Developing the plotline

This is my second post in the How I work series. In the first post I talked about how I developed ideas. it was a fairly haphazard process but my post it notes do start to resemble ideas for scenes and characters after a while. Now is the time to organise them into a storyline. I use a very simple manual method to construct my plot line. It looks like this.

Timeline of scenes

On one wall of my writing room I’ve stuck some plain lining paper. This is my story timeline from left to right. The two blue vertical bars divide the story into three acts. By the end of act one there must be a trigger that compels my protagonist to act. The call to action must be irresistible even though he/she (and sometimes me) are not sure what they should be doing. By the second blue line the momentum of events must be unstoppable and lead inevitably to the conclusion. Between the two blue lines the second act contains a number of gains and reversals of fortune during which it is by no means certain that my protagonist will succeed. I’m talking here specifically about the format for my crime thrillers although the principle of irresistible action and inevitable conclusion are pretty much genre agnostic and provide the engine for most of my work.
The yellow post it notes contain scene summaries.  Some scene summaries may already be sketched in outline. Some may just be place holders for scenes to be written. The purpose of this timeline is to give me a roadmap for the story. Where it starts and finishes and the highs and lows of the terrain it covers. I find this helps to focus my writing and keep me from getting lost.For each of these scenes I try and get an overview before I start writing. I try to answer some questions.

  • Who is in this scene?
  • Where are they?
  • What are they doing?
  • What is the conflict in this scene?
  • What is my hook to get you to read the next one?

Then I’m ready to start writing.

It would be a lie to say everything is so neatly prepared before I start. Often I get an idea for a action scene or a piece of dialogue between two characters and the ideas are flowing so well I just have to write it out, there and then. It helps if one of these bits of inspiration is for a key scene, either the prologue; the trigger that compels the protagonist to act; the action that leads to the conclusion or the epilogue. These are my way points on which the rest of the story hangs. They do not need to be written in order and it is often better to start at the end and work back in a first draft.  The crime thriller genre is very much plot driven so I don’t have a problem diving into the action with characters and locations very loosely sketched or in some cases with no details.

By the way the pink post it notes are reminders for characters, locations and technical props I need to flesh out.It is good to have these in eye shot as I write so I can avoid giving the same character different names or spellings as I get stuck into the detail.


As I write the story the time line gets added to, edited and amended as the words come. The yellow post it notes get a mass of felt tip marks that tell me which draft of the scene I am in and what remains to be done. The timeline is a simple visual way to chart my progress and to make sure the story still hangs together as I add the detail. I can still move scenes around and add emphasis to different sections. I can also check that my scenes which trigger the transition between acts are still strong enough once the detail had been added. Sometimes these get rewritten as well. The Scrivener writing software I use stores my book as individual scenes and allows me to move the text around as easily as moving the post it notes so trying out new plot lines is no hardship.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Well that’s the planning method I’ve evolved over four books. It’s not very sophisticated but it allows me to move from ideas to scenes to plot fairly easily. If you are stuck for how to start I would recommend it.

I would be happy to hear from anyone who uses a similar method for plotting their stories or indeed any radical alternatives.