My books tend to be more plot driven than character driven. I like the story and the people are the avenue for delivering that story. I also like multiple subplots woven throughout the book to create depth and keep the reader engaged. That means it is very important that I keep track of the plot and what is happening throughout the book.
If you tend to write complex plots these tips that I use might help you keep the plot straight when you are writing the book.
Plot notebook or file
I love to use one subject notebooks or three-ring binders to keep track of my plot. Others prefer to keep them in a computer file. Whatever your method, the organization is the most important part. Have a sheet at the beginning that gives a quick summary of the overall plot [see Summary Sheet below]. Then in the rest of the binder have places where you can sketch these plots out in more detail. I number the plot points and write them on their own piece of paper. If I decide to add more subplots I add an a, b or c to the number. This will also include the backstory or character motivation that might never appear in the book, but which is critical knowledge for the author and you build the scenes. Our backstories are the things that influence our reactions to events and circumstances. One benefit to using a three-ring binder is you can remove and move plot points if you need to. The one subject notebook is nice because it is easy to transport and you don’t have parts falling out.
Have a summary sheet
As I mentioned before, the summary sheet gives the overall view of the key summary points. I actually like to write this in REALLY horrible “and then…and then…and then…” fashion.
- She goes to the house where her mom grew up
- And then she discovers her grandma’s old journal which talks about a huge family rift
- And then she remembers things her grandma told her when she was younger…
You get the idea. Not great writing, but I can quickly skim through and grab an “and then” to expand on. This allows me to skim the overall plot ad spot areas where I may be running off course, need more detail or plot holes.
Description of key characters [or minor characters who will have a key role] and their impact on the plot
I do this in two different places. I do it on the plot sheet in short form, but I also have “Character impact on the plot” sheets at the back of my binder where I go in more detail.
Jane Doe is a minor character who lives down the road from M.C. [M.C. is my shorthand for Main Character when I have a character I might not have named yet.] She will be a voice of reason early on in the book but after chapter 5 she is taken out of town for a family emergency or new job or something and this leaves M.C. without the support she usually has. This is painful and stressful for her and causes the anger we see in Chapter 8 when she confronts her cousin.
Notice I don’t have a very structured or elaborate means of outlining. I want to write this out in simple language so I can easily work with the information.
Draw a picture
This can be a picture of the town where an event takes place, it can be something resembling a number line where I note events immediately preceding and following key plot points or—as in the example of my latest novel The Kings Assassin—it can be a really elaborate map that shows the imaginary land and will give the reader a visual of the land where the story takes place. The point is to have something that helps create a visual of the story.
These are a few things I’ve done to help keep my plot straight. Do you have other suggestions or questions? If you do, send them to me through the contact page on my website. Maybe your question will be the next one I answer.
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