Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The best laid plotting boards...

Maven Carrie RyanI have always wanted to have a plotting board. Both of my critique partners make these amazing plotting boards (aka story boards) that I am in awe of. In fact, lots of fab authors do it (Diana Peterfreund, Maven Erica, Julie Leto). Sometimes they arrange the plotting board before writing, and sometimes after writing in order to help with edits. Sometimes the different color post-it notes stand for characters, sometimes for conflicts. There are any number of ways to construct a plotting board.

Since I never plot anything out ahead of time, I decided that I'd construct *my* plotting board to help with editing. So one weekend, I dragged JP all over town looking for a science project board because I wanted to do this right. Not finding anything I gave up on the project entirely. But then, in a bout of pure need to have a plotting board (and insane jealousy at everyone else's beautiful boards), I high-tailed it to the local drug store and purchased everything I thought I'd need: poster board, colored post-its (two different packages so I'd have the neon and the pastel colors just in case), different colored pens. Then, I spent quite a while dividing my piece of poster board appropriately. I even used math!! And a tape measure!!

Ready to go, I sat down with a hard copy of my novel and my brand new supplies. But wait... did I want to use the different colors for characters? And if so, what color should each character be? Should the male characters have more manly colors so I could differentiate them at a glance? Should I give all the gross colors to characters who didn't make it through the story? What about the dog - what color should he get? Or should I use the colors for plot points? But if I use colors for plot points, what are my plot points? And should romance plots be the pinkish colors? And if so, what would green stand for? And what color makes me think of religion? And now that I'm thinking about it, these post-it notes are too big for the chapter squares on the poster board so I can't really have more than one post-it note without either cutting them or covering up other post-it notes. And if I cut them, I might as well go out and buy the smaller ones...

Which is why my plot board looks like this and usually resides behind the hunt-board in my dining room:

I'm not kidding when I admit that all of those thoughts flew through my head when I sat down to create a plotting board. This is the reason I never outlined in law school even though EVERYONE outlines in law school. I always got caught up in whether different section headers should be bold or underlined or italicized or if I should use lower case letters or numbers or put extra spaces between paragraphs.

Really, anyone who read my blog when I was querying will be familiar with my insane inability to deal with these sorts of minute and often inconsequential details. In the end, plotting boards just don't work for me. I'd love to have a visual representation of my book, and I'm sure it would make things easier. But if I'd tried to follow through with this project, I'd still be at my dining room table trying to decide if the bright orange too closely resembled the other orange and what two characters I could assign to the colors so it wouldn't get confusing. Really, I'm not kidding.

Instead of creating the plotting board, I just forced myself to sit down and edit. Sometimes, you just have to figure out what works for you, even if that means you don't have a really cool project to show off to the world (*sob*).

What about y'all? Have you ever tried something that's supposed to help with writing, but for some reason just fell flat for you? Do you plot board? If so, how do you handle the details? What tricks do you have to make writing/editing easier?

15 comments:

Gillian Layne said...

Thanks SO much for spelling it out for us (ok, for me. I'm betting a whole lot of you already knew about this...)

Running out the door to work, but will be back later to check it out.

CM said...

You know, I can't do that plotting board thing either. I can't even plot. I pretend to plot, and then when I get to the plot points I've so lovingly planned, I do something completely different.

As for outlining in law school--I did something that I called an outline, but almost nobody else would think of it as one. I wrote it by hand. There were no roman numerals or letters. Also, no cases. My outlines were extremely terse--think 15 handwritten pages, not completely filled.

It's no wonder I hate writing synopses.

B.E. Sanderson said...

LOL Sounds like something I'd do when faced with a project like that. Which explains why I never tried a storyboard. Although, I did see your fellow Maven Jacqueline had a neat spreadsheet version over on her blog. Spreadsheets are definitely more my speed than posterboard.

One thing that fell flat for me was reading 'how to' books on writing. Every time I picked one of those suckers up I got so psyched out, I couldn't write a word. So, I stopped reading them.

Marnee Jo said...

I did make a storyboard for my WIP. But, then I had to transfer it to an electronic version I keep in One-Note. It's working great. I'm a plotter though. I wish I were a bit more of a pantser because I feel like pantsers don't angst about the details quite as much. I stop constantly and make sure I still feel my plot's on target.

Though maybe the non-plotting folks among you also angst about the details, just not on paper. Clue me in?

Carrie said...

Oh, trust me, I do not plot and I still angst about the details. It's just in this "I may have written 40k words and yet the story will never ever work" sort of way. I think I probably didn't write for over a month last year because I was struggling with a bit plot point.

Even so, I just still can't plot. I have no idea what's going to happen until I sit down and write it. Which is problematic when trying to build worlds because I feel like plot and world-building go hand in hand.

Jacqueline Barbour said...

