Sunday, May 30, 2010

Plotting like a Snowflake

I forgot to title the last post, whoops.  And yes I know I have to stop changing the blog template but I can't find one that works so I'm going to keep at it whenever I get the inclination.

I've spent the weekend plotting.  Yesterday was a sort of bare bones type of thing.  I knew the gist of the story but not much in the way of detail so I tried using an excel spreadsheet to set out scenes in each chapter.  It sort of worked out because it helped me maintain a certain order but it sucked the fun out of it so I'm not sure it is something I'll do a lot.  Perhaps I did it too early, it might have been more useful to do it after all the work I got done today.   Today I got some serious planning down and have a very strong focus on where the story is going.  I tend to feel uncomfortable about investing time into something unless I have a good idea of what the main story arcs should be.  Today, I was uncomfortable because I didn't know the characters well enough so decided I needed to sit down and sort that out.

I've been using a sort of variation on the Snowflake Method for novel plotting for the last few months.  The Snowflake Method itself doesn't work for me.  By step four I feel like I'm repeating myself and get bored.  But even I can see how useful it is, particularly to start with one sentence.  For me, trying to condense an entire book into one sentence is impossible.  Unless I started with that one sentence.  Sure, by the end, the sentence can alter in some ways but if you can describe a book in a couple of words then half the battle is won when it comes to categorising and promoting it afterwards.  So many of us struggle to give an easy, quick description of what our books are about - for me, it's easier to work this out as completely as possible in the first place.

I like how you can turn that sentence into a paragraph and then that paragraph into a page.  It feels like a natural progression and helps me figure out the order of events in a broad way.  The Snowflake Method advises that each sentence in the paragraph except for the last one is about different conflicts in the story while the last sentence should be the resolution.  Similarly with the full page.  The first four paragraphs should show the problems that occur and then everything winds up in a satisfying way in the last paragraph.  This is useful for me because I find it hard to stay focused.  If I divide the book up like this then I know if I'm on track or spending too much or too little time on a certain section.

I like those parts and I admit I see the value of the character synopsis sections.  I tend to mesh all of the character descriptions into one document because there seem to be a lot of steps dedicated to variations of the same descriptions.  It's pointless to keep typing the same things over and over again so I change it to work for myself.  I give a long detailed synopsis for the main character including appearance and what they were doing before the book began, then add shorter variations for the other characters in their points of view.  I find it really helpful with minor characters.  Particularly with their back stories and pinpointing where everyone should be at each stage in the story.  Rounding out a minor character might sound like an inconvenience, particularly when most of it won't make it into the actual manuscript but I find it balances out the entire novel. 

The more I know about each character's motivations and point of view, the easier it is for the details to reveal themselves.  It helps me see the novel on a different level.  I am big into characters so probably over-indulge in these kinds of character study/synopsis combos but it helps me stop doing it in the novel itself.  I've really enjoyed plotting today, probably for the first time so whatever I'm doing is working for me.  I know other people like stricter or more fluid methods but I've started to change how I feel about plotting and outlining.  Probably because I may have to leave novels for a while over the next few months so having a strong plan will help me get straight back in the middle of things when I can.

Right now I have the first draft fully planned out and the characters as broad as they can be at this stage.  Typing out the first draft is the next step.  In theory, it should go by relatively easily.  Unless I write myself into some corners - although my plan is pretty thorough and will hopefully help me get back on the right track if I go off the rails a bit.  I rarely have writing blocks so my biggest problem is finding the time to get things done.  I'm excited to see if the planning helps or hinders the writing process.  :)

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