Thickening The Plot

I’ve heard some writers are blessed with the ability to spill their brains on the page and have the premise, rising action and resolution come out in the flow of words. This happens to you all the time right?

Yeah, me neither.

That leaves us to write and revise until we get it right. Sometimes, having a structure to hang your story on can help you flesh it out in advance of writing or a structure can help fill in the holes on revision. Every writer has their own way of working through the process, but there are a few methodologies out there to make organizing your story easier. Here is a non-exhaustive list of plotting methodologies.

The Snowflake Method

This ten step plotting method has you start out at the broadest level possible for describing your story (one summary sentence) and expand the level of detail at each level of construction until you have a complete story. For details visit the snowflake method web site. There is even special software. Have you tried it?  

A picture of the cover of the book Goal Motivation and Conflict by Debra DixonGoal Motivation and Conflict

Debra Dixon wrote an excellent book call appropriately enough Goal, Motivation and Conflict, the Building Blocks of Good Fiction. Each character has his or her own Goal, Motivation and Conflict for the book and even drilled down farther for each scene.

The W Method

I first heard of this method while taking a workshop with Mary Caroll Moore, author of Your Book Starts Here. The W method follows your characters through the highs and lows of the story. This journey most resembles the letter W. For a detailed explanation, here is a video of Ms. Moore explaining the W method.

Check Marks the Spot

The last method I want to cover today is new to me although the format is apparently fairly common especially in screen writing. It’s a check mark. I learned this particular method from a workshop presented by Hannah Bowman, a literary agent with Liza Bowman Associates. At the macro level, your whole book is made up of the premise, conflict development and climax. (see Graphic), But your story is broken down in to miniature versions of this same construct.

A check mark with three smaller check marks layered on top to represent the 3 acts and then 3 smaller check marks layered on top of act 1 representing the chapters.

Alternately, if you are writing an antagonist, the format is inverted for that character’s story arc.

On large check mark with an upside down check mark layered on top to represent the antagonists story arc

This is the first methodology to visually make sense to me. Ever since I attended the workshop, I’ve been revamping my scenes to conform with this model. I think it has helped me strengthen my story. Ms. Bowman’s notes from a similar presentation she made are available on the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers website.

I think all of these methods could be applied at any stage in the writing process, but the snowflake method sure lends itself to pre-planning. The others can certainly be put in place at the beginning of the plotting process, but they also make it easier to sort your story out even after you have a draft or two under your belt.

Do you use a plotting methodology? Which one? Why?

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Her words have appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently a freelance marketing communications writer and at work on her first romantic fiction novel. 

10 thoughts on “Thickening The Plot

  1. I like to start from a table of contents that goes through the whole plot triangle to point out all the important bits of how the plot will form. That table isn’t set in stone and it can shift and change as the characters develop but it is a great way for me to organize my ideas when I start my first draft. That table also lets me figure out where I can put in any new ideas so that I can see what its possible effect on the plot development may be.

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