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How to manage the plot of your story

Discussion in 'FanFic Discussion' started by Olfrik, Jun 9, 2006.

  1. Olfrik

    Olfrik Seventh Year

    Mar 2, 2006
    Hej guys,

    I have a general problem keeping track of my plot.
    How do you guys for example check for plot holes, how do you manage all the details, the obvious, the implied and which clues where given when and such things?

    I started with a simple list as an outline for the story. Then I made annotations, but it gets unmanagable very fast. I have no idea how an experienced writer manages these things, there must be some way without studying literature. Maybe a special kind of charts or diagrams or something.

    If you have any references or recommendations I would be very thankfull.

    I am currently having much of my work "on hold" (not published) for fear that I dont manage to keep track of my own plot, so I then publish it all in one go. But you seem to manage just fine with publishing just parts of it. How do you do that? I mean at least you've got to have a list of who you've got slaughtered so far?

    Thanks to IP for suggesting I post here, i guess it lacked in confidence on my part when I didnt find a thread to that here. I am a technical person, not a writer by profession.

    Last edited: Jun 9, 2006
  2. ip82

    ip82 Prisoner

    Nov 14, 2005
    Here's my reply e-mail, just for reference.

    Personally, I just type down a vague outline. First few chapters are
    detailed and described scene by scene, while the rest are short notes
    on plot-bunnies I plan to use. It's never a good thing to overplan and
    try to envision story in its entirety before writing it. Some
    flexibility goes a long way of helping you with blocks (beleive me I
    know :)). Also, don't pre-plan too many subplots. They have a way of
    getting out of hand and making a mess that's hard to untangle from.

    As for your problem with plotholes and leaving clues, I honestly don't
    know. I don't have any given method for that, I just use logic and
    follow my feelings when spreading out clues. How efficient is that,
    I'm not sure, but there you go.
  3. Myst

    Myst Headmaster

    Feb 4, 2006
    Ahoskie, NC
    When I write, I pretty much have a vague outline for my 1st couple of chapters, everything else is plot-bunnies written down. I then take cliches that run into the type of story im writing and look for a way to avoid them.

    Most things creative though tend to just flow out of my head, especially when I reread my chapters like 5 times. Rereading what you wrote helps fix a lot of these things and foreshadowing comes easier when you keep rereading it.
  4. Cervus

    Cervus Raptured to Hell

    Aug 29, 2005
    Manchester, England.
    I'm a planning whore :) I plan everything before I even start writing. I have a plan for each chapter of my new fic, that way I know where everything should go. It's not overly detailed, though it would be considered detailed by some peoples standards.

    I find it much easy to write and eliminate plot holes this way, but that is just my way. People tend to have a process that works for them, my process for example wouldn't work for quite a few people, it's all about finding the process that is right for you. It will come to you in time as long as you keep on writing.
  5. World

    World Oberstgruppenführer Moderator DLP Supporter

    Apr 19, 2006
    Axis of Evil (Original)
    For my first fic, I didn't really plan anything which, as it turned out, was quite a mistake since I didn't really know where to go with it. For my current one, I have outlined what happens in every scene. Just a sentence or two to mention the most important things.
  6. nonjon

    nonjon Alumni Retired Staff

    Dec 1, 2005
    Yeah. I reckon with more experience, you begin to figure out what works for you better. But for me, planning a story and knowing what I'm doing and where I'm going is primarily in my head, but I have notes all over the place. When I get stuck, I work on heavily nested outlines (on chapter five I know the definite scenes for chapter six, but only have definite events and vague concepts of the scenes for the final ten chapters).

    For example, I may not have any idea how many chapters are coming between where I am, and my big fic twist, or sudden surprise, but I know the important events. The unimportant events get made up as we go. And if I'm working on Chapter 15, then I have decent outline for chapter 16, a pretty good idea for Chapter 17 and 18. And rough plans for the chapters coming after that. Beyond that, maybe a few scenes that were in my head, and of course the dozen or however many most important events to the fic are established before I ever write chapter one. Those are the things you hint or foreshadow towards.

    For example if I were writing HBP, I'd already know that horcruxes exist and Snape's going to kill Dumbledore. As I write more and get closer I might then determine Harry would watch Dumbledore die, and as we get even closer, I might figure out that it'll be on the astronomy tower for a good old fashioned heroic fall. And maybe only when writing it, would maybe I realize I have to restrain Harry or he'd interfere. Or would I figure out what Albus Dumbledore's last words are.

    Before ever starting though, you really need to know the premiere concepts of what the fic is about, if you want to hint or foreshadow towards them.

    And it sounds like your simple list outline would work, if only you made it extensible. Which I'm assuming means you wrote it out on paper, when just putting it on the computer would have solved your problems. Add more and more layers of nesting, and an ability to shift nested structures around if a scene ends up moving around.

