Thursday, April 3, 2014

C is for Calendar: My Strange Plotting Secret

I was one of those kids who absolutely loved school. I even loved the smell of school. In fact, if I concentrate, I can still smell my elementary school.

Sniff... ahhhh.

I know. I have issues.

But there was one thing I didn't love, and that was pre-writing. Pre-writing involved trying out various methods to organize and plan out what you were going to write. It wasn't the writing part I had trouble with so much as it was the pre part. I would sit there staring down at the empty bubbles on my cluster diagram, feeling frustrated because I just wanted to cut to the chase and get to the actual writing already. (I generally have never liked any activity that involves an exact method of doing something, so when I was instructed to plan my writing using a certain method in a certain way, it didn't really sit well with me.) 

Surprisingly, I grew up to become someone who does recognize the immense value of pre-writing, and more specifically, plotting. Now that I'm free to do this however I see fit, the method I've found to be best-suited for my style is calendaring. 

(It has been said that there is nothing new under the sun, so I'm sure I'm not the first person to do this, but you should know that I just completely made up the fact that calendaring is an official plotting method. But, made up as it may be, it is my method, and I want to share it with you today.)

I begin with a paper calendar, usually in my case it's a freebie that has come from a local business. For some reason, I absolutely can't do any plotting digitally, so the paper calendar is critical. Then, I get to work planning out my story: when characters will meet, when conflict will be introduced, when questions will be raised, and when matters will be resolved. This is especially critical when the plot gets tight time-wise and important plot points take place in a matter of days (or hours, or minutes).

After the initial calendaring comes my favorite part of the process: once I actually start writing, things come up.

Just as unexpected things make their way onto our real-life calendars, things sometimes pop up in my story, and the characters have to shift around a little bit to accommodate these new (usually exciting) developments. Typically, after a first draft, I'll redo my calendar completely to make sure everything clicks into place. Sometimes during a revision, even more things come up, and the process begins again.

For me, using the calendar makes the story feel tangible. And besides, it makes good use of all those paper calendars we get in the mail. Save a tree, people!

So there's my strange but beloved plotting secret. What are your plotting secrets, writers? Please leave your comments below. I enjoy hearing from you.


  1. Courtney, I had a comment mostly written when my tab suddenly disappeared. I'm sure my other comment was brilliant, but basically what it said was that I enjoyed your post. I write non-fiction, so plotting is not an issue for me, but if I ever decide to try my hand at fiction, I'll definitely try your method. :)

  2. Not sure about the smell, but I did love school. I enjoyed learning and reading books in the library. Can't stop reading or learning.

    Plotting for me is living with the characters for a long, long time until I know them and their world better than my own. Plot becomes obvious because I lived it and only need to tell it.

    Neat topic.