Thursday, October 3, 2013

Maps and Charts and Timelines -- Oh, My

I'm not a huge plot outliner, but I do make quite a few character and backstory notes, floor plans, sketches of important settings, musings on themes, a title-brainstorming section, and so forth, and keep them all in a sort of "bible" for each novel. And, yes, even some plot notes. :) On my office wall there's still a 5' timeline and a 2'x1.5' character chart from my finished book, and they'll stay there till I know not a single word more in that novel will be changed.

I do all this because I need the characters and their relationships and emotional states and backstory to feel like they're on a firm foundation (and mistake-proof) before I send them pantsing through the plot. This can mean different kinds of sketches for different books, and for my new WIP I need a serious timeline to keep me from just sitting here like a lump, tied in knots, head spinning. This could easily end up being twice as long as the one already on the wall, so here's what I came up with:
Yeah, it's still a little long. :) This timeline is vertical, though, covering four sheets of paper which are then taped end to end. This way, I can take advantage of vertical and horizontal and not end up with something hopelessly unwieldy. I can also see both the whole and the parts better if it's not so long and skinny. Besides, who's got any wall space left?

For this book, more than for any I've yet done, I also need a family tree. Everybody is everybody's else's cousin in this town, and certain villains may or may not be related to certain heroes, so I need to keep them straight:
Yep, we've got a bit of history going on here. I was going to copy this over nicely, but decided not to waste time on that. I can read it, and I rather like my little sketch. Besides, it'll make a nice artifact among my personal papers someday.   Oh, and if perchance you can make out "Wolf dad" and "Wolf mom" at the top of the page -- no, we are not talking werewolves here. :)

And then we also need, yes, a PLOT chart. This is a 11x17 sheet divided into four quadrants (one each for the beginning and end, and two for the middle) where every scene gets recorded -- a few key ones before they're written, but my inner 7th-grader writes *almost* all of them first and puts them in the outline after. The outline, then, happens concurrently with the first draft.
Okay, not the best photo in the world, especially taken on lavender paper in my basement dungeon office, but still gives a general feel for the chart. And now you can see just how much of the first quadrant I had done when I wrote this post: not that much. But as you read this, it is several weeks later. So I am now much farther. Really I am.

Do you use tools like this? What kind? Do tell.


Anonymous said...

This is very cool.

At the most I'll use Excel to keep track of things, but I don't think I'm as detailed as this.

Andrea Mack said...

Wow! You put a lot of thought into this. I have a storyboard on my wall, but I haven't been using it enough. I also documents, e.g. a scene by scene outline, character notes, but I like the idea of putting more stuff up on my walls!

Faith E. Hough said...

You probably understand this: I need freedom and spontaneity as I write my story, but lots of structure as I revise. So as I go along, the plot outlines and timelines and character notes start taking over more and more of my notebook and walls. One of my favorite tools was to print a calendar from the year of my story (so, for the last one, 1792) and actually mark on there when things happened. I needed the visual of when weekends and holidays were coming into the story, as well as the pacing of how I let time pass and action develop.

Barbara Watson said...

These are great! It's alwasy fun to see another writer's process because everyone's is so different. My process is some hastily scribbled notes at the start with chapter outlines as I continue (usually after the chapter is written) to keep myself in my timeline.

Erik said...

It's so interesting to see what different people do.

I can see how having a big chart on the wall can really help find information fast.

I use Scrivener to organize and write my draft. It sticks everything into a project so I have notes on characters and places, and an outline of all the scenes in addition to the manuscript itself.

Marcia said...

Medeia -- I didn't used to be, but I think it helps me.

Andrea -- It's the meticulous plot outliners that amaze me. Actually, I suppose we all do that, too, even if it's by way of writing the first draft.

Faith -- Yes to your first sentence! All these tools grow as the draft grows. And I absolutely do the calendar, too, and record events and chapters on it. For my finished book, I needed to keep track of moon phases.

Barbara -- Yes, various processes are fascinating. All those kids who outlined after they did at least some writing were onto something. :)

Erik -- I've heard a lot about Scrivener and how people love the organizational functions. Thanks for stopping!

Kimberly said...

I love to see how authors plan. I find doing the character sketches helps plan the novel. I learn things about the characters that sets up scenes for later.

Vijaya said...

How fun to see your lavender paper in your dungeon!!!

I draw floor plans, community plans, and print out maps and a calendars, esp. with those historicals. Usually I end up with a box of notes/research by the time a draft is done.

Leandra Wallace said...

I'm going to be putting up a corkboard up over my desk soon. I can't wait to look up and see the quotes and pics I intend to put up there!

Jaye Robin Brown said...

Index cards are my friend. I break scenes down. I do family trees. I cut out pictures. Anything I need. I'm impressed you type it up. Mine is chicken scratch scrawl!

Dawn Malone said...

Thanks for sharing, Marcia! It seems I've used every method known to man and my pantster self rebukes them all! I do love seeing how other writers work through the process. Hoping someday that a measure of order will overshadow the messiness of my writing methods.

Marcia said...

Kimberly -- Those interactions are a source of plot tension for sure. Thanks for sharing!

Vijaya -- I could open a colored-paper store. Don brings home cast-offs from LU. I end up with a box worth of notes too, a lot of the time, but I never literally box it up till the book is either sold or dead. :D

Leandra -- You'll love it! I have quotes, books, my first dollar, writing jokes people have sent me, and laminated silhouettes of each of my kids. :)

Jaye -- Well, only the timeline is typed. The family tree and book map are chicken scratch! And I love that you love index cards; I hate 'em. :)

Dawn -- Maybe you'll find something that intrigues you. Or maybe the way you work is already perfect for you. :)

Kelly Hashway said...

I love seeing how other people plan. Right now I'm using a combination of Scrivener character sketches and a notebook where I keep track of POV, chapter length, events, etc.

Mirka Breen said...

Love your chart images. This makes the title apropos: OH, MY!

Marcia said...

Kelly -- I do, too. Love the combo of software and on-paper notes.

Mirka: Thanks!

cleemckenziebooks said...

I start with a tagline. Then I do chapter summaries as I write. Sometimes I write the end first and head toward that. I guess I use different strategies for different books. Love the pedigree-looking chart you made.

C.R. Evers said...

I think it's an awesome way to keep your thoughts and idea's organized and fresh in your mind. Plus, I bet it really helps you get to know your characters and their story better.

Marcia said...

Lee -- I come up with the tagline pretty early in the process, too. I didn't always, but now I think it's a good idea.

Christy -- I like having them there as cheat sheets. When I ask myself, "Wait, in WHAT order did A and B happen again?" I can always look at the sheet and always know I'll get the same answer.