Monday, October 1, 2018

Organizing and Working with Multiple Plots

Today I thought I would give you a peek at how I plot. In a novel, there are usually multiple things going on at one time. You might introduce a character in an early chapter with plans to bring this character back later for some major event, and you need to be able to keep up with all of these threads.

When I was writing When in Gnome, there were a lot of things to consider in regard to the day of the week or the time of the month. Not every book requires keeping a calendar. Thinking back to some of the novels I've read, I don't recall the date being a major deal. Outside of a weekend or a holiday, dates or days of the week might not even be mentioned, unless the date was somehow important to the plot, such as the suspect of a murder couldn't have committed the crime because he had to be somewhere else every Tuesday.

However, when I'm writing a character who gets furry on a regular basis, the day of the month seems relevant. Also, Evie arrived in town shortly before the fall semester was to begin at the university, so the time of the month was important there, too. Since it was likely that Evie would arrive on a Saturday since she was having a beach weekend, this was something I wouldn't want to mess up by having the next day be a Wednesday or something crazy like that.

So, with that in mind... I created a spreadsheet. I know, I know, this may look absolutely crazy to some people, but it worked for me. Keep in mind that your story may not require this much detail, but I find it helpful when writing a novel where multiple plots are going on, and a detail in one plot contributes to another. I'll break it down so you can understand what each section means.

The first two yellow rows indicate the day in the story. The details it that first column happened on the day the story began, although the exact date was the 8th of August. It's a simple chronology so I can keep up with what happened on each day.

Below that, you see where I broke down the day of the week, since I knew that the story started on a Saturday. I also have a row for that month and the exact date. At this point, I was using the 2015 calendar, but it doesn't matter exactly which calendar year you choose unless there's a particular reason, like if you decided to include a well-known event that happened on a particular day and year, like Hurricane Harvey or the sinking of the Titantic. You get the idea. The only reason the date was relevant to me, in this case, was because of the time Evie had before she was to return to school. In the end, it might not have mattered to the reader, but, again, I didn't want to mess that up. It was kind of over-planning on my part.

On the row with chapter numbers, you can see where I indicate which chapters were included in that day. This is a great way to get an overview of your book, comparing the events and chapters--particularly when writers these days are making shorter chapters. I admit that I like the shorter chapters as a reader, but it does have an impact on your overall plotting when you're trying to get all of the important stuff into the first chapter.

Below the chapters, you can see a little blurb about the major events that took place in those sections. Most of this was from Evie's perspective. If a column doesn't have any events below the date, then I probably skipped time in the book there. Then I had to keep a log of her magical development since we were on a learning curve here. Below that, you can see where I inserted parts about Ben's mystery investigation, which was a subplot that was tied in with the main plot at the end. There weren't as many major events in the subplots, which is probably kind of why they're called subplots. 😁

I also included details for things that happened at night, and I kept a 28-day werewolf calendar.

In this same Excel Workbook, I have spreadsheet pages that include lists of frequently used words to help me to be aware if I'm repeating a word too much and lists of songs for a Gnome playlist, more for inspiration and focus than to share.

I tried organizing the plots in many different ways, but this way worked out the best for me. Initially, I had tried expanding my outline, which was just a numerical list of events, but the vertical format wasn't working for me. There was just too much info in one column. I found it easier to work across, with each column being one day. Considering that my book was concentrated into a time span of about five weeks, it wasn't too difficult. Events that take place over a larger span of time probably don't require being broken down day by day. However, most of my books seem to involve events that take place within a shorter period of time.

In another novel that I wrote, the events took place in the week or so leading up to Christmas, and the novel involved several major plots, each with their own characters who didn't really interact with the characters in the other plots until near the end of the story when it all came together on Christmas Eve. In the book I am writing now, No Place Like Gnome, events take place after a brief interlude after When in Gnome, during the latter part of October.

This method is also good for when you feel a little stuck on one plot and decide to focus on the events that happen in the others until you get some clarity about the problem areas. So, I found this to be the best way that works for me to see the whole scope of the story in one page. I thought that this might be helpful to those who are trying to find good ways to manage their plots.


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