The Post-it Method

MY PLAN FOR THE BAY. (Don’t look too closely – possible spoilers!)

Some writers don’t plan their novels. Lee Child, for example, just starts writing without knowing how the story will end. Other writers, like Jane Harper, plan in great detail.

I plan but not in huge detail and my plan changes as I write. I use ‘The Post-It Method’ after hearing other writers describe how it helped them.

My whiteboard is 5-foot high. Some writers use actual Post-It Notes, but I use scraps of paper with magnets to stick them to the board because it’s hot here in Queensland and I need my windows open. The sea breeze would blow Post-its away! Using non-sticky paper also makes it easier to shuffle them around and play with the order.

Each scrap of paper represents a scene. I write 1-3 sentences per scene: the main events, characters, and maybe the setting and/or the time of day. Sometimes I just write bullet points. Both my published novels have around 75 scenes. I’ve analysed a few of my favourite thriller novels and they mostly seem to have around 70-80 scenes.

As you can see, I’m really messy! Most of these scene cards have been written and rewritten MANY times! So I just scribble.

I never used to plan my novels. I have four or five unpublished novels, all unfinished and unsubmitted because I got in a mess with the storyline.

My debut thriller SHIVER was the first novel I planned. I spent one month planning and wrote it in six months. The scraps of paper provided a map of the story and made life so much easier! I couldn’t have written SHIVER without planning. The story has a dual timeline and the order of events and reveals is crucial to the story. I spent hours – days! – shuffling scraps of paper around but it was time well spent. I used two colours of paper, one for each timeline. The story is all told from the main character, Milla’s point of view. I like to end scenes on cliff-hangers (or surprises or reveals) where possible, to keep the reader gripped, so I write these onto the bottom of each and highlight them.

I used the same method to plan THE BAY but it took WAY longer, partly due to the drama of Covid school closures, my divorce, and my head injury from a surfing accident, but also the pressure of my deadline, which zapped my creativity and made me panic! I spent several months planning and once I began writing I went down lots of dead ends and had to revise the plan, but the method still helped.

THE BAY is mostly told from Kenna’s point of view, but there are single chapters from each of the other main characters. I used white paper for Kenna, yellow for the other characters, blue for the killer’s point of view, and green for flashback scenes. This gave me a clear picture of how the different viewpoints were spread out.

I wrote a large ‘S’ on scenes that showed surfing, ‘A’ on action scenes, ‘T’ on scary bits of the thriller plot, and drew a heart on scenes that furthered the romance sub-plot. I didn’t want the surfing or romantic scenes too close together, and I wanted more scary bits in the last third.

When I finish the initial planning stage, I usually start off with around 30 scenes and panic that I don’t have enough plot. Then I start writing and expand some scenes into two or more, add in flashback scenes, and more plot complications develop.

The Post-its Method is particularly helpful with thrillers and crime fiction, in my opinion, and other novels with complicated plots, dual timelines or complicated structures, because it makes it easy to experiment with the order of events.

I’m so glad I found this method of planning, otherwise I might never have finished writing either of my novels!

3 thoughts on “The Post-it Method

  1. This is great, Allie. I’m a somewhere in the middle too, and agree that some planning is necessary for me to be able to finish! I’ve moved away from the board at the moment – use long hand in notebooks to tease out the plot after the original ideas. But this is my first ‘crimey’ novel so may have to return to the board when I have a few more scenes to keep in my head!

  2. Hi Ali …
    You ARE the Bomb ! … I am sitting on pins and needles waiting for my copy of The Swell/Bay to arrive … I need an Allie Reynolds “fix” to transport me to that place that only you know how to provide … You are a gift !! … Dick

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