Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Growing a Story

Doesn't "growing a story" sound nice?  It conjures up all kinds of words, like "nurturing" and "planting" and "blooming" and "blossoming."  Those words make a person want to dig in and start doing.

As a writer, if the word "plotting" causes you to run to the nearest corner and curl up in a fetal position, thumb in mouth, hair twisted around finger, there's a way to get around it.  Instead of "plotting," think "growing a story."  Why?  Because plotting is nothing more than the growth of an idea into a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Like a garden where we prepare the foundation by turning up the soil where we'll be planting, we prepare our work area for a new story idea.  How many of you clear your desk, pull out a new notepad/notebook, or create a new folder on your computer?

I admit that I have what's become a ritual.  It begins with a new folder bearing the heroine's first name within my Manuscript folder in Documents.  Blanks of forms I'll be needing (storyboard, age chart, character list, pages written total, notes, and more) are added so I have them all in place in advance.  I fill them out as needed and as I go along.  I also put together a new 3-ring binder which contains sheet protectors where I'll keep printed copies of some of those forms, photos of the hero and heroine and anything else that might help me visually.  Yes, I probably overdo it, but it works, so why change it?

Next comes the seeds aka the ideas.  If only they came in order, writing a book would be so much simpler.  They don't, but by watering and fertilizing and giving them time to germinate, the garden begins to show signs of sprouts.  Once those start growing, we have to take care of the weeds, those ideas that don't work well with what is now the overall theme or framework of the story.  The strongest sprouts will become the 8 Plot Points of the story.  Again, those are:

  1. Opening
  2. Inciting Incident
  3. Turning Points (1 or 2)
  4. Main Turning Point
  5. Black Moment
  6. Sacrifice
  7. Resolution
  8. HEA
Those 8 are the connecting points.  The questions that need to be asked and answered to grow the story are what get the characters from point 1 (A) to 2 (B), from 2 (B) to 3 (C), and so on.  See them as the rows and areas of your garden, building from the beginning to the back end, smaller to larger as the story grows.  Pansies to Sweet Peas to Marigolds to Irises to Climbing Roses.

How to keep track of all this?  A storyboard.

(Disclaimer:  This is the way I do it.  This is NOT the only way. Take what might help, change it around, and make it YOURS.)

The average length of my books is 12 chapters.  I usually have 3 scenes per chapter.  That is NOT set in stone.  It depends on the story. ☺

Here's where I do the work... 
I LOVE whiteboards!  I can write on them or use paper and magnets.  I choose magnets and sticky note sized paper so I can move scenes around.  Sometimes they don't work where I'd first envisioned them!  (Sticky notes tend not to stick for me.)  I only need a brief idea of what the scene is about.  I'll build on that as I write the scene.  I can scribble that on the notes or when I have a good amount of scenes, I can print them on a page and cut them to size.

I was recently introduced to a new way of plotting those basics listed above, while at a writers retreat.  Author Patricia Davids used "Idea" paint on a wall, creating a huge surface that becomes a white board.  Five of us plotted a book for each of two writers, while Pat, then another wrote the ideas on the board.  From there, the writers would fill in the blanks (scenes) between those points.  I was impressed and intend to give it a try in the future.

This is the way I did it before the white board, so cork bulletin boards can work well, too!

(See the rows of seedlings and different types?)

Here's a basic version of a blank storyboard, created using a Word .doc, that will be filled out after I've finished plotting and am ready to start writing. Once it's filled out, it's saved and printed, then kept in a sheet protector in my notebook, so I have it on hand as I write the first draft.

Does all of this have to be done to plot a story?  ABSOLUTELY NOT!  It took me a long time to come up with something that worked for me.  I discovered the .doc storyboard above in an old handout book from an RWA conference.  (I'd love to credit the author who created it, but I don't know who it was.)  With that in hand, I changed, added, and removed until I found what worked for me. The white board and paper storyboard is only the latest incarnation, and I have no doubt that I'll be tweaking and making changes yet again before long.

If you've never plotted but feel you should, or if your plotting style just doesn't seem to be working for you, see if any portion of the above will help you.  Always feel free to recreate or adjust any kind of plotting device, until it suits you.  That's the best part.  Nothing is set in stone and improvements can always be made. :)

So where do I start when the tiny glimmer of an idea hits?  I'll share that next week. :)
My stories run up and bite me on the leg - I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off. ~ Ray Bradbury

1 comment:

Penny Rader said...

Great post, Rox. I have it bookmarked for future reference. Wish I could make those pics of the plotting boards larger.