Aurelia B Rowl's Guide on Plotting and Giveaways!

We have author Aurelia B Rowl sharing with us all the guide she used for her plotting. And there are giveaways. Over to Aurelia now...

Thank you for inviting me onto Revisions & Editions today; as a regular subscriber, it’s quite exciting to actually be here.

It’s no secret that I am still very new to the craft of writing, in fact my second anniversary of picking up the proverbial pen is now just a matter of weeks away. Prior to that, I hadn’t attempted any creative writing since my school days, which I am now able to talk about as decades ago—plural—rather than years. Of course I’ll deny vehemently as it scares me how fast time passes. Anyway, let’s look back to October 2011 when I couldn’t resist the lure of writing any longer and decided to give it a whirl and attempt to write a book.

I turned to the trusty internet to see if I could find any resources that could teach my how to write, or rather, resources that could teach me storycraft. The first theory I fell upon, and duly absorbed, was based on Dramatica at How To Write A Book Now and I made these notes:

How To Create A Plot Outline In 8 Easy Steps

1)            Story goal – what does he/she want?

2)            Consequence – what will happen if he/she fails?

3)            Requirements – what must he/she do/accomplish to reach goal?

4)            Forewarnings – what happens that hint at failure?

5)            Costs – what must he/she sacrifice or go through?

6)            Dividends – what are the benefits of trying to reach the goal?

7)            Prerequisites – what actions must take place to meet requirements?

8)            Preconditions – what obstacles are in the way?

“A female executive in her late 30s has been married to her job. But she has a wake-up call when her elderly, spinster aunt dies alone and neglected (consequence). The executive decides that she needs to have a family before she suffers the same fate (goal). So she buys a new wardrobe and signs on with a dating service (prerequisites). Her boss offers her a promotion that would involve a lot of travel, but she turns it down, so that she will have time to meet some men (cost). She goes on several dates (requirements). But each one ends in disaster (forewarnings). On top of that, because the agency arranges all her dates for Friday nights, she ends up arriving tired and late for the company's mandatory 6AM Saturday morning meetings (preconditions). Along the way, however, she starts to realize how the company's policies are very unfair to people with families or social lives outside work, and she begins to develop compassion for some of her co-workers that leads to improved relationships in the office (dividend).”

It was good, and more importantly, it got me thinking... I could see the high and lows and how they tried to create more of an emotional ride... the rollercoaster effect, so to speak. The next resource to fall under my radar was the classic three-act structure, which seemed to be quoted everywhere and impossible to ignore:

Beginning: open at moment of change/crisis

Middle: the grey moment and fresh hope

End: the black moment, all hopes dashed before the happy ever after

(Source: miscellaneous)

Okay, yes, I could see how that worked too and I could also see how the two complemented each other, but then came Sarah Duncan to make it a bit more specific:

A trio of 'big' events - could be kiss, break-up/fight, action, plot device etc, as in:

Page 1 - opening crisis/moment of change

15-20K later - big event #1

15-20K later - big event #2

15-20K later - big event #3

15-20K later - the end

(Source: Sarah Duncan – by the way, this is a GREAT blog for craft posts if you’ve not yet discovered it)

With all of this in mind, I set about writing my first story but I was still too easily distracted by ‘shiny’ new ideas and the temptations of submission calls leading me astray. I mustn’t complain though as one of those submission calls led to my first publication, Christmas Is Cancelled, the first time I’d written ‘the end’ since leaving school so it was quite a landmark moment even if it was twice the length it was supposed to be when I’d set about writing it.

I am very fortunate that my first publication was closely followed by my second, a short story under an alternate alias that I wrote in a matter of evenings in response to an anthology submission call in a genre so far outside my comfort zone that it was almost laughable. Yet I nailed it. Go me! It would appear my writing muscles were growing, along with my confidence, but my style of writing still didn’t quite fit the plotting guides I’ve mentioned so far.

Sure, I definitely had the three-act structure of beginning, middle and end, but I’d already stopped using Dramatica and didn’t give a second thought to Sarah Duncan’s model, having absorbed from them what suited me and then trying to find my own way. And that’s when I stumbled onto another style of storyboarding, and it was a true light-bulb moment... I discovered the W-plot.

