Guest Blogger: Maripat Sluyter, Slave Driver Extraordinaire!
So my Canadian friend flew down to spend a few days with me before her conference started. And me being the good writing friend that I am, made her work. I don’t think she expected to see me with a dry erase board, index cards, markers, crayons, loads of paper and timer lined up on the kitchen table, waiting for her to them all on Tuesday. But I take plotting serious. The following is a hasty recap of what we did. Yes, it’s messy.
Step 1: Awkward Speed Date
Timed character chats are very underrated. I have to get to know these potential strangers. In 15 minutes I talk about plot. Fears. Likes. Needs. Wants. Failures. Anything and everything in 15 minutes. Yes, 15 minutes. Working under pressure helps keep my muse task. And 15 minutes is normally my golden number to bring out the good stuff. If I do this right, I’ll have a sense of my characters, and I’ll know if I have the right characters in the right parts.
Step 2: Sloppy Synopsis
Starting with my main character, I write out the how the story unfolds through their eyes. This is also where I start questioning my characters’ answers from the above exercise. Afraid of fire? Cool. How can I possibly use that in my story? Will the villain be a pyro? Look at different potential conflicts playing out. Does my main male character have issues with trusting females? Can I use this to put a bump in a budding relationship?
I’m not afraid of leaving questions for myself or half formed ideas. This is for my eyes only. Again, I write in 15 minute increments. Resetting the timer until my plot is done. Time crunches are useful to me and my muse.
Once the main character is finished, rinse and repeat for the secondary characters.
Note: some folks use character sheets and/or questions. Use these here as well. Val and I have different versions we use but they basically ask the same things.
Step 3: All Those Pretty Plot Points
I like lists. So it’ll come as no surprise I make lists of important points I need to get across to the reader and the character. These are from the sloppy synopsis and the characters chats. Example: fear of fire. Trust issues. Dropping certain clues about a killer. Showing the abnormal moral views of a character, or the unusual world your character might live in. These points are essential to the plot unfolding and the character’s motivation. My lists run from 100-250, depending on the characters and the world they live in.
Step 4: Worldview
This is where I grab a large dry erase board and divide it into Points of View. Basically, it’s like doing a shorthand synopsis side by side for each character that has a point of view. I like to think of this as a worldview of the story. This way I know if my main character is experiencing car trouble at certain point: I know my secondary character is running away from home, stealing the car and happens to come across my main character at the right time.
Step 5: Mayhem with Markers
I love my dry erase board and all the pretty colors the markers come in. For me this is how I channel my muse to plot out each scene of the story. Each scene starts with a heading: character PoV for the scene, where they’re at, time of day, chapter number, scene number. I make maps of everything that needs to happen in the scene: introducing a character, a setting, a fear that will cause problems down the road, a secondary a character. I watch to make sure my characters emotions are on a roll. If they start out angry, give them something to cry about. And conflict. Must have conflict. Don’t let them get their goal. If they get their goal, let it turn out to be worthless. You can do this on a variety of levels. It doesn’t have to be the world is about to end type stuff. A character torn inside by their morals is a lovely way to torture them. Really it is.
All the information from my boards is jotted down on index cards.
Now…normally this takes days to weeks to do all this. Val only had a day. Actually less. Soooo—yeah, I worked her hard, but by the time she went to conference she had a synopsis and a better understanding of her characters.
Do I expect her to follow my approach exactly? Absolutely NOT. No two writers will ever approach writing the same way.
BUT I did make her try my way first. Why? Because by making someone try something first my way, they will be able to understand why it didn’t work for them. Too many people fear change and automatically veto an idea, wanting to cling to their comfort zone. So yes, I would say I forced Val to try my approach first–that way she can expand on my idea and make it her own.
My apologies for being sooo longwinded. I probably lost everyone by this point. My bad. But maybe someone will get a use out of it.