Hatrack River
Home   |   About Orson Scott Card   |   News & Reviews   |   OSC Library   |   Forums   |   Contact   |   Links
Research Area   |   Writing Lessons   |   Writers Workshops   |   OSC at SVU   |   Calendar   |   Store
E-mail this page
Hatrack River Writers Workshop Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » How do you plot?

   
Author Topic: How do you plot?
JSchuler
Member
Member # 8970

 - posted      Profile for JSchuler   Email JSchuler         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Recently, I've given up on writing by the seat of my pants. Sure, I would learn something new from the experience, but all too often what I found required an entire rewrite of my story to date. So, it hasn't been the most efficient strategy.

My first attempt at plotting out my novel was just a bullet list with scenes. It worked well for the first couple dozen, but I started noticing inconsistencies working their way in. Plus, it was hard to see how everything related to each other: was this scene really a sub-scene of the previous one? should it have its own chapter? Plus, there was no real way to develop and keep track of back story.

It didn't take long before I was looking for a better way. I know some people use spreadsheets, but I have no idea how to even approach that. Create macros, query tables, sure, but outline a story? I just can't picture it in my mind.

So, I thought I'd see if the internet could do the picturing for me. However, I didn't find a guide on how to plot with Excel. Instead, I found a neat free program called FreeMind, a mind mapping program which is helping tremendously. I can visually see where my strengths (locations) and weaknesses (character background) are. World building is a breeze, and if I have a random thought it's easy to find a place for it.

So, for those of you who plan out your stories before writing them, how do you do it? Still curious to know how that whole spreadsheet thing works.


Posts: 271 | Registered: Jan 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Osiris
Member
Member # 9196

 - posted      Profile for Osiris   Email Osiris         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I have a process that includes a pre-game, game time, and post-game section. My "pre-game" has 10 steps but the one relevant to what you are asking is what I call the visual topography of the story.

Basically, I draw out a line that looks like a mountain in profile. It varies depending on the story. Speaking in very loose terms, the beginning is the narrative hook, after which there may be some exposition, followed by some type of rising action, the climax, the falling action, and then the denouement.
I make flags along these "landmarks" of the story that correspond to the plot points. I do all of this on a white board hanging in my office.


Posts: 1023 | Registered: Jul 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
babooher
Member
Member # 8617

 - posted      Profile for babooher   Email babooher         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Look up yWriter5. It is free and lets you keep track of all sorts of things.
Posts: 724 | Registered: May 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
skadder
Member
Member # 6757

 - posted      Profile for skadder   Email skadder         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I use a program called Circus Ponies which is for Macs only. It is much better than a spreadsheet.

If I was using a PC I would use OneNote.

That said bullet points work, too--just not as slickly as either of the above.


Posts: 2987 | Registered: Oct 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Robert Nowall
Member
Member # 2764

 - posted      Profile for Robert Nowall   Email Robert Nowall         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I think I've spent so much time over it that I've internalized the process and can't bring it to the surface to examine it---more's the pity, 'cause if I've screwed something up I can't see to correct it. Most of the things that I actually finish seem to work, as far as plot goes...

However...a couple of years ago I spent a year and a little over a hundred thousand words on a novel that died on me when I realized I had no idea where to go. Since then (and also before, but not in this particular case), I try to keep a firm focus on how things will end, and let some of the things happen as they unfold before my eyes. Sometimes I'm surprised. (I once wrote a story (fanfic), that took a year to finish because the ending did not change---but nearly everything between the beginning and end did change.)


Posts: 8282 | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
sjsampson
Member
Member # 8075

 - posted      Profile for sjsampson   Email sjsampson         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I love FreeMind.
Posts: 133 | Registered: Jul 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Osiris
Member
Member # 9196

 - posted      Profile for Osiris   Email Osiris         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
One piece of writing advice that has stuck in my mind is that once you have stablished character and conflict (and before sitting down to write the 1st draft), you should figure out how you want the story to end.
Posts: 1023 | Registered: Jul 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
shimiqua
Member
Member # 7760

 - posted      Profile for shimiqua   Email shimiqua         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I personally only like to write when I don't know what is going to happen. When I know the ending, it makes me not want to worry about the middle.
My writing style is like I'm just reading the story as I write it. That's the only way it works for me. I find a good first line, and then just follow it around until I find an ending. Not all my stories work, but hey, that's what second drafts are for.

