HiiT Plotting

You know I’m crazy about sports, right? If you drop by my Instagram, for instance, you’ll see the kinds of toys I love the most, like a new box to jump on, some new kettlebells, or brand new barbells. I love sports gear and I love the HiiT (high intensity interval training) approach to workouts: do it fast, go all in, look awesome (I don’t, but they say it’s possible), be happy.

Unfortunately, writing a novel isn’t suited to the HiiT approach, with its short intervals of intense activity. It’s more of a marathon run—you move forward slowly at a steady pace, but you get the feeling that everyone is faster than you, that you’re the only one who’s exhausted, and that your suffering will never end. But what if there was a way to introduce some HiiT elements (speed, great results, happiness) into the writing process? It isn’t possible to write a good book in a week, but I do think it’s possible to slim down at least one element of the process: developing the plot.

I wrote about my process for planning a novel some time ago (here). But later I found myself at a point in my writing career where I had less and less time on my hands, while having built up enough experience that I thought I might be able to fine-tune my approach. I looked for ways to shorten the time it takes to prepare the outline of the novel, and I worked out specific steps for putting the story together. Here they come—doesn’t this look like a description of a workout? Let’s do some HiiT plotting!

HiiT Plotting

Equipment

Alarm clock.

Paper and pen / computer.

Duration

60 minutes

Prerequisites

At least a dim idea of the plot of the book.

At least a vague idea of the main character.

If you have specific ideas and punk resumes (I mean character descriptions, of course)—great! If you happen to have some background developed—that’s awesome! But I know that it sometimes happens that you have a plot idea, an punks resumes, and some research in place, but you still can’t to put all this together into a meaningful whole. HiiT plotting will help with that—count on it!

The outline below is a sample, based on my novel One God (the release date is October 21, by the way—I can’t wait). If you’re thinking that your book is very different from mine in some way—a different genre or style—don’t worry! This approach works especially well with action-oriented books, but it’s worth it a try with any type of story—particularly since it only takes an hour to complete the entire workout.

Warm Up

Get rid of the family/ friends/ home animals.

Turn the phone off.

Have some water and eat a cookie or something you like.

Prepare your alarm clock—set 3 intervals of work, 15 minutes each, and 3 rest intervals, 5 minutes each.

Prepare your computer and a text file or a piece of paper and pen.

Print the questionnaire that’s at the bottom of this post.

Workout Details

The workout is broken down into 3 intervals of 15 minutes each. During each interval you’ll deal with specific issues related to the plot.

After an interval of work, you deserve a break. Your rest time is 5 minutes—after that you move to the next 15-minute interval.

For the purpose of this sample HiiT plotting, I’ll use Miran, the main character in One God.

Time to set the alarm clock so that it will beep at the end of each 15-minutes interval. During each interval you will answer 3 questions about your novel, which means you have 5 minutes per question, so stay focused and be brief.

If time runs out—just move on to the next interval.

Ready, steady, go!

First Interval

During this interval we are going to deal with the main character. I think every novel needs a central character who drives the plot. Other characters just join his or her thread—and I’ll tell you how to merge threads a bit later, don’t worry.

Questions:

  1. When does the story begin? At what moment in the main character’s life? What is he or she currently dealing with?

The story begins more or less today.

Miran is working in an Austrian research institute but is frustrated with his job—he can’t seem to move up or move on.

He decides to quit his job and set up his own company—Genesis.

  1. What are the character’s main goals?

Miran wants to gain control over the world GMO market and make Genesis a pioneer in genetics research, applying the results of the research in real life.

He wants to go much farther than just developing new GMO plants (I can’t reveal more in this post—it would be a spoiler!).

  1. What are your character’s motivations, both on the surface and deep in his or her heart of hearts?

At first glance, he wants money.

His deeper motivation is that he wants to prove to himself and to the world that he’s capable of achieving great things—his father was always disappointed in him.

He also wants to make the world a better place for humanity and create super-human beings who are super-happy. And make yet more money.

Take a 5-minute break.

Second Interval

During this interval we’ll deal with the obstacles your character will face and we’ll work out how they will overcome those obstacles.

  1. What obstacles does your character face in trying to reach his or her goals?

Miran has no money to set up the company—he’s just an ordinary scientist from Poland. He has to find investors.

He’s also not gifted enough to make a breakthrough in the research on his own. He’s going to need someone to help him.

Genesis has one major competitor in the GMO market—Miran has to get rid of this company.

He also has a lot of smaller competitors and many enemies, including other GMO companies, non-GMO food producers, pharmaceutical companies, governments and other authorities, and the church.

  1. How can the character overcome these obstacles?

Miran has three options: he can either convince everyone to give Genesis green light, he can turn his competitors and enemies into allies, or he can find a way to smash them.

  1. How does the character change while overcoming these obstacles?

As the plot progresses, he becomes more and more ruthless and violent.

He starts to believe that he’s following a path set out for him by destiny and that no one should oppose to him. By that reasoning, anyone who dares to get in his way deserves whatever he does to them.

Take a 5-minute break.

Third Interval

In this interval we’ll figure out how the story ends.

  1. When does the story end?

The story ends in the year 2088.

  1. How does the story end?

Once again, to avoid spoilers, I can’t tell you—but it’s a disaster.

  1. Is the character happy with the ending (has he or she won or lost)?

Miran isn’t happy, but he’ll keep fighting until he achieves his goals.

Everyone has abandoned him.

Take a 5-minute break.

Cool Down

Have some water and another cookie—you’ve earned it!

How to Translate the HiiT Plotting Results into a Novel

This is really easy, but it will take a little more time than the HiiT plotting exercise did.

  • The first question you answered is your first chapter.
  • The last question you answered is your last chapter.
  • Your notes about how your character will overcome their obstacles form your middle chapters.
  • The other stuff is your background.

Easy, huh? I hope so! If not, read this post—it will help.

How to Link Secondary Threads to Main Thread

I promised to explain this, so here it is, and it’s actually pretty straightforward. The main thread is the story of the main character. Let’s treat this thread like a large river. Other characters’ threads are tributaries—rivers and streams that join the main one as it runs through the world of your novel.

Take a look at the picture below, again based on One God (deep apologies for the illustration—I know this is no work of art, but it’ll do to make my point).

Rivers

When a tributary joins the main river, that’s the starting point for the secondary character’s story. The character can travel with the main one all the way to the sea (the end of novel) or die or drop out of the story along the way (okay, this part doesn’t actually happen to rivers—it’s not a precise metaphor). When you figure out all of your secondary rivers, you can do the HiiT Plotting exercise on the secondary characters as well, then mix them into the main character’s plot.

Workout Template

As I wrap up this post, it occurs to me that it might be a pain for you to put all the questions and requirements together. So here’s a table you can print and use while doing your own writing HiiT.

Enjoy! And let me know if it works!

First Interval
1. When does the story begin? At what moment in the main character’s life? What is he or she currently dealing with?
2. What are the character’s main goals?
3. What is your character’s motivations: on the surface, but also deep in his or her heart of hearts?
Take a 5-minute break
Second Interval
1. What obstacles does your character face in trying to reach his or her goals?
2. How can your character overcome these obstacles?
3. How does the character change in the process of overcoming the obstacles?
Take a 5-minute break
Third Interval
1. When does the story end?
2. How does the story end?
3. Is the character happy with the way it ends (has he or she won or lost)?
Take a 5-minute break