Novel Plotting and Planning

How I use Microsoft One Note

Check out the video on my You Tube channel covering One Note

There are countless ways to plot and plan your novel. You can use a notebook, binder or white board if you like physically plotting. You can use any amount of online programs or apps. You can just not plot at all. The right to chose is yours.

My plotting and planning preferences have morphed over the years. From using pen and paper to what I use today – One Note.

When I really started focusing on my writing in 2005, I plotted and planned my novels by using hard cover, spiral bound notebooks. I wrote the story in pencil in the notebook as well as all plotting materials. At the end of the story, it makes kind of a scrapbook. I have these for almost every book I’ve written.

In 2018 I started using Mircosoft Excel and a USB dedicated to my writing to keep all plotting material. I’m just going to say it – I HATE Excel. With a passion. I have to use Excel in my 9-5 and it’s triggered panic attacks. I’m not kidding. But I used it for a brief minute because it was there.

At the end of 2019 I looked into One Note. Like Excel it was included in my Microsoft 365 subscription (I pay $7 a month for access to Word, Excel, One Note, etc). I hated it too. It made no sense to me at first. But I did love the idea of using tabs like in a notebook.

I forced myself to learn it, at least enough to operate it, and it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to use and navigate.

Breakwater Notebook, Amelia Tab, Personal Details Page

Breakwater is a current work in progress and has been for a few years now. It’s original plot structure was in the hated Excel so I moved it all over to One Note. I first used One Note to plot and note another work in progress throughout this Spring and Summer, Cedarwood.

Above, You can see how I created the One Note Notebook entitled Breakwater and added Tabs or Sections; Amelia (I do one tab for each main character), The Town, The Plot, Chapter Summaries and Calendars.

Each tab has it’s own set of Pages and Subpages.

These are outlines that work for me and I love them.

Below, you’ll see The Town Tab with the Inspiration Page open to show some photos that I found.

In the above, you’ll see the Plot Tab opened to the Soundtrack Page. I love keeping track of lists of songs that remind me of the story or the characters I’m working on.

Watch the You Tube video above to see a tutorial on how to set up this Breakwater Notebook and the tabs. This will be the second novel I’ve used One Note to plot and I love it!

Also, a quick add. I’ve also been using an online program called http://www.pacemaker.press for an extra, added push for plotting and planning. There is a free version and a paid version, so I can only speak to the free version, but it’s pretty cool.

I use it more to just track my daily word counts, but it’s absolutely worth a look. You can set up your goal and each day you input your progress. It gives a little confetti celebration every time you enter progress so that’s pretty cool.

If you’re a plotter or just want an easy place to store notes, ideas or web links I’d suggested getting to know and using One Note. It’s simple and fun, can be personalized and better than Excel. Just my opinion.

The Journey of Endless

Click above to see the You Tube video on my channel covering The Journey of Endless

Endless. The very first novel I wrote and self published. It’s not the first novel I ever wrote. That one we’ll discuss at a much later date. That one has it’s own terrifying history.

Back to Endless. I began writing Endless in 2005. As you know, I’ve loved writing and been writing forever but this one was different. I did research and plotted. I printed and saved so many things from the internet. I bought a huge spiral bound, hard back journal and began writing, with a pencil, my story.

Oringal Endless

I spent years on Endless, on and off. I probably finished her around 2010. I spent months writing and then months, sometimes years, not writing. For the longest time Endless lived in this notebook. (Do you want to see even more inside the Original Endless? Click Contact Me and sign up for my newsletter. You’ll get sneak peeks inside delivered right to your inbox!) Other than myself, there are three other people who have seen this version of Endless.

I wrote several of my other novels in this exact pattern – hard bound, spiral notebook with a pencil. I now call these my Novel Scrapbooks because there are so many pieces tucked and taped into these notebooks.

In 2015, I started writing more and hearing the buzz about online or self publishing. I’ll be honest. I did very little research and it shows. I went with lulu.com and I love them. I find their platform easy to use and the cost to do this is way, way low. I say I did little research because I plowed into the process like I do everything – 100 mph and no idea what I’m doing. I’ve lost count on how many versions of Endless I self published in the beginning because of flaws and mistakes I made with and in the manuscripts. Five or more maybe? That’s on me, though, not Lulu.

Endless, first few self pub versions

Flying at 100 mph leaves room for plenty of mistakes. There were tons and tons of typos, formatting issues and stuff that just made the book look like it was obviously self published. I wanted to change that but I wasn’t sure if I had the capability to do so. I let Endless sit for a few years.

In that time, I joined a local writing group and starting learning so much about my craft that it was almost embarrassing that I’d put this bad boy out there they way I had. But, we live and we learn. And we continued learning. One of the most important things I learned in this process was to know when to stop and put your baby out there.

