Guest Post by Maripat Sluyter
Hey there. So if you’ve ended up on this post it means you’re probably interested in learning a new approach to plotting a story. This is my technique that’s helped me to plot eight novel-length stories and a handful of short stories. First thing I have to warn you is that I write by using an outline. I’m not sure how much help this will be to those that like to write by the “seat of your pant” approach. Maybe this will help you when it comes to the editing phase? I’m not sure.
Anyway, here’s a list of a few things I use:
In place of dry erase boards, try using butcher’s paper or buy lots of stick-it note pads and find a wall you can use. The following is a hasty recap of the way I plot. Yes, it’s messy, but for me it’s fun.
Step 1: Awkward Speed Date
Timed character chats are very underrated. I have to get to know these potential strangers. In 15 minutes I talk to the main character about his or her potential plot and back story. Fears. Likes. Needs. Wants. Failures. Anything and everything in 15 minutes.
Yes, 15 minutes. Working under pressure helps keep my muse on task and 15 minutes is normally my golden number to bring out the good stuff. If I do this right, I’ll have a sense of my characters, and I’ll know if I have the right characters in the right parts. By the way, you’ll also do one for your villain.
Step 2: Sloppy Synopsis
Starting with my main character, I write out the how the story unfolds through their eyes. This is also where I start questioning my characters’ answers from the above exercise and see how I can best use the information.
Example: Afraid of fire? Cool. How can I possibly use that in my story? Will the villain be a pyro? Look at different potential conflicts playing out. Does my main male character have issues with trusting females? Can I use this to complicate a potential relationship?
At this point, you shouldn’t be afraid of leaving questions for yourself or jotting down half-formed ideas. This is for YOUR eyes only. This is also a timed exercise. Again, I write in 15-minute increments, resetting the timer until my plot is done. (When I say done, I mean I pretty much have the bones of the story from beginning to end.) Time crunches are useful to my muse and me. If you’ve never used a timer before I suggest giving timed exercises a try to see if it helps you.
Once the main character is finished, rinse and repeat for the secondary characters—including the villain.
Note: Some folks use character sheets and/or questions. You can use these here as well. I tend to use this exercise and then I’ve gone back to fill in the sheets.
Step 3: All Those Pretty Plot Points Shopping List
I like lists. So it’ll come as no surprise I make lists of important points I need to get across to the reader about the character. These are from the sloppy synopsis and the characters chats. Example of what is on the list: fear of fire. Trust issues. Dropping certain clues about a killer. Showing the abnormal/moral views of a character, or the unusual world your character might live in.
These points are essential to the plot unfolding and the character’s motivation. My lists run from 100-250, depending on the characters and the world they live in.
Step 4: Worldview
This is where I grab a large dry erase board and divide it into Points of View. Basically, it’s like doing a shorthand synopsis side by side for each character that has a point of view. I like to think of this as a worldview of the story.
This way I know if my main character is experiencing car trouble at a certain point then I need to know my secondary character is running away from home, stealing the car and happens to come across my main character at the right time and not three chapters too late.
The following photo is based loosely on Little Red Riding Hood.
Step 5: Mayhem with Markers
I love my dry erase board and all the pretty colors the markers come in. It seems to help channel my muse so yes, I use a second dry erase for setting up my chapter and scenes.
Along the top of the dry erase board I write out a heading that includes: character PoV for the scene, time of day, chapter number, scene number (sometimes I also include where they’re at). I make bubble maps of everything that I plan to happen in the scene: introducing a character, a setting, a clue, fear the character has (because I know it’ll be used later in the story).
- Do you consider plotting to be PLAY? Maripat Sluyter does and shows how: click to tweet
- Can you play while plotting a story? click to tweet
I watch to make sure my characters emotions are on a roll. If they start out angry, give them something to cry about. If the character is too happy, ruin it. And conflict. Must have conflict. Don’t let them get their goal. If they achieve their goal, let it turn out to be worthless.
You can do this on a variety of levels. It doesn’t have to be “the world is about to end” type of stuff. A character torn inside by their morals is a lovely way to torture them. Really it is.
All the information from my scene board is then jotted down on index cards. Only after I’ve written everything down do I erase and move on to the next scene.
To plot a whole novel takes days to weeks to do all this. The fastest I’ve plotted a novel was six days.
Do I expect you all to follow my approach exactly? Absolutely NOT. No two writers will ever approach writing the same way.
BUT I do suggest you try it my way first for the first few scenes. Why? Because by trying hard to do something, you will be able to understand why it didn’t work for you. Too many people fear change and automatically veto an idea, wanting to cling to their comfort zone. I’m here to say sometimes you have to leave your comfort zone. So yes, I would say try my way first then expand on it to make it your own.
I wish you all the best of luck and happy writing.
Maripat Sluyter enjoys writing, but her first love is reading. On Saturday mornings, you’ll find her in the kitchen listening to 80s music while baking delightful desserts for her family, friends and the amazing children in her Sunday School classes.
Image courtesy of Kookkai_nak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net