Plot is a Four-Letter Word

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Robin Lee HatcherBest-selling novelist Robin Lee Hatcher is known for her heartwarming and emotionally charged stories of faith, courage, and love. She is the author of over 70 novels & novellas. Her books have won numerous awards, including the RITA, IRCA, Christy, and Carol Awards. She and her husband make their home in Idaho where she enjoys spending time with her family, her high-maintenance Papillon, Poppet, and Princess Pinky, the DC (demon cat). To learn more, visit Robin’s web site and join her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

The word “plot,” for anyone who hasn’t noticed, is a four-letter word. That’s more or less how I feel about it. Writers who are more analytical thrive as they work out the plot before writing their books.

But I am an intuitive writer. I create from my gut. I write to discover what will happen next just as my readers read to discover what will happen next. I don’t know what will occur in chapter ten until I have written chapter nine.

I keep what is called a “rolling plot” or “rolling outline” notebook. When needed, I journal before beginning to write for that day, determining, based on what I wrote the previous day, what needs to be accomplished next. Sometimes, of course, I write down what needs to happen further in the future. I use a Circa notebook for the rolling plot of each book. Some pages are flagged and highlighted as I go along, knowing I will have to backtrack to some of my comments and thoughts.

While plotting causes me to break out in hives (I’m kidding, it isn’t quite that bad), I love to brainstorm. To me that is something different.

I love getting the ideas flowing. Any idea. All ideas. Never saying first, “No, that won’t work,” but saying, “Why would that work?” or “How could that work?” Once a year, I get together with other Christian authors to brainstorm novels. I get as much out of brainstorming books that my brainstorming buddies plan to write as I do out of brainstorming my own. I get inspired and excited about writing because of the shared enthusiasm.

Sad to say, I’ve had to brainstorm many projects on my own as I can’t always fly off to meet with other writers. Good thing it’s possible to brainstorm in the privacy of my own office when necessary. Not nearly as much fun but just as (almost as?) effective.

Mind mapping software can be helpful when it’s just me and my iMac as brainstorming partners. I used Inspiration 9 for a number of books, but what I use now is Scapple. It’s made by the same folks who created the best writing software around—Scrivener. I don’t open Scapple very often and am far from an expert in its use, but it’s great to have when I need to just throw ideas out to see what sticks.

As a writer, what are your favorite brainstorming tools?


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  1. Carrie Padgett says:

    Hi Robin! I have a weekly critique group that I’ll ask for ideas when I’m stuck. I often need help figuring out subplots and they’re a great resource for me. We sometimes take a day to focus on one particular member’s story and help him/her brainstorm some ideas.
    I’ve used some mind mapping software to help with ideas and just installed Scapple and am eager to use it. Thanks for posting.

  2. Love your books, Robyn, and I am so encouraged reading how you do not plot extensively. Sure trying not to envy those brainstorming sessions with other writers though.

  3. Have you tried The Writer’s Brainstorming Kit by Pam McCutcheon? Great fun with a group, but also workable for individual use.

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