On Plotting (Downloadable Plotting Doc Attached!)

There are a thousand-and-one ways to plot. To write. To draft and edit and tell stories. I’ll be the first to jump on the no-way-is-the-right-way train, that all ways are valid. In fact, I’ll argue that the way I write now isn’t the way I’ve written before and is not the way I’ll write later. It will always be in flux, and I think this is healthy! It allows for growth and change.

Being aware of the above has meant that over the years, I read craft books and explored techniques on plotting (I’m a reformed pantser), and through it all I’ve taken notes to refer to later and to share with friends. A few weeks back while on a writing hiatus, I started to combine those notes into a Google Doc, which turned into a fill-in-the-blank doc for myself for future works, which turned into a question of, “Huh, why on earth don’t I make this available to others?”

So, if you’re curious about my process, please check it out! I would like to emphasize that nothing you see in it is set in stone. I’m not arguing that this is how you should plot or draft or edit, it’s simply a few things I like to keep in mind when I write. I’ve found that drafting often often includes the willingness to forget certain elements now, and the necessity of remembering them later. This doc is one way I’ll help myself to remember elements for later. I very much hope you find it helpful! Please feel free to download it and use it in whatever way you’d like.

Without further ado, here’s my Plotting Overview doc, as well as an EXAMPLE Plotting Overview doc of how one might use it (I’ve used the book example HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE).

Cheers for your writing! Whatever you’re working on, may the writing-gods provide you with a day of joy.

Tips on Query Writing

I critique a lot of queries. Query writing is relatively easy to learn and hone, and it’s one I’ve enjoyed working on over the years. Though I have an agent, I still write a query-pitch for all of my manuscripts. It helps focus me while drafting and revising, and what’s especially cool, is if you write a particularly good query…your agent might use part (or all!) of it in submissions to editors.

While critiquing queries, I’ve noticed there are similar mistakes people seem to make. This post is designed to address some of them.

*It should be noted that the best query advice (IMO) is Lauren Spiellers’s Query Checklist. I use a verysimilar format below for my query suggestions. Please go check her post out! (She knows more than I do, because she’s…you know, a really good agent.)*

A few notes:
-I typically work with fiction queries for MG, YA, and A categories. This post doesn’t address queries that are specific to PBs, memoirs, or nonfiction books.
-I suggest below a pitch that’s broken into two parts, though I’ve often seen (and have used!) a three-part pitch.
-Place all titles (yours & comparison novels) in capital letters.
-Be wary of introducing too many characters.
-Be wary of listing things that happen (ie: Red Riding Hood must trick the wolf, save her granny, and not stray from the path…). This is telling and would be much more interesting if “shown” in longer form in the query itself.
-Be wary of getting “fancy”. Plain writing and sticking to the regular query format often works best.
-Keep the entirety of the query to around 250-400 words total (350 is a better max, truthfully).

1. Intro

Include: one agent with correctly spelled name & why you’re querying them. This paragraph is not always necessary. Jumping straight into the pitch is a good choice too. I believe Query Shark suggests this.

Some phrases that might be helpful in this paragraph:
“I understand from your website/Manuscript Wish List/Twitter that are interested in XXX, so I am excited to share my manuscript, TITLE, with you.”

2. 1st Half of Pitch

Include: main character’s name, normal life, deepest hopes, and inciting incident. The inciting incident is the event that kicks off your story and main conflict, ex: “Craving freedom (deepest hopes/needs) from her tedious chore-driven life (normal life), Red Riding Hood balks when her mother sends her to Granny’s house” and “testing the limits of her mother’s reach, Red Riding Hood strays from the path.”

Some phrases that might be helpful in this paragraph:

If you need help with the inciting incident sentence (“But…when…” sentences work well): “But when [exciting/terrible thing] happens, MC must [do something exciting/terrible that launches them into the story].” Ex: “But when Red Riding Hood strays from the path, she comes face-to-face with the legendary, terrifying Wolf.”

3. 2nd Half of Pitch

Include: “meat” conflict, aka: the main conflict your MC deals with; any other major characters; and stakes, aka: what horrible thing will happen if the MC doesn’t achieve their goal.

Some phrases that might be helpful in this paragraph:

If you need help with the stakes sentence (“If…then…” sentences work well): “If [MC cannot defeat/win goal], then [awful thing that will happen].” Ex: “If Red Riding Hood cannot defeat the Wolf, Granny won’t be the only one to perish.”

