Monday, July 11, 2011

Hands-On Plotting

So, I have always considered myself a pantster. When I get an idea, I do a very barebones rough outline of what's going to happen and how it will end, and then I begin to type and just go with the character flow. Perhaps it's because I am more right-brained and plotting seems too structured for me, or maybe I just don't have the patience to sit down and map it out when my story is brimming to the surface, ready to be written.

But after listening to Shelly Beach's presentation on her plotting technique, I have a whole new outlook on it, and I'm eager to try it out. It's very hands on and I always like a little craftiness...but two pluses for me:

One, it is very visual: You have a giant map of your whole idea right in front of you as you type.

Two, it is workable: You can move stuff around and change things up throughout the writing process.

In order to plot this way, all you need are post-its, assorted colored notecards, and a large blank wall .

Step 1: Mapping Out Your Story

Begin to map out back story, conflict, complications, obstacles, ultimate crisis (climax), resolutions, using post it notes for each piece of information. In my very conceptual graphic, you see that you are doing a chapter by chapter outline (I only show a few chapters here, but you would go all the way to the end of your story). Be sure your points are moving the story forward and maintaining a rise in tension toward a climactic point (ch. 20 on my example). Visually doing this with your post-its helps you to remember where the story is going, what loose ends need to be dealt with, and what the stakes are at different points of the book.

Examples of what would be written on the post-its from my wip:

Spanish explorers arrive on the river
Chief thinks Spanish commander is a god
Fake god shows powerful arquebus,
Andres and Yana meet at falls...

Step 2: “Braiding” Plot and Characters

So, you have a chapter by chapter outline of what is going to drive your story-- through character emotions and situations. Shelly reminds us that “plot and character go together. Character's flaws drive the plot.”

To learn more about this, check out Robin Perini on Braiding Character with Plot.

Now, assign a notecard color for your main character's point of view and other characters' point of view. (Shelly suggests that one character needs to be your primary point of view.)

On each notecard, write what you want to show through the character's pov at that post-it point in the story.

So from my story (the illustration does not necessarily go with my wip example):

Post it: Spanish Explorers arrive on river
Yana: Intrigued by Andres on vessel
Andres: Journal entry: hardships on river, fear of people they may encounter

Post it: Chief declares fake god
Yana: Doubts in the fake god
Andres: Journal entry: fears his commander's idolatry, notices Yana's doubt

You begin to see how the characters and plot braid together by showing the character's pov in specific ways along the plot line.

A word on plot, from Shelly's notes:

“Don't let your focus be the plot, which is the series of events and situations that occur along the route of your story. The Plot is a natural outcome of the seeds of your story—it emerges from your setup of the characters, their conflicts and the setting they occur in. You'll write a more powerful, believable story if you focus on seed planting long before you worry about the harvest.”


Anonymous said...

This is very helpful...I'm trying it with the YA historical fiction novel I'm writing! Thanks!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Wow, this is so practical. I am going to have to try this in my writing. I like the idea of the plot being the "natural outcome of the seeds of my story." Thanks so much for sharing this, Angie!

Angie Dicken said...

Glad it helps...There are so many great tools out there. I am going to try it soon, too.

Casey said...

That last paragraph is extra special gold! Thanks for sharing that Angie. :)

Julia M. Reffner said...

Ooohhh...I like the color coding and agree with Casey. Love the final quote.

Casey, you have a new picture!

Joanne Sher said...

This looks good! may have to give it a try! Thanks!

Angie Dicken said...

Casey and Julia, I loved that quote too!
Hope it works for you, Joanne! :)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Excellent post! I am a visual girl, and so this type of plotting is very helpful for me. I'm not a good plotter, but I really want to be. This could be just the ticket!

Pepper said...

Very cool post, Angie. I love the visual idea.
And your way of plotting sounds a lot like mine- barebones outline and then go with the flow.

This visual thing might work for me...but don't tell Sarah. I don't want her getting her hopes up ;-)

Angie Dicken said...

Sherrinda- That's what intrigued me about this technique...and it is old fashioned with good ol' notecards. Sometimes it is nice to get away from the computer. :)
Pepper- We are similar in many ways! I am eager to try this out and see if I can successfully stick with it.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks Angie.
I love the visual method. I've decorated a whole wall in my basement with story pieces. My family was amused. It sure helped with organization, keeping my thoughts in the right order and focused, and kept me in the story instead of a rabbit trail.

Diana Ligaya said...

I LOVE this! I'm a post-it addict and love the tangible, visual nature of planning with post-its. I used to do it all the time with project management and now with plot management. I find that working with post its and then moving it to a digital medium after I've done the "high level" plotting works very well for me. (Also? Post it notes on sale now thanks to back to school sales!)

Brandy said...

I'm a Post-its pimp so this works for me! I'm a pantser, however I do sketch out the general direction of my story in a notebook as I'm writing it. I'm going to definitely try this technique, too. Hopefully my cat doesn't attack my wall of flapping sticky notes. Thanks!

Silent Pages said...

Great post, based on a great session! It was so interesting watching her go through her plot and show us how everything fit together...

I haven't had a chance to put this into practice yet (I'll have to make my mom buy me some post-its. ;) ) But I look forward to giving it a shot.