Hats off to clever plots

Plotting is great fun – but sometimes it makes my brain feel like these pretzels…
Image: (c) Wade Brooks / Flickr.com

If there’s one thing that makes me appreciate a darn fine book more than anything else, it’s the process of writing one myself.

I’m in the throes of back story development at present. (A process I thought I’d finished, till I realised I’d left some loose ends that were causing me grief in the writing stage.) It’s a really interesting process – though at times it makes me feel like I’ve just spent the past hour twisting myself into a pretzel and dangling my ankles over my shoulders. In my brain.

Haven’t posted in a couple of weeks as I’ve also just come back from a research trip for my book.  As research trips go, it was probably one of the briefest ever – although I admittedly have nothing to compare it with. I wish I could have tailed an established author on one of theirs first to see how they did it. Mine involved a lot of looking at things, asking questions, making notes and taking photographs. I looked quite the tourist. All I was missing was the bumbag and the “I heart [insert name of city; any will do]” t-shirt.

I did refrain from hanging my camera around my neck or buying a novelty keyring. A minor triumph.

Aside from that, the reading of course continues. Which brings me back to the subject of this post. Clever plots.

I’m re-reading the Harry Potter series at the moment and the thing that really strikes me about it is how well it has been plotted. I mean, we’re talking story arcs over seven books that are complex enough to entertain an adult, but also simple enough to keep a child’s interest. To that I say ‘hats off to you’, Ms Rowling. Well played, ma’am.

Rowling gave readers an insight into how she approached such a complicated plot when she released this “easter egg” on her website a while back: a snippet from her plot notes from book five, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (Check out this deconstruction of it by S. Kyle Davis, if you haven’t already).

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The snippet of plot for ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ is a great insight into Rowling’s complex plotting process.

I came across it a little while ago when I was searching for the holy grail of plotting for my own book. (An aside: unfortunately no magic formula. Go figure. Different strokes for different folks, and all that…)

Don’t know about you, but I for one would love to see it up against a similar extract from book one, to see how they compare. How much did she refine her technique over those intervening years, I wonder?

So the HP plotting experience seems to have been an art of keeping track of all the sub-plots as J.K. wrote, and weaving them all together in the drafting stage. It’s interesting to compare this approach to something like Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens, which weaves together three characters’ stories to retell the Rapunzel fairytale.

In this great interview, Kate told book blogger Sarah Johnson her approach was to work out a framework first, noting where the various stories would intersect, and then write each character’s story out in full in one go, before slotting them together.

Keep Calm and Keep Plotting
Sometimes I just stand in a room and talk to myself about my plot. And yes, I’m aware this makes me a crazy person.


How am I approaching the plot dilemma? Well part of the fun of this novel-writing malarkey is that I’m still working things like that out.

So far it’s involved a lot of talking out loud, bouncing ideas off my long-suffering husband and/or filling notebooks with musings that in many cases are little more than a stream of consciousness. (Seriously, some of my sentences make no sense. But that’s not the point really, I’m just trying to get my thoughts straight somewhere.)

Sometimes I just stand in a room and talk things through to myself until something sounds like it works. (And yes, I’m aware this makes me a crazy person.)

Scrivener has little note cards you can move around on the screen; that’s pretty handy.

And I’ve recently come into some butcher’s paper and markers, which I think could really be the start of something special.

What about you? How do you (or would you) approach plotting a book? Is there a holy grail of plotting after all?

Right, that’s probably enough rambling for now. I’ll be back with some more book reviews soon!



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One Comment

  1. sges

    The best writing book I’ve bought is turning out to be The 90-Day Novel. I’m doing it over months and months (at least, so far) but it’s really been the thing that has helped me begin to untangle the mess of thoughts in my head re: plotting. I’ve made such progress after years of trying to work on this same project here and there. Suddenly, bam. Lots of things are finding their proper place.

    I’ve got an Excel document with about 9 different sheets where I track different things. One is for ideas and questions I need to work out. One is for characters and their purpose. One is to track/plan subplots w each character (I’m aiming for a series), one is the entire story as it’s seen from the protag, another from the antag (involving lots of backstory, where the conflict originally started), one from the “neutral” or reader’s POV (with both sides represented). One is a scene list where I can slot in plot points from all of it in order, etc. I also have physical notecards, as some days I need to physically spread it all out and move things around.

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