Friday, February 24, 2012

Lists and Me: Tracking Plot Developments

I am a list-maker. I say this not with pride, but with shame - I have been known to not do things because I was too busy making lists of things that had to be done.

But there is one way that I have found listmaking useful.

At the moment I'm about two-thirds of the way through my work-in-progress. I took a short break from writing and now that I'm back at it, I have lost my way a bit. I'm trying to re-enter the world of the book.

This is something I have found helpful.

As I re-read the book, I make a list (by hand) of what happens in the novel. It looks a bit like this:

1. Claire is at work
2. Row with Penelope
3. Gets a text from Dot
4. Goes to Max's house
5. Looks through books.

and so on, for the duration of the book (which, by the way, filled four sides of lined A4 paper).

I love doing this. It means I can look down the list and see at a glance that Claire has three rows with Penelope (and I can probably cut two of them), that there are four scenes in her office (and I should make sure that they don't feel too same-y), or that there are seventeen lines between Event A and Event B (and since they're closely related, I should probably have one following the other before the reader forgets about the first one!).

I also feel it allows me to look at the whole book in a way that reading it doesn't. When I read it, I'm invariably concentrating on the bit I'm reading, usually tweaking the language and replacing the single-quotation marks with doubles and swearing at the crappy bits. With my list, I feel I can look at the whole book and say 'too much waffle' or 'too abrupt' or 'too many rows with bloody Penelope.'

How do you get back into a book you haven't worked on for a while? How much caffeine/chocolate/swearing is involved? Do you have any tricks for making sure your plot makes sense, and stopping your Penelopes from stealing the show?


  1. Sometimes a break (usually induced by external forces) actually helps my writing in the long run. Caffeine, no. Crying, sometimes. I have difficulty using outlines for plotting purposes. Lists for each chapter would make much more sense to me. In the end, I still go back to "Does this feel right? Is it flowing?"

    1. I find that breaks can be good too, provided they don't go on for too long! If they do, I tend to lose momentum. I also don't drink caffeine so that doesn't work for me. Crying - used sparingly, it also helps :)

      I wish I could read and just see how it flows, but that only works for me when the first draft is done and I've managed to get some distance from it. Otherwise I just can't see the wood for the trees!

  2. Usually when I get back to writing something I'd already started I re-read the whole thing and make notes in a separate Word document. Not very effective. It's messy and confusing. I think your method works much better (so thanks for the tip).

    P.S. Lots of cigarettes and caffeine are involved.

    1. Hope it's helpful Sabrina! I just find that there are times when having something on paper feels different from having it on screen, and it can be useful :)

  3. I don't take breaks of more then a few days from my work (at least thus far), so I haven't come to the point where I've gone too long and will have a problem getting back into it.

    1. Everybody!! Listen to the smart man and not to me! ^^^

      Joking aside, that is definitely the best method, hands down!


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