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!




3 thoughts on “Plotting Novels With Notebooks and Sticky Notes

  1. Eugene C Scott

    Norma Jean: You are an organizational genius. In one of my writing classes recently I expressed frustration with how to remember all of the strands in my novel and to make notes for changes later. My instructor recommended a computer program called Scrivener. It has saved me from pieces of paper all over my study.

    1. Norma Jean Lutz

      Through the years (read that MANY years), I’ve been able to switch over and execute many tasks on computer that I never thought I would or could. Plotting, I admit, is not one of them. I will take a look at this program though — even if only out of curiosity! :^) Thanks Eugene!

      1. Eugene C Scott

        Curiosity killed the curious. You may not need it. I did. I do very little on real paper anymore, though a musician friend of mine asked me to write some lyrics for him and I found poetry flowed much better on a yellow pad and, of course, my journals will always be on paper.


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