Summer Writing Vacation: Plotting

Two weeks ago I proposed spending my summer blogging spots talking about my process for writing a novel. Note, this is my process, developed afteOUR WRITING ROADMAPr years of classes, workshops, books, and practice. It works for me, but that doesn’t guarantee it will work for you. Perhaps it will give you some ideas, or help you get unstuck.

I am a plotter. I’ve talked about that on this blog, and others. What that means is that I map out my novel (or story) before I start to write. Actually, I count my plotting time as writing time, since it frees me up considerably and is the only way I can work full time while writing a mystery series. That doesn’t mean I don’t deviate. Right now, for example, I am rethinking the denouement of my 3rd clock shop mystery. But the map got me to where I am going.

Whether you are a plotter or a pantser (write by the seat of your pants), the dramatic arc of a story remains the foundation to making the novel work. Here is what I think about when I am plotting my books.

The background of the story. Where is it set? Who are the major characters? What is life like for people? “I want to write a story about an advertising agency” is a good example to start. Think about the agency. Think about the people in it. Where is the agency set? Build the world of your story. You’ll fill in more and more details as you keep writing. For your own sake, keep track of those details in a “bible” so you can recall them easily.

The inciting incident, or why are you telling this story now? What has “disrupted” the normal of your world? Inciting incidents don’t have to take place within your story frame, but they are the driver of your story. Examples for an advertising agency: a lost client, a fight over creative control, the selling of a partnership. The inciting incident sparks the story you are going to tell.

Dramatic StructurePaula Munier wrote a great book called Plot Perfect that outlines narrative structure. I have also read The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery, which is a 52 step process for writing a book. Both of these books are well worth reading and highly recommended. But let me boil down what I mean by dramatic structure, narrative arcs and plot points.

You want to take your reader on a journey, with a rising sense of tension that compels her to keep reading. In order to keep the tension rising, you need to engage her by unpending expectations. These twists are called plot points–the first plot point is roughly 1/4 of the way in, and the second plot point is roughly 3/4 of the way in. The midpoint (halfway through) also needs some sort of action to drive it forward. Then you work towards the climax of the novel, then the denouement.

While planning your novel or story, don’t worry about your plot points at the beginning. Instead, make a list of what happens in your novel. (Scenes.) Use the “this happens and then” to move the story forward. One or two sentences on 3×5 cards for each scene. Now that you have your story laid out, think about the dramatic structure of the story. How’s the pacing? Are your plot points separated? Do you build up to each? Is the middle of the book a muddle, or does it keep driving the story? If your plot points come right on top of each other, can you add more scenes? Or a subplot?

Sometimes you will be driven to tell the story as you write, which is fine. Some of my best friends are pantsers. But think about dramatic structure in the editing phase, and see what you can do to keep the reader on a ride.

The final thing to think about in this phase is the theme of the novel. This may come later, but it can help you shape your scenes in interesting ways. The theme of my first book, Just Killing Time, is healing. Clock and Dagger is about redemption. Subplots and the main story all work to support that theme. Or that’s the attempt. The theme of the novel or story may become clearer as you are writing, and may help you in the editing phase.

This is a lot, but a good roadmap for moving forward. Remember what is the story you’re telling, why are you telling this story now, what happens, and why should your reader keep going?

Thoughts? Questions? Let me know! See you in two weeks for the next leg of our summer writing adventure.


Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery series. Book #2 in the series, Clock and Dagger, comes out August 2.

Getting in the 2015 Groove

In December, I talked about “Taking Stock“, and my plans for the new year.  Since this is my first post in this new year, I thought I’d touch base with how it is all going, and a few other random thoughts about 2015.

If you are going to write a book this year, read Paula Munier’s Plot Perfect. My pile of 75 scene cards are sitting beside me, waiting for another sort before I put them into Scrivener. I’ve written about dramatic structure before, but this book adds to that understanding, and helps you think through your story, including subplots and narrative arcs.

Keeping up with a journal is a challenge for me, but I really wanted to so I could track this year in my writing life. A friend passed on a suggestion that I love. Write five lines about your book (or your writing) every day. I’m adding that to my other journaling goal of writing three things I am grateful for, and therefore tracking this journey. I’ve never been good at keeping up with journaling, but 8 lines a day is doable for me.

My Passion Planner is on back order (hopefully it will arrive next week), but I’ve downloaded the blanks and am using it. I love the system so far. It is all about turning passion into action.

I have renewed my memberships to Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime New England, the Guppies, and Sisters in Crime. I have signed up for Malice Domestic, and Bouchercon. And, of course, I’ll be at Crime Bake. I am looking forward to taking a few workshops over the course of the year. This is all the professional part of being a mystery writer, but I’ve been doing most of them for years. If you are working in a particular field, or are interested in a specific genre, find a group and join it. Community has made all the difference for me, and it will for you too.

My friend Liz Mugavero wrote a great post this week about being “Lucky“.  Reframing the “I’m too busy” to “how great is this life?”. I echo her sentiment. How did I get so lucky? I’m not sure, but I am grateful that I did.

Happy 2015, dear readers. And happy writing!


J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories. Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery Series. They look alike.

Taking Stock

I have a love/hate relationship with New Year’s and, especially, New Year’s Eve. The expectations involved with getting dressed up, going out, spending too much, drinking even more–those days are behind me. This year I am planning on spending it alone, surrounded by my different journals, prepping for 2015.

I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Life, and the holidays, have been a blur this year. Plus, I find as I get older, I miss the people who aren’t here any more with a more pronounced ache. I am still one of the luckiest people I know, with a wonderful life. But I need to be mindful of thinking about more actively. I blogged about “Finding Joy” on Wicked Cozy Authors, and that is one of my resolutions. The others are the reasons for the various journals. (BTW, Diane and Wendy had great posts on New Years resolutions.)

Notebooks for the new year!

Clockwise–Plot Perfect notebook for Book #2, new Bullet Journal, Clock Journal for book journey, Passion Planner filler

One is my stop gap until my Passion Planner arrives. Since I donated to her Kickstarter, I got a PFG of 2015. I ordered one anyway, but since it is on backorder, I can start sketching out the first six months of the year. I love the visual of the journal, so that I can literally see my day/week.

Second is my new Bullet Journal. AKA a moleskin with a plan. I started using the system this fall, and I love it. All of my notes and to dos go into it, I can keep them for reference, there is an indexing system, etc. The journal goes with my everywhere. I suspect I will add book notes to it for next year.

Third is a larger notebook I plan to use for plotting Book #2. Book #1 (Just Killing Time) was accepted, and is with the copy editor. In the meantime, I have been plotting out Book #2. I need to weave in the subplots, and add another story that will run through to Book #3. Paula Munier’s Plot Perfect: How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene By Scene was an early Christmas present to myself. I am finishing it tomorrow, and putting it into play over the weekend.

And lastly–I bought a journal so I can keep track of this year, my first as a published author. Notes for the future, moments I want to remember. It has clocks on it–my protagonist is a clock maker. I figured it was a sign.

That’s a lot, I know. BUT, per Wendy’s suggestion, it will help me with achievable goals. For writing, I have found that having scenes plotted, with goals for each scene, helps tremendously. Seeing what my week looks like, and scheduling in writing, and exercise, and sleep, is critical. Plus the visual is really helpful for keeping some balance, And the Bullet Journal really helps me keep my life in one place.

So those are my plans for tonight. Writing, color coding, plotting, planning. And getting ready for 2015.

Happy New Year dear readers! See you on the other side!