My Plotting Process: Making a Concept into a Story

by | 5 October 2018 | Writing | 16 comments

National Novel Writing Month (more commonly dubbed ‘NaNoWriMo’) is coming up in just a few weeks, so I thought it would be a fun time to take a peek into a bit of my novelling process.

Every time I write a book, I use a slightly different process, because I like trying new things, but this is a basic outline of what I do every time. 😛


The Idea

This is actually the part that I struggle with the most, actually. I have ideas jumping around in my head, begging to be written, but I can only write one at a time! It’s heartbreaking.

Normally when I get an idea, I make a pinterest board so I can keep track of the aesthetic and general concept, so when I pick an idea, I normally have a small concept storyboard to start from.

Things that I take into account when picking a story:

  • Do I know enough about it to be able to sufficiently prepare in the amount of time I have until I want to be writing it?
  • What is the genre and have I just been writing in that same genre?
  • Do I get excited and inspired when I think about writing this story?



At this point, I know the idea, the genre, the narrator (my story ideas normally come with a main character). I don’t normally sit down and start smashing at some plot ideas right away, instead I start turning the idea over in my head.

I think about it in the shower, while eating lunch, when I should be writing a blog post. Often in this stage, I don’t actually write many things down. It’s just all vague ideas and ‘what if’ questions. The story and world and characters start growing inside my head, but it’s still blurry and not set in stone.


Hardcore Brainstorming 2.0

Some people like to use snazzy online programs and methods for plotting, but I always do my plotting in a notebook. I’ve always found that sitting down with an actual pen and actual paper helps me to sort my thoughts out better.

I flip open the first page, and start writing down whatever ideas I have. For example: when planning last year’s NaNo novel Powerless I started by jotting down a list of random important things about the story concept and the characters.

A ‘utopia’ plan to have superheroes to protect people, but gone bad when all the heroes turn into super-villains for ‘no clear explainable reason.’

Megan Rosso (17-18 ish) is a ninja. Ground-based street crime-fighter. Has a dozen or so siblings

As I continue writing down these ideas, the ideas start connecting. What if Megan’s brother was one of the superheroes? What if Dylan was really obsessed with superhero comic books?

Sometimes I get a brainstorm buddy (shoutout to Katie Grace for helping me with Powerless) and we just throw out all the random ideas and possibilities.


Developing Characters

I love developing characters, okay? It’s one of my favourite writing things EVER.

At some point during the brainstorming process, I make a sort of character profile for the main characters. I list their age, height, occupation, a physical description, personality, what they wear, what skills they have, and what their backstory is. The less important the character is, the more brief the description.



This is where I make up names and inventions and cultures. All of these get jotted into the notebook in a simple dot-point list.

This is also the point where I get distracted making aesthetic collages. Actually no, I do that through the entire process. 😂


Theme! Character arcs!

For someone who is absolutely obsessed with theme and character arcs, I don’t often do a lot of hardcore planning for these. Just like my concept ideas normally come with characters, when I’m developing my characters and working out their personality…their character arc normally comes to me then, because it’s such an integral part of them as a person.

I jot down the ideas of the theme and what the focusing question might be, sometimes it’s more developed than other times, but I don’t actually do a lot of in-depth planning. The theme normally develops itself as I write the story, because of the structure I use for plotting. More on that below!


Three Act Plot Structure

I did this for my most recent novel, and I definitely plan to do it again for NaNo. I planned out the entire novel using the three act plot structure (if you don’t know what this structure is, duck over to this post from K.M. Weiland). This meant that before I knew the chapter-size details of the story, I knew the most important scenes.

At each of these important plot moments, was an important theme moment. The characteristic moment shows the readers what belief the main character has and why that makes him act how he does. Farther along, the 1st major test is where that belief is suddenly rocked and the character’s world view starts getting wobbly. The midpoint is the moment that the character chooses to try this new belief. And it just continues on. For every single plot point, there is an even more important theme point. 😉


Chapter-by-Chapter Plot

Now that I have the skeleton of the story, I knuckle down and write the rest of the plot, starting right from the beginning.

Sometimes I’ve just jotted down all the random ideas and scenes that I want to have happen in the book before I do the full plot, but that varies from book to book.

This stage isn’t anything fancy or professional. It’s just another bullet point list. Here’s an example of the first two points from Powerless again.

Megan searching for info about the downfall of the Heroes. Newspaper, watching newsboards, researching everywhere she can. Gets kicked out of the library because she picked the lock and got into some restricted papers.

Dylan comes home from school. Bullies. Megan intervenes and escorts him home. Is interested that his dad is the big important dude who was part of the Hero society.

That’s the rough description of the first two chapters. It’s loose and very flexible because there’s no details at all, but I like to have a certain freedom with my first drafts.

After I have a chapter-by-chapter list, I’m ready to get writing!



