Planning a Story with Zenobia Southcombe

It doesn’t seem so very long ago that, if you wanted to communicate with someone from the other side of the globe, you would write a letter that would seem to take forever to reach them, or you might make a phone call that would cost an arm and a leg and last just long enough to allow you to say, ‘Hi!’ and, “How are you?’ with a lot of crackling and interference on the line. We thought it was wonderful.

And it was.

It was amazing that the postal service could carry your words across oceans and land masses to deliver them to your loved one’s door. Even more amazing that your words could wing their way across those same oceans and continents. Awesome.

But now!

Well, it’s instantaneous, isn’t it? It just takes my breath away.

What an awesome, amazing, fantastic thing the internet is.

Once again, I have a visitor on my blog, and once again, it is children’s author Zenobia Southcombe, and she lives in New Zealand, the other side of the world from Scotland, where I live. And I can communicate with her as though she was sitting right here beside me. I can even see her as she explains how she plans her books.



And here is the guest post Zee has written for us:

How to plan a story ~~ Zenobia Southcombe

In the mighty pantsers vs. plotters debate, I find myself very much on the plotters side. I tried ‘just writing’ with the seed of a story and a couple of characters, but it stalled to a halt in no time.
From there, I knew I needed to plan – but didn’t know how, except for the very basic:
I spent the next couple of weeks researching narrative structure. There were a few books specifically on children’s stories that I found at my local library, and obviously a wealth of information online.
For my first written story, The Caretaker of Imagination (my very first book was a wordless picture book, so it was a little bit different!) I used two planning structures:
Three-act structure
Linear narrative structure
I talk about them more in the video, and there are graphics you can download below.
By the time I was writing the sequel, Lucy’s Story, I’d been able to tweak the outlines I’d used as well as come up with my own ideas to add depth and suspense.
After highschool, I’d studied to become a classroom teacher. In our Drama class, we’d learnt a warm-up game that would be played in a circle. The first person would start with ‘fortunately…’ and the second person would say something related but start with ‘unfortunately’ and so it would continue. This plays on the reader’s want for conflict, but also our need for hope.
Along the whole story, I would try to write scenes so they matched the fortunately / unfortunately pattern.
In the three-act structure, we talk about rising action. I realised that throughout a story, there also has to be rising emotions – or at least, rising strength of emotions. The reader should want the character to come out on top more and more as the story goes on. By including this in my planning, I could add to the story, and again, build suspense.
Because I’m not only a planner (or an over-planner) but a perfectionist as well, having multiple structures to follow help me ensure that I include all the elements of storytelling that have been created, tweaked perfected over the many centuries that stories have been around for.


And a couple of infographics she has prepared for us:

narrative structure linear-1

three act structure


Thank you, Zee, it was great to have you visit.


Z. R. Southcombe
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‘Lucy’s Story: The End of the World’ is now available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo & other eRetailers.


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Z. R. Southcombe
    Jul 14, 2015 @ 22:15:59

    It is amazing, isn’t it? And we can only imagine where the world will go next!

    Thank you for the opportunity to share my ideas on your blog, Christine xx

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Lucky Wreck
    Jul 15, 2015 @ 14:33:04

    I very much enjoyed this post and found it helpful to see how much structure can actually add to creativity! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person


  3. Vashti Quiroz-Vega
    Jul 16, 2015 @ 12:36:11

    Hello Christine! Zee is a great guest blogger. I’m a plotter myself when it comes to novel writing. I wing it with my short stories but I plan carefully when I write a novel. I sketch my characters, develop character diamonds, draw maps . . . It all helps me get into my story and get to know my characters even more. However, I do allow the characters to drive the story and usually it turns out quite different from how it began and that’s okay. 😀

    Liked by 1 person


    • cicampbell2013
      Jul 16, 2015 @ 12:42:22

      Yes, she is, isn’t she?
      I envy you ‘planners’. I’m a bit scatter-brained and random, so much more of a ‘pantser’. I do try to plan, but I find it hard to discipline myself to plan without getting carried away while planning and start writing before I’m finished it. I then have to keep stopping and thinking where I want to take the story next.
      I’m hoping Zee’s infographics will help keep me on track while planning 🙂

      Liked by 1 person


    • Z. R. Southcombe
      Jul 16, 2015 @ 21:48:10

      Yeah… with short stories / poems / painting I wing it! But with longer works I NEED a plan. You’re right though, the characters do what they want and the story always ends up a little bit different from what I’d planned at the start!

      Liked by 2 people


  4. Trackback: Monday Musings: Where do I start? | Z. R. Southcombe

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