There are many ways to plot or plan out your story.
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…)
- 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.
- Reaction to First Plot Point
- Pinch Point – Concrete reminder of antagonistic forces at work
- Second Plot Point – Midpoint of story; major twist
- Reaction to Second Plot Point – Protag becomes proactive vs. reactive
- Pinch Point
- Third Plot Point – Twist; set up the climax
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.
Joe 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.