Friday, November 2, 2007

Plotting: The Pros and Cons of Plotting Style - Index Cards

Most everyone uses index cards when doing research. It's a great way to gather information and then shuffle it around to place it into the most logical and clearest organization. Now think about plotting a book using this method. On the cards, you can describe characters and setting, then detail motivation, and goals for all characters and finally what conflicts can result, especially as you find clash in needs and desires of the major characters.

In the same way, you can design scenes and where this information might fit in the plot. You can spread out the plot points to see that it shows building conflicts and growth of characterization, romance (if it's part of the book) and faith of the characters.

If you have subplots, you can organize the scenes involving these characters and how they add conflict, including what major information that will be found in that scene, and then decide where it best fits in the story.

When you first begin, you can title the cards by the major information: character #1 goal or character #2's description, motivation or goal and then you can develop various conflicts. With these conflicts written on individual cards, you can easily sort them so that the lesser conflict is first, the more serious ones next in order of severity, and the black moment last. When a new conflict comes to light, you can pop an index card into the mix without having to deal with adding it in a narrative type plot. Once the story becomes more settled in your mind, you can sort it into chapters, providing a variety of action/introspection and making sure most scenes and chapters ends with a good hook.

This style of plotting can help you decide the best time to introduce new characters and new pieces of information so that it enhances the excitement of the story. Index cards allows you to regulate the pacing of your plot so you have the peaks and valleys between action and decision-making or introspection of the characters.

As you can see, index cards have many pros, but one con is becoming overwhelmed with the pieces of information as you try to sort them into a meaningful order, but just remember that the pieces must build, showing growth and change in your characters, in their relationship and their faith.

Another factor is that when submitting your proposal to a publisher, you must provide a narrative synopsis so you can't escape doing one, but it will be easier when you use the cards to decide how to present the editor with the major plot points showing motivation, goals, and conflict.

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