Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Trials and Tribulations of Plotting

Some writers just sit down and write--fly by the seat of their pants--and the story unfolds itself for them.

I'm not like that. At all.

I actually like to know exactly what I want to happen from the first to the last scene before I start writing.

So once I have a vague idea of something (usually a character or two and a situation), my writing/plotting rituals are:

1. Angsty Teen TV Shows
I specifically love the ones from the 80s and 90s that are up on the Netflix. I'll watch a string of episodes all back to back.

2. Specialized Playlist
I have playlists for certain projects, playlists for certain characters, and even playlists for certain scenes. I'll sit down with iTunes for a few hours and go through my music looking for the right songs for my characters and their relationships. And then hopefully those songs all together will inspire me.

3. The Long Walk
Before I lived in NYC, this would have been called The Long Drive, but now that I'm carless, I love grabbing my ipod and just setting out for a walk. The scenery of a park or even just the city and people watching can give me some great ideas, and sometimes when I'm thinking of nothing in particular, a plot point will come to me.

4. Brainstorming Sessions
I have a couple really talented and creative friends who thankfully don't mind helping me sort out plot details. We'll sometimes meet for coffee, and I'll tell them what I've got and we'll throw ideas back and forth. Other times, we'll brainstorm via text message or even email.

5. Research
io9 is the one website I follow religiously. I love their links, the articles, the sense of humor--all of it. And every time I've plotted myself into a corner, I'll click their links and something, even if it's just a word or a phrase, will sent me off on inspired research.

Each of my projects have started with the characters and then the plot has developed from there. UNRAVELING was conceived because of a guy I found pretty swoonworthy, a marathon of Roswell season one, "We Are Broken" by Paramore, walks through the financial district in Manhattan, late night emails, and a couple well worn copies of Scientifican American magazines.

After I had one lined journal, almost full with character descriptions, worldbuilding notes, scene ideas, and snippets of dialogue, I typed up a synopsis and went to work turning those ideas into an actual manuscript.


Liz Norris briefly taught high school English and history before trading the southern California beaches and sunshine for Manhattan's recent snowpocalyptic winter. She harbors dangerous addictions to guacamole, red velvet cupcakes, sushi, and Argo Tea, fortunately not all together. Her first novel, UNRAVELING (Balzer+Bray April 2012), is the story of one girl’s fight to save her family, her world, and the one boy she never saw coming.


  1. Hee! My plotting mechanisms are very much the same. A music video from 2004 and a near-forgotten conversation about someone I'd never met came together to get the ball rolling for me. But yes, wandering around locally or on the internet is priceless. I've stumbled over io9 before, but now that you mention it, they really do offer a lot of varied inspiration. :)

  2. Now that I've seen your inspirations, I think I am going to LOVE Unraveling! Roswell was so awesome. It's a shame the series lost some of its magic and charm as the seasons progressed. But you don't really need anything beyond season one!

  3. Eve, I was actually watching some of season three on netflix yesterday, and I had forgotten how not-as-good-as-season-one it was.

    Emily, what music video? Now that I think about it, I bet music videos would be great inspiration.