DIY Writer’s Retreat: Plotting

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I decided to share upbeat advice by Elizabeth Sims, an author of mysteries and frequent writer for Writer’s Digest: “Get Messy With Your First Draft.”

Unfortunately, there’s no free link to the article I found most helpful this week. “Plotting Your Way” (Writer’s Digest, September 2019) includes a quiz to determine a plotting method to fit your personality, and then explains it. The article is great whether you’ve got a plan in mind or you don’t know what you’re doing.

My quiz result recommended The Relaxed Framework Plotting Method. It’s a flexible structure that allows me to adjust plot points.  I found it so helpful, I wanted to explain how I used it.

It required a “master trove,” a stack of index cards, and my working draft.

  • MASTER TROVE – A physical or electronic file (or both!) of background and overviews. Mine contains the following:
    •  A one-sheet synopsis with a working title, list of conflicts between characters, and compare/contrast in the genre; e.g. “It’s like The Chronicles of Prydain — if Prydain were overrun with goblins.”
    •  Detailed character sketches for the two main characters.
    •  Sketches of a few other characters.
    •  A chart of how the characters’ feelings change over the course of the story, written when I was a kid!
    •  A one- or two-line description of major events that I anticipate.
  • CARD STACK  – This is an old method of plotting. Software like Plottr and Scrivener arrange virtual cards, but it’s the same – because it works.
    • Each major event from the master trove got its own card.
    • Putting the cards in chronological order creates a basic plot outline.
    • Pin them to a bulletin board, spread them on a table, or store them in an unused recipe box.  (I christened mine The Plot-Box and use a tab to mark the current point in the story.)
    • As I write, I can shuffle them, add new cards, and literally discard unused ideas.
  • WORKING DRAFT – This is exactly as it sounds: progressing but not perfect. Mine has the working title “Favius Foulweather and the Wicked Wizard.”             I love what Sims says about writing the first draft, so I’ll end with quotes from “Plotting Your Way”:
    •  “Feel free to write scenes out of sequence. Say you realize you need a fistfight in Chapter 9 – or some as-yet undefined place in the future, but you’re only on Chapter 4. If you can see how the fight needs to go, what the heck, go ahead and write it now.” (31)
    • “As you wrap up every writing session, (…) you’ll very likely have an idea where the story needs to go in the near future. Write down your ideas in your master trove or your card stack – whichever seems right – and store them for the next writing session.” (31)

This week’s word count on the Working Draft: 12,000 words reviewed/rewritten


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