Organizing Your Plot Structure Print
By Apryl Duncan   

The great idea finally came to you. This is going to be the one that lands you on the bestseller list.

So now what do you do?

Many of novels never make it to completion because of one giant roadblock: organization.

Several methods are available to help every writer break through those barriers, though. To find the method that works best for you, experiment with the following plot structure organizational tools.

Index Cards
Many writers love the flexibility of index cards. If you don't like where you've placed a certain scene, simply move it. This also allows you to free up your plot structure without being so confined.

Quick Tip on Index Cards
When using index cards to organize your story, it's best to write in pencil. As your story changes, you can simply erase certain elements of your scene without having to start a new card.
If you're like most writers, you have a sense of specific scenes you'd like to include in your novel or short story. Writing a synopsis of each scene on its own index card and then arranging them - or re-arranging the cards - is very beneficial for a constantly changing plot structure.

For instance, a sample card might read:

Scene: Taylor finds the missing gun

Description: He's rummaging through his sister's closet for her high school yearbook. He finds the gun that killed their father. She walks in.

Outcome: He confronts her, she goes ballistic. Somebody takes a bullet.

Status: Partially Written

You can identify as much as you want on your index cards. Or as little.

By writing the outcome of the scene on your card, you can easily lead your story to the next important scene...and index card.


Writers seem to be moving away from the outline, although most publishing houses still require one with your book proposal. We all hated writing outlines when we were in school. But writers who use them, swear by them.

Using Taylor finding the missing gun as an example, your outline might read like this:

I. Taylor Finds the Missing Gun
    A. Description:
      1. He's rummaging through his sister's room
      2. She walks in
      3. A fight ensues
      4. She takes a bullet

II. Taylor Buries the Family Secret
    A. Spends His Life in Solitude
      1. Flees the Country
      2. Travels abroad in a drunken stupor
      3. Late night scuffle finds him shooting an innocent man

Colored folders are a great way to gather research and various ideas. Blue could be all of your research pertaining to the Ebola virus. Red could be a compilation of characters involved in your story. Purple could contain your scenes.

Break this down even further and you could label each folder by its chapter number. Garrett dies in Chapter 4. You're working on a pivotal scene in Chapter 18 but you can't remember how he died. Simply refer back to that chapter's folder and you won't have an unordered mess to sift through.

"Sure," you say. "But how am I going to remember what happened 14 chapters ago?"

Easy. Write a brief synopsis on the front of that particular folder. If you're writing on your computer and printing out your drafts as you go, print a brief synopsis and paste it to that chapter's folder.

You'll find this also helps break up the writing monotony. You're still working on your novel. You're just not hammering away on those keys at the moment.

Looseleaf Notebooks

A majority of writers would refuse to leave the house if they couldn't bring their notebooks with them. For this reason, many writers choose to organize their stories within their notebooks.

Keeping all of your material together is one thing but some writers take this option further. Consider purchasing a notebook with several different subject dividers. You can break your novel into sections for easier organization.

Another way to maximize the use of your notebook is by ripping it up. That's right.

After all of your scenes are completed in your notebook, tear out the pages. Arrange the scenes any way you want.

Be sure to label the individual scenes at the top of the page. That way, you'll be able to quickly analyze proper placement of every scene.

Quick Tip on Three-Ring Binders
Keep a three-ring binder for each of your writing projects so this short story doesn't get mixed in with that mystery novel.
Three-Ring Binders
A best friend to many writers is the three-ring binder. You can store all of your research materials as well as every bit of your writing.

This three-ring binder should be your buddy, even traveling to the many different places you like to go. So make it a fun, creative project.

You can purchase a color binder or even of those that displays a document on the front cover. What a great place to put a homemade version of your future book jacket!

You could even find a picture of someone who looks like your main character and place it on the front cover as well. Anything to personalize your binder the way you want to.

Take your organization even further. Buy colored tab dividers. Use these to separate sections within your binder.

Sample section titles you can use include:

  • Physical Appearance
  • Scenes
  • Traits and Habits
  • Dialogue/Phrases
  • Names
  • Professions
  • Research

Customize your own three-ring binder to fit into your personal preferences. Once again, keep everything related to your writing project in your binder.


Another great tool for organizing your plot is through flowcharts. Some scenes can really make you stumble. You can't decide exactly what the outcome will be and that can really hang a writer up.

Flowcharts not only help you organize your entire plot, you can also create alternate outcomes to see how that would affect the overall story. You can then evaluate the flow of the story based on both scenarios.

