Picking up where I left off with the first part of this series, I’ll be talking about how I go from a simple plot line to a fully realized novel. Again, this requires a fair bit of arts and crafts, only this time, you’ll get to see actual pictures of the process. Exciting, I know. Strap yourself in, and let’s talk about plotting.
In my last post about outlining, I talked about crafting a plot line, with the main points highlighted. In order to make a novel, you need to create a main plot and subplots. With Burner, the main plot was solving the murders. There were a series of subplots that focused on character growth, relationships between characters, and another mystery from the past.
Now, individually, these are all interesting plot arcs. With a novel, though, you can’t focus on one, then jump to the next, then the next. They have to be interlinked. The way that I make that work is I find common points between the various plot lines and draw connecting lines between them.
With the intersections somewhat highlighted and thought out, I flesh out each of the individual plot lines. I do this on my computer for expediency’s sake. It’s easier to write out scenes and major points on the computer, since it lets you erase and refine as necessary and doesn’t run through paper like handwriting does. I break out the paper once I have everything somewhat figured out.
I color code each plot line, then print out the fleshed out scenes. I cut out each individual scene, then number them in sequential order, and then I start moving pieces around. As you can see from the above image, each of the plot lines moves at its own pace, and they interweave with each other. There are some points that actually converge (there’s a scene at the end of the novel in the gray that’s the same as the blue, not that you can read it well) and become one in the finalized outline.
What I like about this method is that it helps me with the chronology of my story. It also shows me where I have gaps in the story and where I need to flesh things out.
The final step from here is to take the outline from my floor and rearrange the plot lines on my computer to match. I’ll sometimes make adjustments to the order, but generally speaking, the initial reordering works best. After getting the digital outline reordered, I start figuring out the pacing, so how much happens on a single day, what time of year this is all happening in, what days of week each thing happens, etc. I don’t generally go into this kind of detail, but since the Affinity Series is both a ghost story and a police procedural, I need to keep my timelines pretty tight.
There are others out there who use similar systems. This article from DIY MFA uses a subway map as a framework for intersecting plot lines. And trust me, the graphics there are MUCH better than mine.
Another way to do this is using 3″ x 5″ note cards. I initially learned this technique for writing research papers (I have a degree in Japanese Studies with a minor in History, and I spent a lot of time writing research papers). Basically, you take each plot line and break them into individual scenes, then write a rough description of the scene on a note card. Once you finish writing note cards for each important scene, you lay them out and rearrange them into a story. You now have a stack of note cards that will tell your story as you go from the front of the pile to the back.
Honestly, whatever works for you is what you should do. These are only suggestions for how you can figure out your stories. If you’re not a planner, but rather write from the seat of your pants, techniques like this can help you clarify problem spots in your story and get around writer’s block.
I have a weekly writer’s group tomorrow night, so I will not be posting anything on Thursday. See you all on Friday, where I’m going to talk about flow and writing.