Posted On November 13, 2009 by Print This Post

The Plotting Wheel

Good morning and welcome to Chaos Theory of Writing.  I’m a plotter.  I love scene charts, character interviews, character charts and whatever other tools I can get my hands on to keep my story straight.  Recently, I took a wonderful on-line class entitled The Plotting Wheel.  Have I already lost all you pantsers out there?  I hope not because, in my opinion, you don’t have to be a plotter to utilize the elements of the plotting wheel.

With that in mind, we’ve asked The Plotting Wheel creators, Sue Viders and Becky Martinez, to give us an overview.

Take it away, Sue and Becky!

From beginners to published authors, plotting a book can be difficult. We all know that a book needs to be about someone and “something” has to happen.  Often writers get carried away with their convoluted plots and forget characters. Or they get so involved in a character sketch they forget to make something happen.

After years of teaching writing, both on-line and on-site, we’ve created and developed the Plotting Wheel. It is a way of solving the dilemma of mixing character and plot in easy to understand steps.

Wha t is the Plotting Wheel?

Think of a western wagon wheel…one with a hole in the center and ten spokes radiating out from the center. If any of the spokes are missing, the wheel and therefore the plot, will not run well, if at all.

Here are the ten elements (or spokes)…Sue Viders headshot

1 – Character

2 – Crusade

3 – Cause

4 – Complications

5 – Companion

6 – Clashes

7 – Crisisbecky Martinez headshot

8- Change

9 – Climax

10 – Conclusion


In our Plotting Wheel the Character is one of the spokes, but at the same time, the character is also moving around the edges of the circle or outer rim of the wheel. It is this character who will set out on a Crusade for a certain CauseComplications and challenges will be put in her/his way, and Companions may help or support the character as s/he moves though the various Clashes until s/he reaches the Crisis point.  In order to succeed and come back around to the top of the wheel, the character must grow and Change, which prepares her/him for the final Climax which brings about the Conclusion to the story.

A plot is a character in trouble, both externally and internally.  The plot revolves around how the character is going to get her/himself out of that trouble.


To move your character forward in the plot our Plotting Wheel uses two devices, the Crusade and its Cause. These are the next two spokes on the wheel.

Your character can’t simply sit in one location contemplating the meaning of life. The story needs to get started. Your character will be faced with a dilemma or a problem that needs to be solved. This inciting incident or beginning plot point sets your character’s course in a certain direction. It can come from any direction and might be something the character sets in motion. This inciting incident greatly alters the life of your character.  .

This opening challenge or inciting incident causes your main character to go on a CRUSADE to find the answer, to survive, to go after a dream, or to find the missing virus and save the world.  There are certain things to keep in mind as you determine what your character’s crusade or journey will be.


While the crusade is the “what” of your story, the CAUSE is the “why.”

The CAUSE is the reason/emotion why the character chooses to act or to set out on the crusade. It must be realistic and believable and true to your main character’s personality.  A shy person will do things in a different manner than a stronger, more aggressive individual.  The reasons must also be strong enough to make your protagonist react.  Her/his course of action may lead the character in a certain direction, perhaps into danger.  If the character is putting her/his life on the line, s/he needs a very good reason to leave the safe everyday world.

To determine the CAUSE, you need to go deep into your character’s psyche to see what would drive her/him to act.  Perhaps the character refuses to react to the inciting incident or to go on the CRUSADE.  What internal reason will push her/him forward?  The answer needs to be strong enough to justify the action.


Once you have your characters selected and you have given them a crusade to pursue due to a certain cause, now the fun begins. You, the writer, get to give your character problems which s/he have to solve in order to move the story forward.

Your plot will be very boring if there are no complications to challenge your protagonist. A complication, problem or dilemma MUST arise; happen, occur for our hero or heroine during the course of their crusade.  These complications can either be in the form of people or circumstances, but they should move the plot forward by keeping the main characters from getting/finding/solving what s/he wants.  This can be anything from an outside external threatening physical force to an emotional internal issue such as a difference of values or beliefs.


Almost every story needs more than one character. Secondary characters are needed to complicate/help/assist the main character.  They may also be part of the sub-plot, but only if this minor plot is somehow connected to the main plot.

There are three kinds of companions:

Major companions – those necessary for the plot who will help/assist/love or greatly hinder the main character

Minor companions – Those needed for motivation or simply to move the main protagonists from here to there, etc.