    For example:
    I. Act 1
       A. Chapter 1
       B. Chapter 2
           1). Scene 1
                (a) - hint/foreshadowing
                (b) - red herring
                (c) - quote I want to sneak in like "Take your breast off my hand!"
           2). Scene 2
    For me, if I actually did plan each chapter meticulously, then writing it would be a chore and it's not as much fun when you can't make things up and change your mind about bits as you go. But the big stuff, you really have to know to even start. For me at least.
  7. Master Slytherin

    Master Slytherin Headmaster

    Apr 15, 2005
    London, England
    It depends on how you cope really. But for most, it would be best to write out at least a plan of what will happen in the beginning, middle and end of the story (after you have the general premise sorted). You can then build around that, perhaps writing a sentence or two about each character's role in the story. You can go deeper than that and plan each individual chapter if you wish but it just depends on how good you are at planning.

    As for checking plot-holes and stuff, there's no way you can manage all of them. Perhaps hire a beta from www.perfectimagination.co.uk to look over it for you and give a second opinion. Also, we have been known to give meticulous analysis for authors who post chapters (or drafts of chapters) in the 'Work By Author' section.
  8. Olfrik

    Olfrik Seventh Year

    Mar 2, 2006
    What I currently have looks much like what nonjon outlined.
    Only much more extensive, obviously. Maybe I am just too paranoid. The problem begins if you develop your own theory of, say, runes or arithmency. You need to structure your theory first if you want to give your story some background, if it wont be some ranting or just acting impulsively. If you need a cunning main character, you need some cunning yourself. That does mean you have to calculate who would react when, how and so on.... thats my problem. Then your character cannot know everything at once so cannot the reader, so you have to put in some food at the right places. And thats all stacked up on different levels.

    Maybe I should make a sheet, like
    - whats really going on
    - what does the reader know
    - which character knows what
    - which characters consult, coming to which conclusion

    Maybe I'm thinking to technically.
  9. Athenia

    Athenia Groundskeeper

    Apr 28, 2006
    I always make sure I know who my characters are going to be first. If you can list what your characters like, hate, would say, would never say, like to eat, habits, stuff like that you can keep things pretty straight forward most of the time. Most authors have a big problem of all of the characters either acting the same way, acting very one-dimensional or acting really out of character.

    I also like to use the "8-year old" method. That's where you show your story to an 8 year old and if they can find plot hole, you have a problem. Honestly, if you can find the people, have a younger and an older person read it and make sure you don't submit anything as soon as you write it. Wait a day, make sure you sleep between writing and re-reading it. Try to read it when you are less focused (it makes is so that you see things that harder to follow).
  10. Shuujaku

    Shuujaku Fourth Year

    Mar 1, 2006
    I alternate something between nonjon's 'in the head' method and winging it entirely. The latter tends to be rather tricky.. I once started a sociology paper and ended up with four pages of framework for a history term paper on the Industrial Revolution.
  11. BlueMagikMarker

    BlueMagikMarker Pirate King Yarrgh's First Mate

    May 5, 2006
    Indiana, Purdue University
    On the topic of organizing a plot

    Ok, I agree with nonjon in the sense that writing isn't as fun if each scene is planned out to the very last detail. I like to leave as much freedom as possible while also making sure that I stick to the preplanned story. Before I even begin writing, I write out a few major evens that lead up to the conclusion.
    For example:
    • Harry is bitten by a werewolf.
    • He avoids detection by his friends.
    • The Daily Prophet gets wind of his situation and prints it.
    • Harry runs away from wizarding society.
    • He gets a muggle job and years pass.
    • Voldemort takes over the wizarding world.
    • Harry uses his uber werewolf powers to vanquish him in a guilty rage.

    This is an example of an extremely basic plot (if it looks like I copied it from someone then I'm sorry, I just came up with it on the spur of the moment). After I write out the basic plot, I expand on it, adding in numerous subplots. The subplots help add more to the story so it doesn't become monotonous by moving toward only one goal. It also make it more interesting to read because there are other things happening in the background.
    An example of a subplot would be:
    • Dumbledore finds out that Harry has been bitten.
    • Dumbledore confronts Harry.
    • Dumbledore fights to keep the story out of the paper.
    • He pleads with Harry, trying to get him to return to the wizarding world.
    • Dumbledore dies in a battle with Voldemort.

    It is not exactly required, but I find that it is more fun to interweave the subplots within the main plot. That way it won't seem like you are suddenly going off on some random tangent and it adds to the mystery of the story, throwing readers off the scent of the basic plot. If you organize your plot like so, it gives you a basic outline while still allowing you enough freedom to make it interesting to write.

