When I first began my novel, I wrote scenes and jotted down notes as they came to me, no rhyme or reason as I’ve noted before. And while this freestyle writing habit birthed some very creative ideas, I often found contradictions in plot lines and would have to spend time fixing and readjusting the whole story. This stole time from plowing ahead on my first draft.
After Stacey raved about John Truby’s book, The Anatomy of Story, I took a step back and did what “normal” writers probably do: I organized and planned.
While a collection of short stories may have a theme, or motif, I like to think of multi-POV novels as a serious short stories blanketed by one larger tale. Sort of like a quilt. Each story is represented by a series of quilting squares stitched together to make the whole. So with this thought in mind, and inspired by Truby’s exercises, I came up with a system to help me organize the plot and structure of my story.
To begin, figure out your story’s premise. The single sentence (similar to an elevator pitch) is like the golden thread, the finishing threading of the quilt. It is the story’s absolute in the most basic form.
Once you have your premise, write a general story synopsis, or overall plot line. This can be anywhere from a page, which editors love, to 3+. Think of the general synopsis as the binding or the cover, the glue that keeps each character moving in the same direction. Since there is more than one narrator, the focus of the synopsis should be on the general story plot, not an individual character’s story line. Think of the common events that link all the characters. For example, with my novel, all four of my narrators are connected at three points in the novel: the inciting force, the crisis and the resolution. That is the focus of my general synopsis, because they are the blanket events that bind all the characters together simultaneously.
Now, write more detailed plot lines, keeping the story synopsis in mind, for each of your narrators/POVs. These are really more like personal histories or biographies. In them I not only include the events directly related to the story’s plot, but I also give background and include personality traits that help fuel character motivation. I suppose this is the equivalent of knowing what sort of ice cream your character likes. Not all of this information will make it into the story, but when you’re thinking about how your character will react or act (a.k.a. the cause and effect of their actions) these are nice things to have on the back-burner. Personally, I think this step is essential. Doing this exercise helped me to see the inconsistencies between plot lines.
And finally, create a visual. For me this was the most enjoyable part of the process. For each narrator, I selected a colored post-it to write the key events/scenes of his or her story, an idea that I got from my fellow Write Owls.
For this part, I only wrote out the key events of each character’s personal history, that truly fit with the premise and general synopsis. Doing this also helped me to weed out scenes that didn’t correspond with the story as a whole.
Since my story is semi-linear, I spent a lot of time moving around my post-its trying to create the most effective designing principle for my story. It also gave me an opportunity to adjust who might be more effective in telling parts of the story from their perspective.
My next step, which I am working on, is to use various colors of yarn to remind myself where foreshadowing, themes and symbols need to be placed and what future scene they connect to.
And there is one last bit of advice I’d like to share, advice given to me by an agent. Once you are organized, focus on writing one story line at a time. It will help you maintain voice and keep you in tune with the life you are creating. If you have well thought plot lines, character histories and a rocking visual aid, it will help you stay focused as you write through your first draft.