Plotting Your Next Novel: Part 3

There are three unassailable truths.

  1. Over a long enough timeline, everyone's chances of survival are zero.
  2. James Wymore has only once been beaten up by a toddler.
  3. And finally, the inventor of clamshell packaging will burn in hell for all eternity. I don't believe in Hell. I believe God will make a special exception just for him.

But that's not really relevant. I just wanted to make sure you all know Wymore had been beaten up by a baby. I have video.

That said, back to plotting. Things are moving along nicely. So it’s time for stage three.

 At this stage, I go through and color code all my plots, a different color for each one. Then I start integrating them together. I take each plot and I sprinkle it through the Overall Throughline. I do this for each of them till I’m done. I’ll notice often that some of these scenes end up filling in placeholder scenes I had. For instance, in one book I had three scenes for the love interest that would fit well in the climax. I placed them in the relevant Integrated Climax spots and found I only needed a couple extra scenes to complete that arc. I filled those in during this stage, because it was convenient.

I also often find that many of the scenes duplicate from plotline to plotline. If so, I integrate them into single scenes with multiple goals.

When it’s done, I give it a last read through, make sure it seems like a coherent plot. If there are timing issues, I fiddle with them. This part takes Tim Powers a long time to complete. Me, not so much. I’m more likely to see the problem when writing, and then I just fix it at that point (a plot is a living thing, remember?)

With the new book, I looked at it when this was finished and thought, "Huh. This is a hot mess." The problem was I had writing goals for almost every scene, and some jokes, but almost nothing on what should actually happen. I decided to go back and check the original Death by Cliché, since that one turned out pretty well. And it wasn't a hot mess. Now, I've become increasingly confident in my ability to make these plot outlines work, but not that confident.

So I spent a half hour going through scene by scene and adding notes on what everyone was actually doing, letting story and setting emerge to flesh out plot goals like, "Introduce Theme" or "Discuss Damico as God." or "Spy stuff!"

By the time I got to the act two twist, I was feeling pretty confident. I left the second half the way it was, because I have two set pieces defined in the second half of the book and by then, the momentum I have from the first half should rocket me through any issues. Writing is often about momentum, and I like the plotting to be a little looser toward the end, since if I didn't I'd be likely throwing out parts of it as better ideas emerge from the first half of the book.

Finally, at this point, I’ll compare the entire thing to a generic plot they have in the program Dramatica (for books other than this one, where I already used Save the Cat). I’m not actually trying to imitate that plot at this point, I’m just looking for holes. For instance, that plot has you restate the novel’s goal a few times. I often forget to do that when writing, so I get that into my plot structure. I also use it to make sure that my antagonist has enough scenes and I see if it generally stimulates any ideas.

That done, I’m pretty close to finished, in one way, although the last stage takes me the longest. My plot looks like a plot, although big sections of the climax are still just placeholders. Time for stage four.

I'll end with noting that if you don't use Dramatica, this is all you need. You're done now. When I do my Plot a Novel in an Hour panels at conventions, I stop at this stage. The rest is all fine tuning. At this point, you have an honest to goodness plot outline.