I’m in the plotting phase of my next book. Being a plotter I develop my characters and plan out a good number of my scenes before I even put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Being a conscientious, professional writer and well as someone who teaches writing craft, I’ve studied a great number of story structures and how to create a story.

There is my favorite W Graph, the Three Act Structure, Four Act Structure, Save the Cat, and the Snowflake Method, just to name a few.

What I’ve realized as I plot my book is that while I do mostly use the W-Graph to plot out the structure of my book, in fact what I’m doing is plotting from the outside in or, if you prefer, from the biggest ideas (major turning points or beats of the plot) to the smallest (each individual scene).

The major turning points or beats of a novel are the Instigating Event, the First Major Turning Point, the Point of No Return or Climax, the Black Moment, and the Resolution. I make my W-graph by labeling those turning points at each of the sharp angles that create the W and I decide what needs to happen at each of those points.

Now, I could tell you generally what happens at each of those points in a romance novel or a mystery, but then I would just be perpetuating stereotypes of those genres—something I am loathe to do. Not only that, but there is such incredibly variety and opportunity for creativity that a good number of writers today don’t stick to those stereotypes, although they certainly do keep to at least a rough simulation of the major beats. If they didn’t they might risk having readers claim that the story wasn’t good merely because it didn’t follow the expected structure. So, I highly encourage you to adhere to a standard structure—you can still get very creative even within that.

Once I have decided on the major plot points, I begin to fill in the details, starting with the major pinch points that come in between the plot points. These are events that propel the plot and characters forward to the next point.

At this point, I stop to reassess whether the story I’m creating moves my characters closer to (and away from) their ultimate goals and toward learning and growing. It usually does because the major plot points do so, but I need to make sure that we’re moving in the right direction while not making things too easy for my protagonist(s). There needs to be plenty of conflict—one step back for every two steps forward.

It’s also important that I double check to make sure I am answering all of those vital questions that ensures that I have well rounded characters who are seeking an achievable goal and have plenty of conflict making for a more interesting and exciting books. Next week I’ll go into more detail about these questions and give you a list of those I answer myself.

By the time I’m done, my W graph is filled with short descriptions of scenes, but even then I am not including all that will go into my book—I don’t plot to that extent, although I know some people who do. I leave room for scenes that will keep the flow of the narrative smooth.

So, there you have it. Plotting from the outside in. To quickly recap: first major turning points, then major events that will drive my characters toward those turning points, then the scenes necessary to get to those major events and then recoup from them.