Saturday, June 1, 2013

How do you plot?

Plotting for me has become a necessary thing. It didn't used to be and I still start stories on a whim, but I do plot out the arc of the story now. I find it very valuable and it keeps me from writing myself into a corner...most of the time... The characters still manage to go off on tangents and stump me of and on, but for the most part, I at least have a map to look at to direct their journey in the right direction. Doesn't mean we won't go southwest, when we were supposed to go south, but hey...freedom of choice is what makes our characters so alive to us.

My brain always worked in scenes...think stream-of-thought-moviestyle. I see my books in sets of scenes that would create a movie. If I was watching a movie what would I want to see first? The main character OF COURSE. I would want to know who he or she was and what their problem was going to be. (yes, your main character needs to have a nearly impossible goal/ least it's that way in their mind)

I read Jack Bickham's SCENE AND STRUCTURE last year. Totally changed the way I think about my writing. I highly recommend it for anyone who is serious about being an author.
The first two chapters of your book should establish the two main characters' POV and we should know the main question or goal that is going to be addressed right off the bat (like the first chapter). So whoever has more to lose or gain gets the first chapter.

My chapters tend to run about 10-12 pages (1 1/2 spaced lines). So mine run pretty tight. Some are longer, but for the most part they average about the same. I like the momentum this builds. It keeps the readers moving quickly and they are less likely to put the book down. (*see, I'm sneaky that way*) Plus I like action and action has to be paced well or it falls flat and isn't believable. Oh, and by the end of chapter two...if this is a romance, we should know the why the two leads are going to have trouble hooking up.

A little further in, Chapter 3-4, we can start introducing subplots around the romantic main plot line. If there's going to be a quest or a ticking clock, it should be introduced now. Chapter 5 is deep enough in to start really digging into the plot and subplots. Be sure to tease the reader, don't tell them everything. Remember to stay in POV. The reader gets to know everything the POV character knows, so it your problem has to be a mystery to the characters too, if this is going to work right. By chapter 6-7, you should have your first crisis. Hook the readers and don't let your pace slow down. Find a way to take your hero/heroine's problem and MAKE IT WORSE. Do something the reader won't expect. Make it as hard as possible for your reader to put that book down. (READERS: You know you LOVE books that do that. Admit it! I know I do.)

After that first crisis, the rest of the book should be a series of ever intensifying crisis. Sure the characters can solve small ones, but when they do, something should throw a wrench in their well-laid plans and build to the blackest moment your characters can imagine.

I got to hear a fabulous teacher and author give a presentation at my DARA meeting last month. Cindy Dees is a phenomenal speaker and I loved her spaghetti method for plotting. I will be using to along with my arc plotting method for sure. Her technique was to take the cast of characters, put them all on a white board and draw lines connecting each of them. Decide what all the connections are and what kind of scenes you need to create the story. It was eye opening. For each connection or thought she decides on, she puts them down on note cards. Then she starts to arrange her note cards, usually on the floor, in order, filling in scenes as she goes and condenses down the note cards. I absolutely LOVED the idea and I think I will be able to plot and write tighter and better using her method.

How do you plot? What methods do you use?

Krystal Shannan

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