The Charlie Day Plot Murder Board: how this panster became a plotter

Image result for charlie day pepe meme

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an author in possession of a WIP must be in want of bitching about said WIP.
me, right now

If there’s one thing all writers have in common, it’s that we love to complain about how hard writing is. For the longest time, my biggest complaint was how frequently I was stuck rewriting entire drafts after figuring out some plot point that shifted the entire book. This was due in part to my inability to plot. I found outlines constricting and thought they sucked the ‘discovery’ part out of my process. Five books in, and I’ve embraced the three-act structure. Here’s how it works for me:

  1. Read this article. I find most posts explaining plotting structures to be dry and vague and utterly unhelpful. This was the first time it *clicked* for me, and largely due to the fact that each scene is explained by aligning the three-act structure with Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games. The book follows the structure flawlessly. The part that stuck with me the most was how the “pinch points” were not the major twists I would have assumed, and were often times quieter twists, which helped me in plotting my own books. Not all twists have to be a major action scene or implosion.
  2. Index cards. This is the part where you go full Charlie Day. You will need 27 cards, one for each scene. At the top of each card, I write “Act One: Block One: Chapter One” and so on and so forth until I reach “Act Three: Block Nine: Chapter Twenty-Seven”. I also write a quick note under each title saying “plot twist #1”, “midpoint”, “darkest moment”, etc. as they pertain to each scene, to help me with controlling the flow of rising and falling action. More on that later. For now, arrange your index cards on a table or the floor. I arrange mine with each row being an act, and putting a gap of space between each of the three blocks within each act.
  3. Post-It notesNext, I write down the plot points that I know. Extract all the scenes that have been swimming around in your head and write them on a post-it note. Stick it where you think it falls in the story. Is this the inciting incident? The midpoint? The plot twist? The final battle? Write down everything you know and stick it on your plot cards. Once you have it all down, see where your gaps are. Are you saving too much for the finale? Is the second act a big blank (this is usually my dilemma). Maybe you need to move around some scenes. Perhaps a battle could happen earlier. Or maybe it’s fine and you just need to brainstorm scenes. This is where rising/falling action comes into place. How can you fill that void to ramp up or wind down? Can you see a plot thread that hasn’t been mentioned in a while? Add that in. As a visual learner, being able to see the holes in my plot helps. Sometimes I don’t figure out the answer until I’m literally writing it–and that’s okay! That’s the ‘discovery’ part of writing. It can still exist while plotting. The rules outlines are more like guidelines, anyway.
  4. Plot Inception. Two optional steps, depending on your narrative and writing style.
    • Color Coding. I write multi-POV stories, so I color code my post-it notes with each character’s POV. It allows me to see when a POV has been silent for too long or perhaps I’m shoving too much on them within a certain block of the plot. The colors help me visualize their agency within the plot.
    • Dates. This can be literal dates like April 17th, or simply “Day One”. I like to keep track of how time passes within my stories. Are my characters flying across the realms with heretofore unseen quickness all of a sudden? This helps with travel times if a journey/quest is part of your story, or if your characters are simply accomplishing so much that they would need 72-hour day. (ie. epic fantasies spanning multiple books where only a month has passed? Yeah, sure Jan.) Within the actual words of my story, I try to keep mentions of time vague for continuity purposes, but it’s good information to have for you the writer.
  5. Scrivener. I absolutely swear by writing in Scrivener. If you don’t use it, you can still make it work in Word/whatever you use via the comment function/page breaks/etc, but this will be geared towards Scrivener.

    Under the ‘Manuscript’ in the Scrivener binder on the left side, I make nine blocks, titling them “Act One: Block One” all the way to “Act Three: Block Nine”. Within each block, three folders for each chapter. (You could make these scenes and not folders, but I tend to have multiple scenes per chapter, so this is my method, but YMMV.)

    Then, I add the scenes from each post-it note under the correlating chapter. (If you’re writing multi-POV, you can color code the scenes via the ‘Label’ function on the right-hand side. You can ‘Edit’ the labels to the names of your characters. “View > Use Label Color In > Binder” will color code each scene to correlate with character POV. I like my colors to relate to the post-it colors. Makes it easier when inevitably changes happen.)

    Once you have all your scenes, transcribe the blurb of what happens in each scene to the note card at the top right of the Scrivener screen. (If you’re working in word, you can add this info as a comment to the scene title.) I title each note card with the date, then put bullet points of what needs to happen, any snippets of dialogue I might have floating in my head, and notes to self of things I need to remember that might be happening off-page.

    You end up with something that looks like this:
    Plotting Post

  6. Write. I know. How dare I? But yes, now you have to actually write. You will discover things about your story and you can add more post-it notes or just jot down ideas into the Scrivener note cards, YMMV. But most importantly, just write. First drafts are for telling yourself the story. You won’t get it right the first time so go ahead and forgive yourself for that. And don’t forget to enjoy it. The world needs your stories.

How do you plot your stories? Or are you a panster? Any favorite functions in Scrivener that I’m woefully missing out on?


Looking Back

I’ve been posting gratuitously about #ThursdayAesthetic on here, but last week’s theme was a really cool learning experience for me. The theme was “past project”, and I decided to go all the way back to the first manuscript I ever completed: OF MONSTERS & WOMEN.

Now, this isn’t the first thing I ever wrote, and it’s best that my early days of Harry Potter fanfiction are lost to antiquated fan forums and dead hard drives, but finishing a full manuscript was a big hurdle for me. I started writing when I was around 13/14, and didn’t finish an entire story until I was 21.

I used to write out of order, simply writing whatever scenes I felt inspired to write. This ended up with a lot of half-finished stories, because once I ‘discovered’ the ending of a story, I didn’t have much motivation to go back and finish the journey. OM&W was the first story were I wrote chronologically, and I think that’s why I actually managed to finish. I’ve continued to write chronologically ever since.

Anyway, as prep for this week’s aesthetic challenge, I went back and revisited this manuscript. I braced myself for the worst, and surprisingly, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. Sure, there were lots of comma splices, run-on sentences, and paragraph-long dialogue tags. The fact that I could identfy these flaws, however, just shows how far I’ve come as writer since writing OM&W. The plot, however, was so much stronger than I remembered. The subplots were all necessary and subtly interwoven. There were far too many secondary characters, but I fell in love with the main characters all over again.

OF MONSTERS & WOMEN is about two girls:
Veronica: The dreamer. She hoped this was going to be a love story. Instead, she discovers she’s the last descendant in a long line of witches. As such, she is the only one who can break the curse placed on the pack of alpha wolves that now stalk her and her roommate.
Blake: The realist. With the werewolves go, hunters follow. Blake begins training with the hunters to protect herself and her roommate. When she stumbles upon lore of warrior women sworn to protect the witches, she realizes that her and Veronica’s fates might have been entwined all along–and it might be the very key to breaking the curse.
It’s a silly, tropey self-insert paranormal romance with more love insterests than you can shake a stick at, but it’s a fun read (if I may say so myself). I’d love to revisit/rewrite it one day and let these girls kick ass, take names, and get the guy in the end, too.



top mid: veronica hale; bottom right: blake bennett




currently writing 05.10.18


Again, this header is a lie. But I wanted to share this week’s #ThursdayAesthetic. The theme was ‘future project’. I’ve had this idea bouncing around in my head for years, and I’m still not entirely confident that it’s done brewing.

TOUCHED is a wlw romance that’s PLEASANTVILLE x THE GIVER.

The Continent is a hyper-conservative land where physical touch and magic have been banned. Calleigh is a magical land of sexual freedom and expression. The two lands have coexisted for years, but Calleigh fears that The Continent is no longer content to let them be, and will soon attempt to overtake them, squashing out the love and magic that makes Calleigh great. To preserve their way of life, Calleigh spies infiltrate The Continent, but even the best-laid plans can go sideways.

Billie, the daughter of two Calleigh spies, quickly falls in love with Shiloh, the daughter of The Continent’s president. And Shiloh, who has only known the bland, colorless life of The Continent, is completely enamored with Billie and the freedom Calleigh offers. If discovered, their love could spark the tension between their two worlds and be the end of Calleigh. So they must fight, both for themselves and for their countries.


currently writing 05.10.18


This header is a lie, I haven’t written anything lately. I was in Spain and Portugal for a week at the end of April and haven’t stopped working since I got back. May is always a crazy month for me-both work-wise and personally. However, I have a free day this weekend and am hoping to get back to work on DB’s sequel now that I got over the hump of rewriting that one scene three times haha.

It’s Thursday, which means #ThursdayAesthetic! I’m a week behind on posting so this was last week’s theme of ‘minor characters’. You hear enough about Alba, so here are my other three POV characters as well as a bonus fave side character:



-Lord of Tartarus, the Underworld’s prison realm
-Death’s Second in Command
-Demon Twin
-Disaster Gay
If you’re not sure if you’re terrified or turned on—don’t worry, that’s normal.


-Death’s Third in Command
-Demon Twin
-Prince of Hell
-God of Nightmares (dressed as a daydream)
Enjoys long walks through Hell, pushing everyone’s buttons, and always having the last word.


-Emissary to the Realms
-Son of a witch (literally)
-Heir of Chaos
-Always Broody
-Concealing at least four weapons at all times
Hella bossy, lonely af, really needs a hug—and a way out of his blood oath to the gods.




-Love’s Second in Command
-Heir of Chaos & War
-Favorite Book: 174 Ways To Kill A Man
-Just wants to paint
“That’s why her hair’s so big, it’s full of secrets,” said by someone at some point, probably.

currently writing 04.19.18


Slowly but surely, DB’s sequel is now at 24,000 words! I had to rewrite a scene three times to finally get the right vibe and pacing, so hopefully, I can pick back up the pace again. The sequel has evolved a lot in this rewrite, and the subplots are much stronger for it, but I’m excited to get back to the core of the action in the coming scenes.

It’s Thursday, which means #ThursdayAesthetic!! aka my favorite writing twitter hashtag. This week’s theme was ‘antagonist’ to juxtapose last week’s theme of ‘protagonist’. I struggled with this one as I didn’t want to give away who my villain was, so I went with a broader theme, that of Alba vs. the gods. So, here’s an aesthetic for the gods, who are far too extravagant and very fond of golden decor, secrets, and getting away with murder.



DB’s sequel is currently at 20,000 words!! I actually had two full days off in a row and I wrote 12,500 words this past weekend, which is insane. I have a feeling this sequel is going to be a lot longer than anticipated, but it’s still the first draft. Either way, I’m excited! Anyways, #ThursdayAesthetic is now officially a *thing* on Twitter. This week’s theme was ‘Protagonist’, so here’s my Alba aesthetic.



I just hit 10,000 words on the sequel to Death Becoming! I had about 30,000 words written before deciding to scrap it all and start anew, given all the changes DB underwent in edits. I can’t begin to describe how good it feels to be writing new things again after nearly a year of edits. To celebrate, here’s a moodboard I made for the #ThursdayAesthetic challenge on Twitter.



Week In Review 03/02/18 & 03/09/18

I would apologize for not being the best at updating every single week, but, in my own defense, the weeks where I don’t update are weeks where I’m traveling, have friends&family in town, or it’s a holiday. Plus it just makes for a more exciting post the next week! So without further ado:


Last week my best friend Karrie came in town from Toronto, and stayed with Lucas and I for five days. It was probably the most laid back trip we’ve ever had. If you know us, you know all of our vacations have spreadsheets and color & icon coded google maps. It sounds like a lot, but when going somewhere you’ve never been, the pre-planning makes the trip itself a lot less stressful. (Perhaps I should do a post on trip planning?) This time, however, was Karrie’s fourth time to Chicago, so we didn’t need to do any of the usual sightseeing cliches.

We spent all day Thursday watching Lord of the Rings (yes, all three–extended versions) and eating our weight in guacamole. I introduced Karrie to the wonders of an espresso cured ribeye, and she helped me clear out my stash of small production, estate Rieslings. Friday, we went for a hike with Freya, took Karrie on her first “Target run”, and had dinner at Parkers. Parkers is one of my work accounts, and also one of my favorites, and they sent us way more food than we could eat. Cheese board with local goat, sheep, & cows milk cheeses, oysters, clam chowder, gumbo, lemon-butter whitefish, mushroom risotto, beef shank with chorizo potatoes, apricot & white chocolate bread pudding, and last but not least: three foot tall maple cotton candy.  After we rolled home, full-to-bursting, to burn calories, we played Mario Kart for a few hours.

[CLU] Soph

Saturday was the real reason for Karrie’s visit: the Chicago Heroes event. She has been a fan of Chicago Fire/PD/Med since the start. I only jumped on board to watch Chicago PD because of my love for Sophia Bush, who is much more than just the girl from One Tree Hill. She’s incredibly intelligent and very politically outspoken, and generally just a great role model of someone in Hollywood using their platform for good. Needless to say, we both jumped on the opportunity to meet her. Having attended conventions before, we expected it to be a similar experience: the handlers and photographers yelling at you to hurry you up and rush you in and out, giving you only roughly thirty seconds to interact. This was nothing like that, and it was so lovely. The whole event was incredibly relaxed, each actor took the time to speak with each person before their photo. They were engaged with each fan, down to do some ridiculous photo poses, and checked to make sure the photo was good before moving on to the next person. Karrie also purchased an autograph to go on her gallery wall, and asked Sophia to write a quote on cardstock for her frame. Sophia thought for a moment, and taking inspiration from Karrie’s “RESIST” shirt, wrote “Resist. Insist. Persist.” I’m always afraid that when I meet these people, they won’t be as lovely as I anticipated but she was very genuine and real as she munched on a pretzel, complaining about high heels, dancing to the music one of her co-stars had brought out for his neighboring autograph table. Karrie also purchased an autograph from LaRoyce, having always loved his “Be Powerful” motto, and he too was more than happy to oblige. He also had her message his brother so he could send her a Be Powerful hat, which was above and beyond. Everyone was so lovely and happy to chat. It was truly a special event.


I should probably make a separate post for writing/editing/publishing updates, shouldn’t I? Maybe next week. These past two weeks were full of firsts. I wrote my first synopsis, and I think it’s decent, just taking a little break before diving back in. Yet again, Susan Dennard has the best advice on how to tackle this. It’s based on The Hero’s Journey, and helps keep you on task with only hitting the major points of your novel without drowning in subplots.

This week, I participated in #PitMad on Twitter, which is a one day pitching contest where querying writers can pitch their novel in 280 characters or less. Agents can request a query by “liking” your tweet. You have to use the appropriate hashtags for your genre, age group, and #PitMad, all of which detracts from your already limited number of characters. I didn’t get any likes from agents, but it was a good learning experience. Skimming through the pitches, it’s very much a popularity contest, as more popular pitches skyrocket to the top. I definitely need to delve further into the writing community on Twitter and make more writing friends. I got quite a few hits from fellow writers who enjoyed my pitch, which was very heartening. By perusing the popular tweets, I found a lot of agents who were currently requesting YA Fantasy, which is invaluable information. So, now, back to the querying trenches I go!


[CD] disciplesIf you’re a wine aficionado, and perhaps even if you’re not, you’ve heard of The Prisoner, a Zinfandel based red blend out of Napa. But this post isn’t about that wine. The Prisoner was started by the visionary Dave Phinney, and also sold by him, so it’s not even the same wine anymore. But before I get on my soapbox… Back then, Phinney was sourcing grapes from growers throughout Napa, but his true vision and passion was to have a vineyard of his own. So when the GB Crane vineyard was available, he jumped on it. A mere 8 acres, it is the oldest vineyard in Napa, planted in 1885 to what was then called “mixed blacks”: Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignan, and a wee bit of Alicante Bouschet, Mourvedre and Valdiguie. Of those eight acres, four are the original plantings. The “new” four acres were replanted in the 1930s, which isn’t anything to turn up your nose at either. So, if you’re looking for the real Prisoner wine, from it’s winemaker, look no further than The Crane Assembly, specifically Disciples Red Blend: 76% Zinfandel, 13% Charbono, 6% Grenache, 5% Petite Sirah. And in true Phinney style, it’s big, bold, and jammy, complete with an obscure, artistic label. If you’re a true Phinney-fan, also check out El Coco Red Blend (with the boogeyman on the label) and the Cabernet.

Week in Review 2/23/18


Y’all, I think my brain is broken. After getting my WDU Query Critique back last week, I compiled a MASSIVE spreadsheet with the list of all the agents I want to query, with sub-sheets for each agency and their submission guidelines, and sub sheets for those sheets with each agent’s #MSWL. (cue me pulling my hair out) But I guess if it was easy, everyone would do it, right?

[CW] New Yorker Comic

A Foolproof Guide to Achieving Literary Success

Thankfully, my coworker sent me this comic, which was some much-needed levity as I enter the query slush piles of doom. Which I can now say: I have entered the slush piles. I sent out five queries today. (cue internal screaming) But never fear, the endless stress is not over. Besides having what I believe to be a fairly solid query, there was one thing I did not prepare for: Writing a synopsis. Most of the agents I researched previously didn’t request one, so I hadn’t really thought much of it. But during my Query Attack Plan Excel Spreadsheet-Making™️, I discovered a few of my favorite agents that do require them. So, now I get to overanalyze and stress over writing that before sending out the next round of queries. Pray for me y’all. #amquerying


This week I had the pleasure of working with our representative from Wayfarer, the Burgundy-inspired Fort Ross Sea View project of Jason Pahlmeyer. Which, if you’re not familiar with Pahlmeyer, here’s the coolest wine story ever. In order to grow the best wines in Napa, Pahlmeyer and his partner knew they needed cuttings from Bordeaux. However, importing clones from Bordeaux was illegal. So, naturally, they stole them, smuggling them in through Canada. And they almost got away with it, too. Until their last truckload, the fifth one, was caught. And Jason’s partner? Told them everything. The government demanded they turn over the other four truck’s cuttings. But they didn’t do all that smuggling for nothing! So they went on down to UC Davis and bought some vine cuttings from them and sent those back to the government instead of their smuggled cuttings, aka the “suitcase clones”. But wait! That’s just the story of Pahlmeyer! We’re talking about Wayfarer. This project was a long time dream of Jason’s, and when Helen Turley saw the property come up for sale in Fort Ross Seaview, she called up Jason and Wayfarer was born. Planted exclusively to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (including some of those “suitcase clones”), they waited ten years to release their first vintage in 2012, wanting to make sure the wines lived up to their standards and the Pahlmeyer name. This week I worked with the 2014, and holy moly are they delicious. I can’t even put into words, other than: go getcha some. It’s worth every penny. Especially their Golden Mean, which is named for the mathematical rule of perfect proportions, this is a clonal study.

Our Golden Mean Pinot Noir celebrates a union between the Swan clone, with its elegance and enticing perfume, and the Pommard clone, with its earthy aromatics and powerful structure. This ruby-hued wine begins with delicate floral notes that lead into bright red fruit aromas with hints of powdered cocoa and the suggestion of an ocean breeze. On the palate, fresh strawberry and cherry characters are supported by soft tannins and well-structured slate minerality.

Erin Connor


Week In Review 2/16/18


This past weekend, Lucas and I escaped the Chicago blizzard and headed to Minneapolis. Which sounds so backwards that they would have better weather, but never fear, the temps were in the negatives the whole time, just not snowing, thank goodness. We brought our sweet wolfpup Freya with us and she had tons of fun socializing with our friends’ dogs, and she slept for two days straight after we got back.

I got to meet my internet friend, Brenna, in person for the first time (!!!), which was super awesome. We also got to visit Lucas’s brother and our friends Tom & Toni, who we convinced to move to Oregon with us. It’s hard having friends and family that live so far away, so it was nice having a whole weekend of being with my people. And also a major win by recruiting them to pack up and head to the PNW with us so we don’t have to be so far apart. 🙂


I got my WDU query critique back this week! I won’t lie, I have been anxiously checking my email for the past three weeks. I felt like everything was riding on this critique–which is a silly notion, I know. Either (A) my query + first five were horrible and I’d have to start from scratch and be right back where I started or (B) it would be good and I could finally (and confidently) begin querying agents.

I’m so relieved to say it was the latter. I have a few minor things to tweak, but other than that, the query + first five were good. My assigned agent said she would have requested the full manuscript if she didn’t already have a few similar projects lined up. This gives me hope, because if I can interest her, surely others will be interested, right?! I’m allowing myself a day to celebrate (and breathe a sigh of relief) and then I’m sitting down tomorrow with an excel spreadsheet and mapping out my query attack.

All in all the webinar was definitely worth it. A lot of the information on the query process I had heard before through researching, but if you’re just beginning to research, it’s a great resource to learn a lot all in one go. And the one-on-one agent feedback is invaluable. You can see all the upcoming WDU workshops here.

I’m thinking about writing a whole post on what I’ve learned after I’ve sent out queries, if anyone would be interested. I feel pretty confident about my understanding of the “how to”, but I want to wait until I’ve sent my queries into the slush piles and see how I fare. Request for fulls? Silent rejections? Offers of rep? Who knows, but I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for coming on this journey with me.

Erin Connor