Tuesday, 17 January 2006

I can pin a rainbow

Oh dear, looks like my plot board is going to come in really handy in the next week or so. I need to axe a major thread in my latest story, so there will be lots of un-pinning and re-pinning.

Okay, here’s how the whole thing got started:

I often plan my story by writing the numbers 1 to 20 down a page and assigning an event to each number. It’s a rough way of working out a provisional timeline for any plot ideas I may have had. Normally the first seven or eight spaces fill up quickly, then I try and work out what the major turning points are going to be and put them roughly where I think they are going to occur. Then it’s a case of joining the dots, so to speak. What is going to take me from number 7 to number 10?

So my pink cards are my main plot points, the skeleton of the plot. So I have things like “Gaby arrives” on one and “The party” on another. Since my board isn’t long enough to put them in one column, I have two. There is space to scribble on the card If I feel the urge.

The wide, white strips are my character arcs. It helps me focus on who is feeling what when. I had them on my computer as a little block diagram, so I just printed it out, cut it up and pinned it on. The heroine’s are to the left of the pink cards and the hero’s are to the right.

My little blue cards are extra little details that have sprung to mind at a later date. It may be a plot idea e.g. “Gaby finds a video tape”, or character info “Luke is feeling jealous”, motivation and goals, or images I want to use. If I have a flash of inspiration while I’m working on another scene, I just scribble it on a scrap of card and pin it on the board, that way I don’t have to scour my notebook to find them later.

Yellow cards are to show I already have a bit of writing that will fit that point. It’s normally something I scribbled down when I was thinking ahead. It could be a sentence or two, or it could be a page or two.

The green cards round the edges are things I need to weave throughout the whole book, things that I can’t pin down to a particular scene but I need to keep reminding myself of. E.g. “build up reasons for Luke’s trust issues” or “Gaby’s relationship with her golden-boy brother”.

(Originally all my extra little cards were blue – the colour card I happened upon at the time, but after a while there were too many so I added another few colours in.)

It doesn’t sound very exciting when I write it down like this, but these little phrases are just to jog my memory. When I’m pondering over how the next scene should go, I might remember I need to add heroine POV about her family or to weave in some little details as I go that are going to make the story richer.

As I said, I’m road-testing this idea at the moment, so I will probably tweak it as I go, but it seems to help to have something to stare at and use as a visual memory bank.


Liz Fielding said...

I can see the appeal of playing with coloured cards, Fiona. It just doesn't work for me.

I have a whole stack of beautfilly printed storyboard sheets. I get to the second scene and then my mind goes blank.

I just have to start writing and wrestle the thing into submission!

But I love stationery, so I might just pop off to Borders -- they have such lovely stuff -- and enjoy myself stocking up.

Fiona Harper said...

The novelty may wear off yet!

Although I'm not a meticulous plotter, I do need an idea of where I'm going or I get stuck. As long as I have a rough outline that I can colour in as I write, I'm happy.

Anonymous said...


I feel wholly inadequate having seen your plot system. I write a rough outline of each chapter but things just seem to take off of their own accord. And my office is a complete tip - just like my mind! I am to meticulous what George Galloway is to international relations...

I take my hat off to you.

Fiona Harper said...

Goodness! Don't feel inadequate! There are as many ways of plotting a novel as there are writers. I'm just exploring a way that works for me.

I'm not the tidiest person (I can hear my sister laughing her head off), but I do like to feel ordered. I'm also very forgetful, so getting the ideas out of my head an onto paper is a great idea for me. Otherwise I just wander around saying, "What was that idea I had the other day..."

Janice Horton said...

Hi Fiona,
I came through to your site from the RNA and Liz's site.
I think your coloured cards idea is fab and I'm going to try it.
I'm 3/4 way through my second novel and 'holding all the treads in the air' - your idea might help!
I've bookmarked your blog and will visit again soon.

Fiona Harper said...

Hi Janice,

The nice thing about the plot board is that as things change (as they often do when you're writing a novel) I don't have to scribble out my ideas sheet and start again, i just unpin and re-pin.

I often don't know all the tiny details for the end scenes when I'm at the beginning of the book, but knowing the general direction I'm heading in is very helpful.

I'm in awe of people like Liz Fielding (Hi, Liz) who seem to just do it all as they go along.

Jessica Raymond said...

Hi Fiona -- my God, you're organized!! I finished my first MS in Jan and had a file called "To Do" where I wrote rough summaries of each chapter with a bit on the end for "remember this" and "don't forget that". Jess x

Fiona Harper said...

Jess, (are we bumping into each other all over the place, or what?) I'm so disorganised and scatty I have trained my self to be organised on the outside, if you get what I mean.

If I can't keep all the tiny little flashes of inspiration inside my head, I need somewhere to keep them all outside my head.

My husband just says I'm anal...

Which I am.