Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Are There Points to Your Plot?
Writerly Wednesday

You need to have your collection of post-it notes and pens. I actually keep all mine in one of these clear paint cans people use for crafts. It has the advantages of looking nice, keeping them all together and clean and, best of all, the paint can is very hard for my six year old son to pry open!

Storyboarding Bucket

Then you need to divide your storyboard into chapter squares. I use a plain old wooden yardstick and a sharpie and divide it into six inch squares. It ends up looking like this when unfolded and propped up.

Empty Storyboard

Most of the time I won't show you the full storyboard. We won't use nearly the whole thing for my sample story and you'll want to read the post-it notes more than you'll want to admire the empty landscape.

Note that I don't number the squares. I know some people do but if I have several small stories, they may all live on the same board just in different areas. If it really bothers you, feel free to number yours or use a small post-it or even a flag for the numbers.

I also seem to work best at two scenes per chapter. So each square will have two scenes in it. One of the reasons I use the size post-it notes that I do is that two sets of one large plus four small ones will fit in each square. I like to be able to see it all at a glance, if I can. I don't like to stack them. The top half of each square is always scene one and the bottom half is scene two.

Setting Your Story Length:
Now is when you really have to decide about how long your story is going to be. This can actually be done several different ways.

If I know how long I want the story to be (or it's required to be), I can use a formula to determine the number of chapters. The basic formula is:

Desired Wordcount / Average words per chapter = number of chapters needed

So if I wanted a 60,000 word story and I know I write about 2,500 words per chapter, I would need twenty four chapters. Always round up.

Chapter Count
If you are doing a serial, you may know that you need to have a certain number of episodes or chapters. This is how Games Coyotes Play is set up. I knew I wanted the story to run for a year, so I knew I needed twelve chapters.

Mark the Start and End
The next thing I do is mark the real start of the story - the Inciting Event. I always put it at the very beginning because I have a bad habit of trying to introduce too much backstory before the real story starts. It helps to keep me honest.

I stick a small post-it in my plot point color (it's really lime green, despite the pics) labeled "Inciting Event" on the board.

Then I put a plot point post-it labeled "Resolution" in the last square.

Now my storyboard looks like this:

Storyboard with Inciting Event and Resolution

Add Midpoint
Now I find the middle of the story and put a plot point post-it labeled "Midpoint" in that square.

Storyboard with Midpoint

Add Basic Turning Points
Now, still with the plot point post-its, I add the other two turning points to create the basic story structure I use.

A "TP" post-it is placed midway between "Inciting Event" and "Midpoint". Another "TP" is placed midway between "Midpoint" and "Resolution".

Storyboard with Basic Turning Points

Make Pacing Adjustments
Now I step back and look at what I have and make adjustments if I think I need to. In the case of "Games Coyotes Play", I do need to.

This is a serial story so it has no real ongoing momentum to carry it forward. That means it can't tolerate much in the way of lag or really slow spots. When I look at the storyboard shown in the last step, I see a lot of empty squares. Those are points the story can lose momentum.

It can also benefit from the second half of the story moving faster.

In this case, I decided that I needed to add two more turning points and shift the midpoint and the third turning point. You can see in this photo that the midpoint has shifted one chapter later and an additional "TP" is now inserted midway between the first "TP" and "Midpoint".

The next thing was to move the "TP" after the Midpoint to a scene earlier in the story and inserted a new "TP" post-it between it and the Resolution. But in this case I put it the chapter before the resolution and also labeled it the "BM" for Black Moment.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Now when I step back and look, it's in better balance and not too bare. This is a good start to a well-paced story.

Come back next week for the next installment and I'll start to show the POV notes.

Comments and questions are always welome :)

Labels: , ,


  1. Ok that's way too organised LOL
    My way is much easier.

    Step 1- Sit ass in chair
    Step 2- Pick up pen
    Step 3- Grab snack
    Step 4- Turn on TV
    Step 5- uhm...what was I doing again?

    Hehe Great advice Maura.


  2. I'm loving the way you do it. I take mine a chapter at a time...maybe this way would clear up a lot of the fuzz in my plotting...

  3. Oh wow...if you really saw how disorganized my approach was you'd faint. I have two or is it three expandable file folders...somewhere. But I do have post-its and tablets. Sad to say once the male hits a certain age even padlocks won't keep him out of your things. I hide my stuff in my underwear drawer. Seriously, I think I'm the only person I know who has to pull post-it's from her panties.

  4. LOL - I hope you use the Extra Sticky, Melissa. You wouldn't want them to fall out of your panties at an inopportune moment!


  5. LOL - I can't do that Aline. The one time I really tried a more than 2000K story without an outline, I was miserable and distracted the entire time.

  6. Dawn -I can't do it one chapter at a time because my story pacing goes all wonky. So far, this is what I've found that works for me :)

  7. I tried plotting once. I think I still have it somewhere. My characters revolted and refused to follow the plot LOL


  8. ok my story board is made

    when do the elves come and fill it in?

  9. Okay, now I need Aleve. Good lord, woman, I have heard of plotting before, but DAMN!! You take the cake! LOL I could NEVER do that.

Post a Comment