Monday, 23 August 2010

HOW I PLOT

Recently the YA Rebels (whose vlogs I highly recommend for helpful hilarity) have been vlogging about plot and structure. I've enjoyed their videos, but no one's really touched on anything LIKE the method I use (and one of my favourite rebels, Leah Clifford, even stunned me by asking 'What is structure?').

It seems I am an unusually structure-focused writer. Not that I always called it that. For a long time I just talked about the 'shape' of a story. That's still how stories feel to me; like something solid, which has a shape, with bulgy bits and thin bits, that I need to sort of pat and squash into place. I can remember struggling with a scene for days, and then adding two or three lines to the beginning which changed the 'shape' of it for me, so that I was able to move forward.

While I was in the middle of writing Shadows on the Moon I read Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey. I wasn't convinced by all of it, but one thing that did strike me was the way that Mr Vogler illustrated the three act structure. He used a diamond shape, which actually looks more like a four act structure to me. Not that I cared about 'acts'. What I cared about was the fact that I could see how my own story fitted onto that diagram.

There were, of course, four points on the diamond. Each point had a major event on it. The sides were filled in by the smaller events leading to each major event. I realised I could adapt the diamond shaped diagram to keep track of time elasping in my story world, how old my heroine was at each event, and to make sure that the pacing of the story was even, with a certain amount of smaller events building in momentum until a major event erupted, and then the drama flowed back down to smaller events again.

These plot diagrams aren't set in stone for me. For Shadows I think I drew out three our four of them. Working on FrostFire, I think I've already hit three. But this process of evolution itself is helpful.

I was going to take a picture of the last plot diagram for Shadows, but then I realised it was (as you would expect) basically the most spoilerific thing EVER. So I made up a plot diagram, which doesn't make that much sense, but which gives you an idea how I use one of these.


My real plot diagrams show a lot more detail. I draw them by hand, and use highlighters and lots of different coloured pens, and put arrows pointing from one event to another to show how they relate, as well as notes on how old the protagonist and other main characters are at each event and anything else significant (for example, if the location has changed).

I've never been able to use the index card method. I love the idea of having different cards that signify a certain subplot, but for me each event is such a tangle of different developing plots that I can't separate them out. And, as most writers would agree, synopses, while good for giving people a general idea how your story plays out, don't help much at all. But if you, like me, tend to have trouble with pacing and structure, the Diamond Plot Diagram might be for you.

Anyone else want to chip in here? How do you plot?

7 comments:

Saya said...

I just want to drop a comment to say WHAT HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO BIGGLES and also I HATE FLUFFY

That's all. Everyone can now return to their regular activities. Good night.

Zoë Marriott said...

*Snork* I fell right out of my chair reading that. You're on Team Biggles, then, I guess? *Ah ha ha ha!*

Saya said...

Yes! Biggles DIES, his life SUCKS.

You would have to be a heartless soulless plank not to ship Biggles XD

Zoë Marriott said...

Ah, but he dies nobly. I think. I didn't really think about it that much...

Lynsey Newton said...

I feel like Rachel in Friends when she's trying to see her baby on the ultrasound scan "I don't see it"... I get the diamond and how it works but where do you start? january? And are you supposing that this particular Biggles and Fluffy novel takes place over a year?

Zoë Marriott said...

Okay, start here: http://thezoe-trope.blogspot.com/2010/09/turning-stories-into-plots-part-one.html and work your way forward.

Oliver Urban said...

My plotting always borders on obsession and sometimes I plan for weeks before writing a single word;

I have different folders in scrivener for outline, world, characters, and settings. Each location and character has their own document where there's a quick descriptor paragraph that tells their age and a physical description, and then a paragraph or two about their personality and history. Each location page has a paragraph or so of description -all of this is for easy reference while writing- and then in the outline folder there are three separate folders for each act with every chapter or scene of that act laid out as it's own document/cue-card.

My scene notes are very detailed and they have to include the date the scene takes place so I don't have to make a separate timeline. My outlines tend to go through 2 or 3 drafts before I finally have everything nailed out perfectly, but even then things changes as I'm writing and scenes become something else than I'd originally imagined...

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