Endless Possibilities

by Julie, confused by 50 degree weather in Somerville

The Cover for CHIME AND PUNISHMENT–isn’t it great?

At the beginning of the year I had two packs of 3×5 index cards, wrapped in plastic. Both have been opened, and are spread out on my dining room table. Each pack of cards will be a book by the end of the year. January is my plotting month for both projects.

As we’ve mentioned before, and Hallie discussed on Tuesday, there are different ways to start a book. Some of us are pantsers–write by the seat of your pants. I am a plotter. I plan the entire book, figure out the dramatic structure, add subplots, figure out twists and turns, and then I start writing. (For a great method of plotting, read Paula Munier’s PLOT PERFECT.)

My index cards become my roadmap. After I rough out a plot, I make notes about who is in each scene, where it takes place. I shuffle the cards–should the body be found that early? Should I make him a suspect? How does she get from here to there so quickly–let’s add another scene. How can I add to the drama? Should I have a subplot about the blue shoe? All of these ideas swirl around, and are possibilities. I think, shuffle, add, combine, separate, shuffle again until it all makes sense.

I love the blank card phase of my book. The possibilities are endless, and the plotting is intense. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be changes–but it does mean that I’ve thought it through enough that I’ve worked out the places where I might get stuck later on. This is the way I think, and create. For some it is torture–for me it is bliss. Anything is possible at this phase of the project. I just have to make it all work.

This year will be a busy one for me. January is for plotting, and filling up index cards with ideas. I couldn’t be happier.

Writer friends, how do you plot? Do you love that phase, or dread it? Does the muse visit as you write, or does she front load you with ideas?

25 Thoughts

  1. Julie, do you actually shuffle the cards? Curious minds and all…

    I’ve said before that my first inclination is to write by the seat of my pants. Now that my editor wants a synopsis of each book as soon as I turn in the previous one, I have to do some plotting before I write – and (despite family background to the contrary) I’m not too bullheaded to admit that I like the rough road map. But as I write, I just keep adding scenes, adding suspects, and creating as I go. I almost never rearrange scenes.

    I’ve been working intensively this week on a book with breaks only for sleep and a walk, basically. Yesterday afternoon I sat down and brainstormed the next two days in the story and could barely write down the ideas, they were coming so fast. So I guess that was plotting!

    1. I don’t literally shuffle, but I do lay them out, and check to see where the turns are. If I need more balance, I move a scene. If a character isn’t in there consistently, I add them to a scene. That sort of thing. I’ve wrestled with this after the book is written, and it is much harder. So I stay open to reworking the book.

  2. Like Edith I have to write a synopsis now but I make them very general. Usually the finished product only has a nodding acquaintance with the final product. If waking up in the middle of the night with ideas is considered plotting then I do some plotting. Unlike Edith, I often rearrange scenes. What seemed to work early on doesn’t always later in the book. I confess that I sometimes wish I could do it like you do, Julie!

  3. I’m a pantser all the way, although I do stop and write myself memos at various times along the path–and of course things change as the book moves forward. This week I wrote over a page of “Things that Have to be Resolved by the End!” because for my WIP I have four threads that address the same issue from different directions, and they all have to link up at the finish–and that parallel thread structure I planned before I even started the book.

  4. I am currently reading Plot Perfect and am finding it extremely helpful. Paula’s book Writing with Quiet Hands has also been helpful in controlling my spinning ideas. I usually am all over the place when it comes to writing. It’s funny that my reading for this morning is an article entitled “To Outline or Not To Outline” by James Scott Bell. Also, this morning my quote in my Writer’s Daily Companion was “For all my longer works I write chapter outlines so I can have the pleasure of departing from them later on.” This is a quote from Garth Nix. It truly must be my day to plot!

  5. I’m a reformed pantser. I do use index cards, however that’s after I’ve written an outline and then I lay out the book in index cards to tweak and I keep them as I go through revisions in case I need to “see” the whole book. I’m going to check out Plot Perfect.

  6. Two books this year? Yeah!!!

    I’ve heard of other authors who use index cards like you’ve described. I think it makes great sense because you can see how things are working before you start. As you said, it is easier to rearrange everything now than later, especially once the book is finished.

  7. I have always believed that when Kinsey Millhone gets out her index cards and writes all the clues about her case and arranges and rearranges them, that somewhere in the background Sue Grafton is describing her writing process to us.

      1. Right. But you use both cards AND Scrivener, Julie! Does the tactile nature of the cards make it a different process than the scene cards in the application?

  8. I have to do some plotting, but I dread it! And I write notes/reminders to myself throughout the whole process. It’s SO nice to finally throw all those papers away when the book has made its way into the world!

  9. I’m just starting book three in The Penningtons Investigate, and I’ve done each of the books differently. For this one, I’m fleshing out the backstory much more, including scenes that will never be seen in the book, and finding that the plot is quickly emerging from the backstory in a way I haven’t experienced before. As usual, a big challenge is imagining how the sleuths, Kyle and Lyssa, will uncover all the events of this double murder and how I’ll tell it in the limited third-person voice I’ve chosen for the series (Kyle’s close POV alternating with Lyssa’s). Enjoyed the topic!! –kate

  10. Your plots are always memorable and interesting! I love forward to reading Chime and Punishment!

Comments are closed.