This discussion got me thinking about my own writing. I'm not a seat-of-my-pants writer--not even a little--but I hate traditional outlines. Something about long lists (I.A, 2.b--it's all Greek to me) just doesn't work for my visual brain. I think it's my background in design that means those outlines are too logical and sequential for me. To that end, I wanted to share some plotting devices that have worked better for me. These techniques help me organize my writing without killing the spontaneity.
Mind MappingI give a detailed How-To for this technique in the first DIY MFA. Unlike traditional techniques, this type of outline forces you to look at a topic from multiple different angles. It also makes it easy for you to see an entire project in one glance, rather than having to read through line-by-line to get a sense of the full story.
How to Apply this to Fiction: Try mind-mapping your story or novel by making each of the main branches as chapter topics or major events in the story. The sub-branches can be scenes that sub-divide these larger branches. There are no rules with mind-mapping so feel free to doodle and make notes (I use thought bubbles and speech bubbles to add notes to my mind maps, as you can see in the image.)
Here's a mind map I used to brainstorm the very first DIY MFA back in September.
I love subway maps. What can I say, I'm a New Yorker so it's in my blood. Recently, I started outlining stories using New York-style subway maps. Just as subway lines intersect, different subplots weave in and out of the main plot thread in a novel or short story. I like to think of writing as a journey so to me, this idea of mapping out a story works for me.
How to Apply this to Fiction: The different threads in a story are in different colors. Scenes in each thread are marked as subway stops. If a scene applies to more than one story thread, then it becomes an intersection. What I love about this technique is that when I sit down to write a scene, all I'm writing is a "dot" of the story. Dot's aren't big and scary; they're cute and round. They're just dots for crying out loud. Somehow in my mind, it seems a lot more manageable.
Tip: If the subway concept doesn't work for you, think of this as a road map instead. The main story threads are interstates, subplots are smaller roads and the dots are the stops you make along the way.
Here's a subway map I designed to use for DIY MFA.
This technique is super-portable, which is one of the reasons I love it. Take a stack of index cards and make one card for each scene you know needs to happen in your story. What's nice about this technique is that you don't have to write the scenes in order (you can move the cards around), and you can always add more cards later if you think you need them.
How to Apply this to Fiction: On each card write the following information.
- Scene Title: Something easy to remember like "Scene where Jimmy falls from the tree."
- Characters: Who's in this scene?
- Events: What happens?
- Setting: Where are we?
- Purpose: Why do you need this scene? (Character development? Important plot point? Reveal important information?) This last one is important because if you can't think of a purpose for the scene then you have to question whether you need the scene at all.
Homework: Choose one technique and try it out. Then tell us about it in the comments or on twitter!