Simply Writing| A Four letter word called PLOT by Ebony McKenna

In Creative Writing, Guest Articles by RWA Blog Coordinator21 Comments

Welcome everyone!

A while ago I asked what topics you’d like covered, and Toni mentioned she’d love a post on plotting. As a pantser, I don’t believe I’m the best person to offer advice, so I’ve asked Ebony McKenna, author of Edit Your Romance Novel, to give us a rundown on her process of plotting.

I hope you guys find this post as interesting and helpful as I did

Hi everyone, my name’s Ebony McKenna and I plot my stories before writing them.

I used to think all writers plotted. Because that’s what I did, so it must be what everyone does, yes? After all, how do you know where you’re going – how do you pace the story – unless you plot?

Over the decades of writing, I’ve created a structure that really suits me, and it’s perfect for writing romance novels. It involves 13 main plot points that give the story strength and purpose. It works really well writers who love a little structure before starting. If you’re a pantser (writing by the seat of your pants) you probably still do plot, just not as deliberately. It’s probably a subconscious thing you’ve picked up from reading novels. The plotting often comes later, when you’re revising.

Whatever works for you, keep doing it. For me, plotting is my jam, and PLOT is definitely not a four-letter word.

Why do I plot?

Call it a hangover from high school, where we were encouraged (in some cases severely encouraged) to plan essays before launching into them. “Have a plan,” the teachers said.  “Show us where you’re going.” After high school I became a journalist, which meant planning and structure were part of life. Plan the questions I’d ask, have an idea of what the story would be, write it with the most important details first as (here’s the depressing bit) people only read the first three paragraphs of any news story before skipping to the next one.

This was the 1990s, and we had short attention spans back then. *eye roll emoji*

Plotting gives me comfort. It’s how I get things done. How I stay on track. Turns out, I have a really short attention span and I easily lose my way. But I also have an excellent sense of direction and can read road maps without having to rotate them. Alas, I also get hideously car sick, so I am hopeless at directing the driver.

I like to know where I’m going. With a novel-sized story of multiple characters and plot points to keep track of and a growing romance to unfurl as the story goes along, plot is my salvation. It gives me a fair idea of how to build bridges between major moments. It doesn’t mean I know absolutely everything before I start writing. That feels like too much work. But it gives me a couple of big markers to get the story in general shape. Plus, if I know my character is going to find herself locked in a library overnight . . . I will get to know her character and discover exactly why she’s in there. Is she a librarian? A swotty student? Maybe she’s a clumsy thief? I don’t force my characters to ‘be at this point at this time because the plot says so.’ That would be infuriating to the reader. Instead, I examine the character and work out what would motivate her to be in that place at that time. That kind of internal logic is really satisfying.

I hardly ever plot the whole story out though, because I don’t know every little thing.

Most times when a character is fighting for my attention inside my crowded brain, it’s the ones with a truly entertaining ‘call to adventure’ or ‘crazy moment of action’ who end up getting written. This gives me the spark of excitement that I’m possibly on to something. With the Ondine novels, that first spark of excitement was a really strong image of a teen girl with a rat on her shoulder, standing in front of a Duke. For some reason, someone wanted to kill the Duke, and the rat was talking. LOL, talking rat. Suddenly, the rat wasn’t a rat, he was a ferret! Oooh, interesting! Then the ferret jumped down from her shoulder and transformed into a handsome young lad! Instantly I had to know more (and I was pretty sure I was on to something!) I had no idea this would become four books – I had a moment, not even a whole novel. The more I thought about this girl and her talking ferret, the more I wanted to know about her. I wondered what their black moment would be. (They would part, of course … but why would he leave her if they were so happily in love?)

Plotting before I begin writing helps me nail these really pivotal scenes. I imagine what the character has done to find herself in this terrible situation. I let her suffer for a while longer, thinking about how she is going to get out of this fix. She has to be the one to fix her own mess, by the way. Someone else stepping in and making it right is so unsatisfying.

If these major scenes stay with me, I feel confident enough to make a whole novel out of it. I get to know the characters and what they want, what’s holding them back, who is in their way etc. (There are so many more novels in my head, but they have to fight for my attention before I’ll commit to writing them – did I mention I had a short attention span?)