Off-screen characters – talked about but never seen


These are action scenes that actually relate to the various problems or complications that arise.  In an action scene, the protagonist actually has to deal with something physical, accomplish some sort of task, or something physical happens to the character.  These clashes will occur throughout the story and should be used to propel the plot forward.  The first clash might occur before the character ever sets out on his/her crusade.  And this first clash can be exactly what makes the character decide to react.

Not all the clashes have to be external or happen in the outside world.  Sometimes internal clashes are just as important in moving the plot forward.  For example, if your main character believes that one should never lie, while a respected friend or parent believes that little white lies are sometimes necessary, their clash of beliefs/values will dictate how they behave.  These clashes can provide an excellent opportunity for the writer to emphasize the theme of the story.


While complications and clashes continue to drive your story forward, they should be building toward a major CRISIS, the point where things cannot get any worse for your character.  There needs to be a point where things get so bad that the character has no choice but to make that final push to get her/him to the end of the story.

Think of it in terms of climbing a steep hill.  If you are writing a thriller, the climb is going to be at a more drastic pace.  These points will continue to build on a steeper level with only a quick break, before things level off for a few pages and then the protagonist starts climbing again.

Just when your protagonist thinks s/he has the top of the hill in sight, it all changes and they begin to slide down that slippery slope.  Things begin to reach the crisis point until the main character knows s/he will have to take some sort of action.  A major challenge or complication is ahead and unless s/he can meet that goal, all will be lost and they will plummet all the way back down to the beginning. This is where our heroine is going to shine or our hero is going to release the baggage of his past.


This is probably one of the most important spokes in the plotting wheel. Commercial novels must have a story arc with not only a plot, but a character’s story.  Literary novels may be only a character study and the character may not change, but in a popular fiction or a genre novel the character should demonstrate some sort of growth or come to some sort of realization and CHANGE.

At some point, usually toward the end of the story, the character has to realize that if s/he doesn’t do something different all will be lost.  With this realization comes the permanent change of their outlook or the strength to demonstrate the character has become a better person

This change is called the character’s ARC.  This arc refers to the steps the character must go through or experience for the change to occur.


Now that we have gone through all the steps and your character has faced the need for her/his change and we have reached the crisis point, all that is left is the final struggle or the CLIMAX of your story and then the successful CONCLUSION.

The CLIMAX is the high action point of your novel.  It is the physical resolution of the crisis. Everything in your book should have been building to this eventual battle for survival.  Make your stakes as high as possible.  Your protagonist must prevail in this struggle or all is lost.  The world will end or the hero will die.  The higher the stakes, the bigger the struggle, the more important it is for the hero to win.

In a romance too, the climax might not necessarily be the resolution of the romantic problems. Your hero and heroine may have beaten the bad guys but there may still be doubt about whether their romance will survive.  This is called the BLACK MOMENT. In a romance, this may be where the heroine or hero make their change. He beat off the bad guys and saved her ranch, but now he is going back to the city – unless he realizes that the city holds nothing for him, and money is not as important as being with the woman he loves. He faces his black moment of leaving her and realizes he cannot go. Love is more important than wealth. He has changed and decides to stay.


The battle is over.  The heroine/hero have won the day.  All is fine with the world.  Now it is time for our protagonists to go back to their real world.  This is the CONCLUSION of the story. All the loose ends need to be tied up at this point.

In a romance, the conclusion brings about the happy ending.  Perhaps the heroine and hero were so caught up in the climax that they didn’t have time to demonstrate their feelings for one another.  The conclusion will be the place for them to further declare their love and plan their future together.

Your conclusion needs to provide this satisfying ending, but it can also point the direction of stories yet to come. If you are writing a series, in order to make your reader want to continue on to the next book, you need to provide some sort of conclusion so that they will want to continue on. The reader does not want to feel they have spent all this time reading the book only to be left hanging. In a mystery series your reader knows there will be another book, but if the bad guy gets away, you need to at least solve some other crisis. Give your book some sort of ending.

The Plotting Wheel can be used for any genre, but all these elements need to be necessary to make it all the way around the wheel. Once you’ve gone through and listed the various points of your book that meet the various spokes, you’ll find that you’ve gone a long way toward plotting your book and you’ll be ready to start writing!

We have several Plotting Wheel on-line classes scheduled.  The first one is the coming February with STAR,  The next one is in the fall in November with LRWA, Lowcountry Romance Writers.  Check their websites for further information or to register or watch for their promotional blurbs in the coming months.

We’re also teaching for RR&P in February, 2011 however we are open for any classes in 2012…grin.

