Use Trigger Words to Help You Plot

A Visual Pantser’s Guide to Plotting and Planning (Part One)


This time you’re going to do it, you’ve decided, you will plot before you write, you won’t make the same mistakes again. This first draft is going to be amazing and you’ll get it done in record time cause you won’t get stuck. That’s right, you tell yourself, if I have a plan I won’t get stuck.

Fail to plan, plan to fail.


Now to begin…

The first few minutes aren’t so bad, you decide, you’re getting the gist of the story in your mind on the page in bullet points. Ideas roll off of you in waves and you feel great, that is until you get into the more nitty-gritty; dragging the plot off of the page by its hair.

Your characters are angry at you, they wanted to run with the idea—figure the details out on the way—so they’re refusing to talk to you, even if it’s just to help decide between two ideas. You feel lost and you can barely remember a story arch but you want to do this.

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 11.29.49

In an attempt to find the plot you write down a sentence describing the beginning and one the ending, trying to fill in the blanks. If I want to write about 2000 words per chapter, how many chapters is that? You ask yourself. 80,000 words sounds fair… so 40 chapters. You could stretch your list out.

That won’t work. 

Perhaps expanding your previous ideas will help. And you’re right, it does, at least for the time being but you’re going to get stuck again, you think, it’s inevitable. The phrase ‘What to do?’ runs through your mind on replay, like a broken CD repeating the last line of your least favourite song your thoughts duplicate.

What to do?

My suggestion:

Write a list of ‘trigger words’ (or phrases and collections) for the story you’re working on; words that, when mentioned, give you an idea regarding plot or character or words that show the mood or setting of the story. If a word isn’t enough, add something beside it (a trigger) like an Author’s or a song’s name, a related word, the possibilities are endless.

Here’s my list of ‘trigger words’ for my current novel:

  • Isolation
  • Expectations
  • Deceit
  • Love – fragilities
  • Emotion
  • A woman’s death (Poe)
  • Illusions
  • Misunderstanding and torment
  • Hot vs cold (Camus)
  • Nurture vs nature
  • Division (natural or material)

Pantsers, how do you plot when you need to? Plotters, how do you do what you do? Writers, do you use ‘trigger words’? 



12 thoughts on “Use Trigger Words to Help You Plot

  1. Amy K. Thomas says:

    I usually write my first draft simply as a series of scenes. I don’t worry about connecting any of the events until the second draft, sort of like assembling the puppet before attaching the strings to make it work. I do scribble quick notes — like the trigger words — in a notebook to lead me through the events as they pop into my head.

    I think trigger words are a great addition to any writing plan. Great post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • jannakaixer says:

      I find that fascinating! I’d imagine that would be tough, writing your first draft as a series of scenes, no? Do you try, to some extent, make the scenes link though? How do you, when time comes to craft the second draft, piece it all together into a coherent (linear) story?

      Little notes are what gave me the idea to create trigger words; I like to leave little keywords and ideas for future chapters/scenes on random pieces of paper that have the tendency to get lost (so I can then, upon finding them, marvel at the idea and get to it straight away with a grin on my face). More often than not the notes will trigger an idea in the form of an image and I’d be off writing.

      Thank you! And thank you for taking the time to comment, I’m glad you like the concept!


      Liked by 1 person

      • Amy K. Thomas says:

        For some reason your email address isn’t working, so I’ll leave you a quick comment here.

        I do write the scenes in mostly chronological order, as far as the story is concerned. Occasionally, I’ll write a scene out of order, but I’ll insert scenes around it as they would fit in the story’s timeline. It can be difficult every now and then, but it takes a lot of the pressure off of the first draft. Instead of worrying about structure, it allows you to simply imagine and record.

        When the times comes to tie it all together, I start from the beginning again and rework the scenes as I go along. This is a little trickier, but it helps me add in transitions and minute details that I may not have seen otherwise. That’s also when I fill in a lot of the character history and background. For my current WIP, this step doubled my word count.

        Your questions have given me a great idea for a blog post. I’ll be sure to share it with you when I have it up! Thanks for your interest!

        x Amy

        Liked by 1 person

      • jannakaixer says:

        I’m sorry about the email address not working! I’m not sure what’s going on there but thanks for letting me know!

        When you say that you write the scenes mostly in chronological order, does that mean you have an idea of the plot and where it’s going? Or do you just build scene after scene in the approximate order they would be in? I can imagine it being a lot funner to write too – more exciting and, in some ways, creative. It sounds like a lot of work though, once you’ve recorded it all, to make it function as one unit.

        I’ve a few more quick questions (sorry!); have you always written in this way? If not, how did you figure out that this is the best way for you? Where/how did you come across the idea?

