The first time I saw plot planning templates I was simultaneously impressed and petrified. These templates assumed that the writer already knew a whole lot. All I had when I started my novel were a handful of characters, an idea for conflict, and only a fleeting emotion I felt after waking up from an angsty dream. We discover the story, the characters, the PLOT as we go. While some writers are brilliantly organised, writing a novel from beginning to end, there are just as many who write non-sequentially. Does that mean these fabulous plotting techniques are not for us scatterbrains? Not at all. These templates and techniques can be used throughout the first couple of drafts. So how do you plot when you write at the whim of the character voices in your head?
The following strategies helped me string numerous non-chronological scenes, like beads on a necklace, into a viable story line.
- When I first started, I wrote those parts of the story that were clear to me. These scenes where random and I had no idea what would link them, or even how I would get from one to the other. When I had a collection of scenes, I wrote a sentence summary of each scene on a sticky note. I placed these sticky notes on a time line (the internal structure of the story was a school year, so I used months for the time line), jotting down scenes that still needed to be written to fill in the holes. Since I had two first person narrators, I used different color sticky notes for each narrator’s scenes and a third color for scenes where they were both present.
- Once I had written some of the missing scenes, the story had made some twists and turns, the characters had grown, and a clear arc had emerged. I drew a story arc for each narrator’s story as well as the subplot, and added scenes, written and yet-to-be-written, onto the arc.
- On two sticky notes I wrote who my characters were in the beginning and who I wanted them to be at the end. These notes book-ended the timeline. They where the point of departure and the destination.
- During this phase the process is very fluid. The arc and sticky notes are suggestions, or possibilities. Many of the scenes I imagined here did not make it into the final draft, but these devices offered a space to map my progress, highlight my route, and pursue the option of scenic detours. I often added remarks to the arc or notes.
- On a shorter project, where I had a clearer idea of where I was going, I combined the timeline and story arc by placing sticky note scenes in an arc. Since this story is a journey, I drew a map of the characters' course. Drawing the map helped with plotting the rising action, ensuring I have enough opportunity to build tension. This technique also works well for picture books as one can clearly see the story's structure.