Also in terms of stakes, do keep them relevant to character arc to ensure that they are impactful—that it impacts more than just plot. One way to do this is to look back at your “inciting incident” sentence and the “deepest hopes/needs” sentence (Red craves freedom & strays from the path because of it, wherein she meets the Wolf) and make sure that your stakes is tied back to that (“Red must stop the Wolf or risk the destruction of everything she holds dear–her granny and any chance at freedom.”)

4. Book Details

Include: category, genre, word count, comparison novels, and other book details

Some phrases that might be helpful in this paragraph:

If you need help including book details succinctly: “Complete at xx,000 words, TITLE is a CATEGORY & GENRE novel that will appeal to readers of COMPARISON NOVEL and SECOND COMPARISON NOVEL.” [Note: Comparison novels are important; they show you’ve done your research and know the category and genre you’re writing in.]

If your book has series potential: “Complete at xx,000 words, TITLE is a standalone novel with series potential.”

If you write from multiple points-of-view: “Told from multiple points-of-view, TITLE is complete at xx,000 words.” OR “Told from xx and xx’s points-of-view, TITLE is…”

5. Bio

Include: publishing details and what you do besides writing (job, hobbies, etc). If you don’t have any publishing details, that’s okay! Don’t get too bogged down here. The most important part of your query is the pitch for your book. Feel free to add something short and fun. Ie: “When not writing, I can be found crocheting bookmarks and concocting magical stews.”

Some phrases that might be helpful in this paragraph:

If you are seeing new agent-representation: “After an amicable split with my previous agent, I am currently seeking new representation.”

6. Sign off

Be kind. Be courteous. Remember the agent you’re querying is flooded with work. They’re incredible human beings who deserve our respect. Include in the sign off what you’ve attached in the query showing that you’ve done your research. Agents can request a few pages attached IN THE BODY OF THE EMAIL to specific page amounts as an attachment, to the entire manuscript. They could also request synopsis. Be prepared for a variety and please follow their guidelines!

Some phrases that might be helpful in this paragraph:

“Per your submission guidelines, I’ve included XXX of my manuscript below, as well as XXX. Thank you for your time and consideration.”

2017 Book Survey

I saw this neat book survey over on Lacee Little’s tumblr (though it originated over on Perpetual Page Turner) and had to give it a try.

2017 Book Survey (I tried hard to keep from cheating, but be forewarned, I couldn’t stick to just one book on some of these. Also, most of the titles listed here are Middle Grade :)

Number Of Books You Read: 58

Number of Re-Reads: 0 (this might be the first year in a long while that I haven’t re-read either Howl’s Moving Castle or The Thief!)

Genre You Read The Most From: Middle Grade Fantasy

1. Best Book You Read In 2017? Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi; Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge; The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman (Best THREE! I don’t even care. I can’t choose.)

 2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t? Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read? Cuckoo Song–in a good way!

4. Book you “pushed” the most people to read (and they did)? Everything Frances Hardinge

5. Best series you started? Stoker & Holmes by Colleen Gleason (YA title)
Best Sequel? Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner (cheating, I know. This isn’t a sequel but a series continuation)
Best Series Ender? The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen

6. Favorite new author you discovered? Frances Hardinge (I’m sure this list will clearly show my adoration of Hardinge, but truly, 2017 will forever be marked as the year I discovered her writing. I highly suggest picking up her work! She writes dark, evocative stories that look like they should be fairy tales, except you’re peering at them through broken glass. The Lie Tree is an excellent first book of hers to try out!)

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone? Hmm, I don’t think I read anything out of genre, this year! I’ll have to work on that in 2018.

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year? The Book of Wonders by Jasmine Richards

9. Book You Read That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year? Cuckoo Song

10. Favorite cover? Furthermore

11. Most memorable character? Theodosia from Theodosia by RL LaFevers

12. Most beautifully written book? Furthermore

13. Most thought-provoking/ life-changing book? Furthermore

14. Book you can’t believe you waited until 2017 to finally read? Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

15. Favorite Passage/Quote? “Narrow-mindedness will only get you as far as Nowhere, and once you’re there, you’re lost forever.” –Furthermore

16.Shortest & Longest Book? I…have no idea. I read most books on my kindle and rarely pay attention to length!

17. Book That Shocked You The Most? The Lie Tree

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)? Evaline and Pix from Stoker & Holmes

19. Favorite non-romantic relationship of the year? The sister-relationship between Triss and Pen in Cuckoo Song

20. Favorite book you read from an author you’ve read previously? Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin

21. Best book you read in 2017 that you read based solely on a recommendation from somebody else/peer pressure? Greenglass House by Kate Milford (Thanks, Lacee!!)

22. Newest fictional crush? I’ll say…renewed admiration of Jaron from The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen

23. Best 2017 debut you read? I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t read any debuts. But I have a few already planned for 2018!