~Sheena

Posts: 1193 | Registered: Jan 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Robert Nowall
Member
Member # 2764

 - posted      Profile for Robert Nowall   Email Robert Nowall         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Should 'a mentioned...one reason I like to be surprised in what happens in my stories is that, maybe, if I'm surprised, maybe the reader will be, too.
Posts: 8282 | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
skadder
Member
Member # 6757

 - posted      Profile for skadder   Email skadder         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I know how the story will end before I begin writing. I plot all the important points. Of course, I don't know every single turn, but I know the reason why (IMO) it is a story with reason to shine...I know the important layers.
Posts: 2987 | Registered: Oct 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Owasm
Member
Member # 8501

 - posted      Profile for Owasm   Email Owasm         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I'm currently moderating a novel creation workshop over at Liberty Hall. We are using a combination of a modified snowflake method and a spreadsheet the LH Founder put together and I modified. I've used the spreadsheet for two novels (written) and currently one in development within the workshop.

I'm sort of a discovery writer, but I'll tell you, when you rewrite, all of the discovery stuff goes out the window. That's where an outline of some sort shines. One of my novels came out about 2/3 of the proper length. I had to add a character and a whole new try/fail cycle. The spreadsheet made it much easier to manage the rewrite (and the rest to come.)

The spreadsheet is really scene-based and lists characters, POV, weather, location, where the story is on a try/fail cycle, etc., etc.

On one novel (the one I wrote for NaNoWriMo)didn't have sufficient tension when I took it on its first rewrite. The placement of tension in the spreadsheet gave me a tool to fix up the scenes to make it more balanced.


Posts: 1596 | Registered: Feb 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
walexander
Member
Member # 9151

 - posted      Profile for walexander   Email walexander         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Both of those are pretty cool ywriter and freemind.

Free tools I love.

Free mind is great if you just want to outline your writing.

and ywriter is is great tool for novel work. Has everything you really need to plot out things. Character building, images, locations, you can put it all there in your scene and then move or shift around the scenes within the chapter or the whole book. An excellent way for a visual person like myself to organize. I've been doing pen and paper, note cards, clippings, etc. which I doubt I'll stop but I can transfer them into ywriter so I don't have to worry about losing something important, which I do often. and place the info or image with the character or location.

This was a good thread for me. I'm also looking for a good free script writing software if anyone knows of one.

Cheers,

W.


Posts: 331 | Registered: Jun 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Crank
Member
Member # 7354

 - posted      Profile for Crank   Email Crank         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
I know how the story will end before I begin writing.

That's the way I've always operated.

Except...

My young adult novel had what I thought was a nice encouraging ending that fit (for the most part) the story's mood, until my characters and their issues began taking over the plot. Admidst the confusion, I finally scooted back from the PC and matched up what my MC was going through with what was going on around him, then projected forward. The new ending that crashed into my consciousness was so dark and so perfect that I laughed out loud and dismissed it.

Still...I let this new ending hang around for a dew days, then finally accepted that it was infinitely better than my original ending.

My other two WIP (SF and mainstream) already have the endings I want them to have, but I will not dismiss any alternate versions that pop up, especially when I consider how much of an upgrade my YA impromptu ending turned out to be.

S!
S!


Posts: 620 | Registered: Dec 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
walexander
Member
Member # 9151

 - posted      Profile for walexander   Email walexander         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Oh Cool! ywriter has the coolest feature ever! A 'read aloud' button that reads aloud the text off the scene!You can hear your pauses and run on's in the sentences.

I had to admit I doubted a little about breaking up scenes in a story or chapter, but I just broke up my WotF story into scenes and it works great! I found areas that weren't consistent, or not on subject matter. When you break it down, it helps you focus on individual scenes and subjects to see if they stand alone, or if they're in the wrong place. A great tool.

Makes up for its lack of underlining misspelled words automatically or being able to right click misspelled words, and search for words of close relation.

Thought I'd share that. To cool. I wish word had a voice setting. It even pronounces words that are made up by you. Needs a better voice through.

W.

[This message has been edited by walexander (edited August 05, 2010).]


Posts: 331 | Registered: Jun 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
philocinemas
Member
Member # 8108

 - posted      Profile for philocinemas   Email philocinemas         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
OSC says that all stories are structured around one of four elements:

Milieu
Idea
Character
Event

I tend to structure my stories around ideas - basically "what if..." questions. I then invent main characters that I feel will provide the right amount of tension and triumph to work around the idea. This is an integral part of my plotting process.

