Jennifer Lyon

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021
Plotting is like a French Braid

Originally published on MurderSheWrites Blog August 22, 2011. It’s a decade old, but it’s still true to how I plot and write.


I went to the mall yesterday, once again trying to find dinnerware I like at a price I can live with. Once again, I failed. But I did find a purple, two-piece bathing suit on clearance.

So I’m driving home thinking about the purple bathing suit. And sort of pondering the fact that I’m really not purple two piece bathing suit material these days. Even with the weight I’ve lost.

And then I started thinking about when I was younger.

Which naturally led me to thinking about French braids.

And from there, well of course, I began thinking about the fact that I way I write a book is a lot like a French braid.

You followed that, right? No? LOL! Okay, then I’ll explain.

Most women know how to braid hair. It’s a pretty simple concept: Separate hair into three even sections, and beginning at the top, weave the sections one over another, careful not to drop any pieces and to stay in the correct order.

It’s so easy even I can do it.

When I started writing, I thought it would be the same thing. Take three even pieces of story:


Weave them together in the correct order and without dropping any pieces, and viola! A finished book.

Bwhahahaha!!!! Okay, maybe if I’d ever been able to write a straight romance that might have worked for me.

But guess what? Once I was old enough to do my own hair, I never wore it in a simple braid. But one day, I saw a French braid and loved the sleek look. So I practiced on my hair. To do a French braid, you start with a top layer of hair split into three even sections and begin the braid.

And then it gets complicated. At this point, you must pick up a new layer for each section, and weaver that in. Without dropping hair. Without getting it too tight or too loose. On and it must be straight.

Then repeat the process again and again, picking up a new layer with each pass, until you are at the end.

If you make any mistakes, you almost always have to take the braid apart and start over. But if it’s right, then you must bring all the hair together in a tight little ending and tie it up.

And that’s exactly how I write books. I layer in so many layers of character, plot and conflict that one of my editors, Kate Duffy, once commented that as she read the book, she worried that I’d never catch all the balls I threw in the air. But she swore I pulled it off. That was for NINJA SOCCER MOMS, the third book in my Samantha Shaw Mystery Series. I’ve never forgotten that. Because, if I do it right, it comes out smooth and sleek like a French braid. While an editor might be able to recognize all the work it took to achieve that, most readers won’t. And that’s how it should be.

But unlike my old ability to French braid, I rarely get my books right on the first pass. Usually by the time I get to the end of my first draft, it looks more like a rat’s nest than anything resembling a braid. Then I take it apart, comb out the snarls, and weave it all back together until I finally have something close to a sleek and smooth story, just like a French braid.

And that’s my random musings on writing and French braids!

Although now I’m thinking that if I’m too old to wear a French braid, then I’m too old for a purple bikini. But what the heck, it’s only for my back yard pool…

And maybe I’ll French braid my hair too.


6 comments to “Plotting is like a French Braid”

  1. B.E. Sanderson
    March 10th, 2021 at 8:12 am · Link

    Okay, so I first read the title of this as French Bread… so you know where my brain is at. And I have never in my life done or worn a French Braid, so I didn’t know how it was done before I read this. However, it’s a most excellent analogy for writing a book. Spot on.

    Thankfully, we don’t have to take our books completely apart to fix them. We can stuff bits back into the braid and only unweave portions without affecting the whole. Yay. But yeah, when we’re done, the published book better have a polished look about it or someone will point it out in reviews so the whole world can point and laugh.

    I’ll find out if I missed any dangling tendrils soon when I send this off to readers. :fingers crossed:

  2. Silver James
    March 10th, 2021 at 9:24 am · Link

    Kate Duffy. The woman was a legend! The romance community and publishing at large lost a treasure when she passed. You are so lucky to have worked with her!

    As B.E. said, you’re spot on with the French braid (and French bread because words are food for the soul) analogy. I used to French braid my hair all the time. And Only’s because if fit better under her catcher’s helmet. I’m reminded of another hairstyle popular with her age group. The “braids” were made by section the hair into squares and fastening various strands with tiny rubber bands. You started at the front and worked backwards. You could stop mid-way and put the rest into a pony tail or keep going, or make bigger braids. Anyway, I found a picture on Pinterest that illustrates what I’m talking about because believe me, there is no freaking way I can actually describe it so people could see what I’m talking about. And I’m a professional (some days) writer!

    Anyway, yes. We have to weave plot, characters, and conflict in. But then we need setting and backstory and secondary characters. We have our hands full until we get to that last tight twist and tie it off with a ribbon or a leather lace or a rubber band. Heck, even a scrunchy if that’s your thing. ;)

    Like a French braid, it sounds easy until you sit down and do it. Good stuffs today, Jen! 🥰

  3. Viki S.
    March 10th, 2021 at 3:45 pm · Link

    I really like this post and the French braid analogy. Picking up each new piece/section of hair is like weaving the threads of the story.

    I will beg to differ with you though. If you look good, wear a two piece, I do. And, you’re never too old for a French braid. They are classic. I love tucking them under and putting at small comb at the top when I want to dress up my do.

    I hope you are having a good day. All seems well here 🥰.

    Take care!

  4. Jenn
    March 10th, 2021 at 5:44 pm · Link

    B.E., I love French Bread :-)

    Yep, we can fix portions of the books as long as it still works in the “weave” which takes a little tucking and smoothing to achieve.

    You must be close to sending the book off to readers, which is a big achievement! Yay!

  5. Jenn
    March 10th, 2021 at 5:49 pm · Link

    Silver, I miss Kate too. She taught me a lot, and she was hilarious to boot. She truly was a legend, and we lost her much too soon.

    WOW that’s amazing and I don’t think I could ever have done that. Maybe because I had boys, and getting them to stay in one place long enough to comb their hair was a minor miracle. You must have skills with hair!

    Getting all those extras woven in is a big challenge!

    I know, it’s so much easier to write and talk about writing than to actually do it.

  6. Jenn
    March 10th, 2021 at 5:57 pm · Link

    Viki, I agree, it’s all weaving in pieces of the story.

    You absolutely should wear a two piece! I do around Wizard, but feeling less comfortable around others lately. I’m determined to find something I can be more at ease in this year.

    My days been good but busy with running around stuff. Glad yours is going well!

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