Monday, 5 December 2016

Plot board 2: the layout

Okay, a little bit more about the plot board! I use it to pin ideas on in the planning stages, to help with restructuring and editing in the revision stages, and just generally to help me to think through my book in a visual way when I need it.

Before I blog about how I’m using it on my current book, I might as well explain how I lay it out, otherwise none of it is going to make sense!

If I could have one very, very long board so I could see the whole of my story in one line, I would, but since they don’t make cork boards that shape, I have to make do with splitting the story up into four sections: Act 1,Act 2: split into two parts – a & b,Act 3.

I don’t think there are any set rules when it comes to story structure. Some story gurus split the story into three acts, others split it into four. There are different terms to for different parts of a story, depending on who you read or who you listen to, but most tend to outline the same basics elements of a story; they just have different ways of describing it. My advice is to go with what works makes sense to you; I’m just going to share what fits my personal process the best.

As I mentioned in my last post, I like the way Michael Hauge splits up a story: three acts, with a turning point between each, and then turning points in the middle of each act. Now, this can sound a bit artificial – and some of you reading this may be breaking out in hives at the thought of all this scary structure! – but even before I knew any of this, my stories tended to hit these breaks and turning points. I think it’s because stories that work tend to have a certain rhythm, certain rises and falls in tension, twists and turns in direction to keep them interesting. Quite often I don't plan what's going to be a turning point, but it becomes obvious as the story evolves.

If you look at my empty plot board pic, you can see I have some headings in yellow and these are my stages/turning points. I’ll outline them here and then over the next few posts I’m going to go into more detail:

Act 1
Section 1: Ordinary world
Turning point 1: The call to adventure
Section 2: Debate & denial
Turning point 2: Change of plans

Act 2
Section 3: Progress (Fun & Games)
Turning point 3: Point of no return
Section 4: Complications & Higher Stakes (Bad guys close in)
Turning point 4: Black moment

Act 3:
Section 5: Final push (Dark night of the soul/Solution)
Turning point 5: Climax
Section 6: New world (Aftermath)

Next time, we'll break down Act One...

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Plot Board

I posted a picture of one the most vital tools in my writing life on Twitter yesterday and was surprised by how much interest it got. I'm talking about my plot board. This is it, bare and ready for a new story:

Nothing too special. Just a A1-sized cork board with added bits of string, pins and headings on cut-up index cards. However, I've found I'd struggle to write a book without it!

I can’t claim to have invented the idea – far from it – but I’ve been tweaking my own approach for about ten years now. I don't always use the board the same way twice - it really depends on the story, but I'm fascinated about plotting and story structure and I wondered if blogging about my process as I write the next book might a) be useful to someone else who loves this kind of stuff and b) actually help me work out exactly why this helps me so much!

I think part of it is that 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 plot board: nothing is set in stone.

My first plot board looked a little different. 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.

I then switched to trying to divide the board into acts. I particularly liked Michael Hauge's way of breaking down a story, I tried dividing my board into six stages with five turning points, on the right, but found I couldn't quite fit everything on there so it was easy to see the flow of the story. 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 what the plot board of my recently finished book, The Other Us, looks like:

So that's the introduction to my plot board, next time... the different stages of a story and where they go on the plot board.