Some authors are meticulous plotters, outlining their book carefully. Others are called “pantsers” because they “fly by the seat of their pants,” letting the story and the characters take them where they want to go. Many authors use a combination of these two styles, but this post deals with the plotters.
Keeping track of what’s going on in your book can be hard work! Especially if you have multiple plotlines, it is easy to get confused as to what’s already been discussed or revealed and what still needs to stay hidden. Even if your book is completely written and finished, your beta readers or editor may find loose ends that you haven’t tied up.
There are many different techniques to keeping track of your story. Some authors use index cards. Color-coding them according to character involvement or plotline can be helpful. By rearranging the colored cards, you can aid yourself in intermixing or weaving plotlines together. Pinning or taping the cards to a large surface, like a wall, can guide the author visually as to what comes next.
Other authors use white boards or bulletin boards. Some use notebooks or pads of paper. I’ve heard of writers using Word or Excel to keep track of details and characters. Especially for a series, good recordkeeping is essential! You don’t want your readers to discover the minor character you killed in Book Two has suddenly reappeared in Book Four as a major villain!
An author I know, Dutch Rhudy, shared the following information in a LinkedIn group thread: “What did you learn last year?” I thought you would find his experience with storyboarding, which is another type of graphic representation of plotting, valuable. He gave me permission to use his thoughts in this post:
“The best thing I learned this year was how to properly ‘storyboard.’
No matter how carefully I may design and rework my ‘outline,’ I invariably drift far from it, as the character begins telling the story.
I cut n paste and mix and match my ‘outline,’ make changes to reflect the direction the story is going. Sometimes this can be hard without twisting or destroying the plot lines.
Using a ‘storyboard’ helps to keep you on-track, while giving you the freedom to deviate from the ‘outline’ a little ways. But at those crucial points, the ‘storyboard’ lets you pull things back together again.
You can deviate from the road map (outline) and take side trips and excursions along the way, visit a few sites you never intended. But you know you must cross the river on a specific bridge (storyboard point), not the one upriver or downriver, else you will blow the whole plot. The ‘storyline’ can meander around, before you tighten it up. But the ‘throughline’ must always remain intact, or you will lose the readers’ attention.”
If you use plotting in your writing, what’s your favorite way of handling the details?
Next week we’ll discuss ‘Using Registered Trademarks and Brand Names’
This series is not meant to be (nor will it be) simple static information.
I’ll be here for each post to answer questions, offer suggestions as necessary, and interact with you.
If there’s something you specifically want (or need!) to see addressed in terms of self-editing, please let me know in the comments under this, or any of the articles of the series.