Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Plotting and Plotting Again

This past school year my daughter spent a lot of blood sweat and tears learning her multiplication tables. She was so proud when she'd finally got them down. The funny thing is, I know that come September, she'll do it all over again. And the next year, too. Each time it will be a little easier, and she'll go a little faster until she'll wonder why they keep having her practice this 'baby stuff.'

I've come to think that writing is like that, too. We start out feeling like we expend a lot of blood sweat and tears learning the basics of plot and dialogue and enough description (but not too much). We go along for a while, pretty proud of ourselves for finally having got it.

And then we realize that we're still a little wobbly. Maybe the basics just don't come as easily as we'd like. Maybe we can see what our stories could be, but trying to get there seems beyond our current abilities.

I feel like that's what I'm facing in the area of plotting. And so I started going through the basics again. As I've read and studied (much of it stuff I'd already read before), I've realized that I'm able to build on what I already know and understand things in a deeper way. Hopefully it will translate into better - and more decisive - writing.

So, I thought I'd share two things that have helped me immensely this go around and how I morphed them in my own special and diabolical way :)

First the 9 box plot method. The easiest place to find this is on Cynjay's website. But it actually originated as a post by Chasing My Tail on the Verla Kay Blueboards (scroll down to Feb 6, 2009).

You really ought to try this out. Stories are visually plotted using a paper broken into 9 boxes (like a tic tac toe game). The connecting boxes help you see how the different parts of the story relate to one another - go ahead, give it a try. It's pretty neat.

Second is a website I stumbled upon that really spoke to me. Alexandra Sokoloff has a huge series on writing. She comes from a screenwriter's background and so she emphasizes pacing and specific events taking place in each act of the story.

Okay, and here's my own special take on it all.
  • My goal was to use the 9 box plot method on a board big enough to hold my whole story. 
  • I wanted to be able to remember all the specific advice from both the 9 box method and Alexandra's posts. 
  • I wanted to use sticky notes so I could rearrange to my heart's content.  (Somehow it gets muddled if I try to plot on the computer - that, or I get sucked into endlessly watching Youtube videos.)
  • And, I wanted the whole thing to be portable and not embarrassing to work on in public (nothing like hauling around a giant cork board wherever I go). 

Impossible you say? Not so fast.

Here's how I worked it out.

First, cut nine 7x7 inch squares from file folders. Tape them together so that they can fold along the seams.

The tape doesn't really look that shiny in real life.

Second, print off a synopsis of events for each of the Nine boxes. Paste these along the bottom of each corresponding square.
Third, paraphrase other pertinent info (I got mine from Alexandra's posts). Print and glue it to the left and/or right sides of each corresponding square. 
Fourth, cut sticky notes into fourths so you have long, 3/4 inch strips. Each square holds up to 16 strips without overlapping, so hopefully there's lots of room to tell your story.

See how easy it is to tell where I'm having problems - aargh boxes 7 &8

Best of all, it folds up so that you can work on just one row or even one square at a time.

And when you're on the go, the whole thing folds up to a seven inch square. It fits nicely in a folder with any notes or other stuff you might have.

Now you have a reusable plotter. Whether the story is long or short, you can (hopefully) tell if you're hitting all the right notes.



  1. Susan! This is amazing! I saw a post the other day about how famous authors plot--my favorite showed one author writing everything out on his bedroom wall. But this is much more my speed, and reuseable! I'm totally doing this.

  2. Susan, you are so clever. This is a great idea. I'll have to try this, and thanks also for the awesome links.


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