Monday 20 August 2012

Graphing Out Your Plot

Generating a plot graph is a great way to visualize your overall story. It's relatively quick and easy to do and can reveal problem areas in your story that feel flat or stagnant. You can later go back and decide if these areas could use a bit more action or emotion to avoid the "sagging in the middle" syndrome. 

For my graph, I decided to plot intensity over time, but I've seen graphs that use other labels like misery over time. Use what ever makes sense to you and your story. Before starting with my wip, I thought it'd be good practice to plot a story we all know and love, Cinderella. This is what I came up with:


It's pretty basic, but all the major plot points that matter to me are there. Remember, this is my interpretation and your graph of Cinderella (should you choose to do one) would look slightly different than mine. So what we see is a nice build of events (rising action) over the course of the story until we reach the climax in Act III followed by the dénouement (fancy word for outcome or settlement).  

Next, I tried the same technique on my wip. The monster  I've been working on for almost 3 years now. The one that's finally in the editing phase but that's still over 100K...  : /

Here is my result. 

My first reaction was, "Looks spiky." Act I seems pretty crazy yet by Act III, things seem to slow down with the exception of two huge spikes. But how does it compare with Cinderella?  Well, my dear Watson, lets find out:


Okay, let's analyze this real quick. 
The first thing I realized: I'm not writing no damn Cinderella story. (; 

Second, I may need to tone down some of my spikes (intense scenes) or at least spread them out a little better. Another thing I see is my need for more romantic elements, not just action points. The other huge difference is the dénouement.  I don't have one. But I already knew that. Is that okay? I don't know. The dénouement actually comes in book two. But as a first time author, this will probably make it harder to get published.  

So after thinking about this I naturally became pretty insecure about my writing and my story, again. On the one hand you have Cindy's blond hair and a perfect body plot with a nice crescendo we all know and love, and on the other hand, you have my wip. The one that looks like you'd get electrocuted if you try to read it. 

Have you ever done this kind of mapping? Has it helped? How do you visualize your story structure/plot? 


  1. I've never done a graph. I'm afraid if I do I'll be sadly disappointed and question my writing abilities. Which, of course, means I need to do it. It's the only way to improve.

  2. Well, you've got peaks and troughs. That sounds good to me. If it was all peak the reader would be exhausted. I bet it's better than Cinderella!

    Just a word to the wise, though: even with a series each book should stand alone with some sort of wrap-up at the end. Although opinion differs on this, I think an agent would prefer this approach. (Oops, sorry if that means a major rewrite!) :/

  3. Sara: You should give this a try, it doesn't take that long to do and it give a nice overall visual. (:

    Nick: Hi Nick! Yeah, I've heard that about series books having to have some sort of stand alone status. I'm not sure how I'm going to pull that off with mine... but I'll have to think of something.

  4. "I'm not writing no damn Cinderella story."

    Okay. Rolling on the floor laughing. 'Nuf said. :)

  5. I've never tried graphing a story. It sounds like a good way to analyze plot elements.

  6. Hey Elise. As well as laughing my arse off while reading this (Glass slipper fits. Squee! is quite possibly the funniest thing I have read all year.) I found this very interesting and plan to do something similar with Reunion. I'm halfway through part nine of Reunion and am starting to feel like I am writing myself into a corner a bit and maybe an exercise like this might help me along the way.

    The issue I have though is that I don't really have a clue how Reunion is going to end. At all. I'm writing each part as it comes and then finding that now I'm having to check and re check previous bits and getting tied up in knots. Thanks for this anyway and as I mentioned before, if you have any feedback on the stuff I have so far, your comments and anyone else's would be more than welcome.



  7. Holy shit, OMG, WTH...get me out, NOOOOO!!!!!!! I AM SO IN LOVE WITH YOUR GRAPH!!!!! LOL that's just plain awesome. if that was the blurb on the back cover.... I'd buy it ;)

  8. too lazy to graph, waste enough time editing :P

  9. Have I told you lately I love you? You are too funny. I'll have to try this and see how mine looks. :)

  10. Linda: Internet High 5!!! :D

    Golden: I think is works pretty well and helped me look at things from a different perspective.

