Map Your Plot

Mapping Plot.jpg
Desk at my PhD office… it doesn’t seem to messy just because you cannot actually see the desk!

No matter what they tell us about time being a esphere instead of a line or not existing (see video below). Time matters when you are writing a story, specially if you want to make sure you are telling something that makes sense at the same time it holds the audience’s attention.


As a writer, I like to ‘vomit’ my first draft on the white page and then, when it’s all there, I can have something finished to work with. This reassures me into believeing this will turn into a finished piece of fiction. I see myself as a sculptor, carving out the parts I don’t need from a stone instead of creating something new and almost perfect from scratch.

Of course, having a monstrous first draft has also its challenges. I’m in the editing process of a whole novella now, and I almost dreaded to look at those thirty seven pages full of grammar mistakes and plot inconsistencies. I found that mapping the plot in terms of time (scenes first, and then what happens after what) helped a lot to decide what the hell I want to talk about with this book.

How do I map?

1. Divide Plot Into Scenes

This is easy, because this year I decided to write 500 words every day. The result? My novella is full of 500 words vignettes that are in itself scenes with a beginning and an end. I write novellas, so having almost independant vignettes (even if they all have their specific place in the general plot line) allowed me to cover a great deal in a short space (I’ve a maximum of 20,000 words). The good and bad thing about novellas? You’ve to get to the point quickly.

2. Character Building or Plot Advance?

I found that all the secenes I had could be divided in two main cathegories. Some of them were just character building, that is, they were focused in the inner feelings of a character and illustrated events from the daily life that, even if they might have appeared insignificant or ordinary, showed reasons for her or his behaviour.

On the other hand, some scenes were mostly action and ‘oooh moments’. These implied twists in the plot that affected all the characters in general.

I decided that the logical order would be to alternate these two cathegories with an increase of plot advance towards the end (I wanted it to feel climatic). As in life, not all can be exciting and fast, the reader also needs a time to breath, recover and think. This helps her to feel closer to the characters and their motivations.

3. Put It Where You See It

Nothing blocks me more than knowing I have to edit.. without knowing at what point of the story I am and (most importantly) if I’m advancing in the correct direction. The first draft is all about experimenting and getting lost on purpose (like when you visit a new city and you feel fascinated by it). But editing is more like being in a foreign city to attend a very important appointment. You want a map, you want to know where you’re going, get there and not being late. Having my plot arranged in scenes and in chronological order in front of my desk helps me feel more confident.

4. Don’t Hammer Them.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to be very rigid when you’re creating, because you never know when you’re going to have to next great idea. That is why I always fix my scenes to the wall using bluetack (instead of hammering them, basically). So I can always add new scenes or change their order at any point if I feel this will benefit the story. Knowing I can have this flexibility also makes me confident.

I know that a lot have been said about writers that like to plan until the last detail before the writing itself or others that prefer creating as they write. Personally, I like planning but also the freedom of knowing I can ‘mess up’ with my story whenever I feel like to. In the end, there is nothing more liberating that writing as if you were a child building a sand castle. You enjoy the process without being worried about the outcome. Who knows!

Also, I shall confess that I decided to start organising scenes on the wall after seeing the film Trumbo, where the protagonist is a script writer who creates Frankestein drafts  (that is, cutting here and there to join different parts. There was something in the physicality of the process (being able to rearrange your plot with your hands) that attracted me.

And talking about the film, it has a memorable scene about the difficulties of deciding the title of your own piece (something I feel very related to, because my titles are generally rubish).


Do you map your plot? Do you like having your notes in front of your desk when you’re writing?






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