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Plotting Means Mediums and Modes

Lime-Yay

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Now that I've decided to Focus (somewhat) on writing, my engineering brain has started to leak in through my ears. I've become interested in plotting. There's so much bouncing around my head anyway that I might as well get it down on paper.

The problem is, I am but a small monkey, lost in the mires of a vast, depthless keyboard.

I was able to describe my arcs with a couple of sentences, correlate them to chapters. Then I got greedy. I jumped to individual scenes. There's the when, the where, the POV. checkcheckcheck. The key elements I wanted to include in the scene was where it got messy. I had Seeds (little hints at things to come...), I had Reveals (usually the result of Seeds), I had the scene's Inciting Incident, Complication, Consequence. There's the overt plot of the Things Happening and the covert plot of Character Growth and then maybe subplots and arcs. Theming. My elaborate Excel spreadsheet became convoluted and I am a MASTER at elaborate Excel spreadsheets.

I realized: I do not know the building blocks of a scene. I have some gut instinct, the kind that comes from finger painting with spaghetti, but with plotting comes a knowledge of structure and tension-building and things that were just simply not discussed in Soil Mechanics 101.

So I think my questions are:

A. What tools do you use to plot? (Bonus points for scene worksheets that break things down for smol babby)
B. How do you keep track of all the big overarching things and also all the details? Which big things and which details do you track?
C. What elements of a scene do you make sure you hit each time?

Beyond the obvious of trying to outgrow my dumb bunny phase, I'm also going to take a funnel approach to my future plotting endeavors: start broad and become incrementally more detailed.

~Lime-Yay
 

CMBright

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Lime-Yay

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There are so many ways. If you want to start with broad strokes, the Snowflake method might be a good fit.

Be aware that no method fits every writer. So try out the Snowflake method, the Save the Cat beats, Dwight Swain's scenes and sequels and any other methods you find. Find the one(s) that works for you.
Thanks! It definitely took me a very long time to find a plot structure that made sense to me for a character-growth driven novel. Spent too much time trying to force fit my plot into beats that didn’t quite beat the right way, but it was so satisfying when I found the right fit and realized the plot in my head already had all the arcs it needed.
 
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For me, I use a varied approach of... milestones that I want to reach and they're usually written down in a summary format. But for now I just have a running document of my story and places and plot ideas. Sometimes I write it in the character's voice to get their character down. I've started doing save the cat beats as well. But I usually tackle that at the end of the first draft.

To keep it organized you can try milanote and dabblewriter. But there are plenty of novel organization apps out there
 

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I plot via playlist. I use songs to signify important scenes or character feelings throughout the book and put them in the order that I expect the book to progress. As the book continues, I find that new songs are needed, some songs have to move, and others that were planned no longer work. I found outlines to be too rigid for my brain and I wouldn't let the stories/characters develop naturally because I had things written down to progress in a specific way. The playlist method allows me to plot and plan without feeling like everything's set in stone.

Then, of course, there are the folks who don't plot at all. It all depends on what works best for you. Sometimes, it's worth experimenting to find out which is best for you (I used to use NaNoWriMo for that)
 

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Oh, I realized I didn't answer all your questions

For question B, I there aren't many things I specifically keep track of. Some that I've done is slang for my space opera, and I probably kept track of the 12 gifts in my 12 Days of Christmas book to make sure I was using them all (but I wrote that book in 3 days, so I might have just trusted myself to keep track of them in such a short time). These days I use Scrivener, and I just use one of the side Notes columns to occasionally write a note to remind me of, say, the acronym I made for that type of robot or what those herbs I just researched can do in Wicca or whatever. I might write a note to remind myself to go back three chapters and add such and such a thing that makes the current chapter work. If I miss something, I can always get it in revision.

For C, I'm not sure exactly what you're asking, but every scene should be driving the story forward. Preferably, it should be doing multiple things (characterization, plot, setting, etc.), but if it's not moving the story forward, it's probably not needed.
 
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JudiH

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The problem is, I am but a small monkey, lost in the mires of a vast, depthless keyboard.
Love this! :love:

I'm not nearly so organized. I've always looked at my writing as part intentional and part magic, and I'm always afraid if I mess with the process the magic will go away. Actually building a scene sounds dangerous. However, I'm going to check out some of the suggestions you've gotten--my writing does tend to flop around, so maybe I'll learn something that will help tighten it up.

