Thursday, May 07, 2009

Pick a Card, Any Card

So, after wrestling with my plot and trying to figure out where in the hell I am with it and the many threads I have going, I gave up and went back to the basics: index cards. And not just any ol’ index cards, but colored ones. Perhaps I am more visual than the average author but boy, nothing screams obvious plot holes to me like seeing all the threads laid out in brightly colored hues.

It’s an incredibly simple system, I merely write a one line description for each scene on an index card. The one trick is that I choose different colored cards, depending on what plot thread or subplot the scene pertains to.

So here you can see my first and second acts laid out on the kitchen island (and yes, every writer needs a spouse who will build them a kitchen island for laying out plot cards). The first act is in the background and the second act in the foreground.


It becomes immediately clear that the pink, yellow, and green scenes are on the skimpy side. That most often translates into: I have dropped those plot threads or not fully developed them.

Here is the second act:


While all the colors are present in the second act, the pink ones indicate scenes which focus on my heroine's personal growth. And since this is a 1st person book about her, uh, clearly I need to look at that. And while it's true that all scenes should accomplish multiple tasks, if nothing else, I have to go back and review some of the other colored scenes and be sure that my heroine is the one driving the action, even if they pertain to one of the other threads. And that green card, well, that represents actions taken by my antagonist, and while his identity is hidden from the reader until the last act, he does need to be engaging more with the heroine, even if his hidden motives remain unclear. So, not too bad, but definitely needs some tweaking.

And then we get to the first act. Oy!


No green, at all, which is a real problem because I need to get that antagonist acting and engaging in the first act, and he is completely missing. I also like to at least mention all the plot threads that will be in play during the book in the first act, so I also need to get at least one yellow card in there.

But the beauty of this system is, it all becomes immediately clear what is missing. Of course, I still have to figure out how to fix it...but now I know what to concentrate on.

9 comments:

PJ Hoover said...

What a great visual way to show this! And LOL, I didn't even see the green card at first. yes, it felt neglected.

Dave Johnson said...

You should check out the Mind Manager software at www.mindjet.com . It's "brainstorming" software that's fairly easy to use and kinda does this digitally. I used to use it in another life when I taught theology classes and such, but I've never tried it with a novel. With my four year old around, index cards would leave me with a plot order akin to Pulp Fiction once he finished with them...

Solvang Sherrie said...

Very cool system!

Robin L said...

Yes, my poor green card. It's so funny, as a person, I avoid conflict like the plague, which means as a writer it's something I have to reeeeally work on developing in my stories. Diplomacy and placating aren't terribly gripping to read about. :-)

I'll check out mindjet, Dave. And yes, young tots would be a serious deterrent (however, if you had a tall kitchen island, it might work.) As it was, I had to put stuff over them so the cat wouldn't jump up and get them out of order...

Thanks, Sherrie!

Cheryl Reif said...

Hi Robin--I'd be interested in hearing what the different colors stand for (that is, the kinds of plot "threads" you track.

Robin L said...

Hi Cheryl!

I'll try to think of a way to post about that without including major spoilers. :-)

In the meantime, You might check out a post I did in late January called Of Sub Plots and Plot Threads. That discusses this a bit in more general terms.

Cheryl Reif said...

Thanks--I'll check it out. (And definitely avoid those spoilers :)! )

dixie said...

What a great system! It really brings the threads alive. It's almost like looking at a play.

Mary Hershey said...

Wow! Do you use stickey index cards? Man, I'd hate if the Santa Anas came up in the middle of this.

Thanks for the great photo and explanation.

Mary