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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Diagraming Your Plot: The Big Picture

I have a confession to make – unlike so many of my fellow Muffin bloggers, fiction intimidates me. I have ideas for fictional stories. But actually carrying them out? I can pull off the occasional picture book.

But, as I wrote about in “Putting Your Story Aside,” sometimes I come up with a story that is just too big for a picture book. I quickly realized that in this case the correct solution wasn’t going to be finding a way to shape my premise into a picture book. This time around the solution was going to be finding a different, longer form for the story.

Once I figured that out, I froze up. I needed to figure out my basic plot points. I knew that, but plot diagrams and I have a dicey relationship. All that scrolling from one screen to another or flipping pages is just distracting. And, NO, I can’t get enough information on one page.

I’m not sure why it took me several days to figure this out but eventually I hit on a solution. Years ago, I made a story board the size of a poster frame. That way I didn’t have to flip from page to page when I visually mapped out a picture book. If I could make a super-sized story board, surely I could make a larger-than-normal plot diagram.

Behold! The Big Picture Plot Diagram. In a former life, it was part of a foam core science fair board. I’m using one panel, approximately 1 foot by 3 feet. Then I stapled red yarn to mark the ¼ point and the ¾ point. Then I used black yarn to mark your basic plot line. It seems overly simple but after waffling for something like 10 days it helped me outline my book.

First, I outlined my mentor text on orange post-its. Remember, fiction intimidates me. Outlining a mentor text helped me put together various things I already knew and spot several problems with my original idea. I saw how to better introduce my characters and how the solution to the big problem has to come out of a flaw in one of their personalities. I know, I know. That’s the sort of advice that you read all the time, but outlining my mentor text let me see it.

Next I outlined my own book on green post-its. The great thing about post-it notes on a giant foam board was that when the tension failed to escalate correctly, I could easily move one chapter and insert another. No flipping back and forth. No cutting and scrolling and pasting. You just pick up a post-it and then put it down three inches farther along in the plot.

And I did it without any of page turns or screen scrolls that I find so distracting. Outlining both books took me two hours.

Maybe none of you have these problems.

Then again, maybe, just maybe, there is someone who is just as visual as I am and needs a highly visual, big picture solution. It may not slice, it may not dice, but the Big Picture Plot Diagram may still be just what you need.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins October 9th.


  1. Sue--I'm curious--in this case--what your mentor text is.

    Hey, whatever works for you. Obviously this does, and I'm sure there are other writers who need to hear this.

  2. I used the first Magic Tree House book. Slightly lower reading level but still a chapter book w/ both fntasy elements and "reality."

    Now I have to write. (shudder)

  3. This is interesting. I love this idea. And thanks for the visuals.

  4. I'd never heard of mentor text before. So are you using that book as your plot line, but changing the story? It's an interesting concept, and I think you could use it for creative nonfiction as how there are certain structures like braided etc. I really like the idea of using visuals, and I think I will do something similar for my memoir when I get to it! :)

  5. Angela,
    I used this mentor text to help me judge the escalation of tension in the plot. Also how and when to introduce characters.

    You can use a mentor text for anything you need so it varies from time to time. For me it tends to be tension and pacing.

    Does that make sense?


  6. I'm a visual person but I hate diagramming and mapping things out, as I'm sort of a pantser. But this does make sense. And I love the idea of a mentor text! You could use that in all sorts of genres.

  7. Love this idea. I created sort of a visual timeline as well. However, because my character-draft novel is has interweaving story lines, told from different perspectives, it looks more like a braid than a plot line !


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