Friday, 15 July 2011

RETROFRIDAY - HOW I PLOT

Hello everyone, and happy Friday. Well done for surviving this far. Before we move onto today's archive post I need to share this supremely brilliant post by fantasy writer N.K. Jemisen on the limitations of 'traditional' feminine roles. Read it, my babies. Feel your mind expand.

Now onto RETROFRIDAY, where in a post from early last year, I answer that much asked question: 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?

18 comments:

Isabel said...

Thank you for linking to N.K. Jemisin's blog post. She's completely spot-on in everything that she said. She's also so good at creating convincing and complex characters in her writing. I was so surprised to find that anyone would criticize her characters like that! Yeine is one of the strongest female protagonists I've ever read about, especially because of how human she is. Nahadoth never came across as particularly strong to me, because of his inability to control himself and his emotions, and he's too afraid of weakness.

I love this post! I remember the first time you posted it I tried making one of those diamond diagrams in my writing notebook, but now that my plot has grown to something completely different it wouldn't be a bad idea to try it again at some point. How did you do it on the computer like that?

Zoë Marriott said...

Isabel: I made the plot diagram you see here using MS OneNote, but I don't really recommend it for that - frankly it was TORTURE trying to get everything to line up. I think it's much easier to sketch it out using pencils!

Isabel said...

Zoe: Thanks. I might just stick with paper and pencils, then. ;)

Megha said...

I use the synopsis method, to write out what's happening. I tried to use the Diamond Method but it didn't work for me. Oh well. At least I have a method.

Second: ZOE, JOSEPHINE ANGELINI IS FOLLOWING MY BLOG.

HOW CRAZY IS THAT?!?

I don't mean to brag (although I'm sure you didn't assume so in the first place) and I don't mean to advertise my blog at all, so sorry if it turns out that way, but:

EEEEEEEEEEEP!!

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!!! =D

Zoë Marriott said...

Megha: Plotting is very individual, and the diamond plotting method doesn't always work for me, either. Good for you on having Josie follow you - that means you must have really interesting things to say, right?

Rebecca Lindsay said...

Bye folks! I'm going on a 3 week Outward Bound Course to Loch Eil tomorrow so I wont be able to read any of the blogs. I'll have a lot to catch up with, lol
Bye :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Bye, Rebecca - have a great time!

Isabel said...

We'll miss you, Rebecca! Hope your trip is great fun. See you in a few weeks! :)

borky_qk said...

Hi! Once again the post is really helpful. After reading a post about plotting on this blog my book really go well. And today I have thought(QUOTE?) of a bulgarian poet which you probablly will like. "When I want to read something nice, I sit down and write it." Kiril Gonchev.I hope that I wrote it right because is really cool. And I hope that Kiril didn't steal it from someone else (like english author). :x

P.S. By Rebecca!

scattered_laura said...

I've never seen this diamond plotting structure thing before. I shall give it a try as it looks a lot more structured than mind mapping!

I think I shall also use it when teaching my GCSE class narrative writing in the autumn!

Fanks!

Zoë Marriott said...

Hee! You're very welcome :)

Gabbi said...

This is kind of cool! I'll probably give it a shit, because I think that obody should ever stop trying to learn an efficient way to plot. When I plot, I kind of use the index card method, except mine is all in neoon colored sticky notes. I find big events that I know I want and then hand them up chronilogically. Between the events I put a different colored sticky note that has a (fairly long) list of questions--about what the characters reaction is, how others reacted, what events led up to that. It works pretty well for me!

Gabbi said...

Ah,I meant shot*! Sorry!

Zoë Marriott said...

Gabbi: LOL - it's OK, I guessed! I used the sticky note method when I was outlining Big Secret Project, but it feels a bit loose and floppy for ordinary plotting (this probably makes sense to no one but me!).

Isabel said...

Gabbi: Yeah, writing down questions -- even if you still don't know the answers to them -- can be really helpful if you find yourself confused or stuck in your story, or have to figure out some things. I really should use it more often. (Like... tomorrow. I am determined to get back to my writing starting then. Meanwhile I've been procrastinating by re-organizing the bookshelf! Yay!) Thanks for reminding me.

Megha said...

I have completely FORGOTTEN to write. However, instead of the usual anger I feel for not having written anything for MONTHS, I feel fine because I'm still a kid! And I don't HAVE to write novels! I write something everyday, and that can still make me a writer! I've got a whole future ahead, so there's no point setting deadlines at this age.

Zoë Marriott said...

Megha: That's a great attitude and will hopefully help you to preserve the fun in your writing. It's good to develop discipline and a strong writing habit, but you've got penty of time, and putting unnecessary pressure on yourself does more harm than good.

Isabel said...

Megha: I wish I felt the same way! But even though I got back from South Africa only a few days ago, I feel awful that it's taken me until now to go back to writing. I DID do some planning today, but I still hate pressuring myself like this. I still always love to write -- when I'm not feeling horribly stuck -- but you make a good point. I'm just a kid, and I don't have to write all the time, nor do I have to achieve perfection at such an early age. :-)

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