24. Best worldbuilding/most vivid setting you read this year? Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

25. Book that put a smile on your face/was the most fun to read? The Boy at the End of the World by Greg Van Eekhout

26. Book that made you cry or nearly cry? Ghost by Jason Reynolds. I couldn’t handle how breathtaking the ending pages were.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year? The Boy at the End of the World

28. Book that crushed your soul? How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle. This book devastated me.

29. Most Unique Book? The Boy at the End of the World

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)? Nothing! I stayed anger-free this year!

#PitchWars 2017 Wish list

Hello! If you’re looking for my #PitchWars 2017 wish list, please head on over to Allison Ziegler’s blog. We co-mentored this year as #TeamBadPrincess.

Thank you!

Interview with #PitchWars 2016 Mentee, Lacee Little

Another year has flown by and we’re heading into my fourth year with #PitchWars (ahhhh!). This year is going to be an extra spacial year, because I am co-mentoring with the extraordinary Allison Ziegler. We’ll announce our 2017 wishlist soon enough, but for now, I have a post about my indomitable 2016 mentee, Lacee Little, and her experience with PW!
Lacee Little’s manuscript, AN IMPOSSIBLE MAGIC, is honestly one of the more creative, adventurous, and surprising historical fantasies I’ve read in recent years. Her query and pitch snatched up my heart immediately when I read it during the 2016 submission process. She turned out to be an absolute joy to work with, and over the course of two months, she was miraculously patient and hard-working while we made her MS shine. She’s become one of my dearest writing friends in the past year (#PitchWars can be a blessing in many different ways!), and I am eternally grateful to have a friend whose undying love for Diana Wynne Jones matches my own <3
Read below for Lacee’s thoughts on Pitc.h Wars 2016 and what it was like to work closely with me in preparation for the agent round (umm, have I mentioned yet that the girl garnered 24 agent requests during the agent round? It was an absolute whirlwind)! Also, if you’d like to read the interview with my 2014 mentee and alternate go here, or the interview with my 2015 mentee go here (eh em, this lady–Julie Artz–is a mentor this year, too!).
Me: There are a few parts to PitchWars, the first of which was deciding which mentors you wanted to submit to. How did you decide who to send to?
Lacee:  I treated it very similar to looking for an agent. Mostly I looked at the MG mentors’ wishlists, and what books they enjoyed, and found the ones that closest matched my MS. Also with you, I had followed you on twitter since 2015 PW, and I really thought you seemed like an enjoyable and encouraging person to work with.
[Me: Lacee was an alternate in PW2015 which is what she's referring to above!]
Me: For the 2017 PitchWars hopefuls, what was it like to have me as your mentor? (Feel free to be honest :P)
Lacee: The best ever!!! Seriously though, my answer is “Beyond my wildest dreams,” and I really mean it. I did not expect such detailed attention, encouragement, and just general helpfulness. Instead of just offering feedback, you talked things through with me, too, which helped accelerate the revision process.
[Me *blushes furiously* Really though, the feeling is mutual!]
Me: What was your overall experience with the editing/revising process? Was there a certain part that was particularly difficult or rewarding?
Lacee: This was actually my best revising ever, I think. It certainly was the most enjoyable. Usually I revise extensively, then send to a CP, then revise a ton more, and send to a CP. It takes months. This time, I feel it was so much more collaborative, which I loved! I discussed ideas with so many people in the MIDST of revisions, and had people look over stuff before I’d completely “polished” it, which I’d never done before. Plus, I had more people read over and critique my MS than I’d ever had before, and I loved getting so many expert opinions. It was really interesting to see how everyone notices different aspects that need help.
Me: Were there any parts of PitchWars that you were surprised at? Submissions? Edits? The agent round?
Lacee: Like I said above, I was surprised how much support you gave me! I honestly did not count on such generosity! Also, I was very surprised by the community. Last year [in 2015] I was a last minute addition, so I wasn’t on the facebook group. It was such an essential part of my PW experience this year, not to mention the support from other mentors, and your past mentees. It totally felt like being adopted into a tribe/family, which I definitely hadn’t expected!
Me: If you could choose to do PitchWars all over again, would you? Why?
Lacee: Honestly, I would feel a bit greedy since it would be my 3rd time. ;) But hypothetically, for sure. I would encourage anyone to participate. I have yet to find an opportunity for better community and mentorship, and Pitch Wars handles things so professionally. It’s the best ‘writers helping writers’ organization I’ve ever seen!
If you’re interested in finding Lacee over on twitter, you can find here; she really is a remarkable writer and friend, and I know she’d love to say hello!