Thanks to Pam McCutcheon ( and the Pikes Peak Romance Writers ) for being in Seekerville today to share the Portable Plotting Board. We will be giving away a plotting board to one Seekerville guest today.
I have to admit the idea for a plotting board wasn't original to me. I saw a couple of different versions of one at different conferences. Since my critique group meets periodically to brainstorm new ideas, I modified it for our use and added an area for characterization. Since it's difficult to develop plots and characters independently, this allows you to work back and forth between them when brainstorming a story.
Plotting Section: In this area, there are squares numbered from 1 to 20, each representing a chapter. If you plan to have fewer chapters, then ignore the higher numbered squares. If you plan on having more chapters, well...use an additional surface or the back of the board.
You will need several different colored sticky notes (small enough to fit 2-4 in one square) and a pen or marker. Each note color will represent something different in your book. In the photo example, we used the following colors:
Rose: Heroine's characterization and/or scenes
Blue: Hero's characterization and/or scenes
Lavender: Villain's characterization and/or scenes
Peach: A scene showing the development of the romance
Hot Pink: Major plot points and turning points
Bright Green: Subplot points/scenes
Light Green: Suspense plot points/scenes
These are just examples. You could use different colors to track different things according to your needs. For example, you might want to track clues and red herrings, or your historical events timeline, or character growth, or to make sure you have enough action scenes. The purpose of using a variety of colors is so that you can easily see where you're missing something.
For example, if there isn't enough blue, you might need more scenes from your hero's point of view. Or you may realize that you forgot to set up the subplot in the first part of the book, that you need to add in the villain's point of view, that you have too many scenes in one character's point of view and not from another, etc. And the advantage of using sticky notes is that it's easy to move them from one chapter to another if necessary.
The notes in the example were placed randomly--we're not saying this is where they need to go. The actual structure of the novel is, of course, up to you.
Character Section: This is based on Debra Dixon's marvelous book, Goal, Motivation and Conflict, from Gryphon Books for Writers. In case you haven't read it, this is based on the realization that all major characters need goals, motivation, and conflict (GMC) in order to be well-rounded. At its simplest, the goal is what the character wants, the motivation is why she wants it, and the conflict is what's keeping her from achieving it.
Brainstorming: You can brainstorm on your own, with your critique group/partner, or in a larger group such as a chapter. I've done it at workshops and chapter meetings, and it seems to work well, so long as everyone knows the one rule of brainstorming: the author has the final say on what goes into her book. In my critique group, we work back and forth between the plotting section and the character section to make sure we have everything covered. Once the author feels she has enough to go off and work on her own, we stop.
Example: The photo example shows how a portable plotting board might look after it's partially filled in. I find we usually have 3 to 4 sticky notes per chapter. You may have more or fewer, depending on what you're tracking. And if you use smaller notes, you can obviously get more on the board.
After It's Filled In: So, once you have all of the sticky notes on the board and you're happy with the plot and characters, what do you do then? You can use the notes to write a detailed working synopsis, if you choose. Or, you can prop the board up next to your computer each time you write so you're reminded what needs to go into that chapter.
Another option (especially if you need the board to brainstorm another story for someone else), is to take the notes off the board and place them on paper in a notebook. I use separate pages for the hero's GMC, the heroine's GMC, and each chapter. Then, if I get more ideas, I can write them directly on the page and take it with me to work on it. One of my critique group members transfers the information to a Word or Excel document, using tables to set up the chapters (four cells per chapter), then coloring each cell the appropriate color. Again, do what works for you.
Where Can I Get One? When I showed this to Pikes Peak Romance Writers, my local RWA chapter, they decided to make boards for themselves and others to help in their own plotting/brainstorming. So, they have some for sale. There are three sizes available (the one in the photo is the largest one) and each one comes with instructions on how to use it. You can find the information you need here.
Pam McCutcheon is the author of romantic comedies, paranormal romances, fantasy short stories (under the name Pamela Luzier), and how-to books for writers, including the popular Writing the Fiction Synopsis. Her latest foray is into Young Adult urban fantasy, and her next book, Bite Me, comes out from Bell Bridge Books in October 2008 under the name Parker Blue. You can read more about her at http://www.pammc.com.
Pikes Peak Romance Writers is a chapter of Romance Writers of America, serving romance writers in the Pikes Peak region around
. It has been in existence since 1991. For more info, visit http://www.pprw.org. Colorado Springs, CO