How To Plot a Novel–Tips For the Disorganized Writer From Author Ann Miller

Almost every writer I know uses a different approach to writing their novel. The methods writer’s use are as unique as the individuals.

Today, Young adult author and guest blogger, Ann Lee Miller, is here to share what’s worked for her.

I wrote two novels without plotting. Backtracking to fix things as a result of ninth hour twists drove me crazy. I resisted outlining and plotting because I’m not naturally an organized, methodical person. But when editors praised my writing, yet rejected my books due to plot weaknesses, I had to learn some new tricks.

I tried Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake method (available free here) with my third novel because Randy clearly explains each step. I liked the method because it was a compromise between plotting and not plotting, but I ended up with a novel half the length I desired. I used Karen Wiesner’s First Draft in 30 Days to help me fatten up my story by weaving in more subplots. I found her method to be complex and tedious, but effective.

For my fourth novel I borrowed much from Weisner—completing all research and mapping out each scene in the book before starting to write—and ended up with 30,000 words in my detailed outline. While this type of plotting is arduous at best, I am completely satisfied with the result and intend to live out the rest of my writing days as a born-again plotter.

I also use Angela Hunt’s plot skeleton to insure each of my characters has hidden and obvious needs, an overarching goal, inciting incident, escalating conflict, climax, blackest moment, moment of decision, lesson learned, and resolution. [See diagram below.]


Anyone who shares my internal lack of order may benefit from imposing organization on their writing by outlining.

Here’s a blurb about Ann’s book:

Stuck in sleepy New Smyrna Beach one last summer, Raine socks away her camp pay checks, worries about her druggy brother, and ignores trouble: Cal Koomer. She’s a plane ticket away from teaching orphans in Africa, and not even Cal’s surfer six-pack and the chinks she spies in his rebel armor will derail her.

The artist in Cal begs to paint Raine’s ivory skin, high cheek bones, and internal sparklers behind her eyes, but falling for her would caterwaul him into his parents’ life. No thanks. The girl was self-righteous waiting to happen. Mom served sanctimony like vegetables, three servings a day, and he had a gut full.

Rec Director Drew taunts her with “Rainey” and calls her an enabler. He is so infernally there like a horsefly—till he buzzes back to his ex.

Raine’s brother tweaks. Her dream of Africa dies small deaths. Will she figure out what to fight for and what to free before it’s too late?

For anyone who’s ever wrestled with her dreams.

 To purchase Ann’s book click here.

Here’s a recent five star review of Ann’s novel, KICKING ETERNITY:
Ann Lee Miller’s Kicking Eternity has it all – real people, real Summer Camp and real Jesus followers. The kids are there, along with the teens and twenty somethings. Home schoolers and druggies. None of them stereotypes, in my opinion.
The relationship drama is real – not forced or trite.
I loved the feel of the special night campfires – been there, done that, and still blessed 40 years later. Very excited about the upcoming books, which look to be stories of some of the characters. Thanks Ann! 

If you’d like a chance to win a copy, please comment below:




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  1. Great post. Thanks for Angela’s diagram. I like the Snowflake, but probably use Susan May Warren’s Book Buddy more than anything else.

  2. Not sure that this is the correct way to submit something like this – nor if it is appropriate, but I’ll try anything once. I am being asked what started me with my writing. As I will tell anyone and everyone, it was actually what I consider to be the year that my life began. Not at birth. I had a wonderful childhood and life leading up to the present but I honestly feel that my life really did begin only a few years ago. I awoke one morning with an epiphany – suddenly realised that I had to get my late father’s book published. Dad finished writing it shortly before his death in 1993. For the next sixteen or so years it was passed between my three brothers and me, hoping that it might actually get published. When it landed in my hands for the umpteenth time I typed it up but really had no idea what to do after that. It was on the morning of one particular birthday that I KNEW I had to get it out – I still don’t know why (or how) but I am presuming that my mothers’s advancing age might have had something to do with it. Fit as a fiddle – or at least we thought she was. – but….. It was also then that I recognised my stumbling block – how do you publish a book? And that just might have put me off altogether had the memory of Dad’s passion for his writing, ancestry and the outback of Australia not kept at me. Then thinking about Mum and her pride in Dad’s efforts – that did it. Turning to good old Google I found a self-publisher that offered precisely what I was looking for. Full steam ahead. Dad’s book was published exactly a week after Mum died in 2010. Thus was the catalyst for my writing. It is in my blood and I am now following a lifelong dream of writing and publishing books. Next title off the rank was about bullying. Once that was out, I combined my writing with another life long passion, the outback of Australia.
    My book on the sheep and cattle stations of this wonderful nation is a work in progress.
    The sky’s the limit and life is great.
    Thank you.

  3. Robin McClure says:


    This is great! Thanks so much for sharing this. It’s very helpful. I love how clearly it lays out everything and how easy it is to follow. I tend towards pantsing, but I do like a little bit of outlining…

  4. Michelle R. Welsh says:

    Keeping it all organized is a hard job sometimes. Thanks for the outlining tip!

  5. Robin and Michelle,

    I’m glad the article helped.

    Keep on writing!

  6. Louis says:

    I, too, am trying to write a novel and have struggled with the plot. I think that plotting is a good thing, up until a point.

    That having been said, you lose the sponatanuity of what Stephen King says when he talks about “Writing down the bones.” He likens the process of writing to an archeological dig where you start the story and your own creativity takes over.

    Now, if you plot every little detail of the novel from start to finish, like Alfred Hitichcock when he would script a movie, then I think that some of the creative process suffers. Alfred Hitchcock would write out every little scene in great detail and then film it.

    So, the question remains, how do you write a tight, well crafted novel, with a great story line and all the elements necessary for a great story, and at the same time, not wind up with a jumbled, chaotic piece of junk which has to be revised several times, and one or two hundred pages surgically removed?

    So, we are back to an outline, but the question is, how detailed? Do we write every scene and every detail or do we just write a brief set up for the scene, such as “Man walks into a bar and confronts bikers” and leave it at that?
    Or another scene might be, “Mother or father gets the bad news from Molly that she flunked out of college.”
    My own view is that you are better off with a short out line and then fill in the details as you write it. This way, you keep the spontaneity of the creative process, but you also keep yourself on track as well.

    • Louis,
      You make a lot of points I’ve considered as well. I think my bottom-line reason for swimming upstream from my personality and writing a super detailed outline is that it’s so much easier to rewrite sections of an outline than sections of prose when my natural creativity kicks into overdrive.

  7. Emily says:

    Isn’t that funny…the main character in my WIP is called Rain.
    Anyway. I’ll make sure to check out the methods you mentioned. I’ve tried Snowflake before and I thought it was great but needed more.

    • Hi Emily!
      Thanks for stopping by to comment.
      I have a character in my YA novel called RAIN, too. She’s goth and buys artificial fangs.
      Hope to see you around here more.

    • Hey, Emily,

      It sounds like we’re on a similar writing path. I felt the same way about the Snowflake. Wow, it’s like baby names with all these Rains. Ha!

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