Fantasy Writing Course

Empower Your Words Today

Forming Your Plot

During the first five years that I was writing the series, I made plans and wrote small pieces of all the books. I concentrate on one book at a time, though occasionally I will get an idea for a future book and scribble it down for future reference.
~ JK Rowling

It doesn’t take the literary equivalent of a rocket scientist to understand that J. K. Rowling knew the end of her story before she began.  She wasn’t some ‘seat-of-the-pants’ writer who was led like a butterfly over the wood.  No, she thoroughly explored the world of her imagination before she began.  Otherwise, how would she have been able to tie the horcrux in book 2 with book 7, or the useful Vanishing Cabinet that finally explains the mystery of book 6, or Snape’s suspicious activities all through the books?  Or, develop the Weasley twins’ hobby into their eventual expertise in creating (and selling!) mischief? Or, Dumbledore’s continuing faith and confidence in Harry, that led him to rely upon the boy tremendously by the end of his character’s tenure? What about Hermione’s strength at casting effective spells that grew larger in scope with virtually every book? Or, Harry’s dreams of Voldemort that grew more lucid as time went on.

Jo told Larry King how long it took her to plan the series before she began writing in earnest:

‘Yes, I spent five years -- it was five years before -- between having that idea and finishing the first book and during those five years I was planning the whole seven book series, so it's already written in stone.’  She also described her work in a talk with Entertainment Weekly as the fruit of ‘10 years’ meticulous planning’ and that each book required her to review her plans for months.

Any writer who wanted to adopt Jo’s method of writing would do well do plan their stories carefully and give their storyline time to mature and develop (like a good wine).

Plotting - The Prizoner of Azkaban

Above is a representational diagram of how J. K. Rowling used the two qualities of danger and pleasure to write the 22 chapters of the balanced, and yet highly suspenseful novel, The Prisoner of Azkaban:

The graph above shows that when there was high pleasure there was usually low danger and vice versa. We can see that the author took turns with high danger and pleasure in each chapter.  We can also see that she made sure that there was high stimulus throughout the entire book.  The danger stimulus gradually increased towards the climax as the stakes got higher and then tapered afterwards. 

If you haven't already done so, download and read
The Sure-Fire Goblet of Fantasy Writing.
It shows in a step-by-step format how to plot successfully.
It includes a blank book outline summary for you to fill in.

Plotting Exercise

For this composing activity you will need:

  • An understanding of the Snowflake Method of writing (see download).
  • Rowling’s transcribed plotting diagram/road map as an example or template – download the Sure-Fire Goblet of Fantasy Writing to view (You can most definitely tweak this to suit your own story and purposes, but this entire book has been about helping you learn from the master, so why completely reinvent the wheel?)
  • Your notes and completed activities so far.


  • Now using the two guides mentioned, fill in what your story is about.  Start with the big picture and then fill in more and more detail as you go.

    Plotting - The Order of the Phoenix

    In order to successfully create a gripping plot line, whether for a single book or a series, making a chart that shows the development of certain elements side by side can often be extremely helpful. For instance, in the handwritten note page that Jo made (download the Sure-Fire Goblet of Fantasy Writing to view) you’ll see that she created a timeline down the left-hand column, followed by the “title” of her scene or plot point, then actual notes on the development of the plot in that segment, followed by a prophecy that was made (when one was applicable), followed by sections delineating, among other things, what was transpiring within the Order of the Phoenix, and finally two separate boxes of character notes (Snape and Hagrid & Group) and what was going on with them during the plot development.

    This became her ‘road map’ to make sure she was reporting/writing from all angles as the plot progressed. It helped to thicken the intrigue to illustrate more than one perspective, show the effects on the various characters and factions involved as the plot unfolded and it was also useful in keeping herself on task with the writing being done in a timely manner, according to her self-imposed deadlines.

    To write like Rowling, you may wish to come up with your own chart based loosely on her model for plotting. Breaking plot development down into more finite details such as she has done helps a writer interweave all previous elements into the current exposition. You can make the development of the story more believable because it’s presented from various angles/character perspectives, and thus subsequent simultaneous impact of the development will be more compelling or seem justified as it relates to multiple aspects of your novel. In other words, it’s quite possibly that this was one major element of Rowling’s phenomenal success; she did her best to leave no stone unturned in explaining plot components. If you suddenly insert an intriguing twist in your plot but fail to write about how it affects the other key characters, it will seem unbelievable and ineffective to your reader—very manipulative and divisive, in fact.  Another useful aspect of such a blueprint, or road map, is that it helps you as a writer to allow things to occur in your plot within a realistic amount of time in your story world.