In the previous blog, I described the six threads I try to weave into each story. I also stated that I use the Blake Snyder plot outline to structure my novel.
In this section, I will describe how I plot out the various chapters and scenes of a story. I will use the novel I am currently working on, The Unselfish Uncle.
The tools I use for this process are rather simple. A spiral notebook, Post-Its, and a pen. (Note: There is an excellent program called Writers Blocks that allows you to do this on your computer. I have used that program in the past, but there are times when I am working on plotting and I don’t have my computer with me.) Let me describe how I use these tools.
The notebook has dark parallel horizontal lines, just wide enough apart to fit a 1×1.5 in. Post-It. These bands represent a day. Since the passage of time is very critical in my stories, I have to carefully keep track of just when events take place.
I start off with the day and date, e.g. “Fri, 8/31” On this date, two events happened in my previous novel, The Truculent Trannie. In Chapter 70, MacFarland and his associates have dinner at the Coopers house. On the same date, in the Epilogue, the Chinese stalk Jackie, kidnap her, and send a message to Robert. I want to know about these scenes so that when I start plotting the new novel, I know what to build on.
The Unselfish Uncle story starts on the following day. The Prologue sets up the premise of the murder. In this case, the family is going to meet for Saturday breakfast and they find a package on the porch. The package contains the head of Uncle Ned.
Note that on the left side of the page, under “Sat 9/1” is a Post-It that says “Opening Image.” This is the first structure in the Blake Snyder beat structure. The second beat is “Theme Stated Ch 1-5.” This tells me that I need to introduce the theme of the story, along with major characters and situations, in the first five chapters. Chapter 1 had MacFarland racing to Las Vegas to find his brother. In Las Vegas, he meets Detective Leung. (I later changed Leung to Luong, after doing some research on traditional Vietnamese names).
Usually this kind of a notation is all I need to write a 1,000 word scene, which is the average I strive for in my Hot Dog Detective series. In addition to the scenes I include in my story, I have Post-Its that describe other events that are going on at the same time. For example, on Sunday, the Chinese release Jackie, who calls Cynthia Pierson and returns home. Since this is not something MacFarland knows about directly, it isn’t included in the scene, but reminds me of an event that he must learn about later in the story.
The advantage of using the Post-Its is that I can move scenes and information around, change dates, and see relationships between events and characters. Hey, this sounds a lot like how MacFarland uses his three-by-five note cards. I wonder if his method of data-management isn’t a little bit autobiographical?
In my next blog, I will describe how the information on the Post-Its is transferred to the Blake Snyder form that I use.