By Yvonne Montgomery
One of the sessions I appreciated the most at this year’s Colorado Gold Conference was Christine Jorgensen’s Plotting Your Novel Using a Dynamic Grid.
My study has always been a forest of papers where the filing system is similar to an anthropological dig: one layer on top of another. The goal is to keep the important bits available to weave into the work. The longer it takes to write a novel, the easier it is to forget those cunning ideas that crop up at inconvenient times: twilight sleep, in the shower, as I’m cooking coq au vin. Every gem is scrawled onto a scrap of something and set aside to look at later—if I can find it. At times I’ve had more paper tacked onto the walls than piled on my desk. Always I’m haunted by the suspicion that my most brilliant ideas are somewhere in the debris.
Chris, author of the wonderful Stella the Stargazer series, and whose new suspense thriller, Missing, is coming out soon, is a voice of reason in a cluttered world. With two or three Styrofoam presentation boards, tape, and many colorful Post-it notes, she demonstrated a sane way to make plotting both three dimensional and coherent. Starting with the “Character Sheet for the Dynamic Grid,” filled out for the protagonist, the antagonist, and for important secondary characters, information about the inhabitants of the work is collected.
Major incidents or crises are compiled and noted on the Post-it notes. They, in turn, are stuck to the Dynamic Grid board, which has been divided into Acts 1, 2 and 3, with sub-headings for the vital plot elements. Character and plot information are put onto the Post-it notes, which can be moved around to suit your muse.
I have long entered plot and character information in notebooks, guaranteeing lots of flipping through pages to find needed information. First I have to find the right notebook.
Chris’s system offered a way I could see the plot elements as well as the characters interacting through them before and during the process of writing. I could take some of the clutter off my walls and, through judicious use of the character sheets, begin to tame the wild kingdom of papers scrawled with haphazard information and scattered throughout my house.
In the month since the conference, I’ve begun to make some progress toward organizing my writing process. It’s happening slowly, because I’m working to finish the second of the Wisdom Court books, a series of metaphysical thrillers set in Boulder. Since it’s a series, I’m using the principles of the Dynamic Grid with extra boards for the story arc that extends through the first three books as well as the plot elements specific to each book. A few of the characters are in two or three of the books, and others are introduced along the way. Putting information about them on a plot line I can see when I look up from the computer might take me out of contention as the slowest writer on the planet.
I’ve written fiction a long time, but I’m always learning something new. Thanks to Colorado Gold and people like Chris Jorgensen, who share their techniques for dealing with the issues that plague us writers, we members of RMFW can hone our craft and enjoy good company. Doesn’t get better than that.
[Chris’s handouts for Plotting Your Novel Using a Dynamic Grid are available on the RMFW website under the Conference setting.]
Yvonne Montgomery is the author of two mysteries, Scavenger Hunt (aka Scavengers) and Obstacle Course, and co-author of Bridey’s Mountain, a Colorado saga, awarded the Top Hand Award from the Colorado Authors League for Best Book Length Fiction of 1993.
Yvonne lives in an old three-story house in Denver’s historic Capitol Hill. Its nooks and crannies and odd noises in the middle of the night have inspired her latest work, the Wisdom Court books. The first, Edge of the Shadow, will comes out as an e-book later in 2013. Her ebooks are widely available, including at Amazon, B&N Nook, iBooks.
Yvonne’s website is at Writer in the Garret,http://yvonnemontgomery.com/
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