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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Writing Tip: Plotting Your Novel

Yesterday, I wrote an Inspiration Monday post about breaking goals into manageable chunks.  If you're a writer, this also applies to writing your novel, in the form of plotting.  Kelly, this one's for you--you wanted to know if I'd share my goals.  And here goes one.  I need to finish the plotting for my historical novel.   

When I first came up with the idea for this manuscript, I started with the research.  I knew absolutely nothing about the time period, the people, the place, the clothing--you name it, I had to research it.  The more information I discovered, the more I wanted to write.  My protagonist begged me to tell her story, and I became her scribe.  

The manuscript underwent a huge change in the beginning stages--it went from first person to third person--thanks to the wisdom of my incredible critique group.  I have to admit, writing this manuscript in first person was much easier.  I also didn't worry about the plot so much.  I had a basic idea of what I wanted to happen in the story. I knew the ending, so I wrote towards the ending.  

Now, the story is in third person and it's added a multitude of layers I want to reveal. The only way I'll be able to keep it straight is if I have a plot outline I can refer to.  I do have a light outline I can refer to, but it's not enough.  My story has gotten too complex that I'm worried I won't tie up all the loose ends.  Remember how I mentioned earlier about breaking goals down into manageable chunks?  Now it's time to do break down my plot into manageable chunks to make sure it works. 

Not every writer is into outlines, and truly, you need to do what best helps you write.  But there are different variations on how people outline.  Some writers use plotting boards.  I've also read about writers using index cards, timelines or even spreadsheets.  I'm more of an old-fashioned outline sort of gal.  It probably goes back to my middle school days where the outline was ingrained in my mind as the only way to map out a paper.  But one of these days, I'd love to try a different method.  

Keep in mind, a good plot has a few ingredients that help make it a success: characters the reader can care about and identify with, engaging dialogue, interesting conflicts or obstacles, good sub-plots, the enticing pivotal moment, and the all-important wrapping up the loose ends.  

A solid plot outline will help you keep on track with keeping the story going.  You'll be able to see the beginning, middle and end of the story more clearly with the outline.  And the outline gives the writer hope that the story works and can be finished, since it's broken down into little steps. 

Want to deviate from your outline?  Want to add something new to your outline?  No worries.  It's your story.  The only thing I'd urge you to do is make sure you review your outline to see if you need to make changes elsewhere to reflect the new development(s).  Hopefully, this will save you from any loose ends.

In case you're interested in what the outline should like, the outline below will give you a basic idea of what I do.  Mine go in much more detail, but this will give you a starting point.  I'm not sure if the spaces will line up correctly in Blogger, so if it doesn't, remember to indent for every new thing you're adding to a scene, to the sub-plot, etc.

I:  Chapter One
   A. Scene 1
       1. Characters
          a. Name A
             1.  description
             2.  mood
             3.  wants
             4.  relationship to Name B
           b. Name B
              1. description
              2.  mood
              3.  wants
              4. relationship to Name A
       2. Place
       3. What happens?
  B.  Scene 2 
You can make this outline as detailed as you like--in fact, I highly recommend it.  Make sure you indent for every new sub-plot, helpful ideas to create your scene, relationships you want to highlight, and all details you want to fit in different chapters.  The more layers you add to the outline, the easier it will be to write your novel.  This outline will help you keep track of your various storylines and get you writing towards your goal.  

It's time for me to put in the final touches to my plot outline.  How do you plot?


Christine M said...

I don't seem to have any sort of an organized method for plotting. Sometimes I will make a list of what will (roughly) happen in each chapter. Sometimes I just brainstorm on paper and see what happens. Maybe I should get more organized. :)

HipWriterMama said...

I've found for my manuscripts, the more complex the story, the easier it is to work from a plot outline. I never thought I'd say this, because I'm not the most structured of individuals. But...I'm getting there, in terms of my writing.

PJ Hoover said...

My latest method of plotting involves using The Hero's Journey outline. This helps me stay focused on "The call to action" and "the doorway(s) of no return" which, to me, are both huge in the structure.
I keep a printout of this plotting structure on the wall to help remind me what's important.

HipWriterMama said...

If this is what you used to write your last manuscript, it's a winner! I'll have to check it out. Thanks!

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks, HWM! It is what I used :)

Barrie said...

Here are my thoughts on outlines. I don't like writing them. BUT I do like writing from them! Love it, in fact. Like PJ, I use The Hero's Journey. Plus, I break everything down into chapters.

Great post!

HipWriterMama said...

Thanks for sharing your method. I break my outline into chapters, too. Makes it so much easier to print out a chapter outline and then write from there.

Another vote for The Hero's Journey! Hmmm.

beckylevine said...

I plot like you. When you describe your process, with this novel, it sounded so familiar. Knowing the beginning & end and only some of the middle, then needing the plot to connect the two "outer" parts.

I pretty much plot like you, although I also use Martha Alderson's Scene Tracker system, with some additions of my own. (www.blockbusterplots.com)

I need to get going on my plot! :)

Patty P said...

I used the Hero's Journey outline for my first novel but have used nothing for my current novel. Not a good idea! Thanks for sharing.

beth said...

I can't outline at all! If it's nonfiction, like an essay or my master's thesis, I outlined every bit of it. But I learned early on not to even attempt this with my fiction. Part of the fun in writing, for me, is to NOT know how the story will end. I write in order to find out what happens to my characters! If I plot, then I know what happens, then I lose interest, then I never finish the book. So no outlining for me!

...course, that could explain why I'm stuck 80 pages into my new WIP...maybe I should reconsider that outline thing... ;)

Kelly said...

Thanks for sharing, HWM!! Sounds like you're working hard. I can't wait to read the results :)

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Ever since the last 1/2 of high school, I've used notecards extensively and then drawn an outline from them, whether they were essays or longer works (that, by the way, never made it to chapter books). Spacially, it's more managable for me to visualize the whole when I can lay out different points.

HipWriterMama said...

I bought her book a couple months ago, but haven't gone through it in detail yet. Thanks for reminding me I need to finish reading this.

Man! Three for the Hero's Journal. I'll have to check this one out!

HipWriterMama said...

I wrote a couple of my manuscripts with no outline, and it definitely is fun! You're right though, I think it's easier to get stuck on the progression of the book. Good luck with your WIP!

I hope you like the next section!

This is probably why the index card method works for many people. Though I'm not sure if they write an outline from this point.

I haven't tried the index card method--I fear the kids getting into the index cards and mixing them up, or even worse, I'd lose cards--and I'd be sooooo sad.

Liz in Ink said...

Oi! Maybe this is why I keep stumbling back to my picture books and my historical middle grade sits unfinished!!! You guys are ORGANIZED!