Plotting out the middle (& trying to avoid the mush)

Well, I’m still plugging away, working on the middle part of my story to make sure I know where it is going before actually starting to write.  (I know my strengths and my limitations, and stream-of-consciousness creative flow is not necessarily among the former.)

As I mentioned in the previous post, the first quarter and the last quarter of the book weren’t all that hard to figure out.  I knew (finally) how the plot action could get started and had had an idea all along of how the story line should end.  The problem was the middle portion.

Part of the challenge here is that there are, in a sense, two story lines flowing along.  There’s the modern-day portion (couple buys an old house, etc., etc.) but then there’s the historical portion about a family who lived in the house over 100 years earlier.  My challenge is to think through exactly how the modern-day protagonist finds out bits of information about that historical family.

Because I’m a more visual thinker (I love charts and graphics), I decided it might help me think through the middle by making a kind of map of the historical plot line.  Using sticky notes, I’ve plotted out the historical story, along with the specific years of the plot action and even birth dates of the characters involved.  Doing this is also helping me make little adjustments here and there to the story, as well as to flag places where I’ll need to verify any  historical events to make sure their dates and facts are accurate.

My next step is to figure out which bits of that plot line will be things my main character finds out about.  She doesn’t need to learn every single nitty-gritty detail — some of that will be learned only by the reader but not by her — but she does need to learn enough to piece together the general flow of the story of this family’s life for about a 10-year period.

Then, I’ll map out how she learns those specific bits of information.  Does she learn parts of their story from, say, the realtor who sells her the house?  Does she do a bit of research at the local library?  Does she find old information at the local historical society or even find an old family Bible up in the attic?  My hope is that mapping the plot out in this way will help me see where the momentum is moving along well, where it might be flagging, and where things don’t really hang together well.  At least, that’s the theory.

In the meantime, here’s the first stage of my plot map:

Imogen and the plot map

Imogen and the plot map (stage 1)

As you can see, I have a little helper at the moment. This is Imogen, one of our cats, who is giving me a look that is all too familiar (“Hey, time to pet the cat!”).

At any rate, what you see here are the main historical elements in blue, with the years in lavender across the top.  Next step will be to flag which elements are the key ones that my protagonist will discover, and then to decide how she will learn about them.

Now, time to pet the cat … and then get on with the plot analysis.

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