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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Plotting is Easy. . .

Award-winning author Laurie Alice Eakes wanted to be a writer since knowing what one was. Her first book won the National Readers Choice Award in 2007, and her third book was a Carol Award finalist in 2010. Between December of 2008 and January of 2010, she sold thirteen books to Barbour Publishing, Avalon Books, and Baker/Revell, making her total sales fifteen. Recently, she added two novella sales to that collection, as well as having her first book with Baker/Revell, Lady in the Mist, picked up by Crossings Book Club, and three of her books chosen for large print editions by Thorndike Press. She has been a public speaker for as long as she can remember; thus, only suffers enough stage fright to keep her sharp. In 2002, while in graduate school for writing fiction, she began to teach fiction in person and online. She lives in Texas with her husband, two dogs, and too many cats even for her. Visit Laurie at her website

Plotting is Easy. . .

Or at least it’s not as difficult and daunting as I used to think it was once I figured out that working out a plot is simply answering four basic questions.

Once upon a time, I sat down and just wrote. Pantsters I’ve heard them called. Since I’m a skirt girl, I found this a bit difficult to relate to. I didn’t want to write and hope the story went somewhere because, for a long time, it never did. It was like packing the car for a journey, heading out of the driveway, and getting stopped at the entrance ramp to the expressway—uh, duh, where am I going? Right? Left? Or do I want a winding country road instead?

But other people‘s plotting techniques didn’t work for me. I’ll leave those anonymous so I don’t offend anyone if they think I’m dissing their program. I’m not; it just didn’t suit my need to have structure, yet have the freedom to expand or diverge a bit, too if necessary.

“Know the story—as much of the story as you can possibly know, if not the whole story—before you commit yourself to the first paragraph….If you don’t know the story before you begin the story, what kind of a storyteller are you?”
-John Irving

It comes down to four basic questions to ask yourself about your story. I call these WWW&H.

W1: Who are you?

This is all about getting to know your character, what your character’s reason for existing is. In other words, what makes her—them—tick and why?

Example: In Lady in the Mist, my heroine, Tabitha, has her identity tied up in being a midwife because it’s what she was taught and what she knows. She loves it, yet she knows it’s not who she is; it’s what she does. Yet this is how others see her—the midwife, respected, feared, not necessarily loved.

W2: What does she want?

This is the crux of plot. If the characters don’t know what they want, no story can happen. Mind you, you can have a story where the character is trying to work out what they want.

Example: Tabitha wants to be like other women—loved, respected, a wife and mother. She wants security after a life of loss.

W3: What is your character willing to sacrifice?

Here is where scenes and the pushback that makes tension and conflict occur. If the character just goes with the flow—no story. You can go as far as necessary in working out what you do to your characters to make story happen. The black moment is the climax of this point.

Example: Tabitha is willing to give up a future that looks secure on the surface in exchange for discovering the truth of bad things happening in her village. She is willing to stick to her moral principles, too, and help the man she falls in love with even though she is certain him leaving her is inevitable.

H: How does the character change?

This is the epiphany moment, the lesson learned, the post black moment wrap-up. How is your character different at the end than she was in the beginning?

Giving an example of this one is difficult without giving away endings.

This is the foundation of the private and group lessons I teach unpublished and published authors alike—helping them take their ideas and turn them into story. Once I learned how to plot before I started writing, I started selling books.


  1. Wow!! Caught the concept of plotting really very very well!! Thanks for all the advise!!

    But, it would be good to remind ourselves, that every novel can be described as one single plot (in a para / page / log-line ). Narration and the way everything comes out is very very important!! Don't forget that!!

    with warm regards

  2. Good question, Laurie Alice. Three of them I have in my character analysis sheets, but I added a new one. More in the way you phrased it, but I like it that way. It's to the point. :) Thanks!

  3. Laurie Alice,

    This makes it seem so simple--maybe it will help me get my current MS off the ground. :)


  4. These are great tips! Sometimes I prefer to call it plodding. ;-)

  5. Laurie Alice,
    Great article, and thank you for joining us at Novel Journey. Up until a couple of years ago, I struggled with developing a solid plot. It was only after I started asking questions like this and figuring out the answers that I felt ready to conquer the story.

    Since then, I've written two other books, both after asking the questions presented here. I like that I'm more productive in my writing now.


  6. Thanks for your helpful, straight-forward advice. I've been struggling with plotting for some time now (if anyone is interested/needs some proof that they are not the only ones struggling, check out my blog posts at, and I have found that I am actually freer to write after I have scheduled some planning sessions. It is important to set the boundaries, and then have free-reign within them!

    I particularly like the question: "What is your character willing to sacrifice?" I think this is an aspect often overlooked in other plotting strategies, but it is one of the easiest ways to understand the potential for conflict and emotion within a piece.


  7. Thank you for your advice and encouragement. I am in the process of revising my first novel, and I would definitely have a LOT less work to do at this point if I had plotted my story in the beginning. I wanted to be a "pantser," but obviously I am not. Hopefully, your four simple questions will help me get off to a strong start on my next project.


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