As writers, we’re always going to be learning new things and masterning those skills so in essence our writing can change over time. A lot of people can look at their first novels and cringe or chose to see how far they’ve come. I’ve come a long way and I have a heck of a long way still to go. I’m no expert. There are rules I still don’t remember or understand. And that’s okay.

In 2018 I took the new skills I learned and re-published Endless with a flashy new cover font and sent her out again. I also started submitting Endless to traditional publishers.

As of now – the dreaded 2020 – I’ve got a folder full of sparkling rejections. I’m in the process of re-editing Endless for one final issuance before I let my baby be in the world as she is.

Sneak Peak

I could probably spend forever learning new skills and changing her over and over again, but it’s time to move forward. I love this book. It will always be extremely special to me.

I also want to mention – my self publishing journey is probably different than almost anyone else out there. I work with a minimal budget. I don’t pay for editing – I have family and friends work on it with me. I use photos taken by people I personally know for cover photos. I do all the formatting myself in Lulu. I can’t afford editors, designers or formatters. Not yet. Maybe never. So I fully understand my books will never be the high level of awesomeness that other more equiped self published authors are. That’s okay too.

I’d love to have my books in a brick and mortar Barnes and Noble, instead of just online. I’d really love my books to Lifetime movies. I’m also completely happy with having the journies that I write be out there. Someone, someday, may find them and enjoy them and that’s the coolest feeling ever.

New Resource & Giveaway Alert: The Occupation Thesaurus Writing Guide Is Here!

Hi everyone! Today I have something fun to share…a special chance to win some help with your writing bills. Awesome, right?

Some of you may know Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi of Writers Helping Writers. Well, today they are releasing a new book, and I’m part of their street team. I’m handing the blog over to them so they can tell you about their Writer’s Showcase event, new book, and a great freebie to check out. Read on!


Certain details can reveal a lot about a character, such as their goals, desires, and backstory wounds. But did you know there’s another detail that can tie your character’s arc to the plot, provide intense, multi-layered conflict, AND shorten the “get to know the character” curve for readers?

It’s true. Your character’s occupation is a GOLD MINE of storytelling potential.

Think about it: how much time do you spend on the job? Does it fulfill you or frustrate you? Can you separate work from home? Is it causing you challenges, creating obstacles…or bringing you joy and helping you live your truth?

Just like us, most characters will have a job, and the work they do will impact their life. The ups and downs can serve us well in the story.

Maybe you haven’t thought much about jobs in the past and how they act as a window into your character’s personality, interests, and skills. It’s okay, you aren’t alone. The good news is that The Occupation Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Jobs, Vocations, and Careers is going to do all the heavy lifting for you. (Here’s one of the job profiles we cover in this book: FIREFIGHTER.)

GIVEAWAY ALERT: THE WRITER’S SHOWCASE

To celebrate the release of a new book, Writers Helping Writers has a giveaway happening July 20th & July 23rd. You can win some great prizes, including gift certificates that can be spent on writing services within our Writer’s Showcase. Stop by to enter!

Resource Alert: A List of Additional Jobs Profiles For Your Characters

Some of the amazing writers in our community have put together additional career profiles for you, based on jobs they have done in the past. What a great way to get accurate information so you can better describe the roles and responsibilities that go with a specific job, right? To access this list, GO HERE.

Happy writing to all!

The Occupation Thesaurus – Review

The Occupation Thesaurus is yet another priceless author resource released in this series. As with the prior Thesauruses in this collection, The Occupation version is chalked full of insights and information that many writers may not have realized they needed.

My Women’s Fiction stories tend to involve quite a few details about the characters professions. Going through the Table of Contents, I was excited to see the wide variety of careers covered in this book. It would be impossible to contain every occupation out there, so several “popular” occupations I was looking for were not included. However, the list does include careers you may have never considered for your characters, maybe Dream Interpreter or Human Test Subject. I knew the second I saw Social Media Manager on the list – a career my WIP main character has – this would be a great addition to my collection.

Do not skip the informational chapters before you get to the meat of the book! It is hard not to jump right to the page you may be interested in (see me immediately flipping to Social Media Manager) but it is worth the complete read. When developing our stories and our characters, we may not take time to put much effort into the characters career or current job situation. It may seem like a small detail, but as outlined in these beginning chapters, it is quite important to know what your character does for a living and why.

Angela and Becca do another amazing job outlining that why so we as authors have a better understanding of how to create a complete world for our characters. In reading these pages you may be surprised as to how much a specific career or job will impress upon your character. We may not realize, as in our real lives, our careers are a major part of many life decisions.

The beginning of the book touches on the basic need’s humans have and how these factors into choosing an occupation. Also discussed are how emotional wounds, personality traits, skills and beliefs come into play when we chose our occupation, whether we realize it or not. The same is said for characters that we create.

The authors also cover how one’s occupation can be a catalyst for propelling the story forward, creating and maintaining tension within the plot and invoke insights into the character and their life.

The details given to each individual occupation is what you would expect from the authors and like the other Thesaurus volumes. I love how each occupation covers information about that career, how to get there and the traits someone in that field may possess. This is helpful in any aspect of character development. Whether your character is formed and needs a job, or you have a job idea and need a body to fill it, the information here will help any author fill in the blanks.

Occupations I have given my characters: Editor, Librarian, Account Manager, Veterinarian Technician, ER Nurse, Teacher (several teachers), School Psychologist, Travel Photographer, Management Consultant, and my latest, Social Media Manager. I did skip right to this page. I have used the other Thesaurus volumes in this series to help mold this character and I chose Social Media Manager because I needed her to work from home. I loved seeing how spot on the information was for her and the fact that she is a thirty-something doing this job, not a fresh face out of school.

As with the other books in this series, the back of The Occupation Thesaurus contains various appendixes you can use as outlines, helpful tools, and online pintables.

This book releases July 20, 2020 and will make a great addition to your writers’ toolbox. You will love this resource as much as the other Thesauruses written by these authors. I received an ARC of The Occupation Thesaurus and cannot wait to get my hands on a physical copy to highlight and make notes in!

The Books that Made Me

Over time, much of what we read can’t help but impact our writing skills

Reading has been a big part of my life since I was able to do it. I don’t remember the exact age, but I remember the book.

The first book I read by myself

A Little Golden Book called Where’s Goldie was it for me. I could read it all by myself and I let everyone know it. I read it several times a day, day after day. I still have it, back cover and maybe the last page are missing. I read it to my little girl when the time came. It’s a special book and I hold it dear.

Now, it wasn’t much of a mind bender or a book that got you to think, but it did start that spark of wondering what other books were out there and what other adventure could I find?

Once I started school and was able to check out books from the library, I checked out the same book everytime. It was a book about kittens called Kittens Are Like That. Every library trip I’d check that book out until someone told me I couldn’t anymore. The absolute kicker of that story is my daughter brought the book home from the library last year and I laughed and cried at the same time.

Let’s fast forward a little to works that actual formed me as a writer. A lot of things have inspired my writings, but some books in particular left a large mark.

The Baby Sitters Club Series

Anyone who knows me personally knows I’ve had a decades long obsession with The BSC. I don’t remember which book got me first, but I do remember falling in love and reading as many of them as I possibly could. I’d save my allowance and buy nothing but the latest books. My Nana would spend summers up north and she loved going to flea markets and yard sales, so every year I’d make her a list of the books I needed. I’d wait on pins and needles for her to come home in the fall and see what books she brought for me.

Once I got a job – big goal alert – I had to own the entire series. I scoared Ebay for months and eventually bought every book in The BSC cataloge. And I love them. They are currently shelved in my daughter’s room.

Now why did these books shape who I am as a writer? When I read ( and now when I write) I love imagining myself within the story. As a tween I could easily relate to the baby sitters and imagine being in their world. It was easy and FUN to escape with them to camp at Shadow Lake or try and solve a mystery of a haunted house that had a ghost! It was so easy to jump right in and imagine the Baby Sitters Club as your friends. I think that has carried on with my into my writing; I want my readers to be able to relate and jump into the life of the character and play along.

The BSC books that had a little mystery to them were always some of my favorites and I’d read them over and over again. However, my favorite Baby Sitters Club book is MaryAnne and the Memory Garden. This book knocked me on my thirteen year old butt. The book deals with the Club and the sudden loss of a classmate in a car crash. Now, I’m not going to lie. This is partly where my taste for writing car crashes and tragedy comes from. I reread this book over and over again, back to back to back. It fascinated me, the intricate workings of losing someone at a young age – someone your own age! Huge, huge impact on me then and even now.

Jane Eyre

I got my hands on a copy of the classic novel, Jane Eyre, at some point in middle school and lost my mind. Imagine yourself as a thirteen or fourteen year old girl reading about the trials and tribulations of young Jane and how she fought and overcame so much! And, oh, she falls in love with this way older guy and oh (SPOILER ALERT) finds his crazy wife hidden away and locked in the attic? Hell yes! This novel took my mind to all kinds of weird places – maybe places it wasn’t ready to go, but it’s what happened. This will, hands down, forever by my favorite novel.

The back and forth between Jane and Rochester and the push and pull of the dialoge and relationship peaked my interest in the dynamics of a lead relationship. It may not be the best to form a foundation on, but damn it was a good one.

Sandra Brown

As a young twenty something, I worked in our local Dollar Tree store. It was an easy job for a decent amount of money. I was a cashier, then a third key manager for a few months until I got demoted back to a cashier. It wasn’t a particularly hard job, but I enjoyed talking with customers and my coworkers more than the physical aspects of the job.

One coworker was an avid reader and suggested I read a book she had just finished. She said it was right up my alley – a little bit of mystery, some intrigue, a star-crossed, albeit so, so wrong lead relationship. I was in. She handed over a hard back copy of Sandra Brown’s A Kiss Remembered.

I ingested this book in no time flat. It was the first I had ever heard of Sandra Brown and the first book I had ever read with that level of intesity. If you aren’t familar with Sandra Brown, her books tend to be spicy on top of spicy at points. For years I tore into every Sandra Brown book I could get my hands on.

She writes her relationships a little differently than I do, but I like how easily her characters related to each other. Most of the relationships she writes also have a form of a forbidden quality to them, which I love. I haven’t written much like that, but it does factor in to how I formulate the relationships I create.

Kate Morton

Another friend, in another job, my current job, gifted me a Kate Morton novel many years ago. I had never heard of Kate Morton or her work and when I read the book jacket, I thought “Hmm”. This had some mystery and intrigue, but also had historical threads through it and that wasn’t really on my radar at this time. I had been in quite a reading drought at this time in my past – like, I hadn’t read a book in a over a year. I know. Unacceptable.

The book I was gifted was The Lake House. I didn’t read it right away, but once I did, I was hooked. Kate Morton is my current favorite author. I own all her books and I have one left I haven’t read that I’m saving. Reading her work is a totally immersive expierence for me and I savior that. I get completely drawn into the story, the characters, to all that is going on. Her work is the type of book that you put down and you have to take a minute and THINK about where and when you are. Her novel The Forgotten Garden is my #1 for that reason – while reading it, I was in the novel, brushing aside the dust, feeling the excitement of unearthing this forgotten place, piecing together a mystery. Putting the book down was like gasping for air or coming back to reality. I aspire to transport readers like that. I want you to put down my book and not know where the heck you are because you were so wrapped up in this other journey.

Whether you read and write, or just one or the other, books affect the way you move forward. Good stories leave you giddy and excited to start the next. Amazing stories leave lasting marks that you may not even realize.

Interview of Author Brandi MacCurdy

Interview created and conducted by: her 8 year old daughter, Jennifer

Do you like being a cat owner? Why or why not?

I do enjoy being a cat owner. Our cat can be very entertaining, but he can be very messy as well.

 

Would you want to own a different kind of pet?

Lately I’ve been wondering if we should get a dog.

 

If you could own any type of animal in the world what would it be and why?

I’d own a giraffe because they are my spirit animal. One day I hope I get to meet one up close.

 

What is your favorite holiday? Why is it your favorite?

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. I love the colors, the feel of being spooked.

 

What is your favorite room in your house?

Probably my little office nook.

 

If you could have any career what would it be?

The dream has always been to be a best-selling author.

 

What is your hobby?

I write, I read, I watch YouTube videos. I craft and most of all I plan in my Happy Planner.

 

What is your favorite store?

That’s a three-way tie between Barnes and Noble, Michaels and Home Goods

 

What is your favorite sport?

To watch; Nascar. I don’t participate in sports lol

 

What is your favorite object in your house?

My desk. It was a Christmas gift from when I was a kid. It’s got a lot of amazing memories tied to it.

 

Would you rather eat at home or at a restaurant? If at home, what would you eat? If at a restaurant, where would you go?

At a restaurant, hands down. And I’d go to a good Mexican restaurant.

 

What chore would you do most and what chore would you do least?

I’d say organizing is what I do most. And I do everything else least. I despise dishes, laundry and cooking most of all.

 

Where is your favorite destination?

Absolutely Disney. I also love to be near water, but not necessarily in it. If we’re talking global travel, it’s a dream to visit Australia.

 

If you could draw anything what would you draw?

I cannot draw at all, but if I could I’d like to be able to illustrate children’s books.

 

Would you write with a typewriter or a quill?

Excellent question. I do love a typewriter, but I’ve never written with a quill, so that could be fun.

 

As a child, what was your favorite stuffed animal?

Mr. Brownie Bear. A stuffed teddy bear that my Nana owned and eventually gave to me.

 

What is your favorite board game?

Clue

 

Who was your first crush?

A kid named Jared in either first or third grade.

 

What is your favorite book series?

The Baby Sitters Club and The Joe Grey Mysteries

 

What is your favorite cartoon?

To clarify I’m going with “animation” and that’s Lilo and Stitch

 

Have you ever broken a part of your body? If you have, what did you break?

Technically, I’ve never broken a bone, but I suspect I may have broken a pinky toe once or twice.

 

What is your favorite kind of jewelry?

Bracelets

 

What is your favorite number?

9 or 11

 

What is your favorite letter?

I guess B

 

What is your favorite movie?

Serenity