Using the same scene in the previous example, a flowchart with several possible outcomes might look like this.

This flowchart was designed using SmartDraw flowchart software. The company offers a free, 30-day trial version of the complete software package.

Download the 239-page manual if you want. But this flowchart software is extremely easy to use without it. You'll be up and running in a matter of minutes. In addition, SmartDraw is also equipped to make forms, timelines, maps and floor plans you can use for your writing venture.

There are a wide variety of shapes, colors and fonts available within the software. And when you're ready, you can even print your flowchart.

If you want to keep the software after 30 days, you'll have to order a copy from SmartDraw's Web site. The manufacturer used to offer the software for $49 but the latest edition, as of this writing, will cost around $200 USD.

Patton & Patton Software Corporation offers flowchart software as well. A free, 30-day trial version is also offered for this software, known as Flowcharting PDQ. If you want to buy it after that, you'll have to part with about $150 USD.

Writing Software
Whether you enjoy writing on your computer or prefer the connection of pen to paper, writing software can be a valuable asset. Most programs allow you to print out your work so you're not bound to your computer if you don't want to be.

Take Writer's Blocks software, for instance. Authors like Wes Craven and William Diehl use this package.

The program works in a similar fashion to index cards and even flowcharting. You can give "blocks" different colors and type your scene information or other important notes. If you want to move them around, just cut and paste them wherever you want in the story.

Highlight blocks that pertain to each other and you'll be able to analyze the structure and pacing of your story. Visually linking related scenes is also an advantage of using Writer's Blocks.

A free, 30-day trial is also available for this software so you can evaluate the product risk free. If you decide you'd like to keep Writer's Blocks on your computer, you'll pay about $150 USD for the actual software.

Say you're typing along and you suddenly realize your main character is actually a cold-hearted womanizer. Rough Draft allows you to type notes right in the margin. When you come back for revisions, there's your reminder to draw out those character traits in your writing.

This software is completely free and works wonderfully for every type of writer. Special modes are available to accommodate novelists, screenwriters and playwrights.

When you're ready to submit your manuscript, this software will generate a cover page with word and page counts for added convenience.

Say you're typing along and you suddenly realize your main character is actually a cold-hearted womanizer. Rough Draft allows you to type notes right in the margin. When you come back for revisions, there's your reminder to draw out those character traits in your writing.

This software is completely free and works wonderfully for every type of writer. Special modes are available to accommodate novelists, screenwriters and playwrights.

When you're ready to submit your manuscript, this software will generate a cover page with word and page counts for added convenience.

Complete screenshots and download information are available from software creator Richard Salsbury's Web site.

ScriptPerfection Enterprises offers a really unique writing software package called Power Structure. Examine your story/theme view as well as an interesting view of your characters. Characteristics like desires, goals, faults and physical traits are just a few of the areas to help flesh out your cast.

See how conflict is moving along throughout your plot using Power Structure's graphical interpretation. Watch how the conflict you've injected evolves, peaks and is resolved.

Download the free trial version to test drive this package. All of the same features of the $199 Power Structure are available with the exception of the thesaurus and limitations on file size.

Part 3 of this special series takes a look at the paper factor. Sharpen your pencils and get ready to see a completely new resource of organizational tools.


Your Computer
Hard drives are packed with more gigabytes of storage than most of us will ever need. So use your computer to organize your story.

Create new folders for each chapter. Just like you would do with paper folders. Place all of your computer files relating to that chapter in its respective folder.

CAUTION - A word to the wise
Back up every single file or print out a hard copy as you go.

CD-writers are very affordable and you can take your CD anywhere you are for convenience. Of course, you can look at files on your CD from any computer with a CD-Rom drive. But if you're altering the file, you won't be able to save the new version on your CD unless the computer has a CD-Writer.

Zip drives are highly recommended for quick storage of all sorts of files. The price has come down considerably since it was first introduced. Most zip drives have more than enough for your entire novel.

Flash drives
are super-portable and are even offered inside pens now. They're also very affordable so you can take your novel with you anywhere you go. When you're ready to work on your novel, put your flash drive into your USB port and there are all your writing files.

Organization doesn't have to stop your story before it even gets started. Adapt any of these methods to your own personal needs and you're well on your way to completing the next bestseller.

Apryl Duncan is the founder of FictionAddiction.NET. She's also an author, freelance writer and workshop instructor with more than 15 years experience writing professionally. Her work has been published worldwide and has been translated into nine different languages.

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