Plot Points

by | February 6, 2020 | General | 4 comments

By Ashley Lister

“A month’s worth of unplanned and directionless writing can save you hours on plotting.”

I’m not sure who is responsible for the quote above, but I have to admit it has a terrible ring of truth to it. My PhD thesis focused on the intricacies of plotting. My latest non-fiction book, How to Write Short Stories and Get Them Published, has a substantial chapter that looks at approaches to plotting. My most successful stories have been plotted meticulously before I got into the process of writing them.

And yet, still, I will often try to coast my way past the plotting part of the process as though it’s simply a matter of sitting in front of the keyboard and hammering out words until everything falls into place.

Before I continue, I want to say a brief word about the notion of plotters and pantsers. There are some people who believe that writers fall into these two categories when it comes to writing: with the plotters making extensive notes before beginning, so that the journey of their story is always known to them, and the pantsers (so-called because they write by the seat of their pants) who simply write until the story concludes, without much of a preconceived idea of where the story is going. Whilst I’m not going to argue against the idea of anyone identifying as a plotter or pantser, I do believe that most of us writers inhabit the middle ground of these dynamics. Some stories come to us in such a way that there is no need to map out the structure. Similarly, some stories benefit from mapping so that their nuances and complexities aren’t lost in the white-hot rush of getting the words on the page. And then, there are stories that can be plotted, and still manage to branch off into surprising new directions as they are being written.

I mention all of this because I’ve spent the past month busily not writing a novel. Each time I try to sit down and plot the story, I tell myself that plotting is the antithesis of creativity and this novel deserves better. Each time I try to sit down and explore where the next scene is going by simply writing it, I find myself tying up loose ends early or opening subplots that look set to take over the entire narrative.

All of which is my way of saying enough is enough. I’ve spent the last month trying to write this story without giving plotting or structure any of the credence it so justly deserves. I’m now going to spend a week plotting and planning and I shall see how that pans out. Hopefully, having explored so many ideas with the pantser approach, I should now have sufficient material to plot something exceptional.

I shall let you know how this adventure transpires next month.


Ashley Lister

Ashley Lister is a UK author responsible for more than two-dozen erotic novels written under a variety of pseudonyms. His most recent work, a non-fiction book recounting the exploits of UK swingers, is his second title published under his own name: Swingers: Female Confidential by Ashley Lister (Virgin Books; ISBN: 0753513439) Ashley’s non-fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines, including Forum, Chapter & Verse and The International Journal of Erotica. Nexus, Chimera and Silver Moon have published his full-length fiction, with shorter stories appearing in anthologies edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Rachel Kramer Bussel and Mitzi Szereto. He is very proud to be a regular contributor to ERWA.


  1. Rupert ramsgate

    I seldom plot out a story or a novel. I write content, and try things out. I have an entire work area (now named Scratchpad) where i try all manner of things out – writing styles, plot ideas, plot devices, characters, locations…you name it. Some of the content then gets taken out and put into other projects. Some of the content will never see the light of day. I have things there that I would look at and go “so YOU thought this was usable huh? You fool!”. So far two erotic pentalogies have emerged from Scratchpad, two novels, and and several novelettes. None of them completed yet, but they could be if i had enough damn time.
    I get serious about structure, plot and sequence when I think I have something substantial enough to carry a novelelette or a novel. And sometimes novels become novelettes or vice versa.

    • Ashley Lister


      One of the wonderful things about writing is that we can all approach the craft from such different attitudes. I would never be brave enough to try your R&D method of trying anything and everything, but I suspect it often pays dividends when you land on something novel or innovative.

      Thanks for your comment.


  2. Lisabet Sarai

    Hi, Ashley!

    My experience varies a lot with the book. Sometimes I see very clearly where I’m going. In other cases, the plot reveals itself as I write. I do think, though, that we need to be sensitive to situations like the one you describe, where we’re just not making progress due to a lack of structure. In that case, it’s time to try another approach.

    • Ashley Lister

      Hi Lisabet

      You make a valid point. However, being sensitive to a lack of progress is sometimes so difficult to see. Usually I find myself thinking that it’s not a fault with the story idea but simply a fault with the way I’m writing the story, or interpreting the events. From past experience I know it takes a long time for me to understand that it’s the story idea that isn’t working.


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