Complicated plots

Kathmandu wires in Nepal. Photo by David Greer

Kathmandu wires in Nepal. Photo by David Greer

Karalee’s Post #14 — Does your plot-line ever feel like this? Red herrings running out of control, sub-plots taking over, minor characters trying to bully their way into the limelight?

This picture shows a typical power pole in the city of Kathmandu, Nepal. My husband and I (with over a dozen other friends) went trekking in Nepal last year and when I saw this tangled infrastructure in the capital city, I was amazed that any electricity got directed to where it was supposed to go to.  Can you imagine if you were the actual electrician trying to figure out this mess? It appears that whoever shows up to try and fix someone’s electrical problem simply strings another line.

Never did I think I would use this picture to depict writing, but it does illustrate how we need to weave story lines together and then separate them as characters come and go and our timeline marches forward. What it also shows is the mess that can happen if no outlining is done (not even in the author’s head) or the writer allows the story to take on a life of its own.

Oh, it can be fun to let minor characters speak and become larger than intended, but how does the protagonist maintain his or her status? And how does a sub-plot remain in its place and not become the main plot? And if things get too tangled, how does the reader know what is happening?

For this project and others that I’ve done, I outline the main story line and what happens at the end of each of my three main acts. Some sub-plot ideas come to light during this process and I jot them down. After I’ve finished my outline in Scrivener (that is in table form and scene-by-scene as much as I know it at the time), I then unroll a large section of children’s play paper and stick it onto my wall right in front of where I write.

The paper is where my potential tangled mess of scenes and sub-plots get sorted. I draw a large bubble-type map of my characters and their inter-relationships with all the other characters, as well as writing down the time-line for my major climaxes since in mystery thrillers the timing is everything in many cases.

My bubble map expands. Character’s pictures get posted around the perimeter along with important research information I need to refer to regularly. Yellow post-it notes go up here and there and may move around. Lines are drawn between characters and notes made along the lines.

It can look quite complicated.

Of course, if something doesn’t work and needs to be changed, the bubble map is drawn in pencil. Much easier to change than those tangled wires in Kathmandu. But everything is there for a reason, each character has his/her role to play at the proper time and place. And like a game of chess,  it all makes sense.

More Kathmandu wires. Photo by David Greer

More Kathmandu wires. Photo by David Greer

It’s comforting too, having my story diagrammed in front of me and my characters doing what they need to do when it’s needed, and nothing or no one getting left out. Almost like an extended family.

I’m enjoying spending my days looking at my bubble map and putting the pictorial view into written words, making sense out of my potentially tangled world. To me, the time put into organizing my story is well worth it.

It  keeps me on track, and like the wires in Kathmandu, when the tangled mess is straightened out there are still many wires, but they are all headed in the same direction.

In story terms this is towards ‘The End.’

As for my progress, I am still on track to finish Act Two by January first.

Happy writing.

10 thoughts on “Complicated plots

  1. This gives a whole new meaning to the term “crossed wires”! I really admire your organization Karalee and I’m sure your first draft’s plot will have a minimum of crossed wires, blind alleys and short circuits.

    • I was thinking of taking a picture but then my story and character names and who did what would be exposed! Not to mention the pictures of my characters. I don’t want to ruin the surprise for WHEN I get published 🙂

  2. I loved your Katmandu photo, but fresh from a discussion on accuracy over on LinkedIn, I can’;t stop myself from pointing out that most of those tangled wires are telephone rather than electric power.

    Frankly, I also can’t help admiring your obsessive-compulsive plotting techniques. Not something I would or could ever do, but bravo.

    • Thanks for letting me know they are telephone wires. Goes to show my non-expertise in the trades. Fortunately the same extrapolation can be drawn for my post. As for being obsessive-compulsive I’m not convinced, but the visual works better for me than referring to a table or written outline.

    • You do need wall space but no wider than your desk. I am lucky to have use of a bedroom for my office now that I’m slowly empty nesting. My youngest is graduating from high school this year.

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