Thursday, March 31, 2011


This time last year and in the months before that, I was not using any kind of formal plot document to help my writing.

19999058.gifWhile that's an excellent way to learn how to tell a story, it slowed me down. I'm familiar with anecdotal evidence from other writers who have never used any kind of plot doc to write and some have been VERY successful. They just dive in knowing two or maybe three things about the story they want to tell and let the words and feelings carry them away. That actually worked for me on a couple of stories when I knew the beginning and the end and the whys of both, but it's harder for works that are longer than say 6000 words or so.

The basic elements of a plot are illustrated above and it looks a lot like climbing a mountain and then trying to ski down the other side. I've found that for me, I need to know where the loose rocks are, where there's danger of avalanche and what kind of amenities there are at the bottom. There needs to be at least one line across the center of the peak there labeled TENSION, the thing that gets forgotten. Even better would be an arc that is held at the climax by a line and label that reads TENSION.

This is why I need a plot document. I'm playing around with a version of Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet  and I'll let you know how that goes, but for now it's helping me find all the places where there's not enough tension in the story; tension between characters and within themselves in regards to the actions they have to take. I've played with using the Levitz Paradigm, with basic character sheets and a lot of other tools that are scattered around the web like nuggets of gold.

What I'm getting at here is that any writer is going to go through a bunch of ways of doing his work until he decides what works best for him. There are things like this that don't get said often enough. If you're struggling with your work, don't give up. Find a way to work that works for you. With having a plot doc at hand (essentially a map of the story) and character sheets to reference, when I get stuck in a spot I have easy reference at hand that will allow me to work through the obstacle more quickly.

I didn't say better, though, just more quickly. Remember there's a difference. That's what editing is for.

So now I'm learning how to plot things out. It really boils down to knowing the beginning and end and the whys of both but also knowing a couple of the middle bits of a story and why they're important are essential for me. Your mileage may vary.

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