Over the years I’ve used a variety of techniques for keeping track of my novels as I write them. This includes what I’ve actually done, as well as plotting out the books. Some of been successful, others less so. They include:
1. I have typed out a synopsis and tried to follow it, but of course, changes happen very rapidly as I write and so I end up making piles of notes, which turn into a mess. I don’t want to take a lot of time to type in changes, especially since there will be more and it feels like I spend too much time writing out the plot than working on the book.
2. I’ve taken a manila folder and opened it fully, and on the inside drawn columns for each character and listed their plots and motivations with lines to show where each connect. That actually worked nicely for me to make sure of pacing and to pull things together, but it still suffered from the problems of changes and how to modify it.
3. I’ve used accounting tape (the 3 inch wide paper strips) and hung them on the walls to track plots and various threads, but they are very difficult to change and they frequently become a mess.
4. I’ve tried a wiki program, but I need something that I can look at all together. Wikis are great for keeping track of characters and world building details, but less so for plotting.
5. I’ve taken a big pad of sketching paper and tried a flow chart style to try to follow the plot threads. But that’s a static picture and when things change, I have to redraw the whole thing. Back to taking too much time.
6. I’ve taken notepaper and done a chapter by chapter outline on each page and left rooms for comments and changes (I did that on an airplane) and that worked well for revision, but less so for drafting
All in all, I’ve never felt that any of these techniques was a good system, for whatever reasons. Mostly they don’t allow for quick changes and for me to see the big picture in one go. I wanted to try something like Scrivener, but I didn’t want the learning curve because at the moment, I can’t afford the time.
That brings me to my new toy.
I bought a big magnetic whiteboard. It’s six feet wide on a stand and it barely fits in my office. It’s in the middle of the room because there’s no other place to put it and frankly it makes the place a little claustrophobic. But it’s proving to be effective so far. I’m using it at the moment to plot out revisions on a work that’s required some real taking apart and re-assembly. The board (I call it my murder board) allows me to easily erase and move things, allows me to add notes on paper with the magnets, draw pictures and arrows, and to color code. It let’s me write reminders for myself that I can check and erase as they go away, and I can flip the board and use both sides. This means that I can see the whole pictures all at once and I know I can put it all in one spot.
I’ve not had it long enough to use it for plotting a fresh story (I’ve only had it a few weeks) but so far, it’s turning out to be a terrific investment, and one that I hope will prove useful during my entire career.
What about you? Do you have any really good techniques you want to share for working out plots and keeping track of the story?