How I’m Plotting 

Plotting generally doesn’t work for me.   Extensive, scene-by-scene outlines make me lose excitement after plannin so many “boring” scenes.  AKA scenes that don’t involve fighting or romance.  But not plotting ends in me never starting because I never know where to start.

With the only novel I’ve finished – The Dove of Hope – I had a writing buddy that chatted with me daily so we kept each other writing without outlines to guide us. (SIDE NOTE: WRITING BUDDIES ARE AMazInG) We talked about endings and shared excerpts, but that was the extent of our plotting.

Without a friend to write with, I have a million unfinished projects.

When starting my most recent project, I decided to try a mixture of two plotting techniques – the zero plot method and the snowflake method.

To start off, an overview!

The Zero Plot Method

This method involves writing a quick draft without any details.  You describe the main events that happen with any important details and leave out the rest to fill in in Draft 1.  For example, here is part of my zero plot for the the first chapter or two for R&B, my current project.

R, a young widow, follows her mother-in-law M to her home town in Alaska after World War I. She is forced to sell her wedding ring in order to pay for room and food during the first few weeks. They come into town and discover it ridden with miners and railway workers after the Treadmill Mine incident the year before. In new surroundings, R is forced to quickly find a job, despite the abundance of workers, in order to open L’s broken-down shop. She runs into B, a handsome farmer, and M remarks how much he looks like O’s husband.  

Ignoring how rough it sounds – gotta love first/zero drafts – I wrote the main events in present tense to quickly get the words on paper. Try not to think too much about it and write through the whole story.

The Snowflake Method

This method takes plotting a little slower, leading up to a summary that basically is a zero draft.  I found the snowflake method on this site.  It takes you step by step, starting with a one-sentence summary:

A young widow struggles to open a shop in a growing Alaskan town while falling for a rich man.

You go on to create a quick one paragraph summary about each character in your novel. Next, you expand your one-sentence plot summary into a full fledged paragraph with characters and conflicts.

You continue to expand each sentence of the character and novel summaries into full paragraphs until you have a few pages of each. At this point, you have a zero draft and pages of character arc information.

The website leads you into creating a spreadsheet to lay out each scene from your summaries before writing the first draft.  I prefer not to do this step.  I also don’t expand the character summaries beyond one paragraph.  Once I go much farther past these steps, I lose inspiration and start drowning in the details.

Merging the Two

By the time I finished using these two methods (following the first steps of the snowflake method and jumping to the zero draft), I had created the following for my novel in a couple hours:

  • A list of major characters
  • A full paragraph description of each character’s goals, motivations, and a brief plot line.
  • A one-sentence book summary.
  • A full paragraph book summary with each major conflict and the ending.
  • A 3 page “zero draft” of my novel with major scenes involving the main characters.

What I didn’t create from the methods:

  • Full page character descriptions with small details like dislikes, favorites, physical descriptions, and backgrounds.
  • A spreadsheet of in-depth scene descriptions.

If you’ve read my other posts, you know that my favorite part of writing is creating characters.  That’s where the planning stops for me. I have a general view of what I want the character to be like but details don’t come out until I’m writing the first draft.  Once in the middle of writing, I create a more in-depth description of each character once I get a feel for them.

Remember, your plotting doesn’t have to be pretty either…this may or may not be a scene idea in my zero draft:

He has to find R is some amazing, exciting way and he FINALLY professes his love to her. Kisses may occur mwahaha

Then you start pounding out the words, filling in scenes here and there and most likely changing your outline as you go.

I’m excited to put these methods to use in all my unfinished projects!

How do you plot?  Or do you prefer to jump in without outlines?


Also, forgot last post, but I have a new blog design! I know…this is not the first time I’ve changed it.  But oh well!  🙂


6 Steps to Developing a Character: Featuring Hunter Bruckman

My favorite part of writing isn’t writing the actions or humorous dialogue between characters or shoving my characters together (although those are all fun). My favorite part is coming up with the characters and trying to make them as complex and real as possible.  I love it.  It’s probably why I have tons of characters planned but have only finished a couple stories: the planning is just so much more fun.  Developing different types of people for stories stimulates my creative side which is fantastic.  I get to decide every little thing about them!

To help me out with this post, I’m using my favorite character, Hunter Bruckman, from The Davidson Effect.

The steps to developing a fun character can be summed up in six steps.


Step 1: Start with an idea.

When coming up with a character, you most likely already have some idea of how this character will act or what role they will play. For Hunter, he was a character who was going to oppose the protagonist, Travis, in The Davidson Effect. He wasn’t necessarily evil or the antagonist, but he hindered and disapproved of Travis’ reckless behavior. Who do you want your character to be? The love interest? The faithful sidekick? Or are they just a character who pops in the story? Regardless of what you choose, this character will have some effect on the other characters.

Step 2: Find a name.

