Monday, September 27, 2010

How To Plot Your Awesome Novel

In case you haven’t heard, Kristal’s started an awesome 1k a day challenge. This challenge got me thinking about a bunch of stuff (like how I’m procrastinating… a lot… please don’t tell my crit partners…). But mainly, it made me ponder something I’ve recently become a fan of.


I know, I know—a 1k a day challenge is no place for pre-plotting. BUT I’m not here to tell you to map out everything beforehand. I’m here to share some uh-may-zing tips on what to keep in mind while you’re writing.

Confession: Heidi Willis is a genius. She blogged about what a novel’s plot should consist of, but in a way that even I understood it (yep, I’m sort of slow with the technical stuff…). Since it was such a great post, I decided to share it with all you pretty people.

Here’s how Heidi breaks down plot:

3 Act Method

Act I (25%) Set up characters, motivations, backstory. At the end of this section, a dramatic event propels the main character into conflict

Act II (50%) In the middle of this, the MC discovers a secret, by the end is the start of big confrontations with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Conflict rises steeply.

Act III (25%) Obstacles are overcome, MC must make choices

Percentage Method

Stage 1 (10%) draw reader in, identification with hero

Turning Point (10%) new opportunity, new journey often followed by MC refusing to take the journey or by into the opportunity

Stage 2 (15%) hero reacts, formulates plan

Stage 3 (25%) hero is overcoming obstacles

***Turning Point (at the 50% mark) hero must commit, there is no turning back

Stage 4 (25%) goal is more visible, stakes are higher

***Turning Point (at 75% mark) Major setback, a do or die moment

Stage 5: (15%) Final push; conflict becomes overwhelming, MC must give everything; accellerated pace; MC determines his or her own fate.

Stage 6: Aftermath, what life are they living now

When Heidi plots, she uses 300 pages as her guideline. Thus the above percentages would be:
p 1 - 30
p 30 - 60
p 60 - 105
p 105 - 180 (turning point at p 150)
p 180 - 255 (turning point at p 225)
p 255 - 300

I don’t know about you, but I feel all smart after reading that :)

Here’s the link to Heidi’s amazing blog:

And here are some links to other plot-related posts around the blogosphere: (by Kelly’s agent, Mary Kole)

Go get that 1k a day, everyone!


  1. You just improved my IQ by like a billion points.

    That really does help when it comes to planning out a novel and pacing.

    Awesome post

  2. I'm looking forward to this 1 K challenge. It comes at a perfect time for me. :D

  3. I loved this post! Thanks so much Amparo!

  4. I like that method, and I can very much see how it fits with most plot.

    Out of curiosity, how would change these for novels with multiple main characters? I rarely, if ever, focus on the one MC, and I expect it'd demand more introduction time to cover them all.

    But either way, great post!

  5. Thanks for the plotting love, everyone!

    Claudie- I think you can stick with the same structure either way. Remember: "introducing" your character shouldn't solely depend on back story. Yeah, you can include bits of their past, but readers (especially when there's more than one POV) prefer to know characters through their choices, how they speak, and what their motivations are. That's usually what keeps them turning pages.

    Hope that helps! :)

  6. Awesome! I must check out this amazing Heidi Willis! Thanks for the helpful post, Amparo!! Don't worry. I haven't been very productive on my WIP lately. I've written on like 4 different projects in the past week. :)

  7. Great post! Plotting and pace in a novel can be tough to nail down. With a guide, that helps a bit. :)
    Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

  8. Excellent post. I'm do it like the second version...


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