Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A3 Plotting


The first draft of my novel's plot is complete. Well, not 100% complete - I don't actually know how it's going to end yet - but complete enough to begin some research.

Despite what Stephen King says about plotting (i.e. don't do it), I thought it was best for me to have a go at drafting up a plot. Being my first novel, I think I need at least a basic story blueprint laid out before me. I don't think I am at the stage where I can just take a concept and write down whatever comes to mind (although, that does sound appealing). I probably could, but it would be rubbish. So call me "Plot Boy". For now.

There are two extremes to plotting - the detailed method and the "back of a napkin" method. The former involves sitting down and mapping out every little event that occurs in the novel, every conversation, every disaster or tragedy, falling just short of writing out the prose. The latter is a scratchy, incomplete scribble that barely rises above an idea - maybe it just describes a situation - and you go from there and see where it takes you. They both have pros and cons - mainly being: the former gives you direction, while the latter is much more fun.

Bearing in mind that this is my first novel and that I want to inject some fun into the process, I decided to go for an in-between approach with slight leanings towards the detailed method.

I grabbed a blank page of A3 photocopy paper from work and got started, writing every weekday morning for a week and a bit. I decided to write down everything that came to mind, leaving out the detail, but making sure things made sense, fitted together and did not contradict. At least the same amount of ideas came out of my head during those eight days as compared to the previous eight months when the story was banging around in my head.

So after eight days: both sides of the A3 paper were filled with a general chronological plot and notes on motivations, side plots, questions to be answered, etc, etc. It's detailed, quite detailed, but there is also plenty of room left (in the plot, not on the page) to go off on a tangent if I so wish to. And there is the fact that the final fifth of the novel is nowhere to be seen. I'm leaving that until later. How much later will depend on how confident I become.

The whole experience was very satisfying and of course, fun. I recommend plotting on A3 paper, it helps capture the whole plot on one page - a kind of snapshot - that you can return to for adjustments or just to refresh your memory. I used little boxes - like a basic flow chart - to chart the progression of the story. Writing in pencil is obviously preferable as there will be plenty of changes to be made when better ideas form in your mind.

I suppose my original concern was that a detailed plot would soak up all the fun and excitement of writing the actual novel (hence where the napkin approach works better). However, after finishing my first draft, I can tell you that not only was the exercise exciting, a plot is such a dynamic thing that no one knows what will actually happen when I start typing away at Chapter One.

Now, I must change hats - Plot Boy becomes Research Boy (and I don't mean a lad from Victoria's north eastern suburbs).

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