Friday, October 8, 2010

I Knew This Was Out There Somewhere ...

So remember how I said I wrote my last book without an outline or a plot? 'Tis true. And it was essential for figuring out the characters and letting them breath and get some space. But guess what I'm doing on the rewrite?

If you said "extremely complicated plot spreadsheet" you'd be correct. I'm going to probably cut half or more of the existing text, shuffle plot elements all over the place, trim at least 10,000 words, and reduce the number of chapters from 55 to 26 (about). I'm tracking three main subplots throughout.

I guess I didn't shake my old habits as much as I thought :)

As I've worked on my own plots, I've always wondered how Rowling did it. I've read her interviews, and I even watched Oprah to see if I could get any glimpse into Rowling's actual process. For one thing, I'm weird like that. I'm endlessly fascinated by how writers work. For another, whatever else you can say about her books, they are complexly plotted. One might even say brilliantly.

So today on Twitter, guess what pops up? A page from the "spreadsheet" Rowling developed while she was writing Order of Phoenix (at least I'm guessing). And check it out! This is how you plot a 4,000-page book with dozens of characters and too many subplots to mention ...


Jude Hardin said...

Jon, you might want to check out Alexandra Sokoloff's method for outlining novels, which she borrowed directly from her screenwriting days. She has a book about it on Kindle, and all the info is also available in her blog archives.

Jon VanZile said...


Interesting! I've read a few of her posts, but never really taken the time to look through all of it (I hadn't realized there was so much). I'm familiar with the method she uses, and I've used my own version of it (even with notecards) for previous books. Part of me really likes the idea of being able to nail down a story's structure like that—it definitely appeals to the logical side of me that likes to build things.

Natasha Fondren said...

In an interview, Rowling once showed her notebook. She had it set up really cool, and I've used it, too. Okay, let's see if I can describe it. She used the left-hand pages. On the bottom one, she put the timeline in the left margin. Then she put the plot, with a bit of a heading on the left, and details on the right. On the next page that laid on top of that page, she tore off the left side so that you could see the timeline and the headings of the first page.

Then on the second page, she did a subplot, and did the same thing: a bit of a heading, and details to the right. THe third page laid on top, and the left edge was torn off so that the headings from each of the bottom pages could be seen.

It was cool. I used it for one book and it worked really well. Writer's Cafe has a similar feature.

Kath Calarco said...

One hundred sixty pages into my work-in-progress I'm finding the need for an outline, or some sort of map. But prior to that I always said, "Nah, I don't need no stinkin' outline."

But if it will make me a gazillionaire, I'm rethinkin' my prior stinkin' attitude.

Keith said...

What's your take on scrivener?

Jon VanZile said...


I've never used it, but I've read some people who say it's pretty good. My instinct is not to pay for software to handle something I can pretty easily do myself ... but that's just me. If it works great for someone else, I say more power to them.

As a side note, I have one friend who used a novel-writing piece of software to produce his book. It had a format ("I am writing a [fill in the blank]), and you plugged in your plot to the existing outline. So the program would be like, "Insert your rising action here," or "Love scene here," or "This is your call to action" and you'd fill in all those modules. It sort of broke down a novel into a formula.

I read the book and was actually pretty impressed with it ... but again, not for me.