The Charlie Day Plot Murder Board: how this panster became a plotter

Image result for charlie day pepe meme

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an author in possession of a WIP must be in want of bitching about said WIP.
me, right now

If there’s one thing all writers have in common, it’s that we love to complain about how hard writing is. For the longest time, my biggest complaint was how frequently I was stuck rewriting entire drafts after figuring out some plot point that shifted the entire book. This was due in part to my inability to plot. I found outlines constricting and thought they sucked the ‘discovery’ part out of my process. Five books in, and I’ve embraced the three-act structure. Here’s how it works for me:

  1. Read this article. I find most posts explaining plotting structures to be dry and vague and utterly unhelpful. This was the first time it *clicked* for me, and largely due to the fact that each scene is explained by aligning the three-act structure with Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games. The book follows the structure flawlessly. The part that stuck with me the most was how the “pinch points” were not the major twists I would have assumed, and were often times quieter twists, which helped me in plotting my own books. Not all twists have to be a major action scene or implosion.
  2. Index cards. This is the part where you go full Charlie Day. You will need 27 cards, one for each scene. At the top of each card, I write “Act One: Block One: Chapter One” and so on and so forth until I reach “Act Three: Block Nine: Chapter Twenty-Seven”. I also write a quick note under each title saying “plot twist #1”, “midpoint”, “darkest moment”, etc. as they pertain to each scene, to help me with controlling the flow of rising and falling action. More on that later. For now, arrange your index cards on a table or the floor. I arrange mine with each row being an act, and putting a gap of space between each of the three blocks within each act.
  3. Post-It notesNext, I write down the plot points that I know. Extract all the scenes that have been swimming around in your head and write them on a post-it note. Stick it where you think it falls in the story. Is this the inciting incident? The midpoint? The plot twist? The final battle? Write down everything you know and stick it on your plot cards. Once you have it all down, see where your gaps are. Are you saving too much for the finale? Is the second act a big blank (this is usually my dilemma). Maybe you need to move around some scenes. Perhaps a battle could happen earlier. Or maybe it’s fine and you just need to brainstorm scenes. This is where rising/falling action comes into place. How can you fill that void to ramp up or wind down? Can you see a plot thread that hasn’t been mentioned in a while? Add that in. As a visual learner, being able to see the holes in my plot helps. Sometimes I don’t figure out the answer until I’m literally writing it–and that’s okay! That’s the ‘discovery’ part of writing. It can still exist while plotting. The rules outlines are more like guidelines, anyway.
  4. Plot Inception. Two optional steps, depending on your narrative and writing style.
    • Color Coding. I write multi-POV stories, so I color code my post-it notes with each character’s POV. It allows me to see when a POV has been silent for too long or perhaps I’m shoving too much on them within a certain block of the plot. The colors help me visualize their agency within the plot.
    • Dates. This can be literal dates like April 17th, or simply “Day One”. I like to keep track of how time passes within my stories. Are my characters flying across the realms with heretofore unseen quickness all of a sudden? This helps with travel times if a journey/quest is part of your story, or if your characters are simply accomplishing so much that they would need 72-hour day. (ie. epic fantasies spanning multiple books where only a month has passed? Yeah, sure Jan.) Within the actual words of my story, I try to keep mentions of time vague for continuity purposes, but it’s good information to have for you the writer.
  5. Scrivener. I absolutely swear by writing in Scrivener. If you don’t use it, you can still make it work in Word/whatever you use via the comment function/page breaks/etc, but this will be geared towards Scrivener.

    Under the ‘Manuscript’ in the Scrivener binder on the left side, I make nine blocks, titling them “Act One: Block One” all the way to “Act Three: Block Nine”. Within each block, three folders for each chapter. (You could make these scenes and not folders, but I tend to have multiple scenes per chapter, so this is my method, but YMMV.)

    Then, I add the scenes from each post-it note under the correlating chapter. (If you’re writing multi-POV, you can color code the scenes via the ‘Label’ function on the right-hand side. You can ‘Edit’ the labels to the names of your characters. “View > Use Label Color In > Binder” will color code each scene to correlate with character POV. I like my colors to relate to the post-it colors. Makes it easier when inevitably changes happen.)

