Right, so you have sat down with a pencil and paper and wrote out your main character’s motivations, desires, and goals. You have included all the things standing against him/her and you've decided WHY this goal is so damned important to the character. You have thought about how all of your supporting character’s goals, desires, and needs will somehow further the goals of your main character. You have your basic framework for your story. The only problem is you don’t have a clear and concise diagram about how your plot will come together.
Creating a quick, at a glance, reference guide for your plot will come in handy when you find you have written yourself into a corner! It will also help your story progress in a logical manner and stop you from having to make strange leaps of logic to achieve your plot’s goals. A good map will also help you keep track of your secondary character’s actions, motivations, and knowledge. When you are writing first person narrative this is crucial because while your narrator may not know the extent of other character’s thoughts, motivations, and actions you must!
A good plot map can also allow you to layer in some sub plots, drama, actions scenes and…well everything else that makes a story amazing, but still keep the story moving forward. These sub plots can take on a life of their own and a good map helps you pick up a chair and beat it back into submission. Sub plots are tricksy things and can steal the thunder from your original brilliant plan for your main character.
A good map will also let you know when you have a live sub plot with no resolution. This can lead to a great second story or will needs to me woven back into the tapestry of your story.
Keep in mind that the following suggestion of how to construct your own plot map is entirely that- a suggestion! You can construct your map in whatever fashion works for you. Here’s what I do:
I sit down with a piece of paper and outline the basic plot, how the characters work together, and what I basically envision happening.
Then I take out a separate piece of paper and use a sort of flow chart system. I start at the left side of the page and write the beginning, or triggering, event for my main character. Basically what set him or her on this path? I put a circle or box around the idea.
Then I move to the farthest edge of the page and write what I envision the ending of the story to be. I circle or box that idea.
Now comes the fun part! I begin to plot the interactions and events that will lead me from the starting point to the possible ending. I circle each individual event, or possible interaction leaving enough room to add more later. Characters are notoriously fickle and a good story could end up far from the original plotting. There should be room for twists and turns and other character’s goals and desires. Remember that if your story has an element of time that you note when each interaction must take place.
Ok, so what if your character must perform a certain action before the plot can advance. Be sure to note that somewhere in the margins. Circle or box the notes individually.
Now you can begin to draw some key lines between the different ideas to show how you project that your character will progress toward his/her ultimate goal. Then you can look at your lines and decide if your character is having too easy a time achieving his/her aims. Without conflict your story will lack depth, and so will your character’s…well, character.
This is when you must harden your heart and put your beloved character through some heartache and trying times. Consider all that could go wrong during each step of the journey.
How will your character respond to each difficulty? Will he overcome them with long suffering silence, or will she rail at every turn?
Now if you've done this right your paper should look like a kindergarten nightmare! Sometimes I am ok with that and impatient to get started.
Other times I get out another piece of paper and reconstruct the whole flow chart using different colored pencils or highlighters. I generally stick to pencils since they can be erased easily if I find that a proposed idea simply won’t work. Crossing out the dead ends can lead to ideas for follow up stories/novels so don’t disregard them outright.
How you organize the final map is up to you. Some authors will sort of outline the story components at the top of the page. Then map out the plot and sub-plots in chronological order with arrows pointing the way along. However, you decide to do it leave plenty of space to be able to write notes about how the characters mess up your carefully planned plot, because they will!
Creating a good plot map will point out the areas where threads of subplot have come loose and need to either be woven into the story or given a space of their own to add to the tapestry of your world. It will also prevent you from introducing characters or ideas that do nothing to further your main character’s journey. This can be a fun way to introduce learning or speed bumps but it can also lead to a train wreck.
FINALLY you can begin the process of fleshing out the framework and writing your story!