Picture This: Infographics for Writers

Infographic 3
Awhile back I made a startling discovery: I am actually a visual thinker.

For someone who loves words (and writes quite a lot of them), this was more than a bit shocking. I dabble in art but do not consider myself primarily a visual artist. How could I possibly be so attuned to pictures?

But the more I explored it, the more I found it true. I’ve taken up painting again. Added sketchnoting to my repertoire. And now, pictures are creeping into my novel writing . . .

. . . in the form of 18-foot infographic outlines of my plot.

Infographic Post 2014

Photo Credit: T. Reed

Um, yeah. So I could have drawn it smaller. But why settle for small print when you can use BIG MARKERS on BIG PAPER and have BIG FUN doing it?

(Think of it as your chance to draw on the walls Mom never would let you  . . .)

Basically, I set up the infographic to go up and down like the layers of my stratified city-world. Each chapter gets a “bubble” that follows the “path” of the story, moving up and down the city to show the cadence of the story’s progression from place to place through seven characters’ perspectives.

Infographic beginning

The results are immensely helpful—not just for me, but also for collaborators who can’t open up my brain to peek inside.

Basically, I’ve systematized my story outline with pictures instead of paragraphs and coded all kinds of information, including:

  • Every needed scene and its core action
  • Every subplot (visualized with an icon) tagged to every scene it shows up in
  • A timeline showing when each scene happens
  • A location (high or low) that shows where in Aurelia the scene takes place
  • Notations on character arc and transformation

Infographic Close

Immediately, my writing partner and I could have productive conversations about what was missing in the story, what holes had been “fixed,” and what details we still needed to clear up before writing the next draft.

In addition, I learned my story’s structure inside out by using not just a visual but also a kinesthetic (hands-based) component of drawing. Yay for multi-sensory learning!

Infographic Pt 2

Image Credit: T. Reed


Not that you need 18 feet of paper to accomplish all this, of course. You could do it on a smaller stretch for any-sized story or novel. And whether large or small, I do suggest you try it, for the following reasons:

1. Read your plot faster.

Work smarter, not harder. Even if you’re not a visual thinker, if you use the internet I guarantee your brain is more visually-wired than you think. Instead of wading through paragraphs of text, imagine being able to take in your whole novel at a glance. The faster you can assess things, the faster you work.

2. Capture intangible data.

How am I supposed to “show” what part of the city each chapter happens in, keep track of how many chapters each character has, or demonstrate how many days/nights/months/years etc. the plot takes if I don’t use images. Sure, you can write in that information (and I used to do that). But I found the information didn’t stick. Now, it’s like a cocklebur on my brain.

3. “See” plot holes.

There’s a reason why we call plot gaps “holes.” It’s a visual term, after all, and it perfectly suits our meaning. So why not allow yourself to actually see the holes rather than hoping you find them by association? It’s amazing what kinds of imbalance and missing information become clear when everything is part of a picture. Connect-the-dots, anyone?

4. Turn your story into a system.

If you’re an aspie like me, chances are you’re cheering right now. I’ve said for years that a brain on Aspergers is really a brain on systems. Because systems—be they molecular, computer, literary, or otherwise—are how we make sense of the world. (In my experience, at least.) By turning my story into a system, I express it in a language I can understand and then translate into the more neurotypical language of text. Anything else is nebulous soup.

(Your question about whether or not soup can be nebulous is entirely invalid in this system, by the way . . .)

The sky’s the limit for ways to design an infographic that helps you power through writing your story. I hope you take the plunge and try it for yourself. Please let me know how it goes!

Oh, and do share a photo . . .

3 thoughts on “Picture This: Infographics for Writers

  1. This is brilliant, Lisa. I have a very hard time to plan out my writing. I think perhaps I’m neurologically wired in an opposite fashion from you. Being left-handed, my right brain is in control most of the time, meaning that it is entirely associative rather than linear (which is the purview of the left brain, if you’ll forgive my dabbles into pop psychology.) Interestingly, visuals do help me to plot out my stories as well, though I usually use the old-fashioned Fictean curve, and just jot in occurrences on the line.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had a hard time planning it too! It’s amazing what we can learn about ourselves all the time. We are always full of surprises. That’s fascinating about your left-handed-ness and what it means for your writing. I should read more pop psychology, eh? 🙂


  2. I use big rolls of that old computer paper with the holes on the side we old-timers used to put in those printers–remember those? I love finding boxes of those at garage sales. I am totally a visual thinker and visual learner. So I’ve used this method for quite awhile. I bought a whiteboard for doing it as well, but I find sitting down with long pieces of paper helps the most. Especially with timelines!

    I draw character maps, too, and figure out how each character knows one another. I’ve also printed pictures of my characters from photos I glean from google so I can describe them in more depth and make a folder of them. I organize them by families. And under the photo I write some character quirks and facts about them.

    I don’t have the room to draw something as big and beautiful as yours! But I love it! (I’m also not artistic at all, but I still try! I got the music gene but not the visual arts gene except for graphics desktop publishing.)

    Glad to know I’m not the only one who plots this way! Love your work!


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