Now, I’m sure some of you are hoping that I’m going to expose a few juicy details of my private life, sorry. But…this will be even better, because in all honesty, I live an ordinary life. I know, I’m bummed too.
However, I do have an in-depth plot table to show you about outlining your next novel. Isn’t that thrilling? Below, I have pasted an example to show you, and purposely made it blurry since it details the latest guts of my second novel.
I am excited about this plot table, because it is the second time I’ve used this format to outline, and it is near idiot-functional. That is, even if you’re an idiot when it comes to drafting a novel, you can use and will benefit from this table.
This is a simple Excel spreadsheet (you can also use a table in Word) of every scene or POV shift in my novel. I’ve been averaging 80-100 for 90K words, but if you write like Stieg Larsson, you might have 10,000.
Across the top (horizontally) I have these headings: POV , CHAPTER, SCENE, [scene] #, GOAL, CONFLICT, DISASTER, EMOTIONS/THOUGHTS, DAY, NOTES.
According to Dwight Swain, author of Techniques of the Selling Writer, every scene has a goal, conflict, disaster (SCENE), reaction, dilemma, and a decision (SEQUEL), small or large they might be. I’ve grouped the last three into Emotions and Thoughts in my table, which may or may not include a decision.
The importance of breaking down your scenes with these elements is crucial for the structure and pacing of your book. It helps organize your thoughts, craft a logical and complete storyline, and you may even gain insight about the themes, symbols, and moods in your novel.
In the first column of my plot table (vertically – see, I told you this was idiot-functional), I list the POV character’s name in that scene. Because I usually have three to four POV’s in the Kate Waters mysteries, I break up my scenes according to POV switch. Also, I have color coordinated each of my POV’s so immediately upon looking at my table, I can easily see how many POV’s my main character has in a row, and whether or not I need to add or space out POV scenes for flow and pacing. Currently, my main character is green, my detective is purple, and the other two are black and blue, which actually sums up their relationship.
In the SCENE column, I like to list the location of that scene, which helps remind me to vary the locations of my scenes for suspense and intrigue, as well as including unique or symbolic areas for action to take place at, such as on a docked boat or a shady pub, depending on what type of scene and/or information is being revealed at the time.
In the DAY column, you can keep track of the weekdays, time of day, sequential number, or even weather. The CHAPTER column is usually blank until I’ve finalized the structure of all my scenes, and am confident they won’t change in order (much) – that way, I can choose the best places to stop and start the next chapter.
The gray shading in the plot table is for night and day differentiation, with night scenes in gray. This is also a quick reference for how many scenes I have at night, which ones they are, and whether or not I need to adjust for time details in the novel.
When you are writing a novel, there are a gazillion details to keep track of, especially if you’re writing mystery. What details were put in one scene, or how far off an event occurred from another can be maddening and confusing if you don’t have the right tools to keep track of information flow. So, hopefully this plot table will be one of those tools that at least one of you will find helpful.
PS – This plot table is actually so cool and idiot-functional, I’m going to start drafting my first horror novel with it this summer.