I can’t tell you the number of hours I’ve spent searching the internet for agents, trying to remember what napkin I wrote that idea on, or looking for the perfect piece of advice on how to write a great query letter. But I can tell you one thing – they were all precious hours I could’ve spent writing.
Over time it’s gotten easier and faster, partly because of good advice/bad advice but mostly due to trial and error. I had to learn what worked and didn’t work for me. So I thought I’d start a new series to share all those little things I’ve found, and hope that you can share what’s helped you as well. For today’s installment of A Few of my Favorite “Writing” Things, let’s talk about plotting aids.
I’m pretty old school. I don’t use any fancy software other than excel when I’m plotting out my manuscripts, and I like to have everything in front of me at once for quick and easy changes. Here are a few items I find helpful with this:
1. Foam Boards
I use these as my plot boards. You can also use regular poster board, but I like the foam because I can stand them up against the wall without pins or tape, which usually don’t go well with kids. I divided my boards up into squares a little bigger than a sticky note and labeled my chapter numbers across the top. In the boxes below it I keep track of my turning points, my scenes, my character arcs, everything. With the aid of my next item, I use one box to note where my turning points are, 4 or 5 to layout my scenes, and the last to track my character arcs.
2. Colored Sticky Notes
I pick a different color for each of my plot lines, one for my character arcs, and one for my turning points. In pencil, I then write a quick description of each on the appropriate color and stick it to a box. When I have my boards filled up it’s easy to glance across and see where I might need to add a blue sticky or a yellow sticky, hence filling in my holes. And if you change a plot thread or remove one, it’s much easier to find all the little stragglers this way than hunting them down in a 300 page document.
3. A Small Notebook or Journal
I tend to do a lot of my plotting in the car when I’m sitting in traffic, so I keep a little 4” notebook that I bought for a quarter in the inside pocket of my purse. When I get to a safe place (please don’t attempt to do this when you’re driving!) I write what I need to down and then know exactly where to find it. I’ve also heard of people carrying tape recorders around, or using the recording features on their phones to keep track of these bursts of ideas.
Even if you’re a pantser, I’d recommend finding some way to track your plot as you write to save the valuable time you can spend hunting for that one scene you wrote a couple weeks ago, or weeding through the holes. Maybe you prefer to use excel or a plot tracking software – find whatever works for you and do it! It will save you time and a huge headache! And, by all means, share them with us! I’m always looking for a way to be more efficient!