1. Justin Rocket 2
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    Justin Rocket 2 Contributing Member

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    How do _you_ plot?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Justin Rocket 2, May 7, 2015.

    Everybody does it differently, so let's avoid arguments as to which way is best. I haven't found what works best for me yet. So, I keep experimenting with different techniques. Currently, I'm experimenting with a NaNoWriMo approach, just fire hosing words onto a page. Of course, doing so doesn't result in hitting plot points (i.e. first act climax, crisis, pinch points, etc.) and I'm finding it really hard to sustain a stream of conscience over 5,000 words (my current goal is a 5,000 word short story).

    Anyway, what method do you use and what are the pros and cons you're finding with that method?
     
  2. AlcoholicWolf
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    AlcoholicWolf Contributing Member

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    I have a timeline, and I add significant plot ideas onto it. A big wall poster works well. Then I find ways to fill in the gaps between plot points. Maybe I draw a new line for a sub plot and work ways to join it back to the main plot. I need to plan. Otherwise its like splashing a bucket of paint over a garden fence... I need to pick up a brush and layer it on bit by bit.
     
  3. B93
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    B93 Active Member

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    I'm weak on plotting, so will be interested to see what tips we get here.

    I've found the timeline to be very valuable. I draw a vertical line for each major character (and the McGuffin, perhaps) and lay out what they did, and when, relative to each other. I draw a diagonal arrow from when one character does something major to the time another character finds out about it. If I don't do this, it is much harder to assure the proper sequencing and avoid someone traveling too fast.
     
  4. VirtuallyRealistic
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    VirtuallyRealistic Active Member

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    My process is very similar to this. Before I start a story (Not necessarily a short story, but a novel or novella) I have a few major plot points in mind. I know when these plot points will happen, and about how much time will pass in between these points. I then fill in the blank spaces with conflicts that fit the story.

    Throughout this process I'll draft scenes that are in my head, but I won't really attempt to write the novel until I have fleshed out every plot point.
     
  5. m.j.kane
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    m.j.kane Member

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    I have tons of different methods I use for different stories.
    My goto method though might make a few literary folk in here shudder. I guess it's sort of like the snowflake method.

    I start with what I call the Abstract Concept. This is where I define genre and tone. It's a handy reference to go back to whenever I create something new.
    Example of an abstract concept.
    "I want to write a gritty western with a lot of drama and tension. I want the story to focus on a tight knit of characters, giving it the feel of an intimate character study. Think Breaking Bad in the Wild West. I want there to be shocking surprises at the plot points. I want the action scenes to be vulgar, bloody, and brutal to show the horrors of this world. I want the quiet character building scenes to be sincere, showing that these characters have a lot of heart and to contrast against the brutality."

    Then I will build about 5 each of characters and settings (or setting elements). And 2 or 3 areas of conflict to the protagonist.
    I do these quickly, spending 1-2 hour max. I keep these short at about 50w-100w just to get names and a brief idea. I still like to leave room to discover.
    Then I write a concrete concept. Using real names annd places

    Next I write an abstract idea of each act with the plot and pinch points, example
    Act 1 - The Deputy is haunted, he has a dark secret. The bandits are rising, things in the town are getting bad.
    Act 2 - Now that Sheriff Wilikers is dead Deputy Reynolds takes the reigns. Things become worse than ever in the town.
    Act 3 - Deputy is now taking a stand against the bandits and townfolk. He aint taking shit no more. But the bandits burn the town, leaving it smouldering.
    Act 4 - The Deputy is seeks revenge for his town, making a small posy from the remnants of the folk.


    Next I write 100-200w beats for each scene (usually about 15 in each act, 60 overall).
    Then I write 5 short one-line sub-beats for each of these scenes.
    Now I expand those lines knowing that each short beat should be about 200ws each


    This method makes me the most excited to write so I usually stick with it.
    Some things, like my web series, I just completely discovery write with a vague idea of an arc in my head.
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2015
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    The method I used for my historical was:

    1. Establish the periods I wanted to write about (based on the major historical events I wanted to highlight) and use them as a rough chapter outline.
    2. Write a historical timeline for each period, moving from earliest to latest.
    3. Starting in the novel's present (early 1990s), work backwards in time, establishing a rough genealogy for my title character's family going back to the earliest period (early 1500s), using a large flipchart.
    4. Starting at the earliest period, develop a fictional timeline moving from earliest to latest, focusing on a few key characters in each time period. Track character ages using an EXCEL spreadsheet.
    5. Develop a current day subplot to connect the historical material with current day.
    6. Start writing.
    7. As new ideas and charcater nuances occurred to me, alter the chapter outline as needed. Make notes as to the reasons for the decisions.

