How I Lost My Pants: Plotting Murder, Mayhem, and (sometimes) Magic (Pt 2)

Last week I posted about how I plot (HERE) using a journal, pen, scissors, and copious amounts of glue. This week I’m going to talk about that thing that happens when I don’t know the whole plot.

You may recall that one of my points involved writing the outline for each chapter. However, if I don’t know what’s going to happen in a particular chapter, I leave it blank and fill it in later when I do know. This is pretty much a normal thing for me. I know how the book starts. I know how it ends. And sometimes I know a couple of things that will happen in the middle. But the rest is a vast swath of nothingness from which there is no escape. (Melodramatic much?) That’s where a brainstorming partner comes in handy.

My brainstorming partner is called Bonnie. Why? Because that’s her name. She also happens to be my cousin. And she’s been my sounding board since at least the third Sunwalker book. (Maybe earlier, you’d have to ask her. My memory is a little hazy after 35 books.)

Here’s what we do:

We meet up for lunch or coffee. I tell her the plot as I know it so far. She throws out suggestions. I tell her why they won’t work. So, she suggests something else. And I tell her why that won’t work. And so on until something sparks in my brain and WE’RE OFF! Suddenly I’m scribbling in my journal like a woman hopped up on too much caffeine and creative juices. Which pretty much is exactly what I am. And suddenly, the whole plot is laid before me like the yellow brick road.


Now, that’s not to say I don’t get stuck again somewhere along the way. Like I said, my plotting is a loose outline. I leave a LOT open for my imagination to run wild. Which sometimes means slamming up against the proverbial brick wall. But I just call Bonnie (or rope in the boyfriend) and hash it over until I’m back on track again.

I guess there are two things you could take away from this:

  1. Don’t let not knowing what happens next stop you from plotting what you can and writing what you’ve got. You’ll figure the rest out.staircase
  2. Find someone you trust, someone who gets you and your story telling, and bribe ask them to be your sounding board. Sometimes all it takes is a second set of eyes (or brain cells) to job the old creativity.

If you want some good books on the subject of plotting, I recommend Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker. It’s a fast read and available in paperback or ebook. How to Outline a Cozy Mystery  by Sara Rosett is a good one for that genre specifically, but also for outlining novels in general. Also, one of my very favorite books on writing is How I Write by Janet Evanovich. As you can imagine, it’s super funny and very inspiring.

Next week: As promised, more on how I use markers, Post-its, and other fun doodads. In the meantime, you can sign up for my Writing & Publishing Tips newsletter to be notified of future info.

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