Sometimes it’s hard to know what to write and how to write when you have limited time. So, you try your best to do what you can. But that can lead to problems. Sometimes you forget what you planned to do. Other times it can lead to subplots that go nowhere. So how can you write your story without losing the thread of the main plot? How can you write your story without plotting it to death? That is the question I’ve had to ask myself while writing not one but two short stories. I’ve finished one, but I have a second one to finish before I edit them both.
Let’s talk about plotting a bit. Before my breakdown, I was a hybrid– a plantster- part plotter, part pantster. I’m more Plotster now, leaning more to the plotting side but still with pantster tendencies. That said, there are things pantsters can do to help themselves to have books that are tighter and easier to edit. It’s one of the things I’m going to discuss. It’s something one of my friends introduced me to and it’s making a huge difference in my writing. What can you do when you’ve got limited time, limited focus, and you need to write? You plan it out. The first thing I do is write my first chapter. Why? Normally, it’s the thing I can envision in my mind the clearest. Once that’s done, I write out my blurb, my high concept idea, and if I can stand it– the synopsis. I do them early because it’ll help me with what I must do next– plot out the storyline. (Insert heavy sigh here. LOL)
This is where I struggled for the longest time after my breakdown. Why? I could get to chapters five, six, seven, then things would break down. Not because I didn’t know where to go, but I didn’t know how to make them work. Which is why my friend suggested scene cards. Scene cards are simple. You know the storyline. You know what has to happen in the story. What I do is have my blurb and I make a list– these big things must happen in the story to get to THE END. Usually it looks like this:
- Enter the hero by inciting incident (Usually someone has done something to make him get involved)
- Enter the heroine by some other incident, getting her involved
- They meet and sparks fly (sometimes positively, sometimes, you have to wonder if one of them might end up dead!)
- Shit hits the fan– and they’re yelling at each other because one of their issues is making things go wrong
- Another issue happens and they’re having another setback
- Things seem to be recovering and they’re getting closer, in fact, they’re getting along nicely and perhaps are having sex.
- The worst crap happens and you find out the big ticket emotional and outside force that will keep them apart happens now because basically this needs to be dealt with
- They need to decide, separately and possibly together– do they work at this together as a couple or alone? Do they want a relationship as well? They need to realize they’re stronger together than separately.
- Cruising to the end, wrapping up loose ends
That’s my loose outline on how the major points fit from my blurb and my synopsis. So, I know the highlight points. Within that, I’ll use my chapter plotter to plug in those points and to fill in more where approximately everyone needs to be and when. I might even know what kind of incidents these are. I’ll put those in. So, those go on scene cards. These can be index cards, a sheet of paper, whatever works for you, so you can sit down for 15-30 minutes and write. What you put on there is simple. Setting– where this scene takes place. Characters in the scene– who is there, who walks in, who leaves. POV– whose Point of View are we in. Then you need 3 points– what takes place in the scene, why it happens and what is the result. I also list the emotional impact on the main character as well. Then I might make notes on anything I might need to add in the scene– a piece of jewelry, a sports car, etc. Whatever I know might need to be foreshadowed for later or that is specific to a character.
There is another way to keep track of this. They’re called Chapter Sheets. It’s similar to the scene cards but you actually spend time writing out the scene a bit more. You put specifically what makes up each chapter. You break down your storyline into chapters, figuring out how the story works out, plugging in where you want things to happen, and where you don’t know, saying, “I want this character to figure ________ about themselves and about __________.” This way it moves the plot and the story always forward. People find that as they break down the story per chapter, they’re finding they still have the mobility of being a pantster, but they also have framework as well. I make sure each chapter has a key points of emotional and physical goals, motivation, and conflict related to the plot and character to move the story.
There is another way of planning your writing. In a way, it is writing your story. It’s called Flat Writing. It’s a stripped version of writing it. You write with no detail at all. You literally say, “Jack walked into the living room. He saw the dead body. He yelled for help. The police came. They started the investigation. Jack is now a suspect.” The idea is to limit any dialogue unless you get hit with this brilliant insight of dialogue, keep description to a minimum, and do not put your subplots in. Make note of them on another sheet of paper, but do not put them in the Flat Write stage. Right now, you’re only putting in the main plot and getting it down. Once it’s done, you can go back and gussy it up with senses, beautiful dialogue, better tagging, and layering in subplots so the story doesn’t drag in places. I’ve found that I do a version of Flat Writing but it’s not a complete Flat Writing. But it’s not bad. It helped me complete Pirate Queen’s Rebellion when I thought the story wouldn’t end.
Any of these ways can help you to figure out how to take your story forward. And when you’re limited in the time you have, you might discover it might be exactly what you need to help boost you up a bit. Don’t be afraid to try something and play with it. Make it yours! Only by trying it and adjusting it to how you work can you really see if it fits your lifestyle and writing style. Best of luck!