As I begin work on the next Hollows book, THE RULE, I’m sharing my plotting methods. Today, I’m at day three of my process, which is where my character grid comes into play. It’s basically a spread sheet that lets me see the entire book at a glance and helps me organize my thoughts. It’s invaluable in a rewrite when I have to insert a snippet of information and am not sure where to logically do it.
The post below is from 2009, but it’s still accurate. Though a lot of my plotting methods have changed through the years, I still use and keep my character grids for future reference.
For those of you who haven’t been to the drama box in a few days, I’m taking the opportunity of NaNoWriMo and me just starting rough draft to detail out my plotting process. Disclaimer:everyone writes differently, there’s no wrong way to do it. This is what I’ve come up with over the last ten years or so, and what works for me. It’s a process that’s still evolving. Oh, and my word count is still zero.
Yesterday I rewrote my plot to take out the demon plotline and expand two others of crime and love. It made a much more tidy story and I was able to dig deeper into the relationships instead of skimming over them. My one page synopsis turned into a 13 page synopsis, casually broken into maybe-chapters. Today I’m going to begin to break this up into clear chapters so I can better balance the entire work as to pacing, place, and characters. I don’t want to spend too much time in the church, or be moving from place to place in any given chapter. My rule is no more than one scene shift per chapter, and try not to stay in any one place for more than two consecutive chapters. Same thing with characters. Variety keeps the reader interested and the story moving. So to better see the patterns that the story is taking and head off any potential problems, I have come up with a character grid. It’s about the only piece of “software” that I use, and it’s just an Excel spreadsheet that I’ve modified to my needs. Here’s the one I used for ODW.
Characters are down the side, the locations of the scene are on the top, and the action is at the bottom. (this is an early version, so it might not dovetail perfectly into the published book) The color shift is an indication of a change in day (which can be seen by the dates) and the chapter numbers are under that. The Xs are when a character is an a chapter, and sometimes I use an O to indicate that they are in the chapter by way of phone or scrying mirror. I usually have the month and day the book takes place in across the top, and the sunrise and set and average temps at the bottom,
My character grid is how I first realized that Jenks was in almost every chapter in the earlier books, and I’ve become better at getting him out so other characters can shine. It’s also how I know if I have a character who is needed for a crucial scene, and yet is not introduced anywhere until that scene. Very bad. Same thing with the bad guys. I try to have them show up early, and then at least one more time before the end. Another rule of thumb is don’t introduce too many characters in the same scene, even if they are returning characters. I like to have only two at the most, and will break a chapter just to avoid this.
A character grid of some sort is also a great way to make sure that your male to female ratio isn’t wildly out of balance. Mine usually slant to the male end of the ratio, but since Rachel is female it works out. Oh, and when you go to rewrite and need to add something that revolves around a character, it’s really easy to go the grid, see where they are, and place your clue instead of spending an hour thumbing through the file and guessing where to put it is.
Tomorrow, after I break this monster into chapters, I’ll let you know what balance issues I encountered and nipped in the bud, but for now, I’ve not a clue as to what problems the manuscript has. I can’t wait!