Lara Morgan: Plot Wrangling and Highlighter Love . . .


lara mogan 1One of the hardest things, for me, when writing a book is keeping the plot straight; by which I mean keeping track of it and making sure it makes sense.  Which is probably why I always, and I mean always, wonder why I persist in writing series.  And series with lots of characters with intersecting plot lines.  The book I’ve got coming out now, Betrayal, is the second in my epic fantasy series, The Twins of Saranthium.  It’s set in a world of deserts and jungles, and has a vast cast of characters, including ancient resurrected gods seeking to enslave an entire people, warring desert clans and serpent riders who have lost control of the beasts that once protected them.  Plus of course the main characters, the twins, who must find a way to stop  it all.  It is also the middle book in the trilogy and gave me more headaches than the first (or the third, which I’m currently slogging through).

When I started writing Betrayal I was determined that it would not suffer from mid-series lag and would have a plot that zipped, that sang, that was not just a marker before the more exciting climax of the story arc in book 3.  This of course demanded that I develop a plot that worked, that connected with the first book and made sense.

Hopes are all fine but reality is a different matter and my biggest mistake was thinking I could keep most of it in my head. That I would just remember what I wanted to write and where all the characters were headed.  So I only made a loose plot plan then started writing.  Characters went off at tangents, I lost track of the timeline, I followed some of my characters down plot holes that led to dead ends or great big chasms of oh-my-god-I-have-no-idea-what–to-do-next walls.  And I ended up with a big unwieldy manuscript of close to 200,000 words, which made my head explode just to look at it.

I had become completely lost along the way.  Now I am more of a pantser than a planner, but this was ridiculous.  After crying to my editor and being too afraid to share what a big mess it was, I forced myself to sit down and make a plan. I printed out the entire book (which the local ink selling store was very happy about because I think I funded their Christmas party on my ink sales alone), then set to work. 0714 Betrayal_Final200

This is what I did.

First, I re-read each chapter and on a big A3 artblock pad wrote a synopsis of it including:

  1. POV character
  2. ACTION that happened (ie. What thread of the plot it dealt with)
  3. EMOTIONAL impact on the character and their personal journey
  4. WHEN it happened in the timeline of the book.

And I colour-coded it with highlighters.  Those pens may just be little fluoro bundles of chemicals but I do believe they saved my sanity.

I chose different colours for different characters, action, emotion and time.  And I kept it succinct, not including anything that might be extraneous.  So at the end I had a chart which I could use to create some kind of order from the chaos.

Doing this proved invaluable to me as I could now trace the line of the plot, see what chapters and scenes didn’t move it forward, which ones held it back, which needed work and which ones just needed to go.  It also meant I could re-order chapters and fill in glaring gaps that I hadn’t seen because of so much wood crowding my trees!

This process did take me a long time but it was the only way I could make sense of it all and the book improved so much from doing it.  It may seem obvious now, but at the time if felt like I’d found the Holy Grail of the editing process.  Now, that was before I started working with Scrivener which allows you to do a lot of that sort of process as you go, but I still often use the hard copy approach.  I find it works much better for me to have a physical chart on the wall, and bits of paper I can move around rather than just doing it digitally.  And of course I can use highlighters. Nothing is quite so satisfying as drawing a fluoro blob over  something.  It feels like I’m achieving something, even if it’s just the creation of a massive editing project and months of work.  At least it gives me somewhere to start.  And it’s a technique I plan to use on this third book as well.  When I finish the chaotic part of course (apply head to desk).


BIO:  Lara Morgan’s career started with a bang after she won a national short story competition.  She was invited to contribute a story to an anthology, taken to a writers festival and was interviewed like a real author.  She even had business cards made. Then her novel manuscript was rejected, several times, and she lapsed into obscurity for years.  Until, finally, an agent took pity on her, signed her up and got her a book deal.  Which didn’t last, but still she was getting there!  She has written two series; The Twins of Saranthium for adults, and The Rosie Black Chronicles for YA readers.  She is published in Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Turkey and lives in Western Australia with her husband and son.

Betrayal, book two in The Twins of Saranthium, is available now in ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other ebook outlets.


6 comments to Lara Morgan: Plot Wrangling and Highlighter Love . . .

  • I love this technique. Lately I’ve been using color coded sticky notes to track POV and character arcs. I use a wall in my office (doing it at home attracts cats and the toddler) which makes my office look like I’m a conspiracy nut sometimes. But it works. Sometimes I just can’t keep a plot straight unless I get my hands on the physical elements and move them around.

  • Lara Morgan

    Hi Sarah, yes color coded notes are a great idea as well, I’d be hopeless and lose them all though!

  • […] or anyone who wants to talk about how to keep that plot straight, I’ve got a post up on Magical Words talking about how I got a handle on the plot for my novel […]

  • […] or anyone who wants to talk about how to keep that plot straight, I’ve got a post up on Magical Words talking about how I got a handle on the plot for my novel […]

  • quillet

    As I was reading your post I was thinking, “You could do all that in Scrivener.” Then I got to that last paragraph, LOL. I do think though, that there are benefits to the hard-copy approach. Having the story in your hands, actually drawing those fluoro blobs (love that phrase!), flipping through actual papers… It might just be psychological, but I want to try it now. And hopefully avoid having to apply head to desk. 🙂 Thanks for the post!

  • sagablessed

    Laura, you are an author. What is this sanity you speak of? 😀