Keeping an Eye on the Carrot
This week, and this weekend, I’m plotting my WIP. I’m trying to get as far as I can before Monday, when I’ve promised myself I’ll start actually writing. Here’s what I’ve been working on the past few days. I say “based,” because over the years, I’ve come to realize what categories of info I need to focus on before I write.
The table is based on Martha Alderson’s Scene Tracker, which you can see in her book, Blockbuster Plots, or her other products. Of course, this plot session comes after a lot of research, working my way through Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, and just…thinking. This is the chart, though, that I’ll use to move myself forward (I hope!) through the first draft.
In case you can’t read the headers, I at least think about these things for each scene:
- Where and when the scene takes place
- The main action(s) of the scene
- The MC’s goal–her scene goal, what she wants to accomplish then and now
- Any obstacles to that goal and who’s putting those obstacles in the MC’s path
- What part of the backstory I should/could weave in
This column is new for this book, because the past plays a huge part in the present, and I’m working hard not to just dump it in, but place it, in small drips, where it really belongs.
- The “end hook”–how I visualize the scene ending, with a pull for the readers to turn the page
This is another new column. Partially, this is to remind me about cliff-hangers, but it also helps me think about points of high conflict for each scene.
- Any subplots I can bring into the scene
- Theme/MC’s Direction toward or away from her goal. Theme is Martha’s column title, and I like to keep it in, because–even if I don’t get anywhere close to plotting in my theme, the column keeps it present in my mind where, hopefully, it simmers. I’ve included, in this same column, whether–by her actions–my MC is stepping toward or away from her goal. Somehow, in my mind, this has become connected with theme. We’ll see!
I let myself be pretty loose with this–it’s almost more of a brainstorming tool than an actual plotting chart. Some of the cells get seriously tall and skinny, as I dump random possibilities and connections into them. The thing to remember, hard as it can be, is that the goal here is almost a kind of anti-perfection. There is too much I don’t, and can’t know, until I start writing–until I’ve finished writing the first, and subsequent drafts. I want to use the info in this chart as a series of guideposts, not as a straight-jacketed path.
So, when I find myself worrying too much about whether my character would do this or that, what piece of history she’ll be interacting with, or even what the weather would be like, I focus on the carrot. The one that’s dangling out in front of me, coaxing me to keep moving forward.
That carrot is that, the more quickly I plot, the more guideposts I’ll be giving myself, the more of that first mess of words I’ll be able to get onto the page, into the computer. I’ll be able to write my first draft with speed, energy, and excitement. And I’ll have room to make some of those magical discoveries as I go.
So, as you plot, keep an eye on your carrot, whatever it may be. Figure out what it is, get a picture in your mind, and write toward it.
Mine, just so you know, looks a lot like this.