Charlotte Bennardo: Just… Don’t Do It and GIVEAWAY

“Just write it.” That’s the advice given to aspiring writers. But what happens when you write yourself into a hole and you don’t know where the story goes? Or you have to reread your novel to get back in the groove after being away a bit?

Plot the book.

It’s not that hard. As a reformed ‘pantster’ (writing by the seat of your pants, not knowing what comes next) I can tell you plotting is better. Here’s how:

Bennardo_BlondeopsCvr_72dpiIn one sentence, write your basic idea, i.e. 16 year-old-hacker girl gets caught, sent to Italy with family friends, uncovers plot against First Lady. (This is Blonde OPS).

Next, expand from one sentence to 2-15. (Goes to Rome, meets cute guy, has to work at internship, suspicious things happen, car chase, CIA, FBI, Italian police, hackers show up.)  Just throwing a few extra details into sentences helps kick that imagination on. Now you’re on fire as your brain adds scenes and subplots (office romance, shadowy figure could be murderer, office intrigue, no letter from Mom).

The last step is to outline—one or two sentences per chapter. Maybe you want to put the action on Post-It notes so you can move them around on a board (this is very popular, and good for major revisions). You want the First Lady to show up and there’s a threat. Wait, that has to come after there’s a case of someone being silenced to add drama and suspense. Play around with the order.

When you think you’ve gotten everything in the order you like, sit down to write. However (there’s always a but…)

  1. Don’t feel you have to stick with the outline. It’s meant to be a guide, not a prison. You are the keeper and what you say goes, so if you want to kill someone off, you can.
  2. Try to stop writing at the end of a chapter so that when you pick up again, you can read the last few sentences, look at the notes for the next chapter, and it will all click.
  3. If you need to make a major revision, update the Post-Its first so that you can see at a glance if the proposed changes will work, and how it will affect the whole story.


Try this: take a picture or other simple book. Write down the gist of the book in one sentence. Then go to two. Finally, write several sentences that give the major plot points. When you get how this works, if you still want a little more practice before you move on to a novel, try a chapter book. (This also works great for summaries, either for school or your book- slowly expanding instead of trying to write the whole thing at once.)

I learned this trick from another writer and while he applied it to writing summaries of your book, I found it worked just as great for plotting a book.

Good luck!



Until Hollywood calls, Charlotte lives in NJ with her husband, three children, two needy cats and sometimes a deranged squirrel. She is the co-author of Blonde Ops (St. Martin’s/Dunne) and the Sirenz series (Sirenz, Sirenz Back In Fashion, Flux). She’s written for magazines and newspapers. Currently she’s working on solo sci fi, ghost, and time travel novels and loves to hear from fans on Twitter @charbennardo or through her blog.


Char is giving away a signed copy of one of her books of the winner’s choice (US only). If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win, please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing. Good luck!

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Charlotte’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

124 comments on “Charlotte Bennardo: Just… Don’t Do It and GIVEAWAY

  1. susanzonca says:

    Seeing the outline as a guide rather than a prison is very helpful to me. Too often I have gotten in a wrestling match to be true to my outline when I could have merely changed the outline.


  2. Nadine Gamble says:

    Thank you for your post and the great exercise sheet.


  3. I think starting with simple works and moving up to more sophisticated ones will be the key for mastering the summarizing exercise. Thanks, Char.


  4. I’ve gotten off track so many times with past projects simply because I hadn’t taken the time to plot out a storyline and structure. Thanks for the words of wisdom.


  5. Val McCammon says:

    I also need to plot more to stay on track, and I do like the reminder that the outline then works as a guide. Thanks, Charlotte.


  6. Michelle Leonard says:

    Great advice for expanding from the idea level to the story for plotting purposes. Thanks, Charlotte.


  7. Traci Bold says:

    You hit the nail on the head when I get trapped in my story and do not know how to get out. Usually I just toss it into the documents file and go back to it after i work something else or not at all. Now I have a plan of attack. Thank you so much Charlotte!


  8. Lauri Meyers says:

    Love your plotting process Charlotte. It makes it sound – dare I say – easy! I like tricking my brain into things … “Oh, don’t be scared, we are just going to write one sentence. Now, we are going to write three.”


  9. pathaap says:

    Great tactic! Thanks!


  10. Debbie Vilardi says:

    Great way to slowly build and outline.


  11. I like the “just write one sentence” approach. We can all do that, right? Oh, then just a couple more…. and a couple more… and before you know it there’s the plot. thanks!


  12. Love your cool photo!


  13. Rachel H says:

    Catching up today, your books look great. I appreciate the tricks you shared here. I like to plan things out, but sometimes don’t know where to start. .


  14. Oooo! I love the idea of expanding out from your pitch! Thanks for the tip, Charlotte!


  15. Andrea B says:

    Time to revise the pitch and see what happens! I’m running into the action in the wrong order with my WIP and it is driving. me. crazy. I might have to try the post-its!


  16. Jenifer says:

    Interesting idea, but I’m not akin to just pick up a pencil and write, or sit down at the computer and write.


  17. Anne Lipton says:

    Thanks for the tip-filled post and helpful exercises. This is how I like to build a book, too.


  18. Susan Schade says:

    This is helpful for something new I’m working on. Thank you!


  19. As a pantser, I know that plotting is better, but it’s easier said then done.


  20. writersideup says:

    The easier, the better—and faster! This is great, Charlotte 😀 Thank you! And I’m so curious about the deranged squirrel 😉


  21. ptnozell says:

    The way you describe the plotting process makes me think even I could stop being a pantser. Love the reminder that it’s not a prison & that you can build the plot one sentence at a time. Thanks, Charlotte!


  22. mona861 says:

    Wow, a one sentence premise/outline, then add fillings and toppings. I think that I can even do that! Thank you!


  23. MaDonna says:

    Love the idea of 2-3 sentences for each chapter. Thanks!


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