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.

The Fatal Flaw

I haven’t been keeping up with my blog. Used to be, every other day I was here posting and every day I was visiting other blogs. I’ve fallen out of the blog routine… but for pretty good reason, I think. I’m plotting.

I’ve chatted here often about the various workshops I’ve taken and how they inspire me. Storyboarding, W-Plot, Character Diamond, Fatal Flaws and Book-in-a-Week. Well, I’ve sorted those workshops into a specific build-upon order and as I work through them, I review what I’ve already done so I keep true to the characters’ personalities, needs, desires, downfalls.

That brings me to the Fatal Flaw. Laurie Schnebly-Campbell gives this class and it is one I cannot recommend enough. I understand everyone plots differently and what works for me might not work for you. BUT… what I find about this particular set of lessons and assignments is that they build the character in astonishing ways. Showing the needs they have and why they have them. Showing how the character will react to overcome those needs or to fulfill them. It brings out their quirky habits and explains them in a way so logical, you can’t help but remain true to the character as you plot out the events in the story.

And yes, that’s the part I’m up to. Plotting the events. I’ve got the characters down – and am thrilled and amazed at how everything fits. The hero is one way and is headed down a certain path. The heroine is another way and headed down her own path. Those two paths cross every now and then. Sometimes hero and heroine just breeze by each other (in scenes of understanding) and other times they smack into one another (conflict) and neither will give up the path without a fight. Thing is, the individual paths they’re on will meet further down the line and continue as one. Whether they walk side by side on that path or fight for the lead is up to them… and me. And the Fatal Flaws.

Knowing the characters this intimately will, I hope, help me form the events in their story in such a way as to challenge them, keep the reader intrigued and fulfill the needs of all as they grow, change and find love.

Yes. I, myself, am falling in love. With my newest characters… though I do still love the one I just left behind. Ah. Such is the fickle life of a romance writer.

Starting again… and loving it.

As I work on the query and synopsis for my completed story, I’m also working on the next one.

It’s actually quite exciting. In the past I’ve struggled with “starting”. It seemed the story I just finished – and its characters – had taken hold of my heart and mind and wouldn’t let go. I’d try to work with my new characters but hear the old character’s voices.

So… starting this new work immediately after finishing the first had me a little on edge, wondering if I could do it so quickly or if I had to let some time pass. Well… so far, so good. I think I’ve finally worked out a system that blends the needs of my muse, me and story.

I was a workshop diva – signing up for every and any workshop that came my way. I’ve modified some of them, taken parts of each that ‘spoke’ to me and blended them into a method of plotting and creating character that I enjoy. For my past work, I was a true pantser. Just typing away as the story came to me. I’m very happy with those stories. And I love the memory of writing them. The thrill of hearing the character’s voices in my head, seeing them move and interact, then rushing to the computer to get it all down. So exciting.

But I spent a lot of time revising those stories. A LOT. Pantsing like that just wasn’t working for me the way I thought it was. I, apparently, need some direction. My Gemini spirit is too flighty and must be guided – though not restrained.

And so… I now work with Laurie Schnebly Campbell’s Fatal Flaws, Sue Viders Character Diamond, and Karen Docter’s W-Plot (the latter of which, closes by incorporating a subdued ‘storyboard’ that, when properly done, transfers beautifully into a synopsis). I highly recommend each of these workshops. For me, parts of each of them make the characters come to life. With a little work, their deepest desires are revealed along with the conflict they’ll face trying to achieve those goals. Finite details are not disclosed, that happens during the writing process. What’s left is a planning stage that’s not only fun (for me), but also edges me closer to writing the story.

My synopsis and query are nearly ready to go. And this time, while I wait for a response, I’ll be doing what I love most – writing the next story with my notes there to help keep my excited Gemini muse on track… or at least close to that track. 🙂

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?

Golden Nuggets

I had such a great experience with my Book-in-a-Week class that I just can’t keep it to myself. Soon I’ll be posting an interview with the Book-in-a-Week mistress, herself, since she’s graciously agreed to speak with me here. I’ll keep you posted on when that will happen.

Meanwhile, book-in-a-week (BIAW) fever is still soaring for me. Before this latest story, I’d spent a lot of time revising other work. Starting something new after all that time was tough. That’s why I accepted the BIAW challenge in the first place – to fan the fire under me again. Yowza! Did that fire get fanned!

A lot went into preparing for this challenge, by the way. I didn’t just take the class and have at it. I’m a workshop junkie. I love them. LOVE them. Love the interaction, the push, the praise, the hints on how to make things better. I love it all. What I especially love is plucking out the gems that work for me. And that’s how I see workshops… like panning for gold. You never know when or where you’ll find that one brilliant nugget.

I’ve found quite a few brilliant nuggets. Some of my favorites came from workshops like –

Shelley Bradley’s Storyboarding (scroll down on linked page to find workshop info)

Karen Docter’s W-Plot

Mary Buckham’s …. anything!!! … Pacing, Sex on the Page, One-on-one Synopsis and more.

