W-Plot Revisited

Hi, my name is Debbie and I am a Pantser. Yes. I know. What is a plotting tool doing as the title of a post about a pantser? Well… this particular tool is one that works for both the detailed plotter and the seat-of-her-pants pantser.

I’ve talked about the W-Plot in the past and if you’d like to read my first take on it, you can find it here. But for now, I’d like to tell you about what I now consider to be the best use for this tool – it forces a writer to dig deeper. Believe it or not, even for a pantser, tha’s a good thing.

As a pantser, I find it impossible to write a detailed outline or synopsis of my story before my story is written. It’s not that I can’t come up with plot points or the emotions connected to them. It’s the way those pre-planned plot points and emotional responses make me feel once they’re on the page. I feel as if the story has already been written. There’s nothing left to do. My muse settles in for a Rumpelstiltskin nap and I’m left wondering what happened to the thrill of creating – and writing – this new story.

As a panster, the W-Plot helps me to rearrange the vague scene ideas I have at the story’s planning stages. I have a short list of events I know will happen in the story. I see them in my mind. My muse decides just how much to give me and gives nothing more. It’s a tease. This little muse knows how to keep me interested. Every muse is different and, I am convinced, every muse is like Tinkerbell. Hard to capture, easy to piss of and just bitchy enough to keep you on your toes. So, don’t push the muse or she’ll give you the silent treatment, and trust me, that’s the last thing a writer wants.

That’s where the W-Plot comes in.

Digging deeper for the W-Plot is not as strenuous as it sounds. Imagine a jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces are there, scattered on your table, but you can’t see the full picture they’ll create. You start placing the corners, the frame pieces. Each of the remaining pieces fit within that frame but where? How? What if one piece is missing? You must handle each piece, turn it around, match the color, the shape. One edge of one piece might fit against the frame, but when you start adding other pieces, suddenly you realize that piece is in the wrong spot. You thought it would work, but it doesn’t.

In a puzzle, that’s not such a big deal. You just take that one piece out and replace it with the correct one. In a story, it’s like major surgery. You can’t just move a scene around. Every scene must lead to the next. If a scene can be so easily removed, it probably shouldn’t be there in the first place. It must serve a purpose. The scenes before and after it will need revisions. The original scene will need them too because now it has to fit into a new spot within the story. Transitions have to be smoothed, information not yet disclosed must be removed, uncovered clues can no longer be a mystery. Of course it can be done. It’s done all the time. But it’s a lot of work.

How does this part of the W process help a pantser? By allowing the pantser a glimpse into the story without a full reveal.

The W-Plot gently guides the muse through the story. What is the character’s story goal, what does s/he want to happen in this story? The question can be answered in one sentence or two paragraphs. Whatever works for the writer. The beauty comes as the various W points are addressed – what event becomes the first obstacle to the goal? No details necessary. Just the idea.

While working my current W, I realized the flow of my simple plot points didn’t work the way I’d imagined. Each was worthy of the characters and the story, but their sequence did little to up the tension. And when writing romantic suspense, tension matters. A lot.

On the W template, I rearranged my one-sentence plot points until the ebb and flow of story worked the way I wanted it to. And yet, the story itself – and all of its surprises – have not yet been disclosed. I have built my puzzle frame and sorted my pieces. I still can’t see the whole picture but I know what I have to do to make it appear. I have all the pieces and, most importantly to me as a pantser, I’ll still have the thrill of building the picture one small piece at a time.


I have successfully completed five synopsis versions. Note, I did not say I have completed five successful synopsis versions. rolleyes

I’m happy with the final one, though I’ve gone according to the 1 page per 10,000 words rule. I’m going to let it sit for a couple of days then get back to it… mainly because I’ve signed up for some one-on-one synopsis help with the wonderful Mary Buckham (who gives wonderful in-person and online workshops), and am waiting for feedback from her.

Not one to simply kick back and wait, I figure it’s time to look ahead to the next project. I have an “Ideas” file loaded with… well… ideas. There are stories in there waiting to be written, characters eager to be brought to life on the page. And then there’s me – just a little gun shy after having completed a book only days ago. 

I’m not exhausted. If anything, I’m energized from the ride of the last story. I’m not numb creatively. I have new and interesting scenes playing out in my head.  

I am however, torn.

Which story do I work on next? The ideas pull me in all directions. I want to write. I want to get back to what I was doing just a week ago, and hammer out the story, feel the very last rush of words spring off my fingers and onto the page.

Alas… that’s called “finishing”. 

This… is called ‘starting’.

Plotting – whether in detail or denial – is a long process. I’m in denial right now – insisting I’m a pantser through and through when actually, I desperately need a balance of plotting and pantsing.  So, while I’d rather sit here and type away, showing my family how busy I, as writer, can be, I’ll be thinking and no doubt convincing them I’m simply goofing off.