    Anyways, that's my opinion. Good luck with planning your own plot out. Or you could use my example if you want, I doubt that I'll ever write it and I pretty much made it up as I went along.
  12. Amerision

    Amerision Galactic Sheep Emperor DLP Supporter

    Apr 1, 2006
    The Gardens in the Desert Sand
    Everytime I write a new chapter, I read first what I already have, skimming through most of it.

    During the writing of a chapter, I reread meticulously on what I have, rewriting and perfecting, then continuing once I reach the end.

    Every 2000 or so words, I start rereading the chapter again, and rewrite and fix. This is done so my writing style does not change, and my word choice does not become repetitive. It also helps keep a constant mood that isn't affected by what your current feelings are.

    For example:

    Right now, I'm writing Chp 3 of Equal and Opposite. I wrote about a couple pages, then left. I had, in my mind as I wrote, a dark and mysterious setting.

    Next day, I came back from a party, and started writing again. But then, looking at what I had already written, I realized that my mood was too cheery, and my writing style was off as well. In addition, I had forgotten important plot devices in my description spree.

    What it boils down to is to recognize what you have already written.

    Nothing is worse than seeing each chapter different from the one before, and one that sprouts out completely new shit while forgetting an interesting plot turn from the previous chapters.
  13. Yarrgh!

    Yarrgh! Pirate King

    Jan 29, 2006
    Purdue University, Indiana
    I hate to say it, since this really won't help you: I...don't write anything down.

    I write on the spur of the moment, about 75% of each chapter, i realized, comes up on the spot. I have ideas that have been stuck in my head, which made me start writing, and they will come into play as they must. But they are vague ideas, nothing really solid.

    I don't really see the point in writing a plan...don't mean to bash it, but its never worked for me. From highschool papers to fanfics, plans don't happen when i try. I get maybe 3-4 points down, and then get stuck.

    When i'm writing, i can add things in as I write...i'll be typing, and an idea pops up, so i'll finish the sentence enough to be able to remember what i was gonna type, type (scene break) and begin writing this new idea down. I guess i rely on my imagination too much, and take ideas that i make up on the spot.

    When i THINK i'm done with the chapter, I reread it ONLY for proofreading, such as fixing grammar/spelling errors. Then, after that, i reread it again, trying to put myself into the shoes of a reader who is waiting for an update.

    That usually helps me work out kinks that i didn't notice before. Then...i send it to my beta, and recently, i sent my chapters to IP82 and a guy from FicWad for ideas and help.

    That generally does it for me, and by and large, when i read through it after posting the chapter on FFNet, i don't notice any real errors.
  14. Mrriddler

    Mrriddler High Inquisitor

    Oct 23, 2005
    Somewhere high, somewhere low and somewhere in bet
    I wish I could do that Yar, but there's just no way I can keep track of everything. But I keep pretty sparse notes, just enough to jolt my mind in the right direction. You probably should be try to keep the general story plot in your mind, because if you can't, you'll likely have problem when it comes to actually writing the thing.
  15. gamma

    gamma Guest

    I work in a hybrid of sorts that Athenia and Yarrgh described. I choose to plan out my characters, fleshing them out in my mind the different mannerisms, attitudes, and personalities they may have and how they can interact with each other. Only after the certain characters I have floating around are "complete" will I start thinking of plots.

    This is where I become spontaneous: I don't write anything down, except for a word or two that can remind me of a situation or mood that I know I want incorporated. I'll create different scenarios that the characters can become involved in and if one works, I'll keep going and possibly scrape the idea if I hit a dead end (reminder: I do this at school when I *ahem* should be paying attention. So I have alot of time on my hands). Once I find a suitable/intriguing plot, I'll run with it and see how it goes. Trial and error I suppose, but it works for me.
  16. KeshinNoAkui

    KeshinNoAkui Seventh Year

    May 27, 2006
    Washington State.
    I agree with Yarrgh!, I rarely write things out, I will occasionally to think over legit-reasons on why certain events would happen (like say, Harry being sent to another Trial at the Ministry), but other than that, I don't plan most of my chapters. Or, if I do, I establish where I want to end, and where I begin, and somehow find my way from point A to point B.
  17. Naga's Shadow

    Naga's Shadow Seventh Year

    May 24, 2006
    I'm going to have to side with Yarrgh! on this issue. I never write anything down, that said I do re-read my chapters several times while writing them and look for inconsistentcies. I don't always have the ending planed out when I begin but I think that the most important thing is to have planed out several chapters ahead, so if you do add something as you write you know how it will effect your overall fic.
  18. Master Slytherin

    Master Slytherin Headmaster

    Apr 15, 2005
    London, England
    Writing without even having a written account on how the plot will roughly shape up will eventually lead to an abandoned fic. There will eventually be a writer's block and afterwards, you'll be thinking 'what the fuck was this about again?' If you do get back into writing, you will have been struck by another plot bunny and will start another fic rather than gathering your clustered thoughts about the previous.