        I loved your blog post! And I love the puppet analogy!

        Thank you for answering my many questions! And sorry about having so many more for you!

        Janna x


      • Amy K. Thomas says:

        I’m happy to answer! I love discussing writing. I came up with the idea simply because I hated everything I researched about plotting. I didn’t like having to build character boards or plot timelines and rigid structures before I even started writing; I’m very much an organic development writer. I let the scenes build on each other, rather that having a central idea for the plot. In doing so, my characters formed a lot of surprising elements and plot twists that I’m not sure I would have thought of if I had planned it all from the beginning.

        I have definitely always written this way. Before working on my novel, it was simply ignorance of any other method — I’ve been writing since I was very young. I just wanted to write without rules and this is what happened.

        Thanks for you interest! I am really enjoying this conversation!

        – Amy

        Liked by 2 people

      • jannakaixer says:

        Same here (hence the blog)! I’m the same but I’ve been struggling through plotting and all the things you’ve mentioned you hate; the character boards, timelines, rigid structures and so on. That’s why I started pantsing though it almost always caught up with me in the end and I’d find myself staring at a slightly skewed plot that made little sense and was, at times, too convenient.

        What you do really makes sense to me (though I must admit I had to give it some thought) but I still find it curious how you weave your stories. I’ve been having a lot of trouble plotting out my current novel so, if you don’t mind, I’d love to give it a go and see what happens.

        That’s fantastic! You sound like a born story-teller. I’ve been writing since I was very young too but I’ve always either had a plan, or the bones of one, and I’ve always written linearly (chapter by chapter). It’s only recently that I’ve been experimenting after ‘failing’ to write novel after novel. Would you ever consider trying another method or perhaps perfecting (even more so) the current one?

        No problem, as am I!



      • Amy K. Thomas says:

        Thanks! 🙂 Absolutely, give it a whirl! The nice part about this method is that it can be tailored specifically to any writer. I would love to hear how it goes for you, so if you do try it, let me know!

        I am always open to other methods and, like many others, continually research other writers’ styles and practices. My method certainly isn’t perfected yet, although I hope someday to have invested enough time in crafting it to say that it is nearly so. There are always tweaks to be made! Mostly, I just research and work, and if something I read sounds applicable to my routine, I mix it in with my current habits. I like having something malleable that can change to fit each project I’m working on. 🙂

        – Amy


  2. Anslem says:

    How uncanny Amy’s response is. After reading this blog post and her answer, I’ve realized that my current WIP is written along the same lines as hers. I started out with a handful of characters, made up a world and a few rules and began writing scenes. I had somewhat of an idea where the story would start from and where it would end. From there I just expanded away from the main scenes I wrote first, adding new characters and dynamics as they occurred to me and I placed them in or around the main scenes accordingly.

    Since then I’ve been through several drafts just trying to understand what it is I am even trying to create here. Once I finally found the right direction for the story I started linking scenes by forcing certain characters and seemingly separate events together as coherently and logically as I can.

    I really like the idea of trigger words though; I never thought about using them. It would make sense if each scene or chapter has an specific idea and or emotion that it wants the reader to pick up on as it relates to the story. I’m going to try and come up with a list for my WIP, it will just add another layer of complexity to the whole thing :D.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jannakaixer says:

      That’s fascinating to hear – that the two of you (presumably) in separate locations and (again, presumably) of different generations and backgrounds have come up with a very similar unique way of writing a novel. I know the probability of two people coming up with the same idea around the same time isn’t that small, but I still find it really interesting.

      I love the way in which you describe how you’d build a story and how natural it sounds. Have you ever written a novel in any other way? If so did you find it more or less difficult than the method you’ve described? Personally I have trouble imagining how you’d piece it all together logically draft after draft, it sounds like an insane amount of work and thought, but then again it reminds me of what I imagined ‘real writers’ to be when I was young.

      Thank you! I’m glad you like the idea of them! And do let me know how you get on with it – I’m curious to see how they would work for other writers (I’m yet to meet/talk to someone that uses these ‘trigger words’ or similar things).

      Thank you for the thought-provoking comment and I’m sorry for my delayed response!



  3. dragonflylady77 says:

    I don’t plot or plan…
    The words come to me in burts of inspiration and I write them in my notebook, then when I get to typing what I wrote on my laptop, I make some changes here and there.
    Once I tried to just write down notes about my plot and then it just changed into full blown writing so I just go with it…
    But then, I’m not writing a novel. I don’t understand or like the idea of word limits. I’m such a slow writer, it would take me forever. Probably why I don’t write chapters as such. There are breaks in my stories but so far I don’t think I’ve written enough for them to qualify as chapters!!
    It’s very interesting to see the different ways people write.


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