post-it plotting

Filed under: writing

I’ve spent the last two mornings outlining my entire novel with six different colours of Post-It notes.

At this point of the process, I find outlining like this to be both necessary and immensely satisfying. Some people plan out their novels in detail before they write the draft; I find it more useful to diagram out my novel in detail after I’ve written the draft. For me, writing the crappy draft is a discovery process, to find out what happens where and why, and it’s only when I’m done that I know what I really should have put in. But then I’ve got this big sloppy 500+ page manuscript, and it’s almost impossible to deal with.

So I sit down with the post-its and a pen and the manuscript, and I produce a detailed outline of each scene in the book—not necessarily how I originally wrote it, but how it should be. I do it on Post-Its because you can move them around. I use different colours for each major story strand. (Six colours is a record for me, and is probably one of the reasons why this book has been a little tricky to write.)

After two days of work, this is what I’ve come up with:

Post-It Plotting 1

It’s rather beautiful, isn’t it? (I mean the colours, not the story, which is impossible for anyone but me to understand from these notes.) You “read” it like a comic book, starting at the top left of each sheet of A4 and reading across then down to the bottom of the page, then onto the next page. 18 panels per page, which is (in total) 126 scenes or scene sections (the more important scenes have whole series of Post-Its, one for each major bit of action). Here’s a closer view of one sheet:

Post-It Plotting 2

You can see that some Post-Its have other Post-Its of different colours underneath them. That’s when a single scene or scene section contains two or more major plot threads in it.

This is such a useful thing for me to do. I can see the entire novel at a glance, and make sure I haven’t neglected any plot threads. As this novel is constructed around weekends (every bit of pink you see, happens on Saturday or Sunday), it also means I can count how many weeks it takes up and understand what happens where. I knew I had several scenes I’d left out, but didn’t know where to put them; seeing it this way, I could slot them in immediately, sometimes replacing a lacklustre scene with something I like better, or changing the focus of what’s already there to something more relevant.

These sheets are my maps for revisions now. I’ll go through the file scene by scene, amending, cutting, and adding new stuff to fit this plan. Or, if the plan doesn’t work, I’ll move the Post-Its around and replace them if necessary.

And I know I have a last scene to write, which should somehow, involve all six colours. Not sure about how to do that bit yet…

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