A man is riding a bike on a hill.
Close this search box.
A watercolor illustration of a typewriter with a note on it.

How to Turn Your Plot Points into Scenes {yes, another outlining post}

by Kellyn Roth |
November 2, 2019

I was going to let outlining rest now and post about something else, but a question a friend commented kept niggling at the back of my head. And I just couldn’t let it go.

In an article a few weeks ago, I discussed my current, complicated outlining method, but I totally neglected to give tips for developing my plot points into scenes. (For a refresher on that method, click here.)

And it doesn’t make sense to not answer that question (how to go from plot points—bare bones—to scenes—flesh and blood and muscles) in another post. Furthermore, you could use this method while writing if you didn’t do a detailed outline, so it’ll be useful for you NaNoers!

How to Turn Your Plot Points into Scenes

So let’s start with the basic question …

“Hey Kellyn! I’m trying to figure out plotting, so I was happy when I saw you did a post on it! My one question is how do you get from the plot points to the scenes? I see how you described the scenes in your outline, but how do you come up with scenes you know will be important to the story?”

That’s a great question, and one I totally glossed over. So here’s my somewhat step-by-step guide to turning your plot points (e.g. “this next half of the book is all about blank”) into scenes (e.g. “here’s a event-by-event summary of what happens in this next half of the book”).

I start with the main plot point.

Let’s say that’s:

“Ivy, an 11-almost-12-year-old girl who struggles with a mental disability, is feeling abandoned with her mom distracted by the new dad she doesn’t know or care for, Alice growing up, and Nettie being married. She struggles to find her place in the family and to have a purpose in the world.”

Now, you can see I already had a lot of information there. To get that, I had to think about a couple things.

This is my summary for the first half of the first act (e.g. my set up). And in those two sentences (one of which is hugely rambly), I say everything I need to set up (more or less).

To get that, think about your character’s normal world. Though Ivy’s normal world isn’t ideal, that’s exactly where she starts—in this stuck, empty place where she feels unloved by her family.

So spend a bit of time just brainstorming where your character starts (or whatever it is that they’ll need to conquer/get through/experience in this portion of the story) and write it down in a few concise sentences.

Then think about how you could show the plot points.

From that first little point, I got four scenes. I wasn’t sure how many I would get at first, of course, but I just started writing down the things that would portray it.

I started out with questions such as “What would show Ivy’s feelings of abandonment by her family?” and “How can I portray that without making her parents and family the worst ever?” (They’re not perfect, but they’re not trying to hurt her, and I had to show that without making everyone put down the book in complete frustration.)

This is where the brainstorming comes in. I look at the problems I have and think about how I can solve them. Or rather I look at the plot that needs to happen and see how I can show it.

Then I get to things like, “Well, if Ivy’s parents had given her to the care of a maid who verbally abuses her, Ivy is going to be a mess, and it’s going to trigger the rest of the story.” So I start out showing Ivy being verbally abused by this horrid maid.

Once you have an idea, keep going.

The maid gets fired after Ivy’s sister finds out and tells their parents, but now that we had this mini victory, I know I need to get right back into Ivy’s need to seek help for her life.

So of course this means Ivy’s parents need to have guests over at their house which means Ivy will be overwhelmed by their presence which means …

Basically, I keep on thinking of ways to show the plot points through the story. Remember, showing takes up a lot more space than telling, so you can expect you plot points to expand into scenes if you just focus on that aspect.

Another example from later on:

This is a snippet from a plot point (1st half of second act):

“[Ivy] also becomes intrigued by the mystery of Violet Angel but doesn’t believe she can do anything to help.”

How can I show this? Well, Ivy needs to be introduced to Violet. So she needs to “meet” her – though in this case I’m not introducing her to Violet until later on face to face. At first she just learns about her from others, from hearing her screams in the halls (… don’t ask …), etc. I found out a “fun” way to do that.

Next, she needs to become interested. Well, people talk about Violet to Ivy, and Ivy needs to relate to her. And something about Violet’s struggle needs to appeal to Ivy – what is that? I had to find that out, too, and figure out how to show it.

So yes, lots of brainstorming for every snippet. This isn’t something I did overnight! It took me quite a while to come up with all this — and in this case I had a lot of the material laid out for me already. It was still a struggle, though!

But don’t give up! Keep problem-solving.

It’s, for me, just a matter of brainstorming how to show stuff and how to solve problems I know need solved. Having a very basic, bare-bones structure and working forwards from there is always helpful for me.

I personally don’t just start at the beginning and start writing out scenes … I wouldn’t know where to begin.

But once I know where I’m going and the problems I have to solve, I’m more capable of filling in the gaps with scenes. And I don’t stress it if I get stuck! I just move on and think about it later.

Inspiration doesn’t always strike easily, though, so here’s a very important tip:

Don’t go at it alone!

Writing is not as solitary a game as most people would have us think it is. You need brainstorming buddies! Absolutely need. So don’t forget to get them!

I have friends – actually, many groups of friends – who I am randomly saying things like, “Where can I fit in a cute Ivordy scene?” or “Where should I put this scene where Ivy and Violet are talking?”

And of course we talk about bigger picture issues like plot holes, gaps in character development, et cetera. Sometimes just talking it out is enough to get the wheels of my mind turning!

So rely on your friends. You can trust them to give you some of the best ideas you’ll ever have! (And no, that doesn’t distract from your novel’s originality! As long as you’re not stealing ideas they came up with for their novels, you should be fine!

And those are my best tips for expanding plots points into scenes. I hope these are helpful to you and encourage you to craft the outline you need to succeed (… even if that’s not outline at all).


~Kellyn Roth~


How is your NaNoWriMo going? I’m working on Ivy Introspective! So excited to keep going. And also … what kind of outline are you using? How do you get ideas for what to write next?


What do you think of my thoughts?

What do you think of my thoughts?

Follow my blog

Want to receive notifications of new posts? Let\'s make this happen!

Join 1,617 other subscribers