Gannt Charts - How I Use Them

In the latest episode of my podcast, The Book Stash (episode 4: Murder at the Mountain Rush), I talked about how I use Gantt charts to plot my stories. I thought I would talk you through my latest planning session to give you a little bit more of an insight in how these can be a useful tool.

I started by sticking lots of pieces of A4 paper together to make one monster chart. I then set it up as follows using a felt-tip pen and a ruler.

Now, of course, I could have created this document in Excel, but I think much better with a pen in my hand.

I created this chart because I was having difficulties with the middle of book 3 of The Rachaya Series. I knew the beginning quarter and the last half, but could not for the life of me figure out the second quarter of the story.

Down the left hand side of the page I wrote down the three main players in the story (my protagonist, Rachaya, my antagonist and a third, secret character). Under that I wrote down ten of my more important secondary characters. I made sure I left room for any additional characters that cropped up throughout the planning process.

Across the top I left room for a time line. Now, this was not strict - each square does not represent a month, nor a day, nor a week. Instead I filled in the time frame as I went, depending on my needs. I also used this space to write any important information that I want to remember later.

Finally, beginning with the events from book 2, The Lost City, I wrote down the actions of every character on my sheet at that exact moment in time. I then took out my trusty highlighters. I coloured Rachaya's square in with a pink highlighter, as well as those of all the characters who were with her. I coloured my antagonist in with a blue highlighter, and any character who was with him. Any character on Rachaya's team but not currently with her was coloured in orange, anyone opposing Rachaya but not currently with her enemy was coloured in green. Neutral characters were coloured in yellow.

I filled this chart in step-by-step. For every one of Rachaya's experiences, I wrote down what all of these other characters were doing during that moment.  I did not skip ahead, nor did I skip any characters before I moved on to the next 'happening'. This was frustrating because I would get excited and want to zoom ahead, but had to force myself to slow down and be more meticulous than I ever had before.

(Secret: I am usually terrible at writing down more than the bare bones of my plans and usually rely on my memory. I am terrified that one day I will get hit on the head and forget everything. Don't worry, the main points are written down.)

Here you go, the completed product, blurred because SPOILERS

This Gantt chart does not include every single scene in the book, and I want to stress that this does not set anything in stone. I still allow my characters to dictate where they want the story to go and I remain flexible should the story insist I take it in a completely different direction. But for now, this chart provides me with the bare bones of the story. Now it is my job to fill it in, bit by slow bit.

Wish me luck!


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