For some reason, when I see the word “plotting”, my mind conjures up an image of a stereotypical bad guy from black and white silent films. You know, the one with the handlebar moustache and wringing hands, along with the “mwahahahahaha”.
But when I think about plotting, it’s different. It’s a concept, the idea of a path through a story where stuff happens. Not an outline, because that seems too rigid. Of course, when I think of “outline”, I think of those reports we used to do back in school. You remember the ones: Roman numerals, paragraph topics, supporting facts, 3 x 5 inch index cards, and sources. Always had to have at least three sources (and there was no Wikipedia or Internet at the time). Back then, we had to go to the library and do our research.
I know, ancient history!
When I started preparing for my very first NaNoWriMo, I decided to write a completely new story, and not just rehash the one I had been working on up to that point. I found a great book by Karen Wiesner: First Draft in 30 Days. She has a set of worksheets she uses to put together a story, including character sketches, setting notes, timelines, fact sheets, and plot sketches. In essence, a book bible.
I created a OneNote template that had tabs for each worksheet, and they guided me through that first NaNo draft. The parts that really helped me put the story together, though, were the summary outline and the miscellaneous scene notes. Basically, a free-form exercise to walk through this is what happens, this happens next, then this, etc. There are also timeline sheets to help work out the order of events.
I ended up with a story I didn’t expect, but I enjoyed writing it. Didn’t finish it, but that’s on my list; I know how it ends, I just have to write it.
Fast-forward to now. I still use those worksheets, but I have learned that one of the best ways for me to walk through a story and get a feel for what works and what doesn’t work is to write a stream-of-consciousness summary of the story from beginning to end. By hand.
Should I call it plotting? I suppose it is, but it feels more fluid than “plotting”, yet more planned than “pantsing”. *scans the room to make sure the Muse isn’t giving me a stink-eye* I’ve been struggling with the plot for book 2, so I have been doing this process repeatedly, trying to nail down just what wasn’t working.
One of the keys, I learned, is asking “what if” questions when I run into something that doesn’t feel right to me. Initially the story opened with two characters dead–one of natural causes, the other of an unfortunate hunting “accident”. It didn’t feel right. Then I had three characters die. Nope, so back to two characters, but one that started dead in an earlier draft was now alive and another dead instead.
Better, but it still didn’t feel right. Still, I ran with it, did NaNo with that premise, and spent December writing yet another SOC plot summary. Multiple plot summaries.
And I asked, “what if”? What if there was only one dead character? What if he had the hobby the other once-dead character had? What if that airplane he was rebuilding lived in a hangar at the airport instead of a shed in the backyard? The nefarious stuff is happening at the airport, and he would be there anyway to spy–er, casually notice the goings-on, and doesn’t need an excuse to go there.
I’ve got it now. There are still a few things to work out, but once the routine is back in place after the kids are back at college and all that extraneous energy is dissipated, I’m eager to start the heavy revisions. Or maybe yet another rough draft. In any case, I feel better about this version of the story than any of the earlier ones.
Hope your new year is starting out well. Lots of writing and all that!
And by special request (yes, B, I remembered 😀 )