    Once you have all your scenes, transcribe the blurb of what happens in each scene to the note card at the top right of the Scrivener screen. (If you’re working in word, you can add this info as a comment to the scene title.) I title each note card with the date, then put bullet points of what needs to happen, any snippets of dialogue I might have floating in my head, and notes to self of things I need to remember that might be happening off-page.

    You end up with something that looks like this:
    Plotting Post

  6. Write. I know. How dare I? But yes, now you have to actually write. You will discover things about your story and you can add more post-it notes or just jot down ideas into the Scrivener note cards, YMMV. But most importantly, just write. First drafts are for telling yourself the story. You won’t get it right the first time so go ahead and forgive yourself for that. And don’t forget to enjoy it. The world needs your stories.

How do you plot your stories? Or are you a panster? Any favorite functions in Scrivener that I’m woefully missing out on?

Cheers,
Erin

currently writing 05.10.18

!CW

This header is a lie, I haven’t written anything lately. I was in Spain and Portugal for a week at the end of April and haven’t stopped working since I got back. May is always a crazy month for me-both work-wise and personally. However, I have a free day this weekend and am hoping to get back to work on DB’s sequel now that I got over the hump of rewriting that one scene three times haha.

It’s Thursday, which means #ThursdayAesthetic! I’m a week behind on posting so this was last week’s theme of ‘minor characters’. You hear enough about Alba, so here are my other three POV characters as well as a bonus fave side character:

 

[AES] TA MINOR-CORA

CORA 
-Lord of Tartarus, the Underworld’s prison realm
-Death’s Second in Command
-Demon Twin
-Disaster Gay
If you’re not sure if you’re terrified or turned on—don’t worry, that’s normal.

[AES] TA MINOR-DOM

DOM 
-Death’s Third in Command
-Demon Twin
-Prince of Hell
-God of Nightmares (dressed as a daydream)
Enjoys long walks through Hell, pushing everyone’s buttons, and always having the last word.

[AES] TA MINOR-BANE

BANE
-Emissary to the Realms
-Son of a witch (literally)
-Heir of Chaos
-Always Broody
-Concealing at least four weapons at all times
Hella bossy, lonely af, really needs a hug—and a way out of his blood oath to the gods.

 

 

[AES] TA MINOR-HARLOW

HARLOW 
-Love’s Second in Command
-Heir of Chaos & War
-Favorite Book: 174 Ways To Kill A Man
-Just wants to paint
“That’s why her hair’s so big, it’s full of secrets,” said by someone at some point, probably.

currently writing 04.19.18

!CW

Slowly but surely, DB’s sequel is now at 24,000 words! I had to rewrite a scene three times to finally get the right vibe and pacing, so hopefully, I can pick back up the pace again. The sequel has evolved a lot in this rewrite, and the subplots are much stronger for it, but I’m excited to get back to the core of the action in the coming scenes.

It’s Thursday, which means #ThursdayAesthetic!! aka my favorite writing twitter hashtag. This week’s theme was ‘antagonist’ to juxtapose last week’s theme of ‘protagonist’. I struggled with this one as I didn’t want to give away who my villain was, so I went with a broader theme, that of Alba vs. the gods. So, here’s an aesthetic for the gods, who are far too extravagant and very fond of golden decor, secrets, and getting away with murder.

[AES] TA VILLAIN CHALLENGE

!CW

I just hit 10,000 words on the sequel to Death Becoming! I had about 30,000 words written before deciding to scrap it all and start anew, given all the changes DB underwent in edits. I can’t begin to describe how good it feels to be writing new things again after nearly a year of edits. To celebrate, here’s a moodboard I made for the #ThursdayAesthetic challenge on Twitter.

[AES] CR

 

Week In Review 2/16/18

!CLU

This past weekend, Lucas and I escaped the Chicago blizzard and headed to Minneapolis. Which sounds so backwards that they would have better weather, but never fear, the temps were in the negatives the whole time, just not snowing, thank goodness. We brought our sweet wolfpup Freya with us and she had tons of fun socializing with our friends’ dogs, and she slept for two days straight after we got back.

I got to meet my internet friend, Brenna, in person for the first time (!!!), which was super awesome. We also got to visit Lucas’s brother and our friends Tom & Toni, who we convinced to move to Oregon with us. It’s hard having friends and family that live so far away, so it was nice having a whole weekend of being with my people. And also a major win by recruiting them to pack up and head to the PNW with us so we don’t have to be so far apart. 🙂

!CW

I got my WDU query critique back this week! I won’t lie, I have been anxiously checking my email for the past three weeks. I felt like everything was riding on this critique–which is a silly notion, I know. Either (A) my query + first five were horrible and I’d have to start from scratch and be right back where I started or (B) it would be good and I could finally (and confidently) begin querying agents.

