"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." - Walt Disney

Friday, August 3, 2012

Plotting for Pantsers

If you are like me, you probably start your stories with a general idea, emotion, or scene in mind and then go until you run out of steam. While the pantser method can free up your creativity and make for some truly authentic scenes, it can also cause sagging middles and weak endings.
Some of you believe plotting stifles creativity, but often end up with the same problems. Go ahead; give yourself permission to be a pantser. Get your ideas, scenes and thoughts out. Then, when you hit a wall or find your finished piece lacking, try the following exercise.
1)      Create a Plot Board – Buy a folding “science board” from your local office supply store. (If you don’t have access to one, you can use a sheet of poster board or  notebook paper.) Divide the board into four rows and then five columns – giving you a total of 20 squares. If you are using notebook paper instead of poster, try using @ 20 pages and hanging them up somewhere you can see all of the pages at once. If you are writing a 100,000 word manuscript, each square will represent an approximately 20 page chapter. (If you are writing a novella, simply eliminate a row. If you are writing a short story, you might eliminate two or three rows.) This exercise can also work for screenwriters.
2)      Label Your Plot Board - In the upper left corner of each square, label them in the following way: First square will be labeled inciting incident or catalyst. At the end of the first row (the fifth square) label 1st turning point. At the end of the second row (the tenth square) label 2nd turning point and at the end of the third row (the fifteenth square) label 3rd turning point. In the last row (19th square) you will write Black Moment and the very last square will be the Resolution. You may need to shift these by a chapter or so depending on the length of your manuscript (see step #1).
3)      Sticky Notes – I use the mini ones and you need about six different colors. I use pink for my heroine, blue for the hero, purple for female secondary characters, orange for male secondary characters, yellow for plot points and green for romantic points.
4)      Completing Your Plot Board – You can jot down bits of description, dialogue, scene directions, scene purposes, turning points, new discoveries or any other ideas on the sticky notes. Using a different color for each person is important (see #3) so that when you are finished, you can look at the entire plot board at once to see where you might have holes. For instance, what if there are no blue sticky notes for several squares? What if there is a plot turning point, but not a romantic turning point? One glance at the board lets you identify these weaknesses.
   Note: Just as some authors remove the number of squares, (see #1) some authors add squares for additional chapters or even for each scene within a chapter. 
Have you ever tried something like these story boards? Did it help?


Jan Rider Newman said...

I think I'm too doggone lazy to do this, but I have tried. My mind doesn't seem to work this logically. Even Robert Olen Butler, the great proponent of planning a novel in advance, told me to give it up!

D.G. Hudson said...

Looks like what we did at my old job. I'm a plotter and an outliner, and although I use paper, not a board, I do use many post-it notes.

For my scifi, I had to create the solar system for the setting, and some of the profiles for the characters before the planning stages.

Scenes are what get my imagination going, and that's how I usually start a chapter.

Very good points,Sylvia! Thanks for the visuals, too.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't do all of that, but i can't imagine writing without an outline. My story would wander of and never return.

Sylvia Ney said...

Jan - I'm still looking forward to your new publication.

D.G. - Fantasy and scifi are both the hardest and most fulfilling to write (IMHO). You are creating a whole new universe and set of laws - you are bound by nothing but your own imagination. Thanks for stopping by!

Alex - I'm a little OCD and I have to be able to organize. I like this board method because I can see everything in a glance instead of rifling through tons of pages. Of course, I still have the hundreds of pages of actual writing with lots of red to go through ;-)

Angela Brown said...

I'm a big fan of Post It notes. So this story board idea is probably right up my alley. Thanks for sharing this tip. :-)

Terry said...

Wonderful! I think this is just what I need to get up out of the ditch and start writing again! I'm not a plotter, and am a pantser, but I've been stuck for three months now, and am afraid of losing the initiative my story had when i wrote the prologue and four introductory chapters. I've got most of my characters identified ... but haven't yet chosen the victim (or, I could say, haven't yet 'heard from' the victim.)

Terry, of http://terrysthoughtsandthreads.blogspot.com

Elise Fallson said...

I'm a pantser and do not like outlines to say the least. But just like you mentioned, I've hit a few blocks along the way in my story. I like this idea of a plot board and am going to try it. It's a nice way of visualizing the flow of the story and identifying any holes in the big picture. Thanks for sharing. (:

Aimée Jodoin said...

That's intense! I've tried making a board like this before, but there were so many sticky notes it made me less organized than without a board. Too many things for my simple brain to keep track of... I do work from an outline though, and so far that technique has worked pretty well for me.