Map Your Way to Plotting?

07 Jun

Recently I went to a Theresa Meyers workshop on Plotting. In her words, “Plotting isn’t the journey, it’s the map.”

I love going to workshops. I always find something valuable. I may not learn anything new or earth shaking, but every speaker slants the information in a different way. That new angle may provide me with that wonderful “Aha” moment that fires off all sorts of neurons. If not, just the energy in the room sparks ideas.

I’m a plotter. There are too many things to remember. Even if I had a decent memory—which I don’t—I would never be able to keep track of all the details from the beginning of the book to the end. I just don’t have that many brain cells.

Even if you’re a pantser, you still need a map. You don’t just get in the car with your husband and say, “I don’t have a map, and I’m not sure where we’re going so I haven’t made any reservation, and I didn’t board the dogs or the cats, but I think we should leave now.” If your husband is anything like mine—let’s just say it wouldn’t end well.

My latest “Aha” moment came in the Theresa Meyers workshop. The Aha was that I need to dig out my big whiteboard and use it. I’m pretty sure it isn’t doing me or my stories any good sitting behind the carved oak antique carrousel seat in the corner. The bad news is I don’t have any place to put it. The good news is I will have a spot for it in my new office in my new house. But that’s a story for another day. Right now, I have to find a place for it. I’m going to have to banish the dogs from my office. There will be a lot of huffing, shaking of large floppy ears, and sad eyes, but it’s necessary. They’ll thank me when I get published and buy them tons of tasty treats. The cats don’t have to move because they don’t take up as much room. The two cats weight combined is 20 pounds. The two dogs? Total weight 170 pounds. Now with the furniture and fur rearranged, I can get started.

I’ve sectioned off the three foot by four foot (you thought I was kidding about the big thing) whiteboard into four rows of five squares. Voilà. I have a 20 chapter book just waiting for little colored sticky notes.

Each square will have notes stuck to it. The colors will correspond to a character –blue for hero, pink for heroine, and on and on. At a single glance, I can see if all the sub-plot lines are in order or if any of them get dropped; if someone has been off book too long; where the pacing sags; and the list goes until everything is just the way it needs to be. I can keep track of as much or as little as I like. The only constraint is the number of colors and shapes of the sticky notes. The variety probably numbers in the lots and lots. I’m never going to write a book requiring that many different colors. My head would explode. Then the dogs would never get their tasty treats.

When the board is done, all the scenes are divided into chapters, nothing sags, no one is forgotten, and nothing is left hanging. Now all that’s left is to write from square to square. The scenes are right there. Scene one, the hero and heroine meet, the murder occurs, or the UFO lands. It’s all on the colored notes.

You aren’t glued to anything. If you find a path that works better than the original, no worries. Bust out your sticky notes or rearrange the ones already on the board. Because this is the map, you can take a different route if you like. I know this will keep me on track and focused which will enable me to write faster.

When Theresa left us in May, she told us she had two books to write before July 31st and she hadn’t started either one. With her system and her energy, I have confidence she can do it.


Posted by on June 7, 2011 in Idaho


20 responses to “Map Your Way to Plotting?

  1. johannaharness

    June 7, 2011 at 5:21 AM

    I’m cheering you on, Peggy! I love the sticky notes. 🙂

    • Peggy Staggs

      June 7, 2011 at 7:35 AM

      Thanks. I need a cheering section.

  2. Carley Ash

    June 7, 2011 at 6:28 AM

    I have my whiteboard covered in sticky notes. It was a great workshop and fun blog read. Thanks Peggy.

    • Peggy Staggs

      June 7, 2011 at 7:36 AM

      I can’t wait to get my whiteboard up on the wall.

  3. Janis McCurry

    June 7, 2011 at 7:09 AM

    We should thank the inventor of sticky notes. And pretty colored sticky notes. Yep.

    • Peggy Staggs

      June 7, 2011 at 7:37 AM

      I think a Nobel Peace Prize is in order.

  4. Liz Fredericks

    June 7, 2011 at 8:49 AM

    Yes, yes , yes on the workshops, value of mapping and sticky notes, but I’m still fixed on your post for different reasons. I adore the image of rearranging fur and furniture and the metaphor of the cranky husband. You gave me vivid pictures and made me laugh on a mushy spring day. Thank you.

    • Peggy

      June 7, 2011 at 12:00 PM

      Glad I could bring a giggle to this dreary day.

  5. Patti Yager Delagrange

    June 7, 2011 at 9:29 AM

    I agree with Janis. I love those colored sticky notes! Good luck in your writing and plotting, Peggy!

    • Peggy

      June 7, 2011 at 12:00 PM


  6. MKHutchins

    June 7, 2011 at 10:08 AM

    Cool post! I recently started color-coding my outlines, and now I think I can’t go back. I love the sticky notes.

    • Peggy

      June 7, 2011 at 12:01 PM

      The color really helps you see the holes.

  7. MKHutchins

    June 7, 2011 at 10:10 AM

    Cool post! I recently started color coding my outlines, and now I can never go back.

    • MKHutchins

      June 7, 2011 at 10:10 AM

      Oops. Double-post. Sorry everyone.

  8. Sheila Seabrook

    June 7, 2011 at 11:15 AM

    Coincidence or what? I just dragged my whiteboard and sticky notes out this morning so I could ensure I fixed the plot holes before resuming revisions. Your post has come at the perfect time!

    • Peggy

      June 7, 2011 at 12:02 PM

      Glad I could help. I love a system that really works.

  9. P. L. Parker

    June 8, 2011 at 7:04 AM

    At work, everyone makes fun of me because I use sticky notes everywhere. I got back from vacation once and they had covered everything with sticky notes. I have to admit, I am more of a pantser than a plotter.

  10. jo robertson

    June 8, 2011 at 8:51 AM

    Great method, Peggy. I like it! I used to live near Rexburg. What end of the state are you in?

    • Peggy Staggs

      June 8, 2011 at 9:04 AM

      Hi Jo,
      Thanks. It’s a method that really puts things in perspective. I live near Boise. We’ve lived here forever.

  11. Mary Vine

    June 13, 2011 at 2:29 PM

    I remember when I did remember all of the details in my manuscript until the end-didn’t have enough talent to go with it though! Thanks for bringing the Meyers workshop back to mind and a reminder for me to get it all down. Thanks Peggy!


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