Like skadder, I decide how the story will end before I even start writing. Sometimes I write out a brief sequence of events leading up to a climax and resolution (the ending) and other times I plot it out in my head. Then I start writing.

As I stated in another thread, I write it out more or less as a flash fiction piece (with some narration and most of the dialogue) and then add specifics and side plot developments later to give the story depth.

I also like to hide "Easter eggs" in my stories - plays on words, allusions, hints, etc. (that can't be detected in the first read-through).


Posts: 2003 | Registered: Jul 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
johnbrown
Member
Member # 1467

 - posted      Profile for johnbrown   Email johnbrown         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I'm going to have to look at freemind and ywriter. I've tried a lot of things, including spreadsheets. It's still messy for me. Especially when, like on the last novel, they are huge mommas of almost 250,000 words with many story lines. But even with all I've tried, the most useful outlines for me are just bullets and indented bullets AND a summary table with a column for each story line so I can see how each develops over the whole book and where it fits. I do it all in Word or big sheets of paper.


Posts: 306 | Registered: Jul 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
InarticulateBabbler
Member
Member # 4849

 - posted      Profile for InarticulateBabbler   Email InarticulateBabbler         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
What I've been working with recently are index cards and a cork board. Actually, John, you and Larry Corriea helped me come up with the system I'm using: Watching How to Write a Story That Rocks on YouTube, I took the way you threw ideas on the board and did it with index cards. When I came up with all of the story components (Protagonist, Antagonist, Problem, Milieu, Histories and Twists), I starting by thinking where the story needed to end and worked backward (on the cards). I found things that didn't work and what would make them work, and when I got to the beginning, I started working forward, expanding on those cards. I feel confident about the plotting, now. I also find that staring at them (I have the board across from my side of the bed, on the wall) when I go to sleep and wake up, I think about them more often.

I'll let y'all know how it works out.


Posts: 3662 | Registered: Jan 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
skadder
Member
Member # 6757

 - posted      Profile for skadder   Email skadder         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
But even with all I've tried, the most useful outlines for me are just bullets and indented bullets AND a summary table with a column for each story line so I can see how each develops over the whole book and where it fits.

You would simply love Circus Ponies notebooks (software), they are the most flexible system I have come across. I use them for plotting, storing ideas, developing ideas.

Here it is...

[This message has been edited by skadder (edited August 06, 2010).]


Posts: 2987 | Registered: Oct 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Robert Nowall
Member
Member # 2764

 - posted      Profile for Robert Nowall   Email Robert Nowall         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
InarticulateBabbler's mention of index cards and a cork board remind me that I've tried that, too. (The board is somewhere under the clutter of my office, and probably the notecards too---I never finished the novel it came from.)

I tend to be chameleon-like on how I plot things out---full outlines to bare notes to making it up as I go along. It's never the same from, oh, from book-to-book---from short-story-to-short-story I might stick with something for awhile.

(Here's one thing I used to do. Just before I switched from typewriter to word processing, I was writing something out, then mapping out where the action took place---from, well, maps of an area to (more usually) diagrams of the rooms things took place in. I'd map it out right on the page itself, once it emerged from my typewriter. I kinda regret losing that---I can't scribble on my computer screen, and doing it on a paper by the side of my word processor produced notes I couldn't connect up with anything later---or, worse, something that couldn't be found when I needed it later.)


Posts: 8282 | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
RoxyL
Member
Member # 9096

 - posted      Profile for RoxyL           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Strangely, I was just reading up on writing software, too. Have any of your tried Storybox? It was developed (well, it's till in development) by a NaNoWriMo guy and is roughly compared to Schrivener which I know a lot of pro writers use. (I probably just butchered those names - sorry)

I got the free download for storybox, but two sets of family visiting back to back have kept me from really trying it out.

It would be great to hear comparisons, though I bet a lot of it has to do with how you personally go about writing.

Also, thanks to whoever suggested the youtube vidoes. I never even thought to look there for writing tips. The series is great! It's already got me plotting - mwuahahahaha.


