Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Outlining – Using Plot Points (2 of 4)

To sum up: you’ve broken your manuscript up into four manageable acts, having come up with good beginnings and good endings for each act. More to the point, this is how I’ve done it with A Box of Ink. You can do whatever you want, of course. But it’s NaNoWriMo, and I can cruise through a 2000 word count in a couple of hours no problem with this system.

It’s probably too late in the month for you to apply this method, but whatever.

I’m going to stick with talking about Act I, because that’s the one that’s finished in draft form for now. I decided to have this act comprise twelve chapters (more on this decision in the next entry), so I give myself twelve headers  over four sheets of paper and I start working backwards from Chapter 12, filling in notes under each header. Remember that I have to sandwich each chapter with some snappy opening sentence and some curiosity-inducing “I must turn the page” moment.

Since the conclusion of the act is Jill’s discovery that Kevin (the subject of book 4) can do magic, I have to include Kevin in the chapters before then so that he can A) become Jill’s friend and B) understandably (from the reader’s perspective) act to help Jill and through his actions reveal his magic. In the seven or eight chapters preceding twelve, all I write is “Kevin.” I start figuring out where the other characters I have to introduce come in – Dante, Amber, the neighbor – and from the moment they enter the story (say, chapter 2), their name goes into all subsequent chapters in that act (chapters 3-12). I know from other character work and basic dreaming about the story that Jill, who dislikes physical activity, runs home from school because she thinks she’s being chased. That starts around chapter 6, so “running” goes from chapters 6-12, and then I have chapters 1-5 to build up to the point of her feeling like she has to run; instead of “running,” I simply write “anxiety.”

In simpler words, I work backward from the end of the act to note the plot points I need to build.

Now I repeat the process from the beginning of the act. Chapter one has to be about the mystery that is the unfolding story, which is the jewelry case. It also has to include world-building and exposition, for example.

Pretty soon I’ve got twelve columns with lots of plot points in them and no further structure, which is how I write my chapters – by using plot points. Not every point makes it into every chapter. As I wrote in part I, I only have 3-4 scenes to work with. Some plot points don’t make it into the first draft at all. Some only get a sentence (which is all many of them want, frankly). The point of the plot-point-driven-outline is to remind myself of the elements I have to keep in mind while I’m constructing my story.

But wait, there’s more! Two parts more! But not til next Tuesday.  And Thursday. Good weekend!

P.S. You’ll note that I’m not talking at all about dramatic tension or character development or dialogue or any of those things, all of which are necessary to a good novel. You’ll be right. I’m only talking about structure, which is also necessary to a good novel. The problem with good novels (for other writers, not readers) is that they tend to be good on many levels.

A more obvious link to Part I is here.


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