Monday, July 06, 2009

Thinking Outside the Box(es)

I have a confession to make. I have a thing--yes, that sort of thing--for graph paper. In fact, I’m a bit of a graph paper trollop. I love the basic 8x11 size and have about three pads of it on hand at all times, but I also have little flings on the side with 11 x 17 size graph paper and the enormous 17 x 22 size as well, although I admit to indulging in that last size only a couple of times a year.

You can get a pretty clear indication on how overwhelmed I’m feeling by the size of the graph paper I’m using. When I pull out the 17 x 22, you know I’m sinking fast and frantically trying to grasp all the elements of the plot that I’m struggling with.

So how on earth did a writer develop such a whopping crush on graph paper, of all things?

It began small at first, as most addictions do, with an occasional pad of 8 x 12. There was something very special about those little squares, all neatly lined up. There is something freeing about not being constricted by lines on a page. It makes the writing itself more visual, and it allows for more clearly designated groupings.

Sometimes I draw actual diagrams.

Other times, I lay out more sequential time lines.

Sometimes I just scribble things down madly and randomly and then play with the connections. This is usually in the most early stages of the drafting process.

Other times I’ll measure out careful sections of the sheet and list scene log lines so I can “see” the plot at a glance.

Or create a master character graph so I can get a handle on all the character arcs, beats of internal growth for each by act number, so I can be sure I’m making a logical progression and get a sense of the different growth arcs intersect.

Or plot arcs:

Colored pens are a must, too, but that’s the subject of a whole ‘nother post.


dixie said...

Hi Robin, I love getting a little glimpse of one of the ways you work your way through a new story. It remind me a little of a prontierswoman charting unexplored territoryof the new world. I'm not sure if the love of graph paper is genetic, but I KNOW the love of colored pens is!

Anonymous said...

I've got the same feelings about graph paper, although I don't tend to go beyond the 8.5 x 11 size. I think it's that, since I have hated math for most of my life, I feel a bit left out-sort of excluded from the graph-paper club. So I buy my own and form my own club. You can join, too, Robin!

Dave Johnson said...

I've just realized that my writing isn't nearly as planned out as it could probably be! =\

Tim Koch said...

The more info I can put on a single sheet the better off I am, and I have a lot of 24x36 scrap from work. But my favorite is 11x17 with the info on the little post-it notes so I can move the stuff around. These days, though, I'm shooting for short and simple.

Aspiring Author said...

Mmmmmm... graph paper. I thought I was the only one!
But what do these strange words(Log lines? plot arcs?)mean?

Robin L said...

Ha! on the genetics, Dixie!

Thanks for letting me in the club, Becky! And interesting theory as to why you've embraced graph paper. Although I really do have to recommend you branch out to the larger sizes some day, especially when your plot is feeling sprawling and unwieldy.

Dave, just for the record, I NEVER do this stuff until after I've written the first discovery draft OR I'm stuck. If I'm on a first draft roll or it's coming to me instinctually, the graph paper stays in its drawer.

Welcome Tim! I've tried that post it notes on the graph paper before, but that was before I'd discovered the larger size. I'll have to try that again, because it is a great way to layout scenes and still be able to move them around.

And AA, a log line is just a one sentence description of the scene, such as Theodosia meets Awi Bubu for the first time, or some such. For the other definitions, check out this post:

Also, did you see you won June's contest? Email me with your snail mail address and I'll get your prize out to you.

Anonymous said...

Colored pens? Do tell.