Posts: 264 | Registered: Apr 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Corky
Member
Member # 2714

 - posted      Profile for Corky   Email Corky         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Saw someone at a convention demonstrate plotting by using fortune-telling cards to tell fortunes for the main characters, and then building a plot from what the cards turned up.
Posts: 603 | Registered: Jul 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
RoxyL
Member
Member # 9096

 - posted      Profile for RoxyL           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Interesting. Do you think you could make a random plot generator? I know gamers have something like that for character creation. It might be a fun way to spark an idea.
Posts: 264 | Registered: Apr 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Robert Nowall
Member
Member # 2764

 - posted      Profile for Robert Nowall   Email Robert Nowall         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I got out of a tight spot in a novel once by throwing I Ching coins and taking their advice. The novel ultimately didn't work out but I liked that part. (I claim no credit for the idea, I lifted it from the late Philip K. Dick.)
Posts: 8282 | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
andersonmcdonald
Member
Member # 8641

 - posted      Profile for andersonmcdonald   Email andersonmcdonald         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Plotting... hmm, I'll have to try that some time.
Posts: 443 | Registered: May 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
andersonmcdonald
Member
Member # 8641

 - posted      Profile for andersonmcdonald   Email andersonmcdonald         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
My favorite method is to take I book I particularly love, change the names of characters and places, add a few personal touches, and POOF! I'm done. Since I started doing that writing has become a lot easier.
Posts: 443 | Registered: May 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
andersonmcdonald
Member
Member # 8641

 - posted      Profile for andersonmcdonald   Email andersonmcdonald         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I'm kidding.
Posts: 443 | Registered: May 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
TamesonYip
Member
Member # 9072

 - posted      Profile for TamesonYip   Email TamesonYip         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
For my novel, I actually kinda sorta did what anderson suggests. Well, I took a classic story, imagined it in a new world, put in similar characters, but changed their genders, past, motivations, whatever I felt fit my story better, etc. Themes are different, character growth is different, their interactions with each other are very different, some characters betray people they didn't in the fairy tale, added in some other random events, etc. But when I got stuck, I would just go back to the original stories and think if there was anything interesting to exploit.
Posts: 232 | Registered: Apr 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Merlion-Emrys
Member
Member # 7912

 - posted      Profile for Merlion-Emrys   Email Merlion-Emrys         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Although yours, Tameson, is an old old OLD story that's been re-imagined many many times before and that most people (in the West) have never even heard of :-)

Easier to get away with like that. The copyright on that puppy expired a LONNNNNGGGGG time ago :-)


Posts: 2626 | Registered: Apr 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
TamesonYip
Member
Member # 9072

 - posted      Profile for TamesonYip   Email TamesonYip         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
There is this crazy part of me that totally wants someone to say, hmm, that kinda reminds me of the original Dragon Ball. That would crack me up.
Posts: 232 | Registered: Apr 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Merlion-Emrys
Member
Member # 7912

 - posted      Profile for Merlion-Emrys   Email Merlion-Emrys         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
It will probably happen to although you may never actually hear it.
Posts: 2626 | Registered: Apr 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Robert Nowall
Member
Member # 2764

 - posted      Profile for Robert Nowall   Email Robert Nowall         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Well, after my Internet Fan Fiction period ended, for the next two or three tries, up through an aborted novel, you could substitute their names for the ones I came up with. I think I've chucked most of that, but I think you can also still see the influence of it on me.
Posts: 8282 | Registered: Aug 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
Administrator
Member # 59

 - posted      Profile for Kathleen Dalton Woodbury   Email Kathleen Dalton Woodbury         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I remember reading an interview in WRITER'S DIGEST years ago, with a very prolific author named Red Smith (if I recall correctly). I believe he is the one who said one of the reasons he was so prolific is that he would stop every so often while reading someone else's book and figure out how he would continue the story. He did this several times with some books, and came up with a whole bunch of different plots that he used in his own books.

As long as he did his own writing and made the characters and settings his own, there was no problem with copyright (which protects actual text).


Posts: 8030 | Registered: A Long Time Ago!  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
TamesonYip
Member
Member # 9072

 - posted      Profile for TamesonYip   Email TamesonYip         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Right now, the story I struggle with plotting on is one where I am hoping for there to be lots of intrigues, lots of secrets, lots of secrets revealed that aren't the secrets people think they are. The big picture plot is really very simple- fall of civilization basically due to supply issues. It is just the rest of the stuff that confuses me.
Posts: 232 | Registered: Apr 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins
   


Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Contact Us | Hatrack River Home Page

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.


Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2