Are you just starting out writing a book and not sure if you should outline? Or perhaps you’re neck-deep in revisions and in need of guidance.This nine-step method of unknown origin is perfect for those not-so-good at organizing, or for those who thrive on being neat and tidy. I read about this trick on Cynthia Jaynes Omololu’s blog. (Cynthia is the author of the newly-released Dirty Little Secrets, published by Walker Books. Congrats, Cynthia!) Word has it that this method first appeared on the Verla Kay Message Boards. (I would love to know who invented it!)
9 Steps for Plotting Fiction
Start with a piece of paper. It should be large enough to write on. I used 11x14 just to give me a little more room, but 8x11 is fine. Draw two parallel lines both vertically and horizontally across the page, creating 9 comparable boxes, as if you were starting a game of tic-tac-toe. These boxes represent chapters, scenes, or sections, depending upon your book's intended length.
Number the boxes, starting from the upper left: 1, 2, 3.
Next row, starting from the left: 4, 5, 6.
Last row: 7, 8, 9.
Title each box…
1. Triggering Event
First things first. What happens? Why have you bothered to write a book, and more importantly, why should a reader invest time flipping through its pages? Your triggering event is the answer to these questions, so make it a good one. Also, don't make the reader wait very long for it. First page, first paragraph, first sentence. These are good spots for a triggering event.
Generally, books succeed or fail on the strength of their characters, more so than on the strength of their plots. Box 2 is where you explore what makes your protagonist tick. No, this isn't an excuse for drawn out exposition, history, or back story. If your triggering event is captivating, the reader will discover enough about the protagonist in Box 2 simply by reading how he or she reacts to the event.
3. First Major Turning Point
By now, your plot is picking up steam, and because of Box 2, the reader is invested in the ride. Time to throw a curve ball. This turning point can be either a positive event for your protagonist, or a negative one, but it should lay the groundwork for the negative turning point in Box 6. There is a reason these boxes are touching one another; they interrelate. For example, Box 3 may introduce the motivation of the antagonist, which then justifies the events in Box 6.
You've earned some time to fill the reader in on important data. Since this box touches Box 1, here's where you shed some light on that triggering event. Since it also touches Box 7, you get to foreshadow your pro-tagonist's darkest hour. Box 4 often reveals a relationship, character flaw, or personal history that contributes to the dark times ahead.
5. Connect the Dots
Here is where many plots fall apart. Box 5 represents the trickiest part of fiction, and since it is the center of the diagram (and book) it must connect to all the boxres around it. (2, 4, 6, & 8.) Kind of like the nucleus at the center of a bomb, Box 5 should tick systematically upon elements introduced in Boxes 2 and 4. And like the calm before the storm, