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MBM: Plotting vs. Plodding with Tobi Summers

Today, I have my second guest, Tobi Summers, here for MARCH BOOK MADNESS. I’m excited for Tobi’s post since it’s all about plotting (outlining before writing) versus plodding (just starting and plowing through until you hopefully find an end). Both have their advantages, so I’ll just let Tobi jump right in on the subject. 

Tobi: I have a love-hate relationship with the plot of a story.  Before 2011, I’d finished three novellas (at the time I called them novels).  The first was written in middle school and probably should be discarded for the purposes of this conversation, but the other two shared one thing in common—they had no plots. 

Oh, it kind of looked like they did for awhile.  Merry-Go-Roundwas about a married couple remembering their past after receiving an invitation to their childhood friend’s wedding.  Peter James was about five kids and their babysitter who discover a magical, Neverland-esque world in their basement.

But the longer you write a book, the more you start to realize which plots are strong and which aren’t.  And neither of these was strong.  They were, at best, good premises that had the potential to develop into good stories.  Because Peter James isn’t about them discovering the world.  It’s about what happens after they discover it, which I didn’t know when I dove into writing the story.  Merry-Go-Roundwound up being almost a series of independent scenes snipped from these characters’ lives, and in doing so, lost the tension that keeps you turning the page. 

When I sat down to write Rosettalast year, I was determined to avoid this problem.  So I wrote the blurb that would go on the back of the book, and I came up with two strong plot threads and a character arc before I ever typed the prologue.  They changed a lot as I was writing, but the basic themes stayed in place.  It was still rough going, and I found I had a lot to rewrite, but I finished it, and I was at least halfway to proud when it was done.  There’s conflict and action, and a little less time where everyone walks through the woods and talks about nothing.


I do more plotting than plodding, because I know that going in without one hasn’t yielded the results I wanted.  There are plenty of people who plan more, people who use outlines and break down their stories chapter by chapter, but I can’t be one of those people.  I did that when I was younger, right up until the point where the story veered away from the outline, and I chose to shut down rather than try to adapt.  Plotting the story too strictly can be suffocating, and it doesn’t leave much room to adjust for what the characters are doing.

Each writer’s different though (and each book too!), and there are plenty of advantages and disadvantages to both methods.  For me, plotting helps me avoid writer’s block and make sure my story has tension.  But it can also be restrictive because I’m not so good at pulling back and realizing that it’s okay for the story to go a different direction than what I’d initially planned.  On the other hand, plodding allows the story more freedom to develop naturally.  Unfortunately, that also means the story can more easily veer off-track.

Bio:  Tobi Summers is a writer paying the bills by working for a legal publishing company.  She completed her first novella twelve years ago and has been writing seriously ever since.  She’s currently editing her fourth novel, writing her fifth, and writing television reviews. You can find her blog at, on Twitter @tobisummersor you can email her at

Rebecca: Thanks so much for weighing in Tobi!!! I love the idea of writing the blurb for the back of the book first. That’s something I’m going to try now. For me, plotting too heavily does suffocate my writing like you mentioned. I’m personally stuck somewhere in the middle, flipping back and forth between heavy plotting/outlining seasons, and just writing blindly. I’m not sure this is all bad. I’ve heard of at least a few big-time authors who do a very detailed outline and then never look at it after they begin writing. To me, that’s the best of both worlds because you start with a plan but then let the story and characters go in a natural direction. But I completely agree with you, Tobi, that each writer has their own style, even each book will follow a different path. Man, I love writing! 🙂  Thanks again Tobi! 

Tobi left us a list of great questions on this subject: 

What do you do when you’re coming up with the plot of the story?  Are you an outliner?  Do you let the characters drive the plot, or the plot develop the characters?  Have you ever gone into a project without a plot where the results have pleasantly surprised you? 

PS–If you missed the schedule for March Book Madness, here it is. 

           Lynn Wiese Sneyd: Thurs, March 8, Querying

          Tobi Summers: Tues, March 13, Plotting vs. Plodding

          JoLynne Lyon: Thurs, March 15, Marketing

          Cassie Mae: Tues, March 20, Editing

          Jessica Khoury: Thurs, March 22, Editing

          Tricia Pease: Tues, March 27th, Reading

          Sharon Belknap: Thurs, March 29, Reading

   (if it’s blue, you can click on it to go to that post)


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