    Wayne: I think this is a good compromise for people (like me) who hate writing outlines. Plus, I'm someone who needs visuals. Anyway, the graph will force you to get your main plot points in order as well as give you an overall feel of your ms. And I know what you mean about getting tied up in knots or even lost in your own book. I felt like that not too long ago. The more time that passes and the more changes you make to your ms, the easier it will be to get lost in the mix. Do a quick graph and you'll see things a little clearer. And if you're feeling extra crazy, you can graph each individual chapter. As for the ending, the only thing I could suggest is brainstorming. Lay down on the couch, close your eyes and think about your story, and ask yourself a bunch of "what if...?" questions. The ending will come to you, just keep working at it. And I'll stop by soon to catch up on Reunion! (:

    Cristina: You should see my Fifty Shades of Grey graph! LOL! At least now I don't have to worry about writing a blurb. I hear they can be really difficult to write! (: HUGS!!!

    lawolf: I know how you feel. Doing the graph is the closest thing I've gotten to outlining. ugggg. Happy editing!! o:

    Jessica: Hugs girly!! <3 U 2 :D

  11. I'm still learning about plotting, and I haven't done any graphs, so take this with that caveat...

    Your reader may need those troughs after peaking so high and for so long so early. Graphs aside, at the end of the day does the story work or not? I think the only real way to be sure is to read it at normal speed all the way through. ;)

  12. PS - I love the NOOOOOOO! LOL

  13. Hi Elise .. well that's a first - such an interesting take on WIPs .. build and it will come ... fascinating post - cheers Hilary

  14. Your graph took me back to high school essay-writing moments, when we drew "spider diagrams" to "brainstorm" our narrative essays. Dunno if you're familiar with it? A centre in the circle (the topic), and the "spider legs" reaching out in different directions, with ideas attached to them.
    The graph is interesting...

  15. I've been such a pantser for my first two books that I've decided to do a bit of proper plotting for the next one. Since I'm the most disorganized person in the world, this graph looks great and it's easy to see the lulls and highs. Knowing me, I'll probably do it once the first draft is over, but that's just me. Thanks for the suggestion!

  16. Nifty idea, though looking at those graphs too long reminded me of high school math and I got all queasy and whatnot. Thank goodness there were bad words in them to pull me out of my faint! You're a gal after me own heart, ye are, Elise. ;-)
    Some Dark Romantic

  17. It's a great visual. I'd be troubled though if you did it in Excel.

  18. Melissa: I agree. And having a good beta reader will help too.

    Hilary: Thanks Hilary! (:

    Michelle: Spider diagrams! I remember those enough to know I prefer X Y graphs. (:

    Susan: I'm a pantser too and this is about as much plotting as I'm going to get, outlining is the stuff of nightmares for me. Doing this graph after your first draft is not a bad idea, you can still make minor adjustments if need be. Good luck!

    Mina: Comfort in profanity, LOL!

    Michael: Don't give me anymore great ideas. (:

  19. This is a FABULOUS idea. I like the three act method, but this adds a visual representation of the story and how it really is developing in the acts. Thanks for sharing this, Elise!

  20. Okay. This is hilarious. I've been crying. Crying here laughing so hard. Awesome stuff here. :)

  21. This is a cool idea, but have you tried plotting a best selling YA novel like The Hunger Games. Maybe your graph will be more similar to that one. :)

  22. I know people who map things out or make spreadsheets. I don't really subscribe to that (otherwise known as "It's too freaking hard!"). I tend to scrawl things in notebooks and on the backs of used printer paper. Works for me. :-D

  23. I've been contemplating writing out a plot for my WIP, which is in the revision stage, as you know. The truth is I've just been too lazy to do it. I can see how your scientific mind came into play here though!

  24. Julia: You're welcome Julia and I agree. Thanks for stopping in! (:

    Mina: Haha! You must think I'm so weird (which is a good thing). (;
    And glad you got a kick out of it. Truth be told, I did too!

    Stina: That's a good point and I may have to try that out. Plus, I read THG not too long ago so it's still fresh in my mind...

    Lexa: I hear ya. I scribble all kinds of things on scrap paper or whatever is at arms length. I did this graph for fun and only because it's relatively quick to do.

    Rose: I don't think I could write out my plot at this stage. Doing this graph is about as close as I get, which is nothing but a simple timeline with an added Y axis. And yet, it has given me some pretty good insight. Good luck with your revisions and hang tough! (:

  25. Very cool graphing! Anything that can help you visualize your story as a whole is a good thing. And a plot that rises to a peak and stays there is better than one that starts out fast and then fizzles out.

    Of course, all of this is subjective -- your story's graph would look different using another reader's intensityometer. So I wouldn't worry too much. And maybe even let some beta readers make their own graphs of your wip, just to compare it with yours.

  26. This was fascinating! I loved this... and I've never done anything like this before. Maybe I need to! I can show me where I'm going wrong! LOL ;)

  27. Great post and perfect timing for me! I'm doing the same thing. Sadly, mine isn't as spiky as yours. I might need to get out a defibrillator. Thanks for sharing.

  28. Chris: Good point. I'm sure there are readers that'd flat line my story------- (:

    Morgan: Thanks you!

    Jenn: LOL! And mine is a little too spiky! Finding the perfect balance is not easy. Good luck to ya and thank for stopping by! (:


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