Plot Your Thriller Like a Boss

Three strategies borrowed from screenwriters



For commercial fiction writers, especially those who write in the suspense/thriller genre, good plotting is a must and poor plotting can ruin a novel. In this post, we’re borrowing plotting techniques from screenwriters. But aren’t they two completely different platforms for storytelling you might ask? Yes, however, screenwriters and novelists have much in common, and often learn from each other.


Treat Each Scene as a Mini-story

The average film is two hours long so efficiency is paramount to the screenwriter. Screenwriters view each scene as a mini-story that must accomplish multiple, specific goals. When plotting your novel ask yourself, what is the point of this scene? How does it move the story forward? What is the main conflict and ultimate emotional transformation? And finally, can this scene stand on its own even though it’s part of a larger story? While novelists have a few hundred pages to tell a story, a tightly woven plot can’t be over emphasized.

Break Free From Linear Plotting

Many writers plot in a linear fashion and for those who do (including yours truly), it’s time to break out of that constricting habit. One of the most freeing ways to plot your novel is to write the scenes out of sequence. Brainstorm every possible scene and plot point in your story. Write them down with no thought to their order or impact on the story.


Arrange Your Scenes for Maximum Impact


After you’ve brainstormed your scenes and plot points, it’s time to rearrange them for maximum impact. This techniques helps you to get rid of excess material that will slow your plot and pacing, helps you identify plot holes, and provides a clearer view of where each scene belongs in your story. This also helps to solidify your story structure.


Tools of the Trade - Plotting Toolbox

JK Rowling plotted the first Harry Potter novel on a napkin or so the story goes. While this method may appeal to some writers, there aremore secure tools available nowadays.


  • Index cards and sticky notes still work well, especially when they’re multi-colored. Each color could represent a specific character or Act in the story.

  • Scrivener has a nice storyboarding module to map out your story, often using digital index cards, in a high-level way that allows you to see your story visually and rearrange it.

  • Plottr is a web-based software that allows you plot your story and add multiple sub-plots with the option to download your finished outline.

  • One Stop for Writers may not have the same name recognition as Scrivener but it’s a powerful tool in its own right. Similar to the other tools mentioned, there are options for world building, story mapping, timelines, and worksheets. But what sets them apart is the thesaurus—a library composed of character motivations, emotions, character traits, settings etc. Those tools allow for a richer plotting and novel development experience. Full disclosure: I have no affiliation whatsoever with any of the platforms mentioned. This is strictly for educational and information purposes.


If any of these plotting techniques and tools appeal to you, check out these additional storytelling apps to boost your writing.


The Grip Lit blog is dedicated to providing real-world strategies and tactics on writing, publishing and marketing fiction for the aspiring thriller author.


Tagged in – fiction writing, plotting a novel, fiction publishing, thriller writing

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