    Items #1, #2 and #7 were done in two large notebooks that also contained lots of notes from my research. #5 and #6 were done in WORD.
     
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  7. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    I work on a time line of major characters... names at the top of the page and each event written in order below the names. This doesn't help with the setting however, and other sequences, although it is a useful guide.

    The thing I've found works for me best is this structure.

    1 book, 30 chapters, 3000 words per chapter.

    I spread my story out over those 30 chapters, and then look for holes, which chapters are empty, what have I missed, what needs cutting, what needs expanding on.

    What is the action/reaction of each chapter.
     
  8. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Each project is slightly different but often similar in the way I go about it.
    Here's how I started one of my novels -
    1. Loose idea - arrogant teacher develops crush on moody underage student.
    2. List of possible/probable happenings - You wouldn't think this would be possible given that I really don't know my characters at this point, but it actually does work. At this stage I decided one of the more awful students would be murdered because of blackmail, the girl would cut the teacher's grass and deliver his paper to keep them in contact after school hours.
    3. I consider structure - at this point I arrange the list of happenings and this was easier than some stories as I decided it would start and end with school. Each chapter would cover one half of a month. I also decided on the rather lame idea of making the story composed of diary entries.
    4. I start writing ...

    Plot usually comes about somewhere in the draft when I see the character start to do things and I wonder why they're doing them. For this particular story. I thought the plot would be their forbidden relationship. But at one point I had a moment in which the character turned to the teacher and asked him for money that he promised her. In that one moment the story flipped. I had no idea why I had her asking for money and I decided neither would the teacher. In that moment the germ of a plot began to sprout. The teacher is a liar. His diary is a lie. No even better -a possible lie.

    The idea becomes a bit fuller - Arrogant teacher develops crush on moody underage student. Her mind games bring about his long overdue breakdown.
    * This twist actually effects my events as the boy who is killed for blackmail might not have been a blackmailer at all. The teacher is never sure whether or not the boy even knew anything - whether he's simply being manipulated by the girl.
     
  9. Justin Rocket 2
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    Justin Rocket 2 Contributing Member

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    When adding ideas on a timeline, do you add only those ideas which feel right to the timeline or do you brainstorm both good and bad ideas, add them all to your timeline, then rely on editing after the rough draft of the story is written to make the bad ideas work?
     
  10. AlcoholicWolf
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    AlcoholicWolf Contributing Member

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    I add everything that comes to mind. If it turns out not to fit, or maybe I can't work it in convincingly, I'll shelf that idea for another time.
     
  11. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not a huge outliner but I can't do 100% pure discovery. Right now I'm going by picking my next big plot point (bases on the Three-Act/"Hollywood Formula" structure) - throw that out there and then "fire hose" toward that. I'll be interested to see how that works now that I'm closing in on the end of my first act, because my planned plot gets a lot more complicated from there and I may need a firmer outline. But I don't think I'd be able to plan all my scenes in advance, as I normally shove in new action based on where the characters go in certain scenes as I write them.
     
  12. ToeKneeBlack
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    ToeKneeBlack Contributing Member Contributor

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    I start with where my characters are, then work out where I want them to be by the end of the story.

    My next stage is to work out who makes the first move - often the antagonist(s).
    Then how would the other party react?
    After that, I rinse and repeat, using a combination of the most plausible reactions, and the most exciting reactions, while guiding the story towards its conclusion.
     
  13. Vrisnem
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    Vrisnem Member

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    I focus primarily on scripts but I find the standard planning techniques transfer well into prose.

    1. Research - I find what I learn through research will have a huge impact on how I proceed, so I aim to get this done as early as possible rather than just when I feel stuck without further information. I find this prevents a lot of re-working later. I copy or summarise relevant information into a document with a link back to the original source in case I want to re-visit it.
    2. Characters and major beats - I work on these two simultaneously because I feel like they feed into each other.
      • Characters - I write the main/key character bios based on information I feel is relevant to that particular character, rather than following templates/forms that can be found online. I tend to work on them gradually, rather than sitting and writing one out in whole in one go.
      • Beat sheet - the major plot points in the story. I prefer working with around seven beats, but there isn't a 'best' number.
    3. Treatment - expand on the major beats as much as possible and see how well it flows together when presented in a less clinical way. Fill in any gaps.
    4. Beat outline - a scene-by-scene breakdown of the entire story start to finish.

    It's a very formulaic way of planning, but I find it to be effective. I don't stick strictly to it but use it as a base and adjust it accordingly to fit the story.
     
  14. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have been experimenting with an n by n cell table, where n = the amount of chapters. The ith row, jth column represents any distinct part of the plot that begins in chapter i and ends in chapter j. (A conflict that begins in i and is resolved in j, an endeavor that is conceived of in i and either succeeds or fails in j, etc.) Not all cells are necessarily filled, and some represent more than one plot point.

