Friday, 18 November 2011

Plotboarding - how I got started

Okay, I promised some blogs about my plotboard.  Now, I can’t claim to have invented the idea – far from it – but I’ve been tweaking my own approach to using index cards and pins to help me visualise my book for about six years now.

I’m quite a visual thinker and it helps me to ‘see’ the structure of my book this way.  It also provides a place to put all those ‘lightning bolt’ ideas I get about my book before, during and after the first draft.  You  know the kind of ideas I mean: the ones you get when you’re minding your own business, not even really thinking about the book and – BAM! – suddenly you know why your heroine is acting that way, or the perfect setting for a scene comes to mind, or just a line of dialogue pops into your head and triggers something off.

When I get those kind of ideas – and they are generally my best ones – I scribble them down and pin them to my board.  My board follows a chronological timeline of my work-in-progress, and when I think about where to pin that scrap of paper it often becomes instantly obvious where and when it should go.  Do things move and change as I work on the book?  Absolutely.  That’s why God gave us coloured pins!  That’s the beauty of a plotboard: nothing is set in stone.

Anyway, here’s my first plotboard. This was the one I used for Her Parenthood Assignment.  My whole approach to plotting was much less sophisticated (and probably much less neurosis-inducing) back then.  I’d read that a good way to plot was to think of 20 things that needed to happen in your book.  That’s what the pink index cards are: 20 plot points for the story.  Then, as other ideas came to me, or notions of how I could develop those plot points floated to the surface of my consciousness, I tacked them onto the board next to the relevant plot point.

Later that year, I listened to the audio recording of Michael Hauge speaking at the RWA conference in Dallas.  I loved the way he divided a plot into six stages, with a turning point between each one.   I’d already read The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, and was familiar with the steps of the hero’s journey, but Michael Hauge’s approach was simpler: basically three acts, with a turning point in the middle of each one. 

So I started trying to incorporate that into my board.  Here’s version number 2, which I used to plot Christmas Wishes, Mistletoe Kisses (although, by the looks of it, I took this picture fairly early on in the process.)  I turned my board landscape and divided the space into six sections with bits of string (well, actually it was yellow wool left over from a pair of socks my grandma had knitted me years before) and labelled those sections and the turning points at the top.  Now when I had an idea I didn’t worry so much about getting it in exactly the right chronological order, as long as I stuck the scrap of paper in the right section I’d know where to find it. 

From what I remember, I decided to colour code to help me pick out the essential info.  The white cards are plot events, the pink cards relate to my heroine’s journey and the blue my hero’s.  Yellow cards were snatched of dialogue and the green were things to do with theme.  I carried on using this format for a couple of years.  Where I placed the cards and what colour they were changed as I tried different things out. 
Sometimes I was very fixed on cataloguing character arc and plot separately; sometimes I just threw it all on there any old way.  The main disadvantage was that I could see the plot flowing from card to card in one long line, as I had with my earlier version.

Then I read Save The Cat by Blake Snyder.  Great book, and I loved his idea of storyboarding too.  He divided his story board into four horizontal strips: Act 1, Act 2a, Act 2b and Act 3.  I immediately decided to try the same thing, and discovered I now had room to use my plot point cards in chronological order, but I still had room to pin all the little flashes of ideas around them too.  So this is how my current plotboard looks like:

This the the board when I was halfway through writing The Ballerina Bride (US title)/Dancing With Danger (UK title).  Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough already for this post, so next time I’ll talk about the structure of the different acts and what goes where.

9 comments:

Lacey Devlin said...

Thank you so, SO much for this :-) It's fascinating and fantastic and I can't wait to give it a go!

Julia Broadbooks said...

Yes, thanks for this! I made a little trip to the office supply store - better than shoe shopping - this week. I was very disciplined. I didn't look at the nifty pens or binders. I came away with only poster board and different colored post-its. I didn't get index cards. Maybe I'll have to go back...

I really need to read Save the Cat. I keep hearing how wonderful it is.

Fiona Harper said...

I have a feeling that plotboarding is just a way to feed my stationery obsession...

Julia Broadbooks said...

Finding other people who share my obsession with stationary products is one of the best things about all my writer friends.

Fiona Harper said...

I know, so many like-minded people! Glad to see you have plenty of post-its. Now, have you tried my other obsession: moleskine notebooks?
http://bit.ly/sYjZyL

Julia Broadbooks said...

I haven't added a moleskine yet to the stack of notepads and journals I have! But they are so cute, that I sometimes pet them at the store.

Fiona Harper said...

See, I am too much of a soft touch to leave them at the store. I have to bring all the strays home with me!

It's an addiction, really it is. Someone should start up moleskines anonymous...

Erin said...

They have, I think, it's called Bullet Journalers. Look us up on Pinterest and Facebook, hahaha...

Fiona Harper said...

Cool!