You’ve decided to write that novel. You opened Word, but now you’re staring at a blank screen and… what? What actually goes into writing a novel?
This is when Plottr walks in wearing a poncho, chewing a cigar, and it’s here to be your hero.
Plottr is a visual outlining tool for writers, developed by YA author Cameron Sutter and aspiring author Ryan Zee.
Whether you’re a plotter who refuses to start your novel without ten thousand words of outline, or a discovery writer (pantser) who just starts typing with little to no direction in mind, Plottr can help. You can use it to plot ahead, keep track of the plot, characters and settings as you write, or organize what you’ve already written (did the guy in chapter two fire five bullets or six?)
How you use it is up to you.
The Visual Timeline consists of rows headed by chapters and columns showing plot lines. Each scene card within the timeline is similar to a digital index card or post-it note on a wall.
Scene cards can be edited with plot, scene, and character comments, and can be moved around the timeline or added to. So, if your character goes to grab the gun in chapter ten, and you realize you forgot to put it in the drawer in chapter three, just nip back and add it in.
Learning a new system can feel overwhelming. We asked the guys over at Plottr what advice they would give to anyone considering the app. Troy Lambert, Plottr’s Education Lead and a Mystery/Thriller author, suggests “If you’re new to Plottr, start simply by creating scene cards to get your ideas down and add a couple plot lines and chapters to get a feel for how the software works.”
Still facing that white screen? Plottr provides beat templates to help you navigate the ups and downs of a story. You can follow The Hero’s Journey, Romancing the Beat, or the Twelve Chapter Mystery, to name but a few. Each box in the timeline opens up to give an example of what you could enter into that chapter.
Sci-Fi and Fantasy indie powerhouse, Michael Anderle, Founder and CEO of LMBPN Publishing, confirmed that Plottr is the main program he uses to create new concepts. “What I like is the ability to get the job done of laying out beats and easily change my mind. It has the functionality that I want, while allowing me to add more details should I desire.”
“As you start dipping your toes deeper, try using custom attributes for scenes, characters, and places, which will help you think of new ways to organize and add vivid details to your books,” Lambert recommends.
Plottr includes links to personality-trait resources, such as enneagram and Myers-Briggs. You can leverage these in your character building, assigning custom attributes to create more rounded characters. Using the filter options, you can change the view to focus on one character, to easily track their progress through the story.
Include additional plotlines called “Questions” and “Answers” and use them to track the loops you open in each chapter (questions) and when you close them later (answers). If you number them, a quick scan of your plot lines will identify if there are any loops still open that you need to close.
Plottr goes beyond a single book, and can help you plot and track larger story arcs. “I can easily see the timeline any way I wish. It expands as the series grows,” Anderle says. If you’re writing a series, Plottr’s series view will let you create an outline that includes each of your titles, so you can track open loops and story threads across books.
When you are ready to explore advanced features, there are presentation options that can help you visualize the progress of your story. Individual scenes can be color-coded or tagged, according to your preferred structure. Lambert suggests using green for scenes that are completed, yellow for scenes still in progress, and red for scenes which now need to be cut.
Compatibility – How does it link with other tools?
Once you’ve plotted your masterpiece, you need to start writing it. Plottr exports to Microsoft Word and Scrivener, two of the most popular word processors. As well as setting you up to write, this also allows you to share your plotting notes. Anderle notes “the export to Word is super useful for those who I interact with who do not use the program.”
Plottr’s advanced export feature lets you choose what to export to your word processor — you can now export just your scenes or characters or places or notes, depending on what you need. You can also specify where notes and other details will appear in your preferred word processor. Open the exported file in either program and find everything waiting for you.
Voila! No more blank screens.
Help and Support
Anderle praises the support available. “The programmers responded quickly when I had questions (which isn’t often anymore).”
“Don’t be shy about asking questions!” Lambert encourages. “There are a ton of pro authors and experienced Plottrs [in the Facebook group] who will kindly step in with answers.”
Plottr also has a YouTube channel with published authors. It contains outlining advice, plotting deep dives, and user-created templates you can download to help guide your thinking, as well as interviews with published authors about their processes.
Plottr is available for PC, Mac iOS, and Android. It can be purchased as an annual subscription or a one-time lifetime purchase. At the current time, the price for a single license is $25 annually or $99 lifetime.
Available for download from www.plottr.com.