Next, choose a name for your new baby.  I tend to use names of people I know when I accidentally  base the character on them but random name generators like this one come in handy when a spontaneous character comes into the story (some of these spur-of-the-moment characters have become my main characters in other stories!). For Hunter, I used a random name generator to find a first name and shifted through the last names until I found one that went well with “Hunter.”

Step 3: Put a face to the name.

One of my favorite steps in developing a character is finding an actor/actress to “play” them in the novel.  Just having a picture in your mind or even a random lady or gentleman from a stock image works, but I prefer finding someone who gets their picture taken often. That way I can find dozens of pictures of them showing different emotions while playing different roles and sporting different looks. It helps me to better picture the actions of my character in my head if I have a visual.

In Hunter’s case, I used both actors and a picture in my head because no actor seemed to fit him exactly at first. I went through several actors that looked sort of like him. He has a dark tan, black hair, and is built like a soldier – well, he is a soldier.

PicMonkey Collage

I finally found an actor, the adorable Bob Morley, that fits him exactly! Every once in a while, I find another guy who reminds me of Hunter so I add him to my TDE Pinterest board (if you don’t have a Pinterest board for your novel, you should!) but Bob Morley is my go-to search if I need new pictures of Hunter.

PicMonkey Collage1

Step 4: Give the character at least three strong attributes.

This step goes hand-in-hand with Step 1. Now is the time to get a concrete idea of what role the character will play in the story. How do they appear to others in the story?  Are they sarcastic? Are they a good teacher? Are they clumsy and nervous? Nail down three ways the other characters might describe your new character.

You want to choose three attributes because one or two just isn’t enough. People have more than one side.  They can be loud and funny around friends but deathly shy around strangers.

Hunter is stoic and judgmental but is a good leader. A bonus – when you come up with these attributes, there will be consequential characteristics that you’ll notice. Hunter is a good leader so he is patient and won’t give up on another character (consequences of being a leader), even if he is verbally judging their work.

Step 5: Add some random attributes and causes.

Now that you have at least three strong attributes, it’s time to give the character some secondary ones. These range from weaknesses and fears to likes and dislikes to secret hobbies and past times. Not every grumpy person acts mad and shallow all the time so you need to give your character some habits and characteristics that appear when they aren’t grumpy.  Even if you don’t share with your readers that your character used to watch Man vs Wild, it will bleed through when your character knows what plant is safe to eat when they’re lost in wilderness.

For example, Hunter is very stoic but he loosens up and relaxes around his partner, Ellie.  He isn’t afraid to tell others just how he disapproves of their behavior *cough* Travis *cough* but he’s quiet when in the presence of an authority. Despite his powerful and sometimes scary actions, he has a soft spot for children because he lost his mother and wants them to feel comfortable when he wasn’t. There are exceptions to his strongest attributes and some things that overpower his normal behavior.

Remember to come up with a reason/cause to why your character acts the way he does.

  • Action:  Your character knows how to build a fire.
  • Cause:  Your character’s father used to take the family on camping trips.
  • Weakness: Your character is afraid of water.
  • Cause: Your character almost drowned as a child.
  • Knowledge: Your character is an expert on a certain type of plane.
  • Cause: They once got stuck next to a pilot on a train ride and got lectured about his work.

Make them as random as you want!

Step 6: Play around with situations & write!

Finally have fun with the character and see what happens.  Stick them in imaginary situations that may not happen in your story and see how they change in front of you.  A lot of times once you start writing they change by themselves. Without you thinking, your English teacher has a Scottish accent and your pirate decides they have a secret fear of water. You’ll learn more about your character and they’ll become more complex as you write. I’ve had characters change gender, gain and lose siblings, go from a futuristic world to modern day, switch from secondary character to main character, gain 100+ pounds, fall in love with an unplanned character, etc.

Now I don’t follow these steps in order every time I make a character.  When I created Hunter, I was playing around with a story with a fellow writer. We came up with a situation and put our two characters (Mine: Travis, Hers: Ellie). Neither of us had used those characters before so we just went along with the story. Ellie finds Travis unconscious in the snow and when he wakes up, he explains he was knocked out from behind and needed to get back to a base not far from them. By the end of the story, Ellie had been “fired” from serving at the base as a teen soldier when her partner and friend, Hunter (hey!), was supposedly killed.  She found out he wasn’t dead when I made up Hunter and we also found out that they had been love interests. Hunter was a spur-of-the-moment character and all it took to come up with him was one situational story!

After the story, I gave him a last name and found a face to the image I had made up in my head.  The attributes and secondary characteristics came up during the story when either I or the girl I was writing with wrote dialogue as if the two characters had known each other for years, mentioning something personal about the other character.

If you have someone to brainstorm with, it makes coming up with a complex character much easier. If not, these steps have worked with nearly every other character I’ve come up with.

Thanks for your help, Hunter!


How do you come up with characters? Do you like to plan them out or start writing from scratch?