    This is a natural fit for post-it notes on a wall, where each note is a cell.

    So far, I find it to be very revealing about the structure of the plot. It can show when I am unrealistically trying to cram too many resolutions into one chapter and when I am neglecting other chapters. And having the plot points visually laid out like that shows how they interact with each other. (The two dimensions are essential -- a one dimensional timeline cannot provide this advantage.) It shows not only the order in which events happen, but also which ongoing plot threads overlap with each other.

    It is also a nice aid for generating ideas. When I look at an empty cell, often the contents of the surrounding cells hint at a natural way to fill in that blank.

    This is definitely suited more toward an episodic kind of writing, where each episode is relatively self-contained and there is a sense of ongoing arcs between episodes, than toward the kind of writing where chapters are short and tend to blend together. (One row and one column per "episode".) Which is good, because I am trying to create an episodic feeling.
     
  15. Viridian
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    Viridian Contributing Member Supporter

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    After reading all these I think I am a very sloppy writer. I know where the story begins and I sort of know where it ends. I kind of know what happens in the middle and I'm hoping the rest will just come to me as I go. I have a vague idea of where the characters come from and where they will end up, emotionally and physically. I write down ideas, then change them, put them into the story, then change them again. I have no outline as such (its mostly in my head/heart) but I do think I need to produce a timeline as things are starting to get a big confusing and I find myself going back and forth trying to figure if things tally up. Like I said - sloppy!

    This thread has been an interesting and informative read - I didn't realise just how structured some writers are - hhmmmm not sure I could write that way - kinda takes the heart out of it for me, think i'll stick with sloppy for now - but that's just me, I'm inexperienced and just having a go, so who knows, maybe I will change my mind if my way turns out to be total and utter crap :eek:
     
  16. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    @daemon - interesting approach.

    @Viridian - I think a lot depends on the kind of story you're trying to tell. I chose the method I did because I was writing a historical novel stretching over 500 years. There simply isn't a way to keep all the details straight, be true to the history, and weave in fictional characters while avoiding anachronisms without a method of this kind. But I will say that not once during the entire project did I feel I hit a dead end or any kind of writer's block, and in fact the first draft took me only 20 months to complete, writing part time.
     
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  17. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    Some writers are 'discovery' writers. Go with what works for you. Also, once it is written, you can edit it, add or cut parts if things don't work out. There is no right or wrong way to writing I have found. Everyone has a different approach. As long as you end up with something you are happy with, you have succeeded.
     
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  18. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I'm more of a 'think of it as I go'. If it doesn't work at all, I tweak it or remove it completely. Sometimes I'll imagine conversations with my characters about my choices.

    Example:
    ME: "Hey, Amos, thought up of a new character, (further details later). What do you think?"

    AMOS: "I'd make her the protagonist of another story. This one's about me, and I'm afraid her full potential wouldn't be realized."

    ME: "Hmm...good point."

    But I don't have any official outlines or anything like that. The closest I have is a 'random thoughts' page where I just type out whatever's on my mind about a particular story.
     
  19. Masked Mole
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    Masked Mole Contributing Member

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    I have probably the most unconventional way of plotting I've ever heard. I don't outline, but I also don't change the plot as I'm writing. I might make a note for a dialogue line I really like, but that's about it. The books just flow right out of my memory banks. I write this way because I realized that outlining really destroyed my creative juices. In addition, I like to have some sort of plan when I start. It technically has the risk of me forgetting something, but I haven't forgotten anything major.
     
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  20. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Good thing I'm not alone. :D I plot mostly in my head and if I need to remember something major, I often just have one of my characters remember it for me. Sounds weird, I know, but it works for me. Usually this character that bears this knowledge is, obviously, someone in a field where you'd expect them to know how things worked.
     
  21. Masked Mole
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    Masked Mole Contributing Member

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    Friends forever, bro or sis. What should we call our little club?
     
  22. m.j.kane
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    m.j.kane Member

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    Some of the best writers write this way.
    I think the key is to write using a method that excites you.
    Play around with your method of writing if there ever comes a time you're no longer excited by your writing. You can tweak things as you go.

    I know I'm certainly not alone in saying my approach has been tweaked dozens and dozens of times.
     
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  23. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    The Club of...

    'Head Plotters'!!
     
  24. Masked Mole
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    Masked Mole Contributing Member

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    Head Plotter Powers . . . activate! Shape of Coming of Age Story! Form of Historical Fiction!
     
  25. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I am fascinated that you put these two together, since the novel I am currently querying can be considered both.
     

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