It’s no secret that I hate to outline. I want to love it. I’d even settle for liking it, but I don’t. I really, really don’t. That said, in my last post I discussed the merits of writing fast. One obvious way to write more quickly is by knowing what comes next. This sounds suspiciously close to outlining to me. So, let’s call it “plotting” instead…you know…so I don’t have an outright prejudice toward it. Plotting. Okay, yeah, I can live with the sound of that.
So in an effort to learn something–a very positive spin on an activity that may just as easily be termed “procrastinate”–I’ve researched a whole heap of ways to come at the plotting problem. Below, I’ve selected the best ones for your writing pleasure. Let me know what you’ve tried. What works. What’s better.
This has fast written right into the method, so as far as I’m concerned that’s already a win. It’ll only hurt for a second, right? Well, sort of. My heart went into small palpitations when I saw that the meat and potatoes of the Holly Lisle plotting method involved math. You take the number of words you want in your book. So for a typical YA novel, say, 70k. Divide that by the average number of words you’d like per scene, maybe 1,500 words per scene or so. That means you need a little over 46 scenes to make up your book. Now how many main characters do you have? Four maybe? Your viewpoint character(s) will have the most. So maybe you have a hero and a heroine. Give the hero 1/3 of the scenes, the heroine 1/3 and then split the last third between the other sidekick characters. Maybe they are important friends or a key villain. That means hero has 15 scenes, heroine has 15, and the other two characters have 7-8 scenes each. You can disperse the remaining scenes as needed.
Follow up this step by creating the requisite number of scenes on note cards. Stack in character columns. Then later string out into something linear. The bad part is the math. The good part is this totally satisfies my Type A, control freak tendencies because it feels like you are building a book in a very structured way.
This description might be a bit hard to grasp without skipping over to Ms. Gifford’s examples. But the idea is that you plot by writing out “key phrases that will bring the next set of lines–the next action–into focus.” So your “phases” will be numbered 1 – whatever…maybe 300 phases for a 60k YA novel. The “phase” you’ve written as a short phrase may be about 30 words long. It can be a snippet of dialogue, a set of feelings for the character, etc. This will later be translated into a 200 word phase. What I love about this method is the short word count of each phase. 200 words seems pleasantly bite-sized, yes? You could check off a bunch of “phases” per day if needed.
Ms. Gifford boasts writing a 101k book in 10 days after having spend 14 days on creating this type of system. The outline wound up being 14,000 words alone, but apparently greatly reduced that amount of revising needed later on.
Lisa didn’t really have a name for her method, so I came up with one hopefully a bit more telling than “How I Plot My Book.” I’m including this one (1) because I do really, really like this method but also (2) because it’s a lot less structured than the previous two I mentioned, which is probably appealing for a lot of folks.
Lisa’s method is basically a productive version of hoarding. When writing a book or coming up with ideas for a book she throws nothing away. Snippets of dialogue, unused scenes, random characters. Every idea she jots down and saves them in giant files. She scraps something from a final draft, off to the file it goes. So that way when she gets to the next book, she has hundreds of notes to sift through and pick out what will make the cut for the current project. Armed with a “big picture” of where she’d like to see the book going, she can select those inspired moments that just weren’t right for the last book for the new book.
Bad news: it seems like this method takes some time to develop. You have to start building your inventory of deleted scenes. Also, this seems to work better for sequels or books set in the same world although I suppose you could start a random array of scenes and dialogue that might somehow work generally.
Conspicuously absent from my Top 3 is the Snowflake Method because I just can’t seem to get behind it. I’m sure I’ll add several more to this list in a later post, but that’s what I’ve got for now.