We have developed a Plotting Wheel CHART that is a great aid when starting a new story. Printed on thick paper in full color, it’s 12″x18″ and how to order can be found on thier writing website

Finally we have a bi-monthly newsletter dedicated to plotting and character development.  If you would like to be on the mailing list, please email sueviders@comcast with the word “newsletter” in the subject line.


Thank you to Sue and Becky for a great post!

To our RU crew, are you plotters or pantsers? What is your “process”?  We’d love to hear from you.

Join us on Monday when RWA’s 2008 Librarian of the Year, Susan Gibberman, returns with the good, the bad and the ugly of the author query letters she receives.


Bios – Sue Viders and Becky Martinez

Sue Viders is the author of more than 20 books, numerous articles and columns for both artists and writers.  Her writing book Heroes and Heroines, Sixteen Master Archetypes, is used in many college and university writing courses. Her latest book, 10 Steps to Creating Memorable Characters is gaining use as a practical workbook for writers who want to develop their characters. She is a practicing artist, seminar leader, and educator with on-line classes both for writers and artists.

Sue lives in Lone Tree, CO with her husband.  Her five grown children and six grandkids live nearby.  She is currently working on a coffee table book about the art of money with one of her daughters and a children’s book with her 15 year-old grandson.

Her latest product for writers is Deal a Story; an interactive card game consisting of 101 cards and six sections and is based on her Heroes and Heroines book.

Becky Martinez is an award-winning former broadcast journalist and published author who teaches classes to writing groups and conducts online writing workshops.  Her latest book, Deadly Messages will be published by The Wild Rose Press in February 2010. Her first published romance novel was an Aspen Gold finalist.  She has had several short stories published, including “The Problem” in July 2008 by The Wild Rose Press and she contributed a short story to The Trouble with Romance, an anthology that was a 2007 New Mexico Book Award finalist.

She was also one of the co-authors of Ten Steps to Creating Memorable Characters, a workbook for writers. She has also worked as a publicist, public information officer and public relations consultant and currently teaches classes and workshops on marketing, public relations and broadcast journalism.

Similar Posts:

Share Button

Craft of Writing


9 Responses to “The Plotting Wheel”

  1. Hi Becky and Sue,

    Thank you for joining us today! I love this plotting wheel. I’ve listened to some lessons on plotting that make my eyes pop. Your wheel uses terms and examples I can relate to. Yay!

    I generally have a character sketch of the H/H and an opening scene in my mind when I sit down to write. I’ve tried to plot, but I always veer off the road map. LOL


    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | November 13, 2009, 6:41 am
  2. Becky & Sue –

    Thanks so much for visiting RU today. I’m normally a linear thinker, but plotting is a challenge for me since my characters often drift along first. Which comes first, the character or the plot? And if you happen to be a character-centered writer, how do you back your characters into a decent plot?

    Okay – so I don’t expect you to have all the answers to my very broad questions! LOL They’re just issues I’ve been struggling with lately.


    Posted by KelseyBrowning | November 13, 2009, 8:23 am
  3. Hi Becky and Sue. Thank you for a great post. I’m using your plotting wheel as I plow through NANO this month and I’m finding it’s a great (and quick!) reference when I get stuck. I just throw in a complication and it gets me writing again!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | November 13, 2009, 8:32 am
  4. This pantser appreciates the simplicity of your Plotting Wheel. Thanks for sharing .

    Posted by Barbara Ann | November 13, 2009, 9:19 am
  5. This Plotting Wheel is a wonderful reference tool to keep the plot “rolling along”! Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

    Posted by Diane | November 13, 2009, 11:32 am
  6. This seems like a very useful and thought-provoking approach. I’m going to plug it into my embryonic wip and see what hatches. I love the way you’ve given all the spokes “C” names, too. Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by Elaine McCarthy | November 13, 2009, 1:51 pm
  7. sorry I’m late! =)

    great article…..great ideas! I’m a pantser, giving plotting a shot for my next ms…I’ve printed out your article to help me along the plotting wheel!



    Posted by carrie | November 14, 2009, 9:26 am
  8. Oh, wow, I LOVE this! I’m a plotter, so this is absolutely for me. What a wonderful new tool.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂


    Posted by Carol B. | November 15, 2009, 7:39 pm


  1. […] you’re searching for plotting inspiration check out this article at Romance University called The Plotting Wheel or stop by my Pinterest Board called Plot […]

Post a comment

Upcoming Posts

  • Feb 26, 2018 Hook, Line, and Thinker
  • Feb 28, 2018 Kindle Worlds, Asked and Answered
  • Mar 2, 2018 One Series and a Multitude of Lessons





Follow Us