Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Your Hobo Sack of Writing Tricks

"Are you a plotter, or a pantser?" 

This question, heard at writers gatherings 'round the world, is the author's version of "Hey baby, what's your sign?" It's how writers get to know each other, how we find compatible associates, maybe even learn a few secrets.

For those not familiar with the terms, "plotters" are authors who like to plot out their books before they sit down to write. "Pantsers" are the opposite: they like to fly by the seat of their pants, just get in there and start writing.

But, whatever category we fall into (and even when we defy categorization), we all have our bag of tricks: those little tidbits we pick up on the way and tuck into our hobo sacks, in case we need them on our writing journeys. Whether we use them or not, it's always good to know they're there.

So, without further ado, I'd like to open up my personal hobo sack and let you take a peek inside: 

Also known as "Save the Cat," Blake Snyder's beat sheet originated as a tool for screenwriting. Using the basic three-act structure, Snyder breaks down this time-honored pattern of storytelling into manageable "beats" that most stories (especially films) usually hit to achieve resonance with the reader (or viewer). This post, by Tim Stout, does an excellent job of explaining the beats, and how they work together to create a satisfying story experience.

Romance writing is a very specific kind of storytelling, and crafting a good romance is hard work. Of course, writing of any kind is a challenge. But to tell a believable love story within the bounds of 250 or so pages, often creating an external plot around which the romance grows, and maintaining tension when everybody knows that the guy and gal will be together in the end? Well, that takes real skill.
Thank goodness for paranormal author Jami Gold, who created this Romance Planning Beat Sheet. Taking the basic structure of Blake Snyder's beat sheet (along with other writing tools she credits on her site), Jami has created a template that deals specifically with the evolution of the romantic relationship in your story. And even better, she provides a downloadable spreadsheet that will help you figure out at what point in your story each of these beats should strike. It's an amazing tool. Thanks, Jami!

Hero's Journey

The term "hero's journey" as it relates to fiction was first introduced in 1949 by Joseph Campbell. This series of seventeen steps is especially interesting because it's essentially the place where characterization meets plot. Regardless of who your hero is, or where his adventure takes him, most heroes will pass through very specific phases of development, both internally and externally. Fascinating stuff!

Heroine's Journey 

And let's not forget the ladies! Heroines, just like heroes, have their own mountains to climb and rivers to cross. Laurie Schnebly Campbell did an online workshop about this very subject. Even though I'm not sure or if Laurie plans to do this workshop again, I wanted to share the link with you so you can check it out. And for a list of Laurie's upcoming workshops, email her at LaurieClass-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

3 Acts, 9 Blocks, 27 Chapters

For writers who reeeeeally like to plot, here is a tool that I just tried recently. It breaks your story down into twenty-seven chapters, each touching on a specific phase of story development... and that's pretty much your whole book! It's a really good exercise that made me seriously think about how my story was going to get from the beginning to "the end."

The author even made a YouTube video, which you can check out here:

So, come on, let's see inside that spotted kerchief you carry on a stick over your shoulder! What kind of writing tricks and tips have you picked up along the way?


  1. This is a FANTASTIC list of helpful info. Love it! Also, Misha, I'm digging your Hobo Sack of Writing Tricks metaphor.

    I have Jami's website book marked, love the subtle differences between the Heroine's and the Hero's Journey and still kind of cringe when I think about plotting beforehand Even Though I Really Want to be a Plotter.

  2. Wow! What a great arsenal of information, Misha. Thanks for sharing your plotting secrets with us. What a great reference guide for those determined to figure out plotting. Nudge, nudge ... you know who you are. ;0) Yes, I'm a plan-ster, and proud of it. I plan certain aspects then wing it. I know the high points and I write to them. Yet, I'm always looking for a good explanation for my intuitive journey. Thanks again, Misha. Great post. ;0)

  3. Timely, as I'm stuck AND I'll be plotting another one soon. Wonderful tips. Thanks, ladies.

  4. I love this! What a keeper. Great post Misha!

  5. Keely - So glad you liked the list, AND the metaphor! Yes, Jami's website is a wealth of information. Good luck with adding a little plotting to your pantsing! :-)

  6. Mackenzie - Yes, I'm kind of with you on the plan-ster thing. Little plotting, little pantsing... the best of both worlds. :-) So glad you liked the post!

  7. Michelle - how cool that the info came right around the time you needed it. Love it when that happens! Best of luck with your next project, and thanks for your comment!:-)

  8. Denny - thanks a bunch! Hope it sparks some beautiful ideas for you. Thanks so much for your comment! :-)

  9. Thanks so much for the shout out to my blog and Romance Beat Sheet! I'm happy to help. :)

    1. It was my pleasure, Jami! Your beat sheet is a great tool and I use it all the time! :-) (And sorry I missed your comment, lol.)