adventures in outlining

NaNoWriMo 2009: The Planning

I’m trying something new right now: a chart/graph outline.

The most famous example (currently/probably) on the internet is J.K. Rowling’s plot grid for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I first saw this about a month ago and was fascinated.

Up ’til now, I’ve mostly used timelines to outline my novels. It’s basically a running document divided out by chapter headings, times, and places, with lists of involved characters, action summary, and plot twists noted beneath. It gets the job done for simple stories, but my plots are usually a bit complex.

When I was mapping out Valhalla for revision, I improvised giant post-it notes with pieces of art paper and masking tape. Each scene got its own page taped to the wall. Actually, I think I ended up using three full walls for this. Although unwieldy, this method helped me make sure I didn’t have a character in two different places at the same time, and helped me find the POV threads I needed to make the story work. Also, it was easy to move the pages around on the wall to streamline the story’s flow.

Storyboarding, it’s called. I didn’t take a photo of my final “pages taped to the wall” storyboard, mostly because I don’t like taking photos but also because I was anxious to just get to work already. Elizabeth Ann West offers a beautiful example here.

And then from my storyboard, I wrote out my standard timeline document.

With my current editing project?Valhalla 3: The Black Pool?I had tiny index cards spread out on a table. Same general storyboarding idea, but a little more manageable?plus, I didn’t have a big enough blank wall readily available.

(I did take a photo of some of these cards laid out, this time. Just for kicks.)

I’m working with a timeline again, but I’m building a “plot chart” (honestly, I don’t know what the common name for this thing is) alongside of it. Given how much I love to organize things?I would have made a stellar project manager?I’m surprised that the idea of a spreadsheet hadn’t occurred to me before. I’m liking the ease of keeping track of my main plot and multiple subplots as well as POVs, locations, characters, and more.

For the sake of simplicity when it comes to printing the darn thing, I have opted for a table in my word processor (iWork Pages) instead of an actual spreadsheet. It’s not finished. I’ve typed in a lot of stuff, and now I’m scribbling all over it with hand-written notes as I make sure all the important details are in place. The organizer in me thinks it’s fun; I hope the writer/editor in me will find it useful once I put it to work.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Creative Commons photo: NaNoWriMo 2009: The Planning by mpclemens.

Posted in writing & publishing.

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