Oh, Carrie! The whole time I read your post, I was thinking, "That's me. Me, me, ME!"

Alas, I don't think I'll ever have a plotting board, either, though I do have PBE (Plot Board Envy). It's just not the way my brain works.

I do have that spreadsheet B.E. mentioned (and it's way more "me" than a plotting board, I think)0, but I have to admit that I'm probably going to fill it out AS I write the book rather than work the whole thing out scene by scene in advance. The goal is to have something to help me in the EDITING pass more than to help me do the rewrite.

And I can write synopses just fine. The problem is...oh wait! That's my Friday post. You'll just have to wait until then to find out what my problem is!

Erica Ridley said...

Hi Carrie! Love the story board photo. Great use of whitespace. =)

My first attempts at pre-plotting blew monkeychunks. I tried outlining and index cards and spreadsheets and storyboarding by myself... so far, co-storyboarding with pals seems my miracle cure. Another pal of mine storyboards on her own or not at all. I think it rocks how we all have our own processes and somehow all end up with books at the end. =)

P.S.
There was the occasional post-it color angst at the retreat as well. Which plot thread gets which color (and whether the legend matches the other storyboards) is a Huge Deal!!! (Or... maybe writers like procrastinating. Hard to say. *g)

Kendra said...

My first try was with notecards from something I read on Lisa Gardner's site. Didn't work. I spent way too much time redoing notecards. Then after a Cherry Adair workshop with pretty sticky notes I tried a plot board. This worked a little better. I found myself plotting a few chapters ahead. I couldn't plot the whole thing. Instead it was more like a map of where I'd been. It was handy to look back and see at a glance whose POV each scene was in, who was there, any romance, crucial plot twists, and made it much easier to answer "Where in the heck did that happen?"

Today Darcy, Stephanie, and I are going to attempt the maven's technique. I bought my board lasst night. I already had sticky notes galore.

Celeste said...

I'm so glad someone posted about being storyboard deficient!

I am so in awe of how people do that. I decided I would give it a try when I started writing my last book, and Just. Couldn't. Do. It. I did everything you did, divided the posterboard up into frames, bought multi-colored sticky notes (in six + colors because I AM an overachiever and a total J) and then I ended up not knowing what color to assign to what subplot and tossed it behind the computer desk. Where it resides today!

In the end, I am just a constant reviser, and that's how I keep the story in check. It's a constant rewrite, despite my efforts to charge on. I don't even do separate drafts. Each day, I reread what I wrote the previous few days and tweak here and tweak there, make notes on a post-it what I need to accomplish with the next scene, and go. It's the only thing that works for me, although I always love to try someone else's ideas!

Thanks for posting this!!

Carrie said...

Kendra -- I tried notecards too with my last book. But the book stalled at 40k and a stack of notecards :) For me, I sit down each day either with a line or a *tiny* snippet of a scene in my head that I want to write towards or, if I have no idea what's next, I just sit there and think "what's the worst thing that could happen at this moment." Seriously, that's how I "plotted" out my current book. I'm sure my characters hate me :)

Christine Koehler said...

I've been in awe of people who have plotting boards, all those different colors and spaces. i tought, being anal as I am, I could do it, too. But, alas, no. I get caught up what to put up, and is this important enough? Or should I have all yellow for non-important things on a plotboard?

Probably why I stress over synopsii so damn much, too.

Writer & Cat said...

What falls flat for me -- forcing myself to plot the whole book and write the synopsis ahead of time!

Jody W.

lacey kaye said...

This is what my first attempt at a plotting board looked like! As for the two oranges that are too close together -- I used those for two plots that are similar but not the same.

I couldn't have a plotting board if it weren't for Maven Erica's guidance. Also, I agree that plotting via storyboard wouldn't work for me if I didn't have a groupthink tank sitting behind me, calling out the answers.

And pizza. Must.have.pizza.

Camilla Bartley said...

I'm trying to re-plot my book using this method but yeah, it's pretty much falling flat since I'm so used to scribbling on pieces of paper, scribbling in notebooks and just general scribbling on any writing surface I can get my hands on and then cobbling things together. *g*

I really want to try this method because I want to combat the sagging middle and I need to be more organized when it comes to my writing.

Diana Peterfreund said...

I'm the least organized person in the world, and I'm dedicated to the plotting board.

I use it for editing, and I keep up with it AS I'm writing, while the purpose of scenes are fresh in my head.

For people that are having problems deciding what are their main plot arcs or characters or what color they should use for what, I give the same advice to anyone who is having trouble seeing their story forest for their story trees: get your CP to make assignments for you. Ask your CP what she thinks the main plotlines you need to watch are, and if necessary, make your CPs choose the colors. The colors are so unimportant. I tend to use the same kind of colors for the same kind of plot arcs, book after book. Pink for romance, blue for villainy, etc...

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