Library Writers Group: Plotting (Part II)

29 Mar

I posted yesterday about the first half of my writers group meeting from last week where we had a great discussion on the Three Act Structure of a story. Today I’ll continue with that discussion and go over some plotting strategies that different writers use. As I’ve talked about before, there are two extremes when it comes to preparing for a novel; plotting (or outlining) and pantsing (or organic). Organic plotters explore the story with their characters, not thinking ahead of the moment they are writing. They tend to have long first drafts with tangents. Most people lie in the middle of the plotter/pantser spectrum. Here are some other techniques that lie between the two extremes.

  • Headlight method: The writer writes one chapter at a time beginning with an outline of the chapter, and then writing it. They only follow as far as their metaphorical headlights can see.
  • Polisher: Write one chapter, polish it until it’s perfect, then move to the second. This involves little planning ahead of the current chapter. (Honestly, I think this one seems like a waste of time. Does anyone do this? How much editing are you doing?)
  • Outliner: This is the method I use, which involves writing out an outline of the entire plot and writing to it.
  • Start here, finish there: This technique can be used in a few ways. The writer can figure out the beginning and end and fill in the middle with the plot. He or she might know where they want to end to be and fill in to get there.
  • Tent Pole Method: The writer plans out several events or ‘poles’ that the story needs to stand on by writing a summary of the events. He then writes to string these ‘poles’ together.
  • Series of Sequences: In addition to the events, the writer plans out the events leading to each major event. This is a more detailed method than the Tent Pole Method.
  • Mindmapping: This involves a stream of consciousness from a character which gives the writer background notes and helps him figure out how the characters will interact with each other.
  • Dialoguing: The writer has the characters talk to each other to flush out what is going on between them and how they feel about certain things. Most of this writing will not end up in the book.
  • Character Arcs: The writer writes a story about each potential character, talking about how the character would act in the given situation. After writing a few, the author picks which character will be the protagonist of the book.

Another example is one my favorite author, J.K. Rowling used to outline the Harry Potter books. She put time periods or chapters in rows and had columns for the major plots, subplots, and arcs that would happen in the book. Then she filled in each square or left it blank, writing the chapters to include all the plot points needed. Here’s a cool picture of what that looks like from Rowling herself.

J.K. Rowling's out line of 'Order of the Phoenix' via OpenCulture

J.K. Rowling’s outline of ‘Order of the Phoenix’ via OpenCulture

A lot of authors change steps or use a combination of these. A method is only good if it works for the writer.

We spent the majority of the meeting talking about one final method, the Snowflake Method as described by Randy Ingermanson on his website, Advanced Fiction Writing. Ingermanson claims his method can triple the speed of a first draft and improve its quality. Here are his ten steps.

  1. Write a one sentence summary of fifteen words or less of what will happen in the novel. Think of it as a Twitter pitch, use no names, and keep it focused on the big picture.
  2. Turn that sentence into a paragraph where the first sentence is equivalent to Act One, sentences 2-4 are the major plot points, and the fifth sentence is the ending to the book.
  3. For each major character, write a short bio that tells their name, a sentence about their place in the storyline, their motivation, goals, and epiphany moment.
  4. Turn the paragraph into a longer summary where each of the five sentences becomes a paragraph.
  5. Turn the major character bios from Step 3 into a page long talking about what the character is doing in the story. Add 1/2 page summaries for all other important characters.
  6. Expand the synopsis from step 4, which should be about a page, to five pages so each paragraph is expanded to a page.
  7. Do a deep character chart for each character. You can find examples of these online and they tend to be a few pages each of some great details to build each character.
  8. Make a list of all the scenes in the novel. This can be up to 100 scenes and he recommends using Excel to keep them straight and get them in the right order.
  9. Expand the scenes from Step 8 into a narrative description of the novel, writing multiple paragraphs about each and including all details and descriptions as well as key lines of dialogue that come to you. This may end up being longer than the book itself. Ingermanson himself admits that he doesn’t do this anymore but suggests it for people writing with the Snowflake Method for the first time.
  10. Write the darned novel!

I’d be interested in finding out if anyone’s had success with this method. It makes sense to me up until Step 9. I think I would skip that.

We’ll be talking about world building next month so look forward to that one, I am! Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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