Building a plot tapestry

First, wow!  It has been much too long since I posted anything here!  My resolution to post once a week has obviously fallen by the wayside.

But, on the plus side, I’ve been plugging away at the book plot and content during this time and have made a lot of progress.  And I am dutifully writing down in my little notebook how much time I spend each day working on the plot and other book elements.  So I’m one for two on the resolution front.  I’ll aim to do better on the posting side from now on.

At the last post, I shared a copy of my chart with all the multi-colored stickies showing the various elements — background elements, historical chronology, modern-day plot, and so forth.  After finishing that up, I moved on to Step 17, How to Plot Cause and Effect, in Martha Alderson’s series on writing a novel or screenplay.

Martha’s view is that cause and effect is very important in helping keep the story tight and focused so the reader will believe that what happens at the end is inevitable and that the whole story is building toward that end.

Back I went to my sticky-note chart to add some cause-and-effect elements to start linking parts of the plot together.  For instance, Sadie, the daughter of the main character, has an imaginary dog so when she starts mentioning a “lady in the dress” after they move into the old house, her mother doesn’t give it a second thought precisely because of the imaginary pet.

Having finished adding those links, I then returned to Excel to write out the plot line for the middle portion of the book, breaking down the action into single thoughts or sentences, and then plugging them into their own Excel cells.  And this past weekend, I finished the general plot outline for all these middle chapters, typing all the elements, line by line, down a single column in that chart.

Now that the whole story line is roughed out, I’m expanding my plot chart into multiple columns, one column for my main character, one for her husband, one for Marcus Hamilton and another for Bill Emory (see earlier posting on these characters), and so forth.  Then the final column is for the setting to show where these events will take place.  Will a specific element occur in the lawyer’s office?  In the old house that Jen and her husband buy?  Somewhere else?

I’m taking each individual plot element and moving it to its appropriate character column.  This has turned into a great visualization tool to show who the actor is and how the action flows between and among the various characters.  Now, a lot of the action will be in the column belonging to my main character, and rightly so.  But this way, it’ll be easier to spot places where perhaps I need to build up a certain character a bit more or where there are loose ends that disappear or threads that suddenly pop up with no warning to the reader.

In a way, it’s like the warp and weave of a tapestry.  The sticky note charts were the horizontal lines, the background and historical elements that are important parts of my story.  Now, I’m working on the vertical lines that will link all those horizontal threads together.  At least, that’s my working theory.

While this is definitely taking a fair amount of time to complete, it’s pretty exciting and for the first time, I’m actually optimistic about being able to finish the book!  Looking back on this process, my mental stumbling block was that the project seemed much too big to complete.  But breaking it down into various elements made it seem more manageable and doable.  It’s kind of like hiking up a steep hill.  At first, you look up and think, yikes, I’m never going to make it to the top!  But then you take each stage one at a time and, suddenly, you’re there.  (Of course, you still have to get back down the hill, but that’s another matter altogether.)

Well, back to my chart and tapestry mapping!

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