Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Evolution of Plotting Techniques for Bookmobile Novels

The idea for my first novel came to me forty years before I seriously started writing. That's when I realized reading a novel was a lot easier than writing one. I took classes and struggled for six years to finish Where Love Once Lived. Then it took two more years to get it published.

As I began my second novel, The Vengeance Squad, I remember thinking how much easier it would be than writing the first one. About half way through the writing, however, I heard about a plotting technique proposed by Joseph Campbell called the Hero's Journey. I won't attempt to explain it here, but there is a wealth of information available on it and how to apply it to modern novels. However, using this approach is an effective way to keep your readers turning pages.

The method was perfect for the mystery I was writing. I was able to use much of what I had done so far, but I rearranged the scenes and added new ones to increase the suspense. I finished The Vengeance Squad in less than a year. It has been my best seller so far.

When I started Love Lives On, I began using the same Hero Journey technique. But then I learned about Blake Snyder's method of outlining a movie. I bought his book, Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need, and knew it was perfect for my books. About that time, I went to a writing class on using Snyder's method for novels.

I used this method for Love Lives On and The Vengeance Squad Goes to England. I'm using again for what I'm calling Book 5.

Snyder proposed fifteen beats from the beginning to end with the first being the Opening Image and the last the Closing Image. In between, there are beats with such interesting names as Set Up, Catalyst, Debate, Fun and Games, Bad Guys Close In, and All is Lost. This plotting method not only provides an organization to help writers remember to include numerous ups and downs on the way to the story goal, it also provides a formula for how many pages you should allow per beat.

This method is easier to do with 3 by 5 index cards on a bulletin board so you can rearrange scenes for the best balance. I've done this with real index cards, but with fifty or so scenes, it is difficult to find a place to work. I tried the dining room table, but I can only have it for so long before my wife starts looking at me funny.

This time I'm using an iPad app for the index cards. There are several available, but when I saw DenVog's Index Card app and the way it works, I selected it because it matches what I want to do. This is not one of those free apps, but the $4.99 cost seems reasonable.

I use one index card per scene and start with 50 scenes. Ten scenes in Act 1, 27 in Act 2, and 13 in Act 3. I will often add or delete scenes after the writing begins. The app lets me group the index cards and work with a smaller number of cards at a time. I group them by act. When I click on a group, I see all the cards for that group. When I click on a card, I can edit it. The card image is a widow and it scrolls as needed so you are not limited in how much you write.

In the photos shown here, you will see what I've done so far for Book 5. The cards can be easily changed and rearranged. I don't include scene numbers, but maintain order visually. When I'm satisfied with what I have, I will add scene numbers and convert the cards to Microsoft Word.

I've embed a YouTube presentation about Index Cards so you can see how to open groups and rearrange cards.
This is the result of opening Act 1 group
This shows the grouping by act.

Scene 1 scrolled down to show how it works.

Act 3 with its 13 scenes. Not yet out
This is Act 2 with 27 scenes, not all shown. Scrollable.

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