Plotting a Novel with Sticky Notes

This pantser has gone plotter, and for one particular reason:


My first attempt at a novel took me two years. I wrote it by the seat of my pants, never knowing which way the wind was going to blow. I had characters, but let them do most of the decision making. In the end… well… I never did come up with a great ending for that book. I put it in the drawer, and it hasn’t come out again. I feel grateful for having written that terrible novel, because I wholeheartedly believe it taught me how (and how not) to write.plot-twist-ahead-sign

As a pantser I have written multiple chapter ones that go nowhere. Mainly, because I have a great premise but can’t figure out for the life of me where it goes next.

So Plotter It Is.

From my experiences in writing, I determined that it is so much easier to write when I know what is going to happen in the story. As a weekend warrior, I finished my sci-fi middle grade in 9 months. Better than two years, but still not quite fast enough. I decided for my next novel that I would plot out the whole thing before I wrote one word.

This is the method I used. It may or may not work for you, but so far, I love love love knowing the entire arc of my story as I’m writing.

Gathering Supplies

I went to Goodwill and found a cork board in pretty good condition for about $4.

Then, I took a quick trip to the Walmart, and picked up: a pack of tiny sticky notes, a beautiful Pilot mechanical pencil with extra lead, some push pins and a tupperware container.

The mechanical pencil is a must have because the sticky notes are small. The lead is thin and doesn’t smudge. Plus, it eliminates having to stop mid-thought to sharpen a pencil.

I covered the cork board with butcher paper.

Doing the Math

Next, I needed to figure out about how many chapters my book would have. Most middle grades come in at about 50,000 words. If each chapter is 1,500 words, then I would need about 33 chapters. Compensating for word variance, and the fact that even plotted out I might need an extra chapter here or there, I lined up 30 sticky notes, 10 to a row, like this:

IMG_0877Each row then became the beginning, middle and end of the story.

Whoever invented the sticky note was a genius.

I knew what I wanted my first chapter to be, so I just jotted down the idea quickly on the tiny sticky note.

I knew at some point that there would be a big showdown. So, I noted that towards sticky number 25ish. There were a few scenes I thought would be cool to add, so I jotted those down and picked a spot in the lineup where it would feel right for it to happen.

From there, I just started filling in the details. I didn’t worry about going in order, I just wrote down what felt right, and stuck it to the board. The cool thing was, that as things started to fall into place, I could just pick up the sticky and move it to the desired location.

Keeping it simple. Using the tiny notes enabled me to condense my ideas down to the essentials. I didn’t get caught up elaborating like I would using the computer.

Plot in a Day.

Voila! In a day and a half I had the entire book plotted out. Okay, loosely. However, I do a lot of marinating in my head before I write, and knowing the arc of the book allows me to think about the story as a whole as I am coming up with ideas.

Now to Write.

I have been dedicating about one hour a day to writing. At an average of 1200 words an hour, and realistically writing 4 days a week, I can potentially get the draft of this new story done in about 3 months. That’s the goal. Honestly, I think I’m going to make it.

WRITING UPDATE: Just finished writing The End of the first draft of my novel. 40,000 words in 2 months. Sticky notes are my heroes.

Related Posts: Book Review: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder by Marianne Knowles


p.s. Arthur Fry and Silver Spencer invented sticky notes in 1974. Way to go guys!


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