Guest Post: Plotting Your Story

There are many ways to plot or plan out your story.

Photo by Heather Demetrios-Fehst

Photo by Heather Demetrios-Fehst

There are those who loathe the mere mention of the word “plan.” These writers saddle up their yak, swig down a healthy dose of goat rum and head out on the trail, determined to see where the road takes them.

Some enlist NASA to construct elaborate charts and complex calculus equations to create their entire story structure. No surprises, no room for miscalculation.

And, of course, there are a zillion in-betweens. What I’m offering, is a flexible method of looking at where your story has been and where it is going. This is not my invention, nor is it mine alone. I’m just sharing. And I call it….wait for it…..wait. for. it….

THE INDEX CARD METHOD

Get yourself a bunch of index cards, majority of one color with 10 of one other color. For example, I use white cards because they are easier to write on/read, and 10 blue cards.

In order to give yourself a destination, and some roadside way stations, you are going to break the story up into quartiles. Otherwise, there’s a darn good chance that you are going to steer your yak into a ditch and lose your story in a goat-rum induced delirium.

This is where you use the colored index cards. Lay them out thusly…(and what’s great with index cards is that you can lay them out on the floor, the dining room table, the deck of your yacht, your wall, your neighbor’s wall…)

Quartile 1:

  • Inciting Incident – Kicks the story off
  • First Plot Point  – The Point of No Return – Big jolt, creates the narrative journey. This is where the core of your story is.

Quartile 2:

  • Reaction to First Plot Point
  • Pinch Point – Concrete reminder of antagonistic forces at work
  • Second Plot Point – Midpoint of story; major twist

Quartile 3:

  • Reaction to Second Plot Point – Protag becomes proactive vs. reactive
  • Pinch Point
  • Third Plot Point – Twist; set up the climax

Quartile 4:

  • Climax
  • Resolution

Now…don’t panic. It is ok to NOT have these answers yet, or any idea of what that scene is going to entail. I’ll save scene dissection and understanding for another post (and I lectured on understanding the quintessence of your scene, and building your story scene by scene, for my graduate lecture at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, in July). For now, just write on the card what its purpose is (so you know where it goes in the overall arc). If you have sketchy ideas, put them on the card. These are your mile markers.

Then, using your main stack of index cards, you begin to layout scenes. Each scene is a card. Whatever gets you from one “blue” card to the next, allowing cause and effect to move the story. If this, then this…Don’t feel like you have to know them all right now. Just place those scenes you do know and as you begin to write, as you begin to look at how the story is progressing, you can add or delete as needed.

That is the beauty of the index cards. You can move them around. It gives you a flexible visual layout and allows you to play with the progression.

I like to think of them as lily pads, floating on the pond that is your story.

Each scene allows your reader to walk across the surface of your story and reach the far bank. Give your readers a purposeful path.

Headshot JoeJoe McGee is a children’s book author from southern New Jersey. He is a graduate of the Rowan University Master’s Writing Program and The Vermont College of Fine Arts Master’s of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. Joe is a former airborne Army officer, the father of three young boys, and a writing instructor at Rowan University. His debut picture book, PEANUT BUTTER & BRAINS is forthcoming from Abrams (2015). He is currently working on a middle-grade novel and several picture book revisions.

 

 

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Guest Post: Query Theory

Don Draper (JoAnn)Querying can be a lot of fun. At least that’s my theory when it comes to querying picture book stories. How to do it? Accept the premise that when you query, you’re advertising yourself. So channel your inner “Mad Men”–1960s cocktails optional–and let’s begin…

1. Individualized opening

Many posts suggest you match your story to an editor/agent tastes; to follow-up on contacts that you’ve made at conferences or workshops. Good advice, follow it. Begin with where you may have met. Then, if through prior research, you’ve learned of mutual acquaintances, or of an award for one of their books etc., mention it. BRIEFLY.

2. Synopsis

TITLE – (all caps)

Then use the following elements in any order:

QUOTE – I think it’s a good idea to quote the first couple of lines of your manuscript. You’ve worked hard to make those opening lines page turners, use them now to give immediate exposure to your voice.

Then craft 2 to 5 lines to cover the

PREMISE and/or QUESTION – that hints at the plot; and

INVITATION – to find out more

Here’s a synopsis for one of my own stories as an example:

RHINOCEROS? PREPOSTEROUS!

It was a very boring day, nothing to do; nothing to play until…

”Grandpa, there’s a rhino in the den!”

But what can one small boy do as more and more rhinos appear and run wild in his Grandpa’s once neat and orderly living room? Find out in this rollicking counting book that’s totally preposterous and full of surprises!

3. Individualized goodbye

A bit of humor here, if that’s your style, and it relates to your story and the agent/editors guidelines.

A thank you for their time and consideration.

Sincerely,

  1. Yada-Yada

Now, if you were Don Draper, you would do something morally questionable to celebrate. But, the best thing for you to do? Send out another query. And another. Then forget about them and start writing a new story…

When you do get some interest, contact the others you queried and let them know, because once one individual is interested, others follow suit.

It’s, like, “Far-out, man,” But true!

Good luck.

Headshot (JoAnn)J. M. DiVerdi has loved reading, writing and a clever turn of phrase her entire life. She’s written about cookies and for children, a perfect combo if there ever was one. She is thrilled to be a client of Linda P. Epstein’s at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, indisputable proof, by the way, that her Query Theory works!

 

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YA Logline/Comp Contest Winner!

giveaway-winnersHappy Friday, everyone! As you know, we hosted a YA Comp Contest this week, which concluded Wednesday night. We had some great entries, and I would like to thank everyone who participated. However, there can only be one winner. After careful consideration, the winner of this comp contest is (drumroll, please)…S.P Bowers! Here’s her winning entry:

“When commoner Raisa is chosen to wed the crown prince, she thinks her worst problem will be learning to curtsey—until she awakens an ancient and vengeful river elemental that begins a war her country is too weak to win.

RIVER SPELL, like THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS, shows one girl’s struggle not only against supernatural powers, but against peoples’ perceptions of who she is.”

I chose S.P’s entry for a few reasons. First, her logline is powerful and intriguing. She tells us the main draw for the story, but without giving too much away. It makes you want to know more about it, and that’s exactly how you want your reader to feel. Having armed us with that basic knowledge of her novel, she brings us to her comp. Though her comparison is to another fantasy novel, she focuses on the similarities between the protagonists—a good tactic. By comparing her story to another fantasy, she gives us an idea of what her story will be like without having to say much on that point, all the while driving home the true heart of the story: the protagonist’s need to prove herself.

So, congratulations to S.P. Bowers for winning this YA Comp Contest! She’ll be receiving an advance reader copy of Carl Hiassen’s YA book SKINK NO SURRENDER, which will hit bookstores September 23rd, and Cheryl Klein’s SECOND SIGHT: AN EDITOR’S TALKS ON WRITING, REVISING & PUBLISHING BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS.

0Tara Slagle is Linda Epstein‘s intern and is working toward her M.S. in Publishing at Pace University. After completing her degree she would like to work in the publishing world as either an acquisitions editor or literary agent, focusing on YA and (the emerging) New Adult titles. This was her last blogpost as intern.

 

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