The Plot Planner
I’ve mentioned my plot planner in one or two posts now and it’s generated a bit of interest, curiosity and intrigue among other writers, and, apparently, some squinting as certain tweeps (you know who you are) have attempted to work out, from my last post, what the heck I was up to! So I’m dedicating this post to you, and my plot planner. I cannot take credit for the plot planner idea, which came to me via writer Liz Kessler @lizkesslerbooks (via writer Jenny Alexander @jennyalexander4) a few months ago. Around the same time that I asked Liz about her plot planner, I also watched and listened to a set of plotting tutorials on Youtube, by Martha Alderson, known as The Plot Whisperer (@plotwhisperer). You can view/listen to these here – start at step one and work your way through – I shut myself in the bedroom for a whole weekend to do this. So huge credit and thanks to all of the above!
For me, the reason I felt I needed some assistance with plotting was that I wasn’t very good at it – in a nutshell – preferring to just go with the flow, using a few jotted down ideas as my guide. However, the result of this was that I wrote an 80,000 word novel, which, despite publishers complimenting the writing, left a lot to be desired in the way of plot and pacing. I wasn’t surprised by this. So, having hit some initial plotting problems with Buttercup Magic too, I decided to ‘swat up’ a bit for writing my first YA, known as TSP!
I know there are ‘things’ – I.T. things – available to help you with plotting and the like, but
I really don’t want everything being too structured and being made too easy for me – after all, I’m a writer, I have imagination (don’t I?) Anyway, this is a whole lot more fun – making a plot planner is a bit like a day in the Blue Peter studios. You need: a large sheet of A3 paper (or 2 A4 sellotaped together); sellotape (possibly, if you are going down the A4 paper route); index cards; scissors for cutting up index cards; glue stick; pen – Voila!
So, to make your plot planner, you’ll divide the piece of paper into 4 equal sections – paper should be horizontal, lines vertical (I am soooooo enjoying this), then headings at the top of each section: Beginning, Middle, Middle, End. If you listen to Martha Alderson’s wonderful videos, she explains in detail about the quarters involved in plotting.
For example, where the first major change should be – the protagonist moving into another world, changing goal or a major turning point – which should appear around the end of the first quarter. She gives some wonderful examples of this from young children’s picture books to novels. Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is one example she cites. She explains where the tension in your writing should build and where the crisis point and climax should be. This immediately then gives you a sense of where you need to position these points on your plot planner.
I’ll give you an abridged version, as follows, but I do recommend you listening/watching Martha’s videos:
1st 1/4 – (Beginning) Hook; end of 1st 1/4 – turning point, goals may change.
1/4 – 3/4 – (Middle bits) Keep tension rising. Crisis point (middle of middle). Different world / unique.
1/2 – 3/4 (2nd of Middle bits) Protagonist needs to be in a scene where he recommits to the journey.
Last 1/4 (End) Build towards climax, change/transformation of character/s. Climax – about 2 scenes or chapters from end, and before resolution at end.
This is the long bit – and it is a lengthy process, as Liz Kessler will verify. Basically, you write down your scenes and action points – one per strip of index card, so only the basics – then cut these up and place them where you think they should go… so, if you know the
end (hopefully you’ll have some idea of where you’re heading), you can write that on a bit of card and place it at the bottom of the End part of your planner. I can’t be too specific here, but to give you a couple of examples from TSP: ‘Background on P, family, house’ is one of my Beginning section cards, as is ‘O & P go back to cliff top’ – a lot of this beginning section sets up the story and introduces the setting and characters. In the Middle sections, the action builds. To start with, it’ll look a bit bare – more paper than cards – but as the ideas come, it is SO satisfying to see it fill up. Don’t glue them down straight away. I found that the first 1/4 came quite quickly, with other odd bits in the other sections. This is a personal thing, but I decided at this point to write the 1st quarter, see how that panned out, then went back to the plot planner to continue with planning. This worked really well for me, as I couldn’t see the big picture until I had done some physical writing. I then completed the planner in a few days. I can’t tell you how exhilerating it was to see my novel laid out in this way. You know those moments you frequently have as a writer, where you stare at the page and have no idea where you’re heading… or, you’re not sure if what you’ve just written ties in with what you said earlier… etc? Solved! I then stuck the bits of card down, but was careful to leave a gap inbetween each strip of card, so I could add additional points and scenes if I needed to.
I am now writing the rest of TSP with plot planner by my side. Of course, I still have to write the scenes, and I have already peeled off two or three of the stuck down bits of card and re-stuck them somewhere else, and added some new bits… but that doesn’t matter, that’s all part of the process. It isn’t cast in stone. The main thing is that the shape is there and I can see how it will work and how the subplots connect. And perhaps, most importantly of all, I have faith in this story before it is written, and that really is something!