A few days ago, I received a review for my newest release, “Whistle Down the Wind”, and one of the things the reviewer mentions is that “Stone builds her plot easily, making the readers truly wish they were part of this fascinating relationship.” As I forwarded this to my various Social Networking links, I commented that I hoped my critique partner, Saralynn Hoyt didn’t see it. She knows how hard it is for me to plot out my books.
Saralynn responded with a post that really made me think about the way I plot. She mentioned that I use maps, photos, notes, images and notebooks. She suggested that I used the “scrapbooking” method of plotting my books.
I think she described it perfectly. I carefully construct a variety of things for my books, beginning with a “mindmap” that is a visual diagram of my characters, their motivations, the time period and any initial details that come to me. I add a “T-shirt” for each character, which is actually their underlying issue, things like “I don’t trust anyone” – “I have Father issues” basically like the thing they did in “Glee” where every character had to create a shirt that told someone a thing they wanted to hide about themselves. It’s an idea I borrowed from a parenting class I took, because the instructor suggested everyone had this t-shirt, but it’s invisible.
[sample Mindmap, it’s not pretty but it gets me thinking]
Then I create a list that I call, “20 Things That Could Happen In This Book” which is a brainstorming exercise to come up with major plot points and action. Some of these plot points won’t make sense as I write the book and I won’t use all of them. New ones will develop as I write the first draft, but I will have a skeleton to hang the pieces of the story on as I begin to write it.
But I won’t be writing yet. I’ll go through my collection of character photos, clipped from magazines or printed out from the internet. This is to give me physical descriptions of my characters so I can “see” what they look like. I’ll add the maps of the area, timeline, character notes, and sort it all neatly into a 3-ring binder.
I stock up on binders, organizers and notebooks in September, when all the school supplies go on sale. I’ve even blogged here about how much I love loading up on writing supplies so I’m ready for the “new school” year. Each notebook sits waiting for the idea to hit, the characters to grow, the story to develop.
When I launched this latest book with a blog tour, I was grateful for my lovely notebooks. I wrote 15 blog articles about the research, the characters, the setting and the story, and all I needed to find the ideas were my notebooks. In the case of this book, there are two notebooks, because it will be a four book series. I needed a series research bible and a notebook for each of the individual books in the series.
My critique partner shudders when she sees my process, because she’s much more of a “pantster” who can sit down and write with just her research notes. It would terrify me to do that, because it would be like the dream where you’re walking down the hall in High School, heading for a test you haven’t studied for– and you’re naked!
The most frequently asked question at author events is: “What is your process when you’re writing?” I think all writers are looking for the magic: the method that will make it easy, help the words flow and keep the muse hovering as the pages fill with words that thrill and amaze the reader.
But, for most of us, writing is hard. Writing well is even harder, as we struggle to transfer the amazing story that is in our heads to the page. We develop systems, create methods and search for inspiration. For me – this is what works.
I wish you well in finding your own writing path.