Visual Plotting: The Pretty Problem Board by Kristen Strassel

Posted by on Sep 9, 2013 in Guest Post, Writing | 0 comments

Visual Plotting: The Pretty Problem Board by Kristen Strassel

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. As writers, we can add to that great ideas, grand schemes, and pipe dreams. We can either bitch and moan about what doesn’t work out or we can figure out a way to take a detour and make the best of the opportunities we are presented with.

When I decided to self publish Because The Night, my agent suggested doing it as part of a trilogy. While it’s a suggestion that makes perfect sense, it wasn’t my original plan. Until this point, I’d been working on a collection of stories with different characters using the same mythology. I was just about to embark on the third at the time began this new path. My finished books became book one and book two. Both end on cliffhangers (because that’s the kind of girl I am). Things needed to be wrapped up. Now I had an interesting dilemma for book three.

How do I wrap up two different stories in one book?

The first thing I needed to do was create a visual. I took post it notes and wrote down each unresolved problem on its own sticky. I asked myself questions about how the characters would respond and interact with each other. This isn’t an outline. I named it “My pretty little problem board” when I posted the photo on Twitter.

Plotting with a Problem Board

I go in between being a plotter and a pantser. My outlines are more like lists of things that need to happen, or ideas that will move the plot forward. I let my characters rule the roost, so that list shifts and changes as new problems arise. This board was a great way for me to visualize what needed to happen so I could close up any plot holes. Lists make me happy. It’s the best way for me to get problems or things to do out of my head and set them in motion.

Sure, I could have done this on Scrivener. Okay, no I couldn’t. I tried to use Scrivener once and couldn’t get off the first index card. I use Word for drafting, and to keep my lists and outline. Notebooks for everything else.


For me, having this visual looming large in front of me is much more useful. I don’t always write on the computer. Sometimes I do write by hand. And when I’m not on the computer or actively writing, seeing this board might spark my imagination into solving one of these problems. For me, writing is not a job you can turn on and off. My brain is always creating, even if I can’t actively do anything about it.

Click to tweet: Writing is not a job you can turn on and off. My brain is always creating. 

In the past, I’ve also used actual maps to plan a tour for my characters. Sure, I could have randomly picked cities, but this way I could get a feel of what the distance was and what their trip would be like. I’ve used the white board to write out problems. The computer is a wonderful tool, and it can pretty much do everything for us. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge ourselves to work in other mediums. Art and creativity aren’t simply one or two dimensional. Books shouldn’t be either.

Click to tweet: Art and creativity aren’t simply one or two dimensional. Books shouldn’t be either.

My plan is to pluck each problem of the board, star by star, as they are resolved. Now I can concentrate on the plot and conflict in my writing.

Kristen Strassel finally figured out a way to put her wild imagination to work. She works as a makeup artist in film and television. She loves cooking and hanging way too many things on her walls. She is the author of Immortal Dilemma, a paranormal romance. Kristen is represented by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Larsen Pomada Literary Agency. Follow Kristen on Twitter and check out her amazing blog Deadly Ever After

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