It's interesting to read about how you approach your writing, it's so different from how I do it.
 
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Unimportant

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Now that I've decided to Focus (somewhat) on writing, my engineering brain has started to leak in through my ears. I've become interested in plotting. There's so much bouncing around my head anyway that I might as well get it down on paper.
You're writing novels, yes? (Because, speaking from experience, writing flash fiction is a different game...)
 

AnnieColleen

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Now that I've decided to Focus (somewhat) on writing, my engineering brain has started to leak in through my ears. I've become interested in plotting. There's so much bouncing around my head anyway that I might as well get it down on paper.
This doesn’t answer all your questions, but the MICE quotient is one way to look at plot & structure that scales to multiple levels and helps you determine where to focus at any given point. This particular link is a podcast episode (with transcript) because that’s what I have handy, but you can look up other sources if you prefer.
 
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Lime-Yay

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You're writing novels, yes? (Because, speaking from experience, writing flash fiction is a different game...)
Yes.

This doesn’t answer all your questions, but the MICE quotient is one way to look at plot & structure that scales to multiple levels and helps you determine where to focus at any given point. This particular link is a podcast episode (with transcript) because that’s what I have handy, but you can look up other sources if you prefer.
Thanks, I will check it out. Scalable would help for certain.

Thank you everyone for your comments. Can’t respond to everyone right now as I’m heading out the door but everyone’s insights are very appreciated. Checking out snowflakes and mice for now to see if anything sticks.
 
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neandermagnon

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Most importantly, there is no One True Way to plot - only what works for each individual writer. And each individual writer is different from all the others.

Try different things and see what works for you.

The following is what works for me, which I've provided to give an alternative possibility, in case anyone reading this thread finds something along these lines (or parts of it) works for them.

I don't plot in advance, aka "pantsing" (writing "by the seat of your pants" (which means underwear in my dialect - I think the original version is American but underwear seems more appropriate to be honest)) which is sometimes taken to mean "this writer doesn't plot" but what it actually means is that the plotting is done in your head, which could be in advance of writing or after you've started writing or any ratio of the two. Also, some people call this "discovery writing" because you discover the story as you go along.

A. What tools do you use to plot? (Bonus points for scene worksheets that break things down for smol babby)

My brain.

B. How do you keep track of all the big overarching things and also all the details? Which big things and which details do you track?

I continuously re-read and edit as I go. This keeps track of continuity. Occasionally I write stuff down, then forget about it completely and never go back to it, then rediscover it months or years later and marvel at how different the story turned out in the end.

I also usually plan out scenes in my head in advance of writing them. I tend to work on a scene by scene basis, with a vague end goal in mind, which is open to change/interpretation/"we'll see how it is when we get there" kind of thing. When I come to write a scene down, it doesn't always go the same way I planned it in my head. The important thing I focus on is that all the characters are doing things that are plausible based on their characterisation. Occasionally, this takes the story in an unexpected direction.

C. What elements of a scene do you make sure you hit each time?

I don't try to do this. Either the scene moves the story forward or it goes off on a tangent. While the occasional mini tangent is fine, big tangents get deleted* unless they make the story go in a better direction than I'd originally planned, or form a nice little sub plot (in which case they'd not actually end up being a tangent). There will be stuff related to characterisation and worldbuilding that I will show at various times, but not necessarily in every scene.

*editing as I go... it's more like if a scene takes the story in completely the wrong direction and I can't get it back that it becomes a tangent and I delete it and go back to the place where it started to go off the rails

There are some general things related to writing that I focus on, for example:
- is the voice consistent and is it right for the POV character?
- are the sentences varied?
- is there enough detail that the reader isn't going to be confused?
- is it engaging?
etc... reading your posts, it seems you're already pretty good at this kind of thing.
 

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I don't plot in advance, aka "pantsing" (writing "by the seat of your pants" (which means underwear in my dialect - I think the original version is American but underwear seems more appropriate to be honest)) which is sometimes taken to mean "this writer doesn't plot" but what it actually means is that the plotting is done in your head, which could be in advance of writing or after you've started writing or any ratio of the two. Also, some people call this "discovery writing" because you discover the story as you go along.

It was fun to read this, as tbh it comes very close to how I write, too. In fact, when I've tried to come up with a detailed plot and character arcs in advance before, I've generally found it harder to write the story than when I pants it.

The important thing I focus on is that all the characters are doing things that are plausible based on their characterisation. Occasionally, this takes the story in an unexpected direction.

I tend to start out with a fairly solid idea of the core personality of the main characters. Then it's a case of almost letting them write themselves, as my brain fills in the blanks for things like background, motivation, etc. I started out writing serialized fiction, where it would typically end up novel-length but I'd be trying to keep readers' attention on a per-chapter basis. I think that hammered home for me the idea that I couldn't afford to have a "filler chapter" where little happened (either in action, character development, or something else), because that risked jettisoning readers who would be unlikely to pick up again when the next chapter was posted.

I'll throw in some caveats, like the fact that I write romance (or romance-adjacent) so I do usually have a broad "goal" for the story in mind. That might be the happy-ever-after (or HFN), or some sort of personal epiphany for the MC. And my go-to themes are invariably "internal": the battle is often around self-actualization, and living the life (or being the person) they want to, and the journey to that. I'd probably have to plan a whole lot more if I was writing a spy drama, or an epic fantasy, or something along those lines (or, more likely, I'd be dire at those genres and give up).
 

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Yay! More Engineers in Novel make'n! I'm mech-eng, what're you?

So, in a move that surprises absolutely nobody, I used a spreadsheet at first. I too started my writing shenanigans as a smol monkey, so I leaned on my most powerful and immediately comforting organizational tool: Excel.

As with all things, what works for me may not for you, but I essentially made something after this fashion:

CharacterDescriptionPlot Point 1Plot Point 2Plot Point 3
Emet (MC)Construction robotGet hit by something BIG, hint at blossoming sentience.Ah! Feelings?!?! Run, freak out, police(?), freak out more.Digest having feelings and existential dread (Battery dying, no means to recharge)
NatalieMechanic for robotFix Emet, show empathy for busted machines.Act as intro for BBEG who're looking for Emet. Secretly try to help him.Warn Emet about incoming folks who've found him. Point him to safe-ish place.
TedCo-op studentGet saved from something BIG by Emet, report blossoming sentience.Get approached by Emet, do some light exposition, give reader a place to relax a bit.Run as a misdirect for reader and chasing robot police so Emet can get away.

This can go down to encompass every character, and widthwise to capture all relevant plot points I'd like them to hit. They also don't need to be detailed. A plot point may just be a scene I have in my head like 'Emet feels sad for the first time'. It's also handy for finding characters I don't need, or characters I want to have more plot happen with. I got rid of a few characters this way, folding them into other characters who have similar plot beats.

Also, because excel has built in search functions, if I turn the top row into a filter, I can sort for characters, type in things like 'BBEG' to see all instances of that in my plotting and what characters they impact etc.

I also eventually do one for 'Chapters' just numbering them from 1-30ish. In excel you can make drop down lists, so I make one for the character, and their plot points, so I can just use the drop downs to fill in my chapters with relevant plot points. After that's done, I can fill in a Chapter plot where I tie the points I want to hit together.

ChapterCharactersPlot PointsChapter Plot
1

1

1
Emet


Natalie


Ted
Emet is introduced, very robotic.

Nat is introduced, shows Ted Emet.

Ted is introduced, treats Emet like people, which is a no-no. Emet is a dangerous machine.
Nat is introducing Ted to Emet. Ted, the bright eyed co-op student that he is, goes to shake Emets hand. Nat tut-tuts him. We give him a wide birth unless you're trained. He can swing I-beams like a rolled up news paper. Emet follows all orders and protocols without issue.
2

2
Emet

Ted
Ted asks Emet questions re: capabilities.

Emet answers, references manual a lot. 'See section 2b-4'

Oh no! A wild accident appeared!

Emet saves Ted, gets hit by a truckload of I-beams.
Ted has been tasked with improving Emet's schedule efficiency. Ted is observing for now, asking questions. Emet gives boring arse answers. Takes some notes, looks up to see Emet rushing him. Gets thrown to safety in time to see Emet get rocked by a few tonnes of steel. I wanna do this in slow motion. Ted feels oddly aware of how much his shirt bites into him as Emet grabs it to throw him.
3blahblahblah


I can't perfectly replicate how the drop down boxes work here, but that's kinda how it ends up looking. I was tempted to merge the 'chapter' columns, but merged cells in excel can really bork your formulas and such.

Otherwise, there are an absolute metric heck-tonne of writing organizational tools out there. Some are pay to play like World Anvil, but REALLY powerful, some are as simple as a chart and diagram you can find online.
 

Lime-Yay

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I continuously re-read and edit as I go. This keeps track of continuity. Occasionally I write stuff down, then forget about it completely and never go back to it, then rediscover it months or years later and marvel at how different the story turned out in the end.

I also usually plan out scenes in my head in advance of writing them. I tend to work on a scene by scene basis, with a vague end goal in mind, which is open to change/interpretation/"we'll see how it is when we get there" kind of thing. When I come to write a scene down, it doesn't always go the same way I planned it in my head. The important thing I focus on is that all the characters are doing things that are plausible based on their characterisation. Occasionally, this takes the story in an unexpected direction.
This is how I currently write! Maybe slightly further out. I have very very detailed vision of the near future and then foggier the further out with some knowledge of critical plot points and where I want them to end up.

But within that there’s still room for creativity. Like there’s a scene I’ve known forever that I’ve wanted as a pivot point (a telephone argument) but it was only yesterday that I figured out where each character would be and what they would be doing during the call. So now I am moving the plot forward but I’m also adding external tension to the scene, additional characterization, mood via setting, and provide additional motivation towards the next plot point.

I feel that a lot for character-driven stories. I want to keep focus on the character arc, but not just have conversation after conversation after conversation. The external forces must tie together naturally with each other and with the internal angst, but not overpower. So my scene stress is often: did I remember to put everything in, or was it powerful enough?

I also worry about pacing because the right now seems bursting at the scenes and the later is barebones. I start to question— is it simply under-developed or is there not as much there there and I’m going to have to throw in a juggling clown or something to kill time?

I don’t expect to solve all my problems with a written outline but I hope it can be a useful tool.
 
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Lime-Yay

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I started out writing serialized fiction, where it would typically end up novel-length but I'd be trying to keep readers' attention on a per-chapter basis. I think that hammered home for me the idea that I couldn't afford to have a "filler chapter" where little happened (either in action, character development, or something else), because that risked jettisoning readers who would be unlikely to pick up again when the next chapter was posted.

I'll throw in some caveats, like the fact that I write romance (or romance-adjacent) so I do usually have a broad "goal" for the story in mind. That might be the happy-ever-after (or HFN), or some sort of personal epiphany for the MC. And my go-to themes are invariably "internal": the battle is often around self-actualization, and living the life (or being the person) they want to, and the journey to that.
yes yes yes. I feel like with romance it’s so easy to become a ball of nothingness in the middle because there’s the lack of tension on a scene by scene or chapter by chapter basis. That’s really a big motivator for me, preventing a glob of boring. It’s great you developed that skill early, I feel like it is a weakness for lots of folks in the genre. Looking forward to checking out your work!
 
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Lime-Yay

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Yay! More Engineers in Novel make'n! I'm mech-eng, what're you?

So, in a move that surprises absolutely nobody, I used a spreadsheet at first. I too started my writing shenanigans as a smol monkey, so I leaned on my most powerful and immediately comforting organizational tool: Excel.

As with all things, what works for me may not for you, but I essentially made something after this fashion:

CharacterDescriptionPlot Point 1Plot Point 2Plot Point 3
Emet (MC)Construction robotGet hit by something BIG, hint at blossoming sentience.Ah! Feelings?!?! Run, freak out, police(?), freak out more.Digest having feelings and existential dread (Battery dying, no means to recharge)
NatalieMechanic for robotFix Emet, show empathy for busted machines.Act as intro for BBEG who're looking for Emet. Secretly try to help him.Warn Emet about incoming folks who've found him. Point him to safe-ish place.
TedCo-op studentGet saved from something BIG by Emet, report blossoming sentience.Get approached by Emet, do some light exposition, give reader a place to relax a bit.Run as a misdirect for reader and chasing robot police so Emet can get away.

This can go down to encompass every character, and widthwise to capture all relevant plot points I'd like them to hit. They also don't need to be detailed. A plot point may just be a scene I have in my head like 'Emet feels sad for the first time'. It's also handy for finding characters I don't need, or characters I want to have more plot happen with. I got rid of a few characters this way, folding them into other characters who have similar plot beats.

Also, because excel has built in search functions, if I turn the top row into a filter, I can sort for characters, type in things like 'BBEG' to see all instances of that in my plotting and what characters they impact etc.

I also eventually do one for 'Chapters' just numbering them from 1-30ish. In excel you can make drop down lists, so I make one for the character, and their plot points, so I can just use the drop downs to fill in my chapters with relevant plot points. After that's done, I can fill in a Chapter plot where I tie the points I want to hit together.

ChapterCharactersPlot PointsChapter Plot
1

1

1
Emet


Natalie


Ted
Emet is introduced, very robotic.

Nat is introduced, shows Ted Emet.

Ted is introduced, treats Emet like people, which is a no-no. Emet is a dangerous machine.
Nat is introducing Ted to Emet. Ted, the bright eyed co-op student that he is, goes to shake Emets hand. Nat tut-tuts him. We give him a wide birth unless you're trained. He can swing I-beams like a rolled up news paper. Emet follows all orders and protocols without issue.
2

2
Emet

Ted
Ted asks Emet questions re: capabilities.

Emet answers, references manual a lot. 'See section 2b-4'

Oh no! A wild accident appeared!

Emet saves Ted, gets hit by a truckload of I-beams.
Ted has been tasked with improving Emet's schedule efficiency. Ted is observing for now, asking questions. Emet gives boring arse answers. Takes some notes, looks up to see Emet rushing him. Gets thrown to safety in time to see Emet get rocked by a few tonnes of steel. I wanna do this in slow motion. Ted feels oddly aware of how much his shirt bites into him as Emet grabs it to throw him.
3blahblahblah


I can't perfectly replicate how the drop down boxes work here, but that's kinda how it ends up looking. I was tempted to merge the 'chapter' columns, but merged cells in excel can really bork your formulas and such.
…………. We do seem to be on the page, don’t we? This is beautiful. I had many drop downs (and yes, no merged cells for my purposes) but I think I had too many drop downs and not enough columns. Maybe.

I think I’ll end up on with something pretty similar to this but need to refine all the nonsense I have going on for each major arc so I can try to be more strategic about chapter planning.

I often feel like a mech-eng trapped in a civil’s body. My dad is a mechanical engineer (automotive) and about half of my male relatives are mechanics or in tool and die. I wanted to be in the environmental field to save the world, etc. but ultimately I set myself up to take some comfort that climate change is job security for me. I believe in the literary world they call it irony.
 

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This is how I currently write! Maybe slightly further out. I have very very detailed vision of the near future and then foggier the further out with some knowledge of critical plot points and where I want them to end up.

I also worry about pacing because the right now seems bursting at the scenes and the later is barebones. I start to question— is it simply under-developed or is there not as much there there and I’m going to have to throw in a juggling clown or something to kill time?

I don’t expect to solve all my problems with a written outline but I hope it can be a useful tool.

I write much the same way. Have faith. It's like looking down a road, what's close to you is what you see most clearly, and the farther down the road you look, the less clear it is. But if you keep walking, you start to see the end more clearly. My biggest problem is having the persistence to get to the end, I'm always getting distracted by side roads.

More practically (sort of, I hope), sometime, if you're stuck or bored with the immediate material, start sketching out scenes for the later material. Since you have an idea of where you're going and what's going to happen, pick one of those events and start writing it. Even if you only get 5 or 6 pages, you've got a start and given your brain something to mull over while you're doing other things.

Me, I have to stop obsessively editing my first part and take my own advice, start filling in the back end. I think I know where it's going, so it would help if I started trying to flesh it out more. Although the last time I tried that, one of my favorite characters got killed and I worried my dog by starting to cry. It came as a total surprise to me, but it solved several plot problems I was having, and actually ended his character arc in a logical way, once I was able to think about it. But still...
 
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Lime-Yay

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I write much the same way. Have faith. It's like looking down a road, what's close to you is what you see most clearly, and the farther down the road you look, the less clear it is. But if you keep walking, you start to see the end more clearly. My biggest problem is having the persistence to get to the end, I'm always getting distracted by side roads.

More practically (sort of, I hope), sometime, if you're stuck or bored with the immediate material, start sketching out scenes for the later material. Since you have an idea of where you're going and what's going to happen, pick one of those events and start writing it. Even if you only get 5 or 6 pages, you've got a start and given your brain something to mull over while you're doing other things.

Me, I have to stop obsessively editing my first part and take my own advice, start filling in the back end. I think I know where it's going, so it would help if I started trying to flesh it out more. Although the last time I tried that, one of my favorite characters got killed and I worried my dog by starting to cry. It came as a total surprise to me, but it solved several plot problems I was having, and actually ended his character arc in a logical way, once I was able to think about it. But still...
I also get hung up on editing. I think a big goal for me is to write smarter not harder since I’m limited in chunks of writing time and don’t want to have to rewrite a ton. Don’t want to lose sight on what’s next or write myself into a corner. I know I’ll end up in some corners. So, we will see.

Some other updates:
- read through Snowflake method like 3 times but it kept looking like homework and I don’t understand how character birthdays influence the price of tea on China. Decided not for me for now.
-got through about half the MICE podcasts so far. Ok, but really just the basics so far so I’m looking forward to more meaty bits.
- read Romancing the Beat. Super easy, super quick read (took about an hour). I was charmed by the writing. I knew going into it that my current story didn’t fit those beats but still managed to work myself up about it. Still, really enjoyed and I’m sure I’ll reference back to for other projects.

Debating now whether I should read another story structure book or jump straight to a scene structure book.
 
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Ha! I’m also a big excel person (for work and also for random things in life, such as a furniture wishlist that I’m now assembling), but I’ve almost never thought of using it for my novel. I’ve downloaded a save the cat beat sheet once and it calculates how far into the story each beat is. It was mildly useful, but I only used it after finishing the whole book, not while planning it.

I resort to the basics — a notebook and pen — to keep track of all my ideas and plot points and characters etc. To me it is the free flow format that helps me think. I write on Scrivener, and have found the cork board format useful when planning scenes. I also use their notes section extensively to write general random thoughts and reminders to myself (“MORE TENSION HERE!“ “BRING BACK THIS DETAIL LATER”) or background notes for myself on what’s going on in a certain character’s head when they do or say a certain thing in a scene.

As for how to approach a scene (I assume that’s what you’re asking), I usually start with the characters. Where they are, what they are doing.

Not sure if this is helpful regarding what you’re asking, but I cannot resist a discussion that involves a drop down and merged cell and find it genuinely interesting that I have never thought of applying them to novel writing.
 
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No COVID yet. Still masking.
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My stupid brain keeps asking if "mediums" should be "medians".

(This is what comes of living with someone who lies in bed at night and reads chemistry and maths textbooks, and the Merck Index, for fun.

Murmurs of pity and sympathy will be gratefully received.)
 
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My stupid brain keeps asking if "mediums" should be "medians".

(This is what comes of living with someone who lies in bed at night and reads chemistry and maths textbooks, and the Merck Index, for fun.

Murmurs of pity and sympathy will be gratefully received.)
It’s supposed to make you think of medians. Mean, median, and mode are all ways of looking at a dataset. Means, modes, are ways of doing things, mediums are the things through which you do those things. Ties back to the originating post about applying the engineering brain (ie the mean/median/mode part) to writing (asking about specific means, mediums, and modes).
 

pebbleg

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It’s supposed to make you think of medians. Mean, median, and mode are all ways of looking at a dataset. Means, modes, are ways of doing things, mediums are the things through which you do those things. Ties back to the originating post about applying the engineering brain (ie the mean/median/mode part) to writing (asking about specific means, mediums, and modes).
It is such a genius choice, not only with the tying back, but also means, mediums and modes make perfect sense in this context. Kudos.

Also: I need a pivot table to enter the discussion now
 
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