Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

What If?

on April 25, 2014


I wanted to write something about plots. This is one of my weaker points. Googling “plotting,” knowing full-well it’s an ambiguous term, my computer shows hilarious results. “How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You” was my favorite. Something about trying to seize control of Ukraine. Plotting functions on a graph – near and dear to my heart – not kidding. So, on to “plotting a novel.”

I get really great ideas. I do. I get all excited about getting them on paper. I even know where I want the story to end in most cases. But, somewhere in the middle, I get stuck. How do I make this unhappy, mean person see the light of day? Where is the turning point? The funny thing is, I can predict the next step in nearly every book I read and every television show or movie I see. (Just ask my poor, suffering husband.) Quite often, I know the next line of dialogue without having read or seen the story before.

Plotting must be a common problem, since the Google search revealed a lot of information. Plus, it’s a really common topic at writer workshops. Everybody has a method. In five steps. In eight steps. With index cards. Etc. Maybe I should try them all. Each method has its merits and should be a help in a logjam.  But, the real point is, each writer is different and must find her own method. Drat!

Here are just a few methods I found:

  1. Your basic Roman-numeraled outline – Somehow, trying to make a picture book this logical just doesn’t cut it for me.
  2. Start with a synopsis – This has a lot of appeal for me. I tend to write very short, then the story grows outward. Sort of like a fungus. Closely related to Start with the Ending and work your way back.
  3. Sit down and write – This is the basic idea behind National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) I think. Write whatever comes to mind and clean it up later. Or don’t. Some have a separate Stream of Consciousness method.
  4. Start with the beats – The events that must occur in each scene. I admit I’ve used this with some success. It helps prevent my assumption the reader knows what I mean. Also prevents reversing cause and effect. So-and-so says something bad. The main character reacts. Etc. Can be condensed to the Keystone Events for the entire story.
  5. Write it on index cards – This one I like very much. I have fond memories of writing research papers in high school entirely on index cards. Rearrange at will.
  6. Storyboarding – Like a movie in 2-D. Recommended for combining with index cards.
  7. Chapter by chapter – best for longer novels. Write each chapter like a short story.
  8. Take your characters out into the world – Go to Starbucks or the mall and think about how each character would act in this scene. This is dangerously close to a character topic, though. Also dangerous if you forget to go back to work.
  9. Beginning, middle, end – Which is fine, when I don’t get stuck in the middle.

There are a lot more methods, but most of them relate in some way to the nine above.

A post about plot wouldn’t be complete without mentioning all the graphs that show the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement. (Had to say that just so I could use that last word.) Let’s just say a graph couldn’t hurt.

In the end, I just hope I’ve helped my own plot by reminding myself of all this. Happy plotting!

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