Firming up the middle (stage two)

The work of plotting out that middle portion of my book is progressing apace.  At the last post, I’d mapped out the general chronology of the historical plot that provides the underpinnings for the modern storyline and had filled in a number of elements.

Over the past two weeks (yikes, has it been that long since my last post?!), I’ve continued to work on that historical foundation, building up the various elements to make sure it’s complete and robust enough to sustain a secondary storyline.  (These were the blue sticky notes on the chart shown in my previous post.)

Then, I started color-coding which of those elements are things my main character will learn about (pink stickies) and which will be things only the reader will know (blue stickies).  Afterwards, I made a second set of pink stickies that went below the historical section in chronological order.  This helped me see whether my modern-day character would be able to make sense of the historical story with just the elements I’d identified for her.

There were some thin spots here and there, so I added a few more elements to build it up a little.  Beyond having her learn just enough to know the general thread of what had happened 150 years earlier, I also wanted to leave enough gaps to keep her interested in digging more deeply and to have her use her imagination to fill in the holes — and sometimes to reach the wrong conclusion.  (Does that make sense?)

As soon as this section seemed to gel, I then rearranged the pink stickies into the sequence in which she will learn all this information, which will not be the same at all as the historical chronology.  My aim here is to try to build some suspense and leave the most important facts and elements to the end of this section.

The next step was to decide how she learns these things.  Ideally, she’ll learn the information through a variety of ways, all of which are consistent with the main plot that involves this character buying an old house and moving in with her family.  Sometimes, the character herself will take the lead in uncovering the information, sometimes another person will be the “action agent” (for lack of a better term), and sometimes she’ll find something out through pure serendipity.

And then I pulled together a layer of odd things that will start to happen in the house as my character pursues her investigations into the family that once lived there.  Now, these are all things that have a perfectly plausible explanation for them.  For instance, photos are moved — who moved them?  An interior door that my character always leaves open keeps closing — is it simply off-balance?  The family cat seems to see things that no one else sees — we all know cats do weird things sometimes.  (With four cats of our own, you know I had to include a cat in the story!)

All this is aimed at leaving the reader wondering, at least for a while, whether my character is simply imagining or exaggerating things, or whether they are really happening and, if so, who’s behind them?

Here’s what my plot chart looks like now, with all these new layers:

plot chart

Plot map (stage 2)

The next step now is to build out the modern storyline a bit more.  This is where I’ll need to create a good story structure that rounds out my character and her family, and that weaves these three plot layers into that structure in a way that lets my character evolve and that builds suspense.  While this will definitely be a challenge, I feel more optimistic about plotting out the middle and figure I’m more than halfway there.  Thanks, Martha, for helping me think about how to do all this!


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