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Monday, November 16, 2009

Plotting for Non-Plotters

First, I want to apologize for not getting a blog posted last week. I was banging my head against my desk, trying to get a chapter out and then when I did, it started flowing like a river. Ah, the troubles of being a writer. Despite that, it’s the best darn job in the world.

Okay, so I was scratching my head on what to talk about and I decided to do something for all the other aspiring authors out there. And for those of you who decided to jump into the icy lake that is called Nanowrimo fully naked. I’m going to talk about the most dreaded word in writing; plotting.

I know a lot of you are groaning and asking why do I have to plot? The story just flows from my brain to my fingertips. And I’ll tell you that I’m not a plotter. I’m what you call an “organic writer.” Gotta love the titles everyone adds to everything.

So, now you are asking how am I going to talk about plotting when I don’t even do it myself? And the answer is simple, because it’s a good idea. In theory.

I like the surprises in my stories. I feel like I’m watching a play unfold in my head and I’m only transcribing it. So, plotting was my nemesis, but with my latest I wanted it to be something really great and it was so intricate I needed to know where it was going and why. I didn’t necessarily need to know how. It would come in time. So, I started doing a plotting I’ve just recently found out is more common than I knew. It’s called “leapfrog plotting”, but I do something different with it than most. I think. I could be wrong, of course.

Okay, so here’s what I do. I go out to Staples or Office Depot or whatever office supply store is around you and I buy the big 20 x 20 pads of post its. You know the ones they use at meetings in Corporate America. Then some smaller ones. Multi colored. Then I bought two whiteboards (I got these at a school supply store) they look like the slate boards they used in the 1800s, but they’re white boards instead. And a pack of dry-erase markers. I recommend getting the spray cleaner for ease, but soap and water work well, too (in case a chapter takes longer than expected and the marker doesn’t want to erase very well).

When the muse sits on my shoulder and whispers the idea in my ear. I sit down with a marker and a giant post-it note and tape it to the wall and then I figure out how many words I’d like the finished manuscript to be. Take Mirror. I wanted it to be between 80,000 and 90,000 words. And I knew I didn’t want more than 3, 000 words per chapter. So, I took out my handy dandy calculator and I found out I needed a minimum of twenty-six chapters.

I drew lines on my giant post it and make twenty-six blocks. And labeled them chapters 1-26. Then I wrote what I wanted to happen in the first chapter and then the last chapter. Which left me with 24 more blocks empty. Not too hard, right?

Now here’s where the leapfrog plotting happens. I can never think in more than one chapter at a time, but for Mirror I needed to interweave chapters, so what I did was I took one of my white boards and I drew four blocks and labeled them with whatever chapter I was working on, plus the three subsequent ones. Then I wrote down the main thing I want to happen in each chapter. It can be just a sentence or a whole paragraph, but it’s generally pretty open and by no means the whole thing.

For instance, in my first chapter of Mirror, I had two big things that needed to happen. So, I wrote a sentence each of the two big events. Lily had to be rescued by Jackson and then she had to see him in her mirror. So I wrote them just like that. Then I moved onto chapters two, three, and four.

Then when I knew what was going to happen for the next four chapters including the one I was working on. I took my other whiteboard and plotted that chapter out fully. Now that’s not writing the chapter. That’s just putting the highlights down so when I got stuck I could turn to it and go, “Oh, I didn’t say that yet, I need to change this so I can talk about that,” or whatever. It’s similar to a chapter synopsis. It just states the main points. Not necessarily in any particular order. And is not set in stone. I’ve changed main points a few times, because I realized a point I had put in just to add tension or conflict really needed to be explored more to understand things.

Then I type out the chapter, referring back to the white board as often as necessary. When I finish, I start all over for the next chapter, so I can always see three chapters ahead.

As you can see it is a lot of work, but you’ll find when you’re actually writing it helps to have that for a reference. That way you don’t have inconsistencies that your beta readers will point out (though from time to time I still have them, because I change certain things I don’t think are working.)

Pretty soon, you’ve finished the book and feeling pretty smug about yourself. You’ve actually plotted out a story and it works. Now, you go back and proof, proof, proof. Because no matter how much you planned some things just won’t come out right. Or aren’t needed.

Before I close today’s post let me state one more thing. It’s always a good idea to write down somewhere (I write it on my huge sticky) what your main characters look like. I didn’t do it for Mirror and my MC has three different descriptions and the hero has two because I couldn’t remember. Just a quick note is fine. Like: hero-brown hair, green eyes, scar over right eye. Heroine-black hair/green eyes, sarcastic. Something like that. J

Next week, I’m going to talk about inspiration. So, I’m leaving you with this question. What is your inspiration and why do you think it works? Until next week, Ciao!