Publishers like to see a synopsis and a detailed outline. These help a lot, but I’ve found that when I really get into the nitty-gritty of writing, they often are too high-level to point me in the right direction. In a 600+ page epic fantasy with multiple point-of-view (POV) characters and interweaving plot threads, it can get difficult to keep straight who is doing what to whom.
Enter the flow chart.
Mine are pretty simple. I use either several pieces of legal-size table paper taped together or a white board. I start with chapter numbers across the top, and the names of the POV characters down the left side. Then I note who is doing what in each chapter. Usually, one character owns the POV for a particular chapter, so that makes it a little easier. When I’m done (do this in pencil!) I can see where the holes are. For example, I may see that one character has hogged the POV for several chapters in a row, while we haven’t heard from another character in way too long.
If I decide during a rewrite that I need to add more scenes, the flow chart is my best friend. I can see exactly where to insert the new material so that it helps, rather than hinders, the narrative flow. And if I decided to move things around and change the sequencing, the flow chart helps me keep it all straight.
Not only that, but the flow chart also gives me a visual representation showing how much is left to write. So when my inner child starts asking, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” I can point to the flow chart and supply the answer.
Flow charting like this also helps with collaboration. My husband is my best go-to brainstormer. With the flow chart in front of us, it’s easier to have productive “what if?” sessions, because we can see the plot unfolding in front of us. It makes it a lot easier to punch up the action in a slow part, or insert some eleventh-hour flash of inspiration and not muck up everything around it.
My flow charts aren’t pretty, and they don’t follow anyone else’s rules, but they get the job done. There’s no wrong way to do it, so if my format doesn’t work for you, feel free to do it however it makes sense for you. But if you find yourself getting mired down mid-book, flow charting just might help you get out of the weeds and back in the game!
Gail Z. Martin is the author of Ice Forged in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga and Reign of Ash (Orbit Books, 2014), plus The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven & Dark Lady’s Chosen ) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn and The Dread) from Orbit Books. Gail’s new urban fantasy novel, Deadly Curiosities, debuts from Solaris Books in June, 2014. Iron and Blood, a Steampunk novel, will be published by Solaris in 2015. She is also the author of two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures. Find her at www.AscendantKingdoms.com, on Facebook as Winter Kingdoms, and on Twitter @GailZMartin.