Plotting is absolutely and unequivocally the hardest part of the process for me. Taking a jumbled mess of characters, settings, and half-imagined events and trying to organize them into something that resembles an actual story has always been difficult. But I’m working on it, and though I have a lot of learning left to do, I thought I’d share a few of the books that have helped me grow as a plotter.
Story Engineering by Larry Brooks–probably my favorite, as it has given me a definitive and easy-to-understand vocabulary for shaping a story. I will warn that it tends to be a bit dogmatic at times (‘do this or your story will never work’), but if you can take that in stride, it has a lot of excellent points and a structure that you can apply to virtually any story.
Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell–another favorite, very easy to read, with a lot of simple points and a structure that goes well with the above. This book is packed with all different information pertaining to plot, from how to gather ideas to different archetypal plots to troubleshooting of specific issues. Definitely a must-read. 🙂
Novel Shortcuts by Laura Whitcomb–while not specifically about plotting, this book offers several unique techniques for looking at and developing stories. From choosing an overall ‘style’ to writing cover copy as inspiration to mapping out character arcs, the techniques in this book can help you look at your story in a new way and maybe gather more ideas and clarity for your work.
The Anatomy of Story by John Truby–though this book is technically about screenwriting, its techniques for developing solid premises into character arcs and stories can be applied to novels quite easily. Though I have never fully gotten into its more defined structural elements, the first few chapters on idea development always inspire me and help me shape stories early on.
There are many, many great books on plotting and storytelling out there (I also recommend the Elements of Fiction Writing series), but these are the few books that really spoke to me and seemed to actually help. All writing information is good, as long as you stay true to your own voice and desires, so reading any book on writing will help shape your inner editor. Just beware, as I’ve said before, not to give your inner editor too much power too early in the process–I would recommend balancing any reading about writing with more reading for fun, books that you know might be “bad” books but that you enjoy. Be honest with yourself about what you want from your writing, even if it feels wrong or cheap or silly–because you can’t go wrong writing for love.