May 21, 2011

How To Plot Your Novel (H&S-style)

When I write stories, I don't often know how they end. Or how they middle, for that matter. All I have are specific scenes or characters, and everything I write sort of flows out of those. This method is not one that leads to stunningly-paced and coherent plot lines. My characters do weird things (sometimes twice) that don't make sense in the grander scheme of things. There are weird holes that I can't seem to figure out how to fill. But novels can be such big, unwieldy things. They make it hard to step back and see them simply and honestly. Enter the Health & Safety Spreadsheet.

My Manfriend helped me trial a new kind of plotting procedure. It's what he uses when doing an incident report in which he has to piece together what went wrong in a sequence of events. I'm not going to lie, I was skeptical. It sounded businesslike and un-fun. But I was told there would be colorful Post-its. And there were lots!

The green ones were for major plot details. The blue ones were for important emotions going on in the scene. The pink ones were for incidental happenings that couldn't be classified as 'major events'. I really can't tell you how helpful this process was. I'm pretty visual, so seeing my story laid out in its entirety let me see what was happening too soon, what wasn't happening at all, and what plot points needed strengthening. It helped me realize that some of my scenes were in there because... well, they were pretty. But they weren't serving a function, so off those Post-its came.

I'll definitely be using the Incident Report method again. Just add a bottle of red wine and you've got yourself a pretty fun little party.

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