The Plotting Workshop: What Inspires You?

Plotting a Novel: What Inspires You?

The Plotting Workshop is a month long course that will help you build a road map through your novel. It’s free. It’s super fun. And through the month of December, we’re going to work through it together in our Facebook Group. Exciting right? I’d love it if you joined us!

I’ll be posting the lessons here on the blog. You can also sign up for the free course on Teachable. (Signing up will trigger the lessons to be sent to your email address as well.)

Okay. Ready for this plotting a novel thing? We’re starting off with a bang. Momentum is an amazing thing that will get you through this process. And it starts right now! You have four assignments to get you through the next few days. Ready?


Join the Tribe

So, the first thing I want to do is invite you to join the Ninja Writers Facebook. Click here to join.

We have a super engaged, vibrant Facebook community and I really hope to see you there.


Gather Your Tools

Next thing is your supplies list for the course.

You’re going to need:

1. A tri-fold board. You know, the kind you used as a kid for science fair projects? I like the 40″ by 28″ size the best. You won’t want to go much smaller than that, and if you go much larger it gets unwieldy. You’ll use the board to make your plot board. I linked to Amazon so you can see exactly what I’m talking about, but I’ve seen these at the dollar store.

If you live in a country where tri-fold boards aren’t easily available, you can use any flat surface that you can use sticky notes on. Here’s a video that will show you how to make your own tri-fold board from recycled cardboard.

2. A Sharpie or other thick black marker.

3. Sticky notes.

4. A copy of Christopher Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey. You’ll want to get this in the next week if you can. Try to get the third edition.

5. A wall or desk monthly calendar and some little stickers (or colored markers will work.)

6. A notebook. Any kind will do. I personally like composition books. Your notebook should be at least 5″ by 7″ so you have plenty of room to write. A three-ring binder will work as well, although it won’t be as portable. This notebook will be dedicated to just one book, so you’ll want a fresh one.

Not so bad so far, right?

This last requirement is a little trickier.

You’re going to work on plotting a particular story over the next eight weeks. You need, at least, a protagonist and a situation. If you’re not sure which of many ideas to choose, just pick the one that’s speaking to you right now. You’ll be able to use what you learn during The Plotting Workshop to plan all of your stories.

I’ll be using The Wizard of Oz and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as examples. I’ll also use my novel Viral Nation, so I can share my process with you.


Tap Into Your Inspiration

Are you ready to get started?

I want you to make a list of at least ten stories (books, movies, even television shows) that inspire you. You can also list characters or tropes or places. Whatever inspires you. They don’t have to relate directly to the story you want to write, but you should keep that story in mind as you do this exercise.

Open up to the first page of your notebook and label it ‘Inspirations’ and start writing. (You might want to use your very first page or the inside of your front cover to make a table of contents to help you find your notes when you need them as we go.)

Here is my inspiration list for Viral Nation:

1. The television show Jericho
2. The Postman by David Birn
3. The movie The Minority Report
4. Minority Report by Phillip K. Dick
5. Robin Hood
6. Alice in Wonderland
7. The Ponderosa Ranch
8. Virginia City
9. The movie Stand By Me
10. Sons of Anarchy

Pretty eclectic list, right? That’s okay. That’s the way it should be. And feel free to go beyond ten. Sometimes the inspiration just flows and I end up with 20 or more items on my list.

When you’re done, start analyzing. What do your inspirations have in common? Are there any themes? Do you see a lot of the same type of protagonist? A similarity in setting? How about tone? Why do these things inspire you?

When I look at my list for Viral Nation, I can see that I’m inspired by a dangerous and uncertain future, the idea of time travel, young protagonists who are thrown out of their own time and place, tight bonds of friendship, Western towns. The idea of a future that devolves after some catastrophe into something that resembles a past time intrigued me when I was working on this manuscript. I was also drawn to dark stories, although several of them have bright overlays (like Robin Hood and Alice in Wonderland.)

Take your time with this exercise. It should really open your mind and your heart to the kind of story you want to tell. Leave some space to add to the list as things come to you over the next weeks. I find that once I open my mind to this kind of inspiration, stories and ideas that I can add to my list just start flying at me.

Your list might show you things that you didn’t even realize you wanted to write about. For instance, when I started writing Viral Nation, I had no idea that it would be about a tight-knit group of kids. All I knew was that I wanted to have sister and brother protagonists. But looking at my inspiration list, I can see it. Robin Hood and his Merry men, the kids in Stand By Me, SAMCRO in Sons of Anarchy–it’s right there. I was inspired to write about the way that people come together in crisis and how people find family where they need it.

Once you have your list of ten written, come share it on Facebook! I’d love to see it. (That’s your unofficial Assignment Three-B!)


Work for Stickers

I know this is going to sound weird, but I swear it works. Get out your calendar and start putting a sticker on each day that you complete your writing goals. If you don’t want to use stickers, you can use a marker to draw a little picture or even just mark off the days. Something that gives you a visual reminder that you’re doing what you promised yourself to do, and that might encourage you not to skip a day. Who wants to see a gap in their stickers, right?

I got the idea from Victoria Schwab and it has really helped me.

While you have your calendar out, think about your upcoming week and make a plan for when you’ll work on your novel. Even if it’s just an hour every Tuesday or half an hour during your commute to work or what have you — write it in. I wake up at 5 a.m. and write for an hour and a half before work every morning. (Figure out what works for you and your life. If you’re a night owl, 5 a.m. might not be your best choice.)

Use a pen on your calendar. You are your own boss in this thing, so hold yourself to a high standard and expect stellar work ethic.

Be realistic, though. You don’t want to promise yourself eight hours a day of writing that will leave you in a puddle on the floor by hump day. But also be firm. You’re going to have to carve out time for writing. No way around it.

My favorite way to work for stickers is with my FRED. You can get your own here.

If you’d like to sign up for The Plotting Workshop on Teachable (for free!) just click here.

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