Friday, February 16, 2007

Weekend 7: Plot picture-diagram

street_strays.jpgSeventh weekend with "Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery".

This weekend is a plot picture-diagram.

Two things the authors mentioned this time that should have come up before:

Name your scene cards. By naming each scene you'll be able to more easily call up the package of people, revelations, objects, emotions, the scene contains. This will be a big help to you when you're trying to get an overall sense of the flow of scenes or when you shuffle them about trying to see where a scene works best. The authors suggest having fun with the names, to create vivid connections between the title and the scene. The more vivid the title, the stronger the connection and picture it will call up for you.

Act length. Acts 1 and 3 are about the same length. Act 2 is about twice as long. Since Act 2 is divided by the midpoint, Act 1, Act 2 first part, Act 2 second part and Act 3 are all about the same length. If the book is about 300 pages, Act 1 will end around page 75, the midpoint will be page 150 and the beginning of Act 3 will be around page 225. At the moment this is important, but when you start writing, if you find yourself on page 120 with no sign of the plot point that should end Act 1, that will give you a clue that things need tightened up there during your first rewrite.

Plot Pictures

So far you've generated scenes that need to be in the story, stuff that there won't be a murder mystery without: discovering the body, confronting the killer, climaxes/crises to raise the drama and so on. You also have a cast of characters who need to enter and exit the book at various points. A plot picture can help you see if characters might be tripping over each other in the beginning and no where to be seen in the middle, or that an important clue doesn't get mentioned until the end of Act 2.

Draw a rising line across the page. This represents rising drama. Divide it into 4 equal parts: Act 1, Act 2 first part, Act 2 second part, Act 3. Label it with the vivid names that you came up with for the 6 key scenes: opening, plot point 1, midpoint, plot point 2, climax, and wrap-up.

Ed, a reader who is following along, shared this from the book. (Which is way more useful, though not as cute, as the rising line of cats ;-)

Click to open full-sized Plot Picture example
(click to enlarge)

Now indicate approximately where the major characters (killer, victim, sleuth, catalyst) enter for the first time (called "onstage"). This is where you will create a defining picture of each. Also note where they exit. (From their description it sounds like the authors mean exit a scene, but in their diagram they note when characters make permanent exits from the book, eg, die.)

Note, as each character enters, they bring with them their own agenda to the story. They each have something they want that may clash with what the sleuth wants or what other characters want. So, as each character enters, this is the chance for a new scene. A scene is where the immediate goal, the point of what ensues changes. That is, the sleuth may be finding out about the movements of the murder victim and then the murder victim's mother enters with her own agenda. That can signal a shift in the point of what follows. Create a vivid name for each of these scenes.

Then attach any minor characters you've created.

If time in the story is important, note that. Show the passage of hours, days, weeks, months, years. Whatever pace it is your story is unfolding in. If your sleuth is injured on day 1, you'll have a visual cue of how far into your story that will still be a factor.

If there's a particular object that's key to solving the murder, the authors suggest noting along the plot line where it surfaces (physically or in someone's recollections) throughout the story. Since their diagram was crowded, they put notes across the bottom, each lining up with the point where they will occur during the story.

Generating Scenes

If the diagram has gotten too full, the authors suggest creating a second one. Put the character entrances on and then note the scenes, with their vivid names, along the rising action line.

Make a scene card for each new scene you've created. Add any new information, such as how one scene connects to another, to any scene cards you created previously.
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