Sunday, August 23, 2009

Confessions of a Plotter

Whenever anyone asks if I plot my books in advance or simply fly off into the misty unknown and write by the seat of my pants, I always say, “Oh, I’m definitely a plotter.”

But that doesn’t mean I have every scene nailed down before I start writing. I do carefully work out the beginning and sketch in the end (the operative word there is sketch). But my ideas for the middle are usually just that—ideas for scenes that sort of float, well, in the mist. And there usually aren’t enough of them. I’ve learned over the years that my grasp of the story changes once I actually start writing and new ideas pop up, so it’s a waste of time to put too much effort up front into carefully laying down a path I won’t end up following.

But I can only go on like that for so long. Somewhere around page 75-100, I haul out my 3x5” cards and go to work on my plot again. Each card represents one scene. The note cards I use at the initial concept stage—when I’m just getting a rough idea of what will happen for the proposal—are all white. But once I’m well into writing the story, I get really obsessive about pacing and timing. And since I’m a visual kind of person, when I go back and attack my plot again I use colored index cards.

If you’re curious about what all those different colors mean, here’s the code for my thrillers (I take a different approach for my mysteries):
Light green: Tobie and Jax scenes
Light blue: Noah scenes (Noah is the protagonist of the interwoven subplot)
Purple: action scenes involving Tobie and Jax (i.e., chases, fights, shootouts, etc.)
Dark blue: action scenes involving Noah
Dark red: the head villains plotting the dastardly deed Jax and Tobie are racing to avert
Light red: the villains’ minions, maneuvering to get Jax and Tobie (or Noah)
Yellow: missing links—places I need something to get me into or out of a scene or sequence of scenes

The beauty of this system is that I can see everything—pacing, character flow, and missing links—at a glance. I can see I need a purple card (a fight or a chase) here, or that I go too long without a villain scene there, or that I need another blue sequence with my subplot character, Noah, in there.

The layout is significant, too. But for now, I’ll leave you snickering at my OCPD tendencies.


Charles Gramlich said...

I didn't realize you were such a colorful character.

Lainey said...

LOL Charles!

Lotta light green and purple. Looking good!

Steve Malley said...

Now you've got me curious about the layout... ;)

orannia said...

I think it's very clever :) It's giving you a overview so you can see, at a glance, if the balance is off somwhere. That's where I fall down - I'm good on the detail of the trees, but I often lose sight of the wood :)

cs harris said...

LOL Charles, indeed!

Lainey, it is finally starting to shape up.

Steve, I hope to get to the layout.

Orannia, it is a great way to see at a glance where there might be a problem.

Barbara Martin said...

I use a chart similar to your cards. A great way to see the holes in the story.