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  1. #1
    Elizabeth Shipley

    Keeping a plot organized?

    Hi All,

    I've been trying for years to plot two mystery novels. I have lots of ideas, but no matter how much time I spend trying to construct a coherent outline, I always end up confused and buried under a ton of bewildering notes. I think this is a technical problem (rather than a mental deficiency on my part. ) I've tried cutting and pasting on my pc; I've tried notecards; I've tried laying pages out on the floor and rearranging them; I've tried cutting pages of notes up with scissors and taping the strips of action to my walls so that I can see everything at once. I always end up with exploding masses of paper and lots of confusion.

    Can anyone recommend a technique for physically organizing plot ideas and keeping a clear overview of lines of action? Right now I feel like I'm trying to construct a Rubik's cube, and instead generating a mountain of colorful but disconnected plastic chips.

    Thanks & peace.


  2. #2
    L Bea

    Re: Keeping a plot organized?

    Are you doing two at once? If so, pick one. Get the plot organized on one. I mean it! Work it out. Get going on it. If something happens to hit you on the other one (cuz damn it--that' how our brains do it sometimes), then make notes, but stay focused on the ONE project. Do not deviate. If you're trying to organize TWO, then no wonder you're having a rough time...


  3. #3
    Gary Kessler

    Re: Keeping a plot organized?

    My technique is sitting down and writing. You don't mention that as one of the techniques you've tried. Could it be that all of your organizing is happening to avoid actually writing?

  4. #4
    Rogue Mutt

    Re: Keeping a plot organized?

    Sounds like you've tried most everything. I've never written mysteries. Maybe you should try working from the end with the whodunit and going backwards from there.

  5. #5
    Josh Lemay

    Re: Keeping a plot organized?

    I agree with Gary. I don't really organize my plots all that much. Granted, I'm not a published author, so I don't know if my stories turn out too well, but I think they are ok.

    I do have general ideas I want to add for plots, but I make up a lot as I go and then I add in the the fine details to glue it all together at the end.

  6. #6
    Hillary W

    Re: Keeping a plot organized?

    I'm also not a published author, but I'll throw in my .02.

    When I write I generally sit down with a general idea of what I'm going to write about and go from there. I don't think I've ever planned out all the ideas of the whole story in advance. Granted it may be tougher writing a mystery novel (you will need to do some planning), but I would think you could outline it with the general ideas and then go from there. Get an idea of the hero, the villian, how the crime was done, and the clues to get there... and start writing.

    I agree with the above poster who said that you should try to only do one at a time. I'm working on a couple different projects at once, but they're very different- one is adult historical ghost-fiction (did I just create a new genre?) and the other is a young adult thriller. there's no way to confuse the two in my head. Two mysteries, on the other hand, would be tougher. Pick one and go with it! Good luck.

  7. #7
    Gary Mitchell

    Re: Keeping a plot organized?

    I read somewhere that Agatha Christie would write a novel and then go back and add the clues/plot to point or point away from characters. I generally develop my framework, and then as the story changes I modify. I am not published, but I am close to finishing my first book and these are a few of things I have learned along the way. I also read the last few chapters of mysteries and then go back and look at how the author framed the story. I hope this helps. I know others will have much better ideas than what I have posted here.

  8. #8
    Cindy Kay

    Re: Keeping a plot organized?


    Not sure if this is what you mean, but I'm using FreeMind a brainstorming/outline free software application for this novel. I didn't have to with the last one as it was a far simpler plot and shorter novel.

    One of the things I'm finding really useful is that I can have, in one file, most all my notes. For example, I have character outlines that include all their bio stuff, their character arc, even links to images of the cars they drive and so forth. I used to keep all that kind of stuff in separate files. I have every scene in another outline, same file. I'm finding it useful and a great time saver, largely because I'm so disorganized to start with.

    You can google FreeMind and download it in a heartbeat for free.

  9. #9
    Chuck Shaw

    Re: Keeping a plot organized?

    I use a sort of pseudo-outline. The idea is to list what I want to accomplish in each chapter, not what to write.

    Chap 1-Jack meets Jill, gets bucket. Show wolf very hungry and sneaking uphill through woods (set up for wolf attack in ch-3.)

    Chap 2. Jack and Jill take bucket to top of hill, expand description, low tension

    Chap 3. Jack and Jill are just drawing water when wolf attacks.

    Chap 4. Surprise reader- Jack runs, Jill gives wolf her sandwich, makes friends and beats Jack to death with bucket!

    I have to admit, I started doing this only after writing about 90,000 words. It became too time consuming to hunt down detail changes when editing created internal inconsistencies. (Where did I introduce the damn wolf? Was he gray or black?

    Iím sure there are more and better ways to de-fur this feline.

  10. #10
    mar quesa

    Re: Keeping a plot organized?


    I agree with Gary. Perhaps the outlining method isn't the problem, but an excuse.

    Sometimes we come up with a great idea for a story but when we realize our great idea requires a lot of work, we become demoralized, and rather than facing the issue, we fiddle with unimportant bits and pieces, or move on to the next project. This might not be your case but since you mentioned that you've tried this and that method of outlining, which sound like reasonable methods to me, then perhaps the problem is something else. Try writing your ms without an outline and see where the story takes you. The key is to be flexible. Outlining ideas isn't the same as outlining a novel. Learn to sacrifice. If there are too many holes in the brilliant plot you've come up with and/or you're having problems creating subplots to support it, then either modify your plot, or try writing your piece in a different writing form e.g. short story, novella, flash fiction, etc. You have to keep in mind that just because you've come up with a fabulous phrase, scene, subplot, character or whatever, regardless of how brilliant it sounds to you, if it doesn't connect with the main plot, you don't need it. File it in the ideas file and use it later in some other project, but don't try to force it into the story. It'd bog the whole thing down.

    Try books on writing novels and plot building. Sol Stein's On Writing has a brief explanation about plot building in novels. I found that short explanation more insightful than his book on novel writing. Anyway, go for it and good luck!

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