As you’ve no doubt realised, because you’re so smart, a ‘Call to Adventure’ and a ‘Black Moment’ are only two scenes. The way to get go from two scenes to a whole novel is to make sure I have plenty more moments. That’s where I bring in my 13 Main Scenes and have a play. My 13 scenes are:

  1. Opening Image – Regular world
  2. Disturbance
  3. Call To Adventure
  4. State the Plan
  5. Further Complications
  6. The Promise of the Premise
  7. Midpoint
  8. Bad Guys Close In – Things Go Wrong
  9. Ticking Clock
  10. Black Moment
  11. Climb Out of Pit – New Plan
  12. Storming The Castle
  13. Closing Image

Despite this magnificent structure, my first draft is still a huge mess. That’s fine, because first drafts are meant to be terrible. But once I’m done with the draft, I understand my characters and know more about how they act and react to things. After a while (it took six drafts with 1916-ish) the characters start telling me the truth. Because until now, they’d been on their best behaviour. And characters lie. Once I know them and they know me, we build trust and they let me in.

So yeah, it took six or seven drafts for me to realise Ingrid in 1916-ish was ADHD. And then another draft for me to realise I have ADHD as well. Things really started to make so much more sense after that.

Structure brings me comfort, and I’m sure on a subconscious level, my readers find that structure satisfying too. There is plenty of room for surprises and plot twists, and it helps me understand my characters. Even if you’re a panster, a love of structure and plotting will help with later drafts. It will get your manuscript into excellent shape to send out on submission (or hire an editor if you’re self-publishing).

Love Ebs

Ebony McKenna

Ebony McKenna is the author of the RuBY winning The Girl and The Ghost and is the author of Edit Your Own Romance Novel, which features the 13 Main Scenes.

Thanks Ebs, for your wonderful overview on plotting.

If you’d like more information on Ebs’ process, take a peek at her book, Edit Your Own Romance Novel.

Or you can visit her website at

And that’s all folks!

I hope Ebs has given you food for thought when plotting.

Firstly, thank you all for coming back this month. I really appreciate every one of you reading, commenting and sharing my posts.

Once again, I’m offering one lucky commenter a half hour skype session to discuss anything writing related. It could be your query, your synopsis or 300 words from your current work in progress. Yes, you heard right. We get to chat, face-to-face—or computer screen to computer screen—and chat about whatever it is about your writing you’d like to discuss.

To enter the draw, please comment below and share the most surprising or useful thing you’ve learned since reading my Simply Writing blogs. Or perhaps you can pinpoint exactly what you’ll incorporate into your writer’s bio after reading this post.

Any and all comments welcome! I love reading your feedback and input each month ☺ and much as this blog isn’t set up for notifications, I always ALWAYS answer your comments. So make sure you pop back to check my replies ☺

If you’d like extra chances to win, share links to this blog on any or all social media sites. Tag me so I know you’ve shared, and the more shares, the more times I’ll place your name in the draw.

A name will be drawn in a week’s time, and winners will be notified on the blog, so keep your eyes and ears peeled. Make sure you revisit the blog or watch my facebook posts to see when I’ve picked a winner ☺

Thanks so much for stopping by. Have a fabulous month, and I’ll see you all again in June.

Michelle xx

Michelle Somers

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Michelle Somers is a bookworm from way back. An ex-Kiwi who now calls Australia home, she’s a professional killer and matchmaker, a storyteller and a romantic. Words are her power and her passion. Her heroes and heroines always get their happy ever after, but she’ll put them through one hell of a journey to get there.

She lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her real life hero and three little heroes in the making, and Emmie, a furry black feline who thinks she’s a dog. Her debut novel, Lethal in Love won the Romance Writers of Australia’s 2016 Romantic Book of the Year (RuBY) and the 2013 Valerie Parv Award. The second in her Melbourne Murder series, Murder Most Unusual was released in February 2017.

In between books, she runs workshops – both face-to-face and online – for writers wanting to hone their craft. The first book in her Simply Writing Series, Simply Synopsis, is changing the way writers craft this vital, yet perplexing, writing tool. And through her Simply Writing series of blogs, she hopes to simplify so much more.

You can find out all about Michelle, her adventures and her books at her website or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram.


  1. 18 months ago I purchased Ebony’s book and it gave me real insight into how I had structured the first draft of my novel – I’d worked on the traditional 3 act method when plotting but solidifying the story and summarising it into 13 main scenes really clarified where I needed to restructure, rewrite and helped me focus. I’ve since written another manuscript and used Ebony’s method as a template (I am a scientist and so a plotter at heart!) It’s another go to reference for my writers toolbox!

    1. Wow that’s fabulous Nancy!
      I remember when I first started on my writing journey, I was fortunate to attend one of Eb’s workshops on the staircase of turning points. It completely changed the way I approached crafting my stories.
      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.
      Wishing you heaps of luck in the draw!
      Michelle xx

  2. Thanks for organising this. I would love to know more about each of the 13 scenes. I going to try using this method. Thanks Michelle and Ebony

    1. My pleasure Toni 🙂 So glad you found the post useful.
      Good luck with using Ebs’ method and thanks for the suggestion that sparked this idea for this post.
      Heaps of luck in the draw.
      Michelle xxx

  3. Perfect timing again! I have been considering trying to plot first on paper instead of in my head. This has given me a good starting point.

  4. Thank you for sharing this. I’m working on my first book and I have no ‘real’ writing experience. I was worried about my lack of plotting.i just keep finding the characters take me off track.. I appreciate your pointers and I think I’ve been focussing too much on the subject matter instead of the major points I want to achieve. So thank you 😊

    1. Hi Lynda
      So glad you found the post helpful 🙂 Yes, the major plot points or major turning points are what will keep you on track and keep your readers engaged (that and great, believable, 3-dimensional characters 🙂 )
      Best of luck with writing now you’ve discovered a new direction.
      Thanks so much for commenting, and best of luck in the draw!
      Michelle xxx

  5. Thanks, Ebony, for the great tips and hints on plotting. I’m a bit of a plotser but am finding that each time I write something it does help to have even a brief outline/overview to work from, otherwise it’s easy to write heaps of superfluous stuff. And, given I have a day job as well as home commitments I really don’t have the time to spend on writing I’m not going to use. So some plotting really helps keep me on track.

    1. Hi Sandra
      I’m so glad you found Ebs’ post helpful 🙂
      Yes, some plotting, even if it’s an idea of major turning points, will really help keep you on track and cut down on the ‘writing off course’.
      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Heaps of luck in this month’s draw!
      Michelle xxx

    1. Thanks Katerina.
      So glad you enjoyed Ebs’ post.
      One thing I’ve discovered over time is that even the most die-hard pantser still plots in some way. Even if it’s as loose as having a rough idea or picture of certain scenes or moments they want to include.
      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!
      Best of luck in the draw 🙂
      Michelle xx

  6. Ebony’s book is one of those that lives on my keeper shelf, right near my keyboard. It’s that go to manual to check I’m on track when I’m self-editing–believe me, I could use any and all the help I can get.

    Thank you so much, Michelle and Ebony for sharing.♥️

    1. Hi Mel
      I agree, Ebs techniques are fabulous. I’m so glad you find her book (and this blog) so helpful.
      Thanks so much for stopping to comment 🙂
      Best of luck in the draw!
      Michelle xx

  7. Michelle, this blog just keeps getting better and better! I loved this guest post by Ebony so much – it’s exactly what I needed right now. I have felt for a while like I’ve been facing my own Black Moment and floundering with my writing projects. I think this will really help me get back on track. So, many thanks to you both! <3

    1. Hi Louisa
      Wow, I’m so glad this came at the right time for you! Awesome that we could help you get back on track with your writing 🙂
      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and let us know. I love hearing what a difference this blog makes to writers. Best of luck for the draw!
      Michelle xx

  8. Ebs point about the characters letting you in really rang out to me. I’ve found I get a strong inkling about four chapters in but it’s takes a good few drafts of the full story before I go “Ohhhh” so now we’re getting the real deal here.
    And I have to add, my daughter has read all of Ebony’s books bar The Girl and the Ghost (as I have that one as an e-book) and she has worn the covers off she’s read them so many times!

    1. Hi Karina
      Wow, love this! Both Ebs words speaking to you as well as your daughter loving her books. She’s an awesome author, so I was so thrilled when she agreed to do this post 🙂
      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.
      Heaps of luck with the draw!
      Michelle xx

  9. Thank you to everyone who commented this month!
    And the winner is . . .

    Lynda!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Please contact me on to claim your critique.

    And if you missed out this month, never fear. There’s always June . . .

    Much love.

    Michelle xxx

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