago and it just didn’t make sense for how my brain worked. But my process had changed, so I went in with an open mind. I watched the tutorials, which are awesome and I really recommend them, but I thought it might help some newbies if I talked specifically about how I got started & did my plotting prior to drafting.
First, I started with a blank scrivener “novel” project, but I immediately did away with the sample “chapter” and “scene.” I only think in terms of scenes when I plot-Chapters happen during drafting, chapter breaks often moving around a lot over the course of a draft. So I went in to “Corkboard mode” with a single scene in mind–my opening image. I gave it a title. Then I added cards for my midpoint scene & black moment & final image because I had ideas for those turning points. Again, at this stage, I just gave the cards titles. Then I went between my existing cards and added scenes as I plotted–Act I break/First Turning point/Descent to Black Moment/Grovel/resolution etc.
As I plotted, I started adding more to the synopsis portion of cards as I learned more about where my story would be heading. As I plotted and did research, I stuck that information in the research section. I usually stop a certain point of plotting and do some serious character work. Scrivener has character interview templates which are handy, but I have my own checklist I prefer using the questions in “Writing Love” so I looked at past plotting notes and made my own character note sheets.
Once I had the character notes, I used “split screen” to have the corkboard and character notes open at the same time, and fleshed out my synopses and scenes more, adding more scenes based on what I had discovered about my characters and their GMC and their arc.
I ended up with around 21 scene cards. I know that I’ll actually end up with far more scenes in the final draft, but this was a great point for me to start drafting, and I simply add more notecards as the draft evolves. And as the draft evolves, I’m adding “folder” cards for chapters, but only started doing that once I had around 6k and could see where the first two breaks might occur. Don’t worry about chapters at all if you don’t want!
I am mainly drafting in “scrivenings mode” which lets me see the whole document at once, jumping onto the next section as I finish a scene. (I finish a scene, click the next notecard to refresh myself about where I wanted to head, then go back into scrivenings mode). As I draft, I’m using the “outliner mode” from time to time to see the overall direction I want to head, and to do things like add labels for POV and labels for status (to-do versus first draft) and to see how many words are in a given scene, but I really didn’t worry about those features until I really needed them, if that makes sense. I.e. I changed label colors to reflect POV characters once I decided that would be helpful to me as I went forward, but I didn’t need it to plot–I don’t always know which POV will get a given scene until later in the plotting stages.
So there you have it. That’s how I became more of a plotter and how I transitioned to Scrivener for this current draft. Here are some resources for you: