Originally created for helping work teams collaborate for better workflows, I've found a digital software tool that can be used for plotting novels with more convenience and clarity.
Whether you're a plotter or a "pantser" (or even a "plantser"), there comes a time in every book where your book's structure must be mapped out. While there are various types of story structures out there ready for us to use as the "bones" of our book - from The Hero's Journey to The Seven-Act-Structure, to Save The Cat - another excellent one that was borrowed from screenwriting - generally speaking, for a story to be good, it must follow some sort of cohesive narrative structure that allows for our characters to go through transformation, growth, and run through their arc. Some argue that trying to follow an existing plot structure template can make for boring same-old stories and should be avoided, while others insist that there are really only a handful of types of stories in the world and that when we boil them down, they're pretty much all the same: main character experiences an inciting incident that disrupts their normal life, they experience a call to action, and whether they initially refuse it or not, they wind up going down a new path that leads them to change (whether that is the world around them or their norm changing, or them changing, or both). But I'm not here to talk about whether obsessing over creating a great plot matters or not, which genres are more plot-driven, or even what the difference between plot and story is. I'm here to talk about an awesome little digital tool that has made my life easier when it comes to actually mapping out my plot, and making it make sense.
One afternoon at my day job, our Project Manager - a very experienced guy who had once been tasked with handling the creation and launch of all of the interactive digital menus for one of the world's biggest fast food chains in one very large European country - introduced me to a website called Miro. He wasn't doing it with my book in mind - he had shown it to me because a few key teams in the company were suffering from a bad case of miscommunication and inefficiency, and he was using it to create Kanban boards and improve our workflow processes, as a lead-up to training us to use issue and project tracking software Jira. But Jira isn't the one that excites me (unless you're a tech project manager, that one probably won't excite most people, hah).
While we were creating these workflows, full of their colourful bubbles, connective arrows, and colourful boxes to create what is essentially pretty flowcharts, I had a brainwave: I could use this a digital pinboard for mapping out the plot of my novel! I had begun writing my book with various lists of notes - the plot sketched out on a physical notebook, on my Macbook's trusty notes app, and on various pieces of paper that I'd inevitably lose and then mentally kick myself over later - but I'd reached a point where it was just becoming really complicated to keep track of everything going on in my story. There was the main character, her arc, and the main plot - then a sub-plot, the arcs of my supporting characters, trying to make sure it all flowed well within good story beats, with as few plot holes as possible (or none, if I were really hopeful), and foreshadowing and clues, and and and... at some point, it all became so much, so overwhelming, that my brain felt like it was melting every time I sat down to write. I'd spend weekend after weekend staring at my mass of notes, one of the voices in my head singing, "Hello darkness, my old friend," to my writer's block. I thought of George R. R. Martin and his insanely detailed stories with multiple storylines and points of view, and together with my empathy and admiration, thinking of how successful he is versus me - a novice writer trying to smash out my debut novel - my brain felt like it was short-circuiting even more.
At some point, I even tried making a physical pinboard using post-it notes and connective threads. "This will work. I can see it more clearly this way," I told myself, full of renewed determination. Except I normally write in cafes because I don't have the space to at home, and after one or two attempts to carry the physical pinboard with me - people's judgmental looks be damned - I had to admit defeat. Driving it around in Dubai's heat had melted the glue, and the post-it all notes fell off and began curling up at the edges. At home, my cats kept trying to nibble at the edges. Feeling persistent and undeterred, I tried another tactic: "I'm an artist, I like to draw. I'll try it that way." I took a giant sketchpad and mapped it all out there, carrying that with me instead. And it was great, at first - except I'd lost the flexibility of my original pinboard, and when parts of the story needed to move and shift around, I had to erase and re-draw, and it soon became a huge old mess.
This is what my melting brain saw when it looked at Miro, and it lit up with hope. "DIGITAL STICKY NOTES," I whispered to myself eagerly. I got home from work that night and Googled it immediately - it was free to create a basic account, and I searched everywhere for author templates. "Surely someone has thought of this before," I thought. But alas, there were no book templates to be found, at least when I looked. So I created my own - and it has been AWESOME for helping me keep track of my story, plot and re-plot my book, and do so with clarity. I'm pretty sure this is what helped me finish my manuscript, and then see where the issues were when I suddenly decided I had to rewrite the entire thing in a different order and with a different POV. It seems that I'm a glutton for punishment, at least in the pursuit of creating a good story. This thing allowed me to create columns for each act, connect characters' story arcs to each other, mark out foreshadowing and keep track of what I'd revealed in each part of a mystery unfolding, and essentially became a wall of digital sticky notes - complete with the use of emojis if I wished - that I could carry around within my laptop.
Book plotting is not what Miro was created for, at all - it's marketed as a "visual platform to [help teams] connect, collaborate, and create - together" - but I suppose it was helping the different parts of my brain, or the different characters and elements in my book, do that. I immediately WhatsApp-ed my group of writer pals to tell them. Within days, they messaged me saying they loved it. I used it to create my own template based on a 3-act 27-point plot structure, split into 3 sections (one for each act), then with each of the 27 points as an individual chapter. I then created a colour-coded key of post-its, with each colour representing a different character, which I'd use in each of those columns. It might not be the ideal template for every writer and every story, but it certainly worked for me. It took me a good hour or two, but it was worth it. For the record, you don't have to create one from scratch either - you can always browse the templates already available and, if you find one you like, make a copy of it and use that as a baseline which you can tweak until it's suited to your specific needs. Once mine was done, I excitedly sent screenshots of them to my crew. "Those are the sexiest screencaps I've ever seen in my life," one of them said. (Hey, to us, it's a big deal ok!). She then created her own - the layout and visuals more suited to her own needs - and used them on the novel she was writing at the time, and then to plot out her next book when she'd finished that one (she's a fast writer). Once I had finished the manuscript of my first novel (during that dead phase where I simply needed to step away from it for a while before I could even think about edits for a next draft), I began plotting my second novel out on my precious new little custom template too.
I need to clarify that I am not and never have been paid by Miro to promote it, nor is this sponsored in any way, shape, or form. I just found it so helpful that I couldn't help but share, in case it helped other fellow hopeful authors - such as my group of writing fellows - climb their way out of an overwhelming plotting hole (see what I did there?) too. In fact, I don't even know who founded the company, where their offices are, or any of the things I'd probably usually discover about something I've enjoyed using so much. Since I can now see where I'm going with this story more clearly, and the whole point of it was to help me get my book written faster that I might have otherwise, that's time I could spend on writing my book instead - and that's always got to be my main priority!