Ta Dah!

How do you like our new look here at YAMuses? Thanks to Bret for the exciting new design. As Katy mentioned on Thursday, all of us are heading to the SCBWI conference in LA (If you're there, please say hello!). So we are taking this week off. But that doesn't mean you'll have nothing to read. We will each be reposting our most popular posts. We see it as a kind of “best of" week. The week after next, we'll be posting "Top Conference Moments" -- our view of the best parts of the 40th Anniversary of the SCBWI annual summer conference.

So here's my "Greatest Hits" in case you missed it the first time around:


I usually start a book with a general idea of the major plot points. I know what the big conflict will be and probably how it will resolve. I often don't know much else. This time, however, I wanted a little more guidance--especially when it came to sub-plots and tying it all together. I've never been an outliner, but I found this terrific visual exercise for plotting and thought I'd share it with you. I used it about one fourth of the way into my new manuscript and it really helped clarify major plot points, flesh out the subplots, and connect everything together.

This is not my original idea. I read about it on Cynthia Jaynes Omololu’s blog. (Cynthia is the author of Dirty Little Secrets, published by Walker Books). Cynthia mentions the method first appeared on the always resourceful Verla Kay Message Boards. and I know it's also been featured on QueryTracker. Whoever came up with the idea, it was definitely helpful for me, so thanks!

9 Steps for Plotting Fiction

Start with a piece of paper. It should be large enough to write on. You can use a 11x14 for a little more room, but 8x11 is fine. Draw two parallel lines both vertically and horizontally across the page, creating 9 comparable boxes, as if you were starting a game of tic-tac-toe. These boxes represent chapters, scenes, or sections, depending upon your book's intended length.

Number the boxes, starting from the upper left: 1, 2, 3.
Next row, starting from the left: 4, 5, 6.
Last row: 7, 8, 9.
Title each box…

1. Triggering Event

First things first. What happens? Why have you bothered to write a book, and more importantly, why should a reader invest time flipping through its pages? Your triggering event is the answer to these questions, so make it a good one. Also, don't make the reader wait very long for it. First page, first paragraph, first sentence. These are good spots for a triggering event.

2. Characterization

Generally, books succeed or fail on the strength of their characters, more so than on the strength of their plots. Box 2 is where you explore what makes your protagonist tick. No, this isn't an excuse for drawn out exposition, history, or back story. If your triggering event is captivating, the reader will discover enough about the protagonist in Box 2 simply by reading how he or she reacts to the event.

3. First Major Turning Point

By now, your plot is picking up steam, and because of Box 2, the reader is invested in the ride. Time to throw a curve ball. This turning point can be either a positive event for your protagonist, or a negative one, but it should lay the groundwork for the negative turning point in Box 6. There is a reason these boxes are touching one another; they interrelate. For example, Box 3 may introduce the motivation of the antagonist, which then justifies the events in Box 6.

4. Exposition

You've earned some time to fill the reader in on important data. Since this box touches Box 1, here's where you shed some light on that triggering event. Since it also touches Box 7, you get to foreshadow your pro-tagonist's darkest hour. Box 4 often reveals a relationship, character flaw, or personal history that contributes to the dark times ahead.

5. Connect the Dots

Here is where many plots fall apart. Box 5 represents the trickiest part of fiction, and since it is the center of the diagram (and book) it must connect to all the boxres around it. (2, 4, 6, & 8.) Kind of like the nucleus at the center of a bomb, Box 5 should tick systematically upon elements introduced in Boxes 2 and 4. And like the calm before the storm, Box 5 should give the false impression of resolution before heading like a freight train to Box 6. Most importantly, it needs to provide foreshadowing for the protagonist's revelation in Box 8. That's a lot for a little box to do, but focus on efficient prose to get it right. Your plot depends upon it.

6. Negative Turning Point

Here's where that bomb explodes and all (word censored) breaks loose. Good thing you laid the groundwork in Box 3. Good thing, too, that Box 9 will deliver some just desserts.

7. Antagonist Wins

The protagonist is defeated here, and the antagonist apparently wins. How the protagonist deals with the darkest hour of defeat depends upon the traits and/or story developed in Box 4, which leads to his or her revelation in the next square.

8. Revelation

Of course! The protagonist's revelation turns the tide. Here is where the protagonist connects the dots and overcomes the obstacles of Boxes 6 and 7 via the device introduced in Box 5.

9. Protagonist Wins

The negative turning point in Box 6 is rectified while the character's resolve from Box 8 is brought into full bloom. Congratulations! Another great tale told greatly.

But wait! There's more! The best is yet to come...

Be sure to check here on Thursday for the announcement of the incredible prize in a fabulous new contest. It not only celebrates our blogoversary, it also celebrates the payoff of all the hard work that goes into writing a novel for young adults.


I've seen this before, but didn't really understand the significance of the way the boxes touched each other. Great explanation, thanks!

I love the new look! Wowzers!

I hadn't heard of the box method, and it sounds like fun. Will have to give it a try sometime. Thanks!

Looks awesome guys, especially your cute little cartoon faces. Oh how I lurve this blog!

I love the new look, and the tips on plotting! Thank you!

I do this in Excel, on a spread sheet. The grid evolves as I go. The first one I did I simply put ideas in as many boxes as I could fill, then fleshed them out with a synopsis. These ideas eventually fleshed out into chapters. It works good for brainstorming, and creates a map of sorts. Now though, I will incorporate this template. Thanks.

Great post! I'm struggling with my plot of my WIP right now and this helped me so much. I have a lot of story lines going and it helped me narrow down the main one. AND it helped me see how all of the external conflicts relate to my internal conflict. Who knew one piece of paper could do so much?
I've been reading your blog for a few weeks now and I love it. Congratulations on one year of great writing advice!

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