I’m so relieved to say it was the latter. I have a few minor things to tweak, but other than that, the query + first five were good. My assigned agent said she would have requested the full manuscript if she didn’t already have a few similar projects lined up. This gives me hope, because if I can interest her, surely others will be interested, right?! I’m allowing myself a day to celebrate (and breathe a sigh of relief) and then I’m sitting down tomorrow with an excel spreadsheet and mapping out my query attack.

All in all the webinar was definitely worth it. A lot of the information on the query process I had heard before through researching, but if you’re just beginning to research, it’s a great resource to learn a lot all in one go. And the one-on-one agent feedback is invaluable. You can see all the upcoming WDU workshops here.

I’m thinking about writing a whole post on what I’ve learned after I’ve sent out queries, if anyone would be interested. I feel pretty confident about my understanding of the “how to”, but I want to wait until I’ve sent my queries into the slush piles and see how I fare. Request for fulls? Silent rejections? Offers of rep? Who knows, but I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for coming on this journey with me.

Cheers,
Erin Connor

What In the World Did I Just Write

editing

It’s been 10 months since I wrote that elated post about completing Death Becoming. And boy, has it been an editing rollercoaster. Writing? I love. Editing? Not so much. I got about 30,000 words into writing my sequel before I forced myself to stop getting ahead of myself and get back to the nitty gritty of editing what will (hopefully) be my debut. (And without it, the sequel will be dead in the water.)

First, I secured myself a few betas readers via reddit. This has been one of hardest yet most rewarding parts of the editing process. I’ve always had friends read my writing, They’re the best cheerleaders you could ask for, and I couldn’t have gotten to the finish line without them. But… They’re completely biased. Which is where a good beta comes in. Nothing like having a complete stranger rip your baby to shreds, line by line, all while you smile and say thank you. The weirdest part is I enjoyed it. Brutal honesty that makes my story the best it can be? Yes, please!

After getting beta feedback, I went back and did almost a full rewrite of the manuscript. I allowed myself brief glances at scenes before settling in in front of the blank page once more and seeing what stuck and what superfluous storylines went by the wayside. Sounds like a lot of work (it was) but just making line edits felt like I was creating Frankenstein’s monster and somewhere along the way the heart of the story got lost. And in the end, I’m glad I did it.

Now, I didn’t go to school for this, so I’m basically flying by the seat of my pants at all times and hoping no one notices. Every book’s editing process is different, and every writer’s process is different, but I’d love to hear what others are doing. I’ve done JK Rowling’s plot point flow chart and I’ve made countless lists. For my next run through, I’m thinking about tackling Susan Dennard’s hefty, yet beautifully color coded, revision system. Has anyone tried it? Any other methods you find useful?

Four Novels, Four Years

Last night, February 6, 2017, at approximately 11:15PM, I finished my fourth novel, Death Becoming. I can’t fully describe the feeling that accompanies writing the final words of your novel, this digital amassing of letters and words that formed ideas that created characters and plots that often feel more real to you than the earth around you, all accumulating into this world that exists only inside your own brain, spilling out of you onto digital pages in sluggish sentences or unstoppable surges.

I’ve come to describe it as a “writer’s high”, where your hands are shaking with the words itching to burst forth from your fingertips, your vision going blurry at the edges as you tunnel vision into your fictional world. (Though perhaps that’s just my terrible eyesight.)

I had that high as I completely scrapped the final scene of my novel, one that had been sitting unfinished for nearly a month, haunting me like an old ghost. The road ahead is full of editing, rewriting, and the painful process of scrapping scenes near and dear to my heart, but not the plot. But it’s done. It’s all written down.

As “done” as I can feel, considering it’s only the first book in the series. But hey, baby steps. The dreaded final scene is done, and the stage is set for book two. Today, I celebrate.

What do you do when you find yourself stuck on a scene? How do you beat writer’s block? Do you scrap it and start over? Do you force yourself forward, one painstaking word at a time-half of which you delete as you go? Do you have a pre-writing ritual that gets the inspiration flowing? Let’s chat.

writers-block