Plotting: The Messy Doorway to Story

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I’m plotting a new trilogy of novels, and as usual, it’s hard. I keep thinking that someday I’ll figure out THE way to plot “correctly.”

So far, that hasn’t happened.

Every time I start again, the process is unclear, messy, frustrating, and likely to fail at any moment. Yet, somehow, I muddle through to a story that pleases me.

This time is no different. Here are some things I’ve been doing that are slightly different, though.
Plot: The Messy Doorway to Story

Plot: Updated Scrivener Allows Better Visualization

I’ve been using Scrivener as my main writing software for novels for several years. The 2017 iOS update has some interesting features that affect the possibilities for plotting. You can read about many upgrades on their blog, but I’m particularly interested in changed to the Project Notes. This allows me to directly link chapters in a notes. So I could have a text file for the Main Character and in the project notes embed those chapters written in his POV.
Here’s a screen shot. On the left is the binder with the organization structure. You can see that I’m currently on the MENTOR folder. On the right are listed the chapters where the Mentor will have an important role. I can click on those to reveal them in the lower right. It allows me to track things across the novel, which is especially helpful in this planning stage.
Scrivener Screenshot - Notice Project panel on the right. | DarcyPattison.com

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Plot: Master Novel Outline

I’m also fascinated by The Better Novel Project website, which proposes a master outline for writing a novel. Her long series of posts and free outlines are fascinating because they explain what sorts of things will happen in any stage of the character’s journey.

Some people might rigidly follow a master outline and that would be wrong. Instead, it’s a general guideline and I find it to be a good check on my plot. For example, I might think: Oops, I forgot that typically a mentor enters the picture in Act 1. Could a mentor work in this story? What role might s/he play and how would that change this story for the better? It’s a prompt that jogs my memory because a novel is such a complex thing to hold in your mind all at once.

Plot: Story Genius Inspired Back Story

A final new thing I’m thinking about this time around is the character’s backstory. A popular book last year was Story Genius.

It was a hit because it discussed story plotting and structure from the POV of the character growth. I especially like the way it pulls the character’s backstory into the current story. It asks you to identify turning points in their life. In other words, why are they they person they are? What happened to them to create the paranoia, the joy, or the hang-ups. When I’ve worked with the idea, I’ve keyed in on finding an “origin story,” which is the scene that pinpoints the origin of the false belief that is running the story.

For example, in my novel PILGRIMS

, Utz Seehafer and his father have problems relating. Utz falsely believes that his father doesn’t love him. Where did that start? When Utz’s twin brother was killed in an underground accident. I wrote that scene quickly and intuitively and it worked. Where do you put flashbacks? As I’ve written about before, where it will have the most emotional weight.

However, as important as these scenes have been in developing stories, it adds another layer of complexity to my plotting. Sigh. I’m gaining something in a deeper story, but it’s a messier project to plot.

How is your plotting going this year? Any new tools or ideas?

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