Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Outlining and Plot Mapping

Historically, I've been more of a pantser than a plotter when it comes to writing. This is quite the opposite of how I behave in every other aspect of my life. I love planning and in certain situations require a plan or else. Seriously, if you ever see a distressed woman in glasses rushing through the aisles at Whole Foods, picking things up and putting them back down that's me and I forgot to make a grocery list. 

Ideas for stories usually come to me in pieces. The initial idea sneaks in and leaves me with a premise, a scene, or a character. Once I start writing, I hope the rest of the story presents itself. Usually it does and I'll throw together a shaky outline then. If it doesn't, I'm left staring at my word document until I start to wonder if that flashing cursor could be some form of message like Morse Code. Only I don't know Morse Code and each flash seems to be of equal length. 

In an effort to avoid that I decided to put an outline together for my new story which I'm currently calling TEMPEST. My outline method was the basic Outline Format in Word. I kept it chronological, though I included quick summaries of back story where relevant. Right now it looks like each bullet point is a chapter but it's unlikely they'll stay that way. I know myself better than to think I'll stick exactly to what I have in mind. My characters take over and I generally let them lead the way. 

One thing I know will be an issue in this story is when to reveal information. Fortunately I stumbled upon an awesome blog post by Chersti Nieveen on how to do a basic outline. It explains how to make a plot map just like Jo Rowling uses. The chapters are listed vertically and the top row lists each plot in the story. This makes the plot development visual. Once everything is filled in, a quick glance can tell you if you've lost a plot along the way or have gone too long without mentioning it.

 I know she prefers pen and paper, but why so messy, Jo? Of course, I knew I'd be plot mapping Jo Rowling Style only neater and in Microsoft Excel, because I use Excel for everything. If your familiar with The Order of the Phoenix you'll note how even the best and most successful writers allow the story to change when the characters and plots demand it. 

Can't believe Umbridge's name was originally Elvira. Umbridge was the worst. Just thinking about her makes me grumpy, but as my friend Sarah always says when hoping someone gets their comeuppance, "The centaurs will come eventually." and they certainly came for Umbridge. Thank goodness for that.

Seeing the plots this way is particularly helpful for me since the amount of time I spend writing is not proportionate to the amount I've written. It may feel like forever since I've mentioned the subplot involving my character's best friend, but in reality it may have just been in the last chapter. There's also the possibility that you might forget to wrap up a subplot before you send your book to your first set of beta readers. That happened to me and I'm still filled with regret. If I had this plot map for my last story I could have avoided so much self shaming. Don't be like Monica, friends. Make a plot map.


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