Sorry, that just put the Beastie Boys song “Rhymin’ & Stealin'” in my head. Anywayyyy, I had a mini writer’s retreat with Marian Allen last week to do some work on our respective upcoming NaNoWriMo projects this November. I’m using NaNo to write the first book in a trilogy I’ve had in mind for ages now, so naturally our shop talk got around to plotting techniques. I’m normally not much of an outliner, and if I do outline, it’s usually not in much detail, but (a) the plot of this trilogy is extremely complex, (b) there are a lot of characters, and their stories interweave and affect each other, even those who don’t know one another personally, and (c) it’s a trilogy, which means I want continuity between the three books, and I don’t want to get to book three and say, “Crap! I wish I’d mentioned THIS THING I NEED FOR THE PLOT TO WORK back in book one! Now I’m going to have to shoehorn it in and treat it like it’s been the case all along!” Of course, that would only be a problem if books one and two were published by the time I was writing book three, but let’s give me some credit here and say that’s a possibility.
I know quite a lot of events that need to happen for the main plot and for the subplots (and there are times when my subplots directly affect the main plot, too), but the order of many of the events is up in the air. At the suggestion of my writing buddy, I tried a more visual structuring technique: Take a piece of paper and mark it off into rectangles – 9 columns and 3 rows. In the fifth column of each row, write “Turning Point”, in the next-to-last rectangle write “Climax”. Your first box is your setup, the last box is your conclusion. Start filling stuff in.
Now, I modified this somewhat to accommodate a 3-book storyline. For the trilogy, each book gets its own row, so there are 9 rectangles per book. That means less nitty-gritty plot detail can go into it, but the general shape of all of it comes together in one place. I have 18″ by 24″ paper (for painting, usually) and many colored pencils (for coloring books, usually), so I color-coded important characters and got busy.
While I don’t think this will be a solve-all for my plotting problems in this series, I think the combination of a list-form, all-just-text plot file with this visual structure layout will be highly useful. Already, there are times when my brain gets stuck with one format, and just switching to the other type of outline unsticks it. The more tools you, as a writer, have, the better, because every single project is different, and a tool you never needed before may suddenly be really useful for your next story!