So after all this, you might be wondering if I’m plotting for my NaNo novel. The answer: hahaha. No. 🙈 I’m still editing away, but I’ll hopefully be able to start plotting in a week or two. How about you?


What’s your plotting process? Do you like to have a 1000% detailed plot, or have the freedom of being able to wing it, even just a little bit? Chat with me!

Jane Maree

Jane Maree

Jane Maree is an Australian writer, adventurer at heart, beloved daughter of the King of Kings, and believer in at least six impossible things before breakfast. Raised on fairy tales, scraped knees, and makeshift swords, she has yet to outgrow any of them. In her day job, Jane teaches music and freelances as an editor, but by night she crafts daring stories of broken heroes overcoming extraordinary odds.


  1. Kendra Lynne @ The Wanderling

    *bookmarks this post* This was so helpful! I love plotting and developing my characters, but one of my worst faults is getting distracted easily (by just about anything). I find it hard to buckle down and focus on a story idea when my head is buzzing with a million other things as well. XD

    By the way, your story that you were using as an example sounds really, REALLY cool. 😉

    • Jane Maree

      Aw I’m so glad!

      I’ve found that brainstorming buddies really help me to focus when I’m that way. It’s a bit of accountability and some added inspiration in there that’s absolutely amazing. Definitely recommend brainstorming buddies. 😉

      Awk, thank you! It’s one of my favourites out of the novels I’ve written so far. ☺

  2. Nora Sanders

    My plotting process is actually quite similar to yours (oh would ya look at that? A coinkidink *finger guns* 😛 )

    • Jane Maree

      Ahh, that’s epic! *fistbumps*

  3. MiddleEarthMusician

    OOoOoOh, PLOTTING!!! This was really helpful to me, since I tend not to plot things…at all…(but I really should)…XD I am hoping to do Nanowrimo this year!!! 😀 It sounds awesome. 🙂 Powerless…I want to read that so bad!!! Can’t wait to hear about your Nanowrimo novel! ;-D

    • Jane Maree

      Yes! Plotting! 😛

      Ooh, that’s so cool! I hope NaNo is a heap of fun for you. I’ll be stalking your account and sending all the pizza and confetti your way. 😀

  4. Buddy J.

    Oh fun! I don’t think I’ll do NaNoWriMo, but probably a few word sprints.

    So… you talk about outlining before you start writing:

    I personally don’t like outlining… At least on the first draft. Right now I’m about halfway through my WIP’s first draft, and thinking about how I might outline it in revision/second draft.

    Just to get the perspective of someone who is not a panster… why is outlining important to you? Because for me, the process will come far more smoothly if I don’t try to preset the plot.

    • Jane Maree

      Word sprints are so much fun! They’re one of the best ways to get me writing decently. 😛

      Ah, the topic of panster vs plotster. Thanks for asking!

      I outline (very loosely) because if I don’t nail down an actual plot, my first draft has no direction, no real depth, and it probably doesn’t even have good story structure. I would have to then outline for my second draft and rewrite every single word and scene and the story would almost be unrecognisable because the first draft was so trashy.

      Because of that, I simply skip that first stage, and start with a loose outline from the get-go. That makes my first draft at least a tiny bit presentable, and means that I don’t have to put as much work into my edits and the story doesn’t have to go through quite as many different drafts.

      Some people like to thoroughly outline right down to the scene details, but I like to have a bit of freedom. I just nail down the basic plot and what the main goal of each chapter is (this eliminates useless chapters that don’t advance the character and/or plot) and I let the smaller details take care of themselves while writing.

      Does that make sense?

  5. Jenna

    I like this post! A look into the writing mind of Jane 😉

    • Jane Maree

      Haha yep. It was about time to take another peek again. 😜

  6. Lilian Shen

    As a reader and not a writer, this is really interesting to read, Jane! I always love reading what writers’ processes are as they write books, so thank you for sharing. <3

    Lilian | co-founder of Stellae Books:
    main blog:

    • Jane Maree

      That’s so cool! I’m glad this was an interesting little sneak peak for you. 😉

  7. J.A.Penrose

    Ooooooh yup. This sounds familiar. *nodnod*

    All the way for loose plotting!

    • Jane Maree

      Loose plotting is the best! *fistbump* It’s got structure and creative freedom at the same time. Win-win! 😛

  8. Molly

    Very good post! I’m not sure about the way I plot, as I’ve never written a novel with all-on-my-own plotting, having used One Year Adventure Novel for the one that I finished. I think I like going somewhere in the middle, leaving room for new stuff but not completely winging it.

    I’ve been thinking about doing NaNoWriMo, too! 🙂

    • Jane Maree

      Thank you! One Year Adventure Novel lays down a great base idea for where to start with plotting. I definitely grew my style from that too. 😀

      So cool! Have you done it before, or would this be your first time?

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