I’ll spend the next couple of weeks turning scenarios over in my mind, picturing the worst obstacles I can throw in my new hero’s way, measuring how high my herione can leap and building hurdles twice that height. I’ll be plotting without paper. Watching the story develop. Seeing the sway of my heroine’s hips, the swagger of my hero’s purposeful gait. And I’ll be dreaming, hearing their voices. Eager for the moment a blank page turns into the first page of a brand new chapter.

Plotting and the wayward muse

It’s taken a while, but I’m back on track with my story. I’ve been away from it for quite some time now. When I started this story, I was consumed. I’d sit each day and the words would simply fly from my fingers and onto the page. And then… nothing. When my writing quits like that, it usually means I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere in the story. Weeks ago I thought I’d figured out where that wrong turn occurred. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

I have plotting tools – though I’m a pantser. I love these new-to-me tools – the W-Plot and the Storyboard. Problem is, as a pantser, I tend to grant my characters more freedom than my plotting tools allow. And so… three chapters ago, my heroine decided to break with plot and stay home while my hero paid a ransom. That was in Chapter 9. And that was my first big mistake.

Plotting is a funny thing for a pantser. Details and flow must be there, but not so much as to bludgeon the muse’s enthusiasm or bind the muse’s creative soul. However, the muse should not be allowed to flitter from one shiny and attractive idea to another. The muse must stay focused and dedicated. The muse must pick a theme and an emotion, and run with it in fresh though logical new directions. S/he must follow through to the end, stay excited through the long hard middle and feel that second wind effect as s/he nears the end. The muse must do all this while staying on track and being true to the characters – giving those characters real challenges, real changes, real chances. The muse must do all this in exciting and unexpected ways.

And so I’ve discussed this with my muse. The result? Quite simply, he’s not having it.

Yes, my muse is a he and his name is Freddie (Beth? Care to guess “Freddie” who? 😎 ) 

He’s a stubborn one who tends to ramble. But he’s talented and compelling, and if I really listen and steer clear of  the asides, I see there’s interesting logic in the ideas he has. My job as writer is to skim off the froth and dig into the hearty brew beneath.

The idea is an exciting one. The actual process… not so much.

I have hard copy of my chapters now and will use this new approach to revising – editing on paper not computer. Literally cutting and pasting this story back together to make it one both my muse and I can be proud of.

Pssst… btw… I placed 4th in the Black Diamond Synopsis Contest. 4th. Not 1st, 2nd or 3rd, but… hey. I placed, yes?

The problem with my story

Way back when I was first toying with this story, I was sitting on a blanket under a huge tree near the bank of the Hudson River. We’d spent the day touring the magnificent homes in Hyde Park, New York – the Vanderbilt and Mills Mansions – and took a few moments to soak up the beautiful and serene landscape. I whipped out my writer’s notebook and scribbled some thoughts as they came to me.

I had my heroine’s name and face clear. I knew her angst and her mission. And I felt her need to have her story told. My hero made an appearance that day, too. He told me his name but not much more since he was in a hurry. He was rushing to rescue a loved one from danger and on the way had bumped into my heroine.

I went to sleep that night with story ideas swirling in my head. I saw scenes play out, I heard my characters’ voices. I saw them struggle and I saw them sneak glances when each thought the other wasn’t looking. They were so real and excited – and in such a hurry – that I got right down to writing their story.

But first… I developed W’s for them from my W-Plot class. I soared from there, putting these two into terrible danger, pushing them ever closer to the edge, forcing them to push back.

And then I dropped them.

Why? What happened? All the forward motion and then BAM! A massive brick wall knocked us all down to the ground. Why?

Because I didn’t plan my W’s the way I should have. I cheated. Along the lines of the capital letter W are the various plot points each character must reach. Low points, high points, black moments and happily ever after. They have to travel, struggle from one to the other. They cannot simply step over one and onto the next. My mistake? The plot points were too connected, too close. There has to be time and space between them or the story ends before it gets going.

And so I’m forced to step back and review all I’ve done. I’ve already gone back one chapter and come up with a new plan, a new level of tension for my hero to work through. Now I need to go back to my W’s and see if I can shift a few plot points, sneak in a couple more and up the angst, torture these charactes just a tad more, make them earn their happily ever after without feeling guilty for putting them through such horror. 

Ah but that feeling of power can be all consuming at times.  

I might even storyboard the scenes from this point on, shifting them until they flow just the way I want them to.

When you hit the proverbial brick wall in your writing, what do you do to get things moving again?

What others are saying...
Work in Progress

For Hire

Complete Revision

9 of 18 Chapters (50%) complete

Work in Progress

Bend at Mirror Pond

Plotting Phase

0 of 20 Chapters (0%) complete

Member RWA

LIRW Chapter #160

Transparent   lighthouseAn1