It still followed the classic three-act structure, but it split the middle act into two smaller acts – sometimes equal but more often not—so that the outline formed the shape of a W. As a quick exercise, I went back to my two published stories and low and behold, the W-plot structure was there, as I suspected. I was already writing in this style, purely by accident/luck/whatever, but to see it in black and white was a truly wonderful moment. So what exactly is the W-plot? If you do a simple search on  ‘W-plot’ you will get page after page of results, but the following is my amalgamation of some of those suggestions, pulled together into something that works for me:

First, take a W and split it into what Mary Carroll Moore refers to as ‘islands’ and incorporate the classic three-act structure:

(Source: How to Write A Book Now)

Now let’s overlay it with Laurie Ryan’s simple grid:

(Source: Jeannie Ruesch)

Finally, I pulled the two theories together and jumbled them up with the classic three-act structure, until I ended up with a plotting template that looks like this:

A - C = setting up the problem

C - E = recovering from the problem

E - G = deepening the problem

G - I = resolving the problem

  • A = Goal recognition (opening trigger event / inciting incident / ordinary world)
  • B = Initial barrier (pinch point / call to adventure)
  • C = Low point (1st turning point / refusal of the call)
  • D = Progress (obstacles / trials and tests / emotional push-pull)
  • E = High point (2nd trigger event / grey moment)
  • F = Rug pull (false of security / secrets revealed / rethinking of goals)
  • G = Black moment (2nd turning point / black moment)
  • H = Final struggle (epiphany)
  • I = Happily ever after (resolution / climax)

With all of this buzzing in my mind, I then sat down and wrote the rough outline for a Young Adult story which had come to me in a flash of inspiration, ensuring that I could add details to each bullet point. I wrote the first three chapters and a synopsis and sent it off to Carina, the new digital imprint from Harlequin UK and—hey presto—I got ‘the call’ and a two book deal landed in my inbox.

Whilst I do enjoy pantser-ing sometimes, the knowledge that I was committed to a second book with a deadline looming didn’t afford me the luxury of following whichever story whim I fancies, nor could I wait for inspiration to strike. I had to get my butt in the seat and carve out a story whether I was in the mood or not, and I had to be able to show the publisher what that story was, even before I’s written a word. And that’s why the W-plot works so well for me.

Every single story that I sit down to write now starts out with this template – what actually happens
from A-B, B-C, C-D, etc, is still flexible which means I don’t over-plot and burn out, plus it suits the pantser side of me. It doesn’t really matter how I get to each point—each island—just so long as I arrive in one piece. It’s even okay to deviate from the original synopsis provided the crux of the story is still there, which was definitely the case with Popping the Cherry. I’m sure it will be the case for book two, as well, for which I sent the proposal only this week, a few days ahead of deadline, thanks to my newfound discipline and plotting technique.

So there you have, the Aurelia B. Rowl guide to plotting. Of course it’s not really mine, so I owe the final word to Mary Carroll Moore who can explain the W-plot far more succinctly than me, in a video that I thoroughly recommend watching. Maybe the light-bulb will shine just as brightly for you?

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  1. Great way to plot that gives you the freedom to make changes as well. Thanks for the tips! :)

  2. Appreciate the steps and advice. Thanks so much, Aurelia!

  3. Great plotting techniques! I hadn't heard of the W before, but it looks incredibly helpful. Best of luck with your release!

  4. Thanks Aurelia, but these diagrams made me crosseyed, lol! Very scary for a pantser trying to reform. I am impressed that you have found all this out in such a short time. Thanks for sharing.

    Hi Nas!


  5. This was excellent. Really helpful. And if you had any idea how much I have historically loathed writing how-to's, you'd know how much this comment means!

    (Hey, Nassie. :))

  6. Great info here. I'm just starting a new story and the outlining is heavy work. This post comes at a perfect time!

  7. Thanks everyone, I'm glad you found it interesting.

    I am a big advocate of finding your own way - and I totally understand that the pantser would be cowering and covering their eyes at this post - but I also like to know what works for other people so I can absorb what works for me and drop the rest. If my post helps just one other person, I shall be very happy indeed.

  8. Great post and awesome tips! I'm bookmarking this post for future reference. Thanks Aurelia.

    Congratulations on the release of your Popping The Cherry and all the best!

  9. What an incredibly useful post! I tend to be a Pantser myself, but I might try this template for my next fictional work! Thank you Aurelia and congratulations on the publications!

  10. This is great!! I'm bookmarking this!

  11. Good reminders! I don't bother with any of this during the drafting stages, but during revisions...mos def.

  12. Great post! I love the advice and the information was so clear. I like to map things out before I write and then add in my details. :) This seems like a great format. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Great advice on plotting and structure. It's not always the most fun part of writing, but it is essential to having a strong foundation and a story that works.