Monthly Archives: February 2012

Plotting Novels With Notebooks and Sticky Notes

Be A NovelistNovelists are Individualists

How many ways are there to plot a novel?  Probably as many ways as there are novelists.   We are all such individualists.  However, it is fun to learn from one another.

For this blog post, for better or for worse, for boring you to tears or for fascinating you with my trivia, I am sharing my favorite plotting technique.  It involves a three-ring, loose-leaf notebook (sometimes two), and the large 3” x 3” sticky notes.

I like the three-ring notebooks that have the transparent sleeve on the front.  That way I can create my working title and slip it into the notebook.  That way it’s identifiable at a glance.  (Just in case I’m plotting two novels at once.  Just kidding.  I seldom get that aggressive.)

The next item on my list is a stack of fresh clean notebook paper.  I want to have plenty at hand – it seems to stimulate me to fill the notebook!

Another needed item is dividers.  With the dividers I can create the chapter numbers and keep them separated.  Behind each divider are placed a few blank notebook pages – lying there eagerly waiting to be filled.

The Research Notebook

The possible need for a second notebook, as I mentioned earlier, is to serve as my research, or background, notebook.  While this one is not specifically for plotting, still and yet it will contain vital information such as my character charts, research notes, names list, sketched out maps of my fictional house, or town, or neighborhood, and other such information.

Working with Complete FreedomBe A Novelist

Now back to the actual plotting notebook.  The beauty of the sticky notes is that they can be so easily moved around.  The beauty of the pages of the three-ring notebook is the same.  Pages can be so easily moved around.  Now I have complete freedom to grow my story.

If, after taking a morning walk, an idea comes to me for an incident in chapter 8, I flip to chapter 8 in my notebook and jot the idea on the sticky note and place it on that page.

If, while fixing dinner, an idea comes to me for a dialogue exchange in chapter 4, I can quickly and easily flip to chapter 4 and jot the idea on the sticky note and place it on that page.

As the story grows another interesting thing happens. At a certain point, I may notice that Chapter Three is thin and Chapter Four is way too fat.  Hm.  I wonder if a scene from Four can be moved to Three?  Or perhaps something in Chapter Two can be moved to Three.

As the juggling, adjusting, and relocating is in process, I begin to internalize the actual feel of writing the novel.  As the notebook grows, so the book inside of me grows.

The Birth of the Notebook Idea

It was during the writing of sixteen novels for the original American Adventure Series line for Barbour Publishing that my notebook plotting technique came into being.  As the process evolved and matured, I was sold on it, and have used it ever since.

I like being able to hold the notebook in my hands and quite perceptibly see the story evolve and grow.  I like being able to move sticky notes from here to there – or pages from here to there – in a matter of seconds to make necessary adjustments.

You may be wondering – do I have the entire novel plotted out before starting the actual writing?  Sometimes yes; sometimes no. It usually depends on how sure I am of the story line.

Even if the notebook is not filled to the last chapter, as I begin the writing process the end of the story becomes clearer and clearer to me.  I grab the notebook and fill the notebook pages with freshly filled-in sticky notes, and voila! there’s my ending!

What Works for MeBe A Novelist

So there it is. This is a “what works for me” blog post. If it helps you, I’m thrilled! If not, you probably stopped reading three paragraphs ago!

Either way, do what works for you and make it happen!




Tell Your Editor Where to Go!

Be A NovelistTell your editor where to go!

Now that doesn’t sound like very wise advice for an up-and-coming novelist.

But wait a minute!

I’m not talking about the actual editor who one day may be reading your manuscript.  I’m referring to that editor person who resides inside of your mind, inside of your personality.

Every novelist has a creative side and an editorial side.  At times, if you are not totally aware, these two factions may war against one another.  The key to great fiction creation is to keep in the two in balance.

Let’s look at both personality types so you can discern which one describes you and your personality.

Be A NovelistStronger Creative Side

 If your creative side is stronger, you write and write and write; but you simply cannot muster up the courage to sit down and critically go through the work to edit, revise, and rewrite.  The old saying in the writing world, “Writing IS rewriting” has not fully dawned on you yet.

This means that your work, which may have a great deal of potential, will be lacking for want of a strong critique or editing.  You must tell your editor side of your personality where to go.

Speaking to the editor-side of your personality, you will say: “Editor, wake up!  I know you’re in there.  Time to step up to the plate and do your thing.”

The next step is to trust that editor to do what you did not think he/she was capable of doing.  This is not an incapable editor, rather it is an untrained editor!

Who better than you can recognize, and try to narrow that gap between your vision of the story and what is now on the pages?  Who but you can see and sense the lapses, quirks, reader blocks, carelessness, the need to step up or slow down the cadence, or to take out a paragraph altogether?

Stop saying you’ve never been “trained” as an editor.  That editor is inside you waiting to be trained, and to be used!  Get busy.

Be A NovelistStronger Editor Side

The person in whom the editor-side is stronger, can hardly write a page, a paragraph, or even a sentence without that noisy editor exclaiming (rather loudly), “You call that writing? That’s awful!  Good grief, whoever told you that you could write a novel?  Change that.  No, no over here.  Change this.  Well, it’s all a mess really.  Throw it all in the trash.  Better yet, there’s the delete button…”

Sound familiar?  Now what do you say to this editor?  The creative-side of you must rise up and tell the noisy editor where to go.  But not rudely, because remember, later on you will be inviting him/her back in!

Say something like this:  “I know you have my best interest at heart, and I truly appreciate all your input.  But you have come to the party too early.  I’m not ready for you.  Please go over there and sit in the corner and be quiet until I need you.  Meanwhile, as you leave me alone, I’m going to write the very best I can, just as quickly as I can!”

Once you have the editor – whether it’s the weak editor or the strong editor – in place, now you’re ready to do a lot of creating.

Write at White Heat

A good rule of thumb is to write at least six to eight chapters of your novel before you ever stop to edit.  The late Jack M. Bickham, author and awesome writing instructor, always said to press on “through the first draft at white heat.”  That’s because, as he puts it, “good novels are not written, but rewritten!”

So there you go.  You have an editor inside of you.  That editor may be a weak editor or a Be A Noveliststrong editor.  Only you know which.  But now that you are fully aware, tell that editor where to go!

You’ll be a better writer for having done so!


I trust the teaching and instruction given in this blog post was helpful in your goal to be a novelistFor more in-depth writer’s workshops, check out the wide variety offered at the Be A Novelist Website.


Are you one of those budding novelists who makes a great start but you can’t seem to finish?  Then this is for you!  Be A Novelist, Six-Month, Finish-My-Novel Challenge!  Six full months of guidance and instruction. Guaranteed to light a fire under your novel-writing attempts and to launch you into a pattern of consistent writing! Check it out here!

Photo: © Israel Bitton |