Laurie Schnebly Campbell’s … again anything!!! … Fatal Flaws, Plotting via Motivation, Block-busting (putting the joy back in writing) and more.

And now, of course, April Kihlstrom’s Book in a Week.

Nuggets from each of these workshops have helped me set up the structure of my WIP, so when the day came to take up the torch and run, I was ready. I think what’s happened in the past was a blind desire or need to write without the necessary prep-work. I’m a pantser who likes to plot – but only a tiny bit. What I’ve learned over the years is that my needs and methods shift with each new story. For some, I need more plot details before I start, for others the details are like quick sand.

Each story is unique and requires a fresh approach. I like it that way. Maybe it’s the Gemini in me, who knows. Point is, I’ve learned there isn’t one set formula for writing a book. It’s a fully customizable process with handy upgrades. The workshops I’ve taken have taught me about those upgrades and how to apply them when necessary.

Are there golden nuggets in your writer’s toolbox? If so, what are they and where did you find them?

The W-Plot is easy, I PROMISE!

When I posted the picture of my finished W-Plot worksheet in my last entry, I was afraid it might be a bit frightening. I posted it anyway, hoping that I’d explained it well enough to calm suddenly tense nerves. I don’t think I did, so I’d like to do that now… but I’ll do it without going into detail about the process since no one can (or should try to) explain it the way Karen Docter does.

The completed W-Plot worksheet looks involved because it’s an accumulation of a lot of tiny bits of information. Truth.

In order to get to the final worksheet – which I posted – all that’s necessary is to jot down an OVERVIEW of your character’s throughlines. Face it, stories start with an idea. As you spend time on that idea, it becomes more developed, even if only slightly so.

Now, if you’re like me, thinking too hard about a story before you’re ready to write it is the same as giving anesthesia to your muse. That’s why I love the W-Plot. The beauty of it is indeed it’s simplicity.

Let’s work with the hero – Where is he at the beginning of your story? At what point does he realize what he needs to do for the next 20 chapters? Is it when he learns the jewels have been stolen? Let’s go with that… that’s the high point for your hero because even though stolen jewels suck, pardon my French, he has a solid starting point. He’s got to find who stole them and why, AND get them back without getting himself killed in the process.

Now… getting from that high point (Plot Point 1) to the final high point, (Plot Point 9), is going to be a roller-coaster ride for Hero, with severe drops and slow rises. Your nine points are just highlights of his story with as much or as little detail as YOU want to include.

The reason my finished W looks so intimidating is because I’ve included everyone’s plot points there in the order they’ll occur. It’s like looking at a skeleton of my story. Everything is somehow connected but not yet filled in. THAT’s the fun part. THAT’s the part a pantser muse eagerly awaits. THAT’s when a storyboard truly becomes a treasure if you want to flesh out your W even further… with specific scenes.

Honestly, IMHO, these two tools used properly and in tandem, will make writing/telling/enjoying your story that much easier. Oh, and in case you’re not convinced… a completed W, when organized the way Karen explains, makes writing the dreaded synopsis easy as pie.



So… as many of you know… I’m a writer. Within the writing world, I’m what’s known as a “pantser”, meaning, I’m not big on plotting out an entire story before I write it. I’ve tried it that way and have lost all the excitment of putting fresh words and ideas onto the page.

There was one method I truly enjoyed, though, and that was the storyboard. I’d taken an online workshop with Shelley Bradley and it was amazing. You can be an avid plotter or a simple pantser and still use her method. What it does is organize your thoughts. As they come to you, you jot them down in as much or as little detail as you want (on a post-it) then slap them onto the storyboard in the spot you think they will fit. Of course, there is more to it than that, but after a while, it seems that easy. It’s also fun to see the post-it’s pile up. They’re color-coded, too, so that makes it a super visual tool.

Here’s one of my completed storyboards – ain’t it purdy? 🙂


Another exciting method I learned, use and highly recommend, is the W-Plot. What an amazing tool. Karen Docter gives that workshop, and I can’t say enough about it. Basically what it does is help outline (don’t shudder at that word, it’s not really an “outline” but more like a “highlight” of…) your plot using only nine major plot points for each main character. It’s much easier than I’m probably making it sound, and it is so very worth it.

A finished W might look intimidating at first (even second and third) glance… BUT… I can’t stress enough how simple it truly is. Of course, it forces you to think, but the panster in me stuck around for the entire process without one fainting spell. Truth!

Now, prepare yourself…

Here’s what a finished W looks like with all the plot points (36 total – 9 for the Hero, 9 for the Heroine, 9 for the Villain and 9 for the romance) highlighted in a different color.

Completed W-Plot

See how each plot point in it’s proper place makes the story flow?

If you have the opportunity to take either or both of these classes, I HIGHLY recommend them. Of course, I’m a workshop junkie, so there are many more workshops I can tell you about. Until then… check these out and tell me what you think.

What about workshops you’ve taken? Which ones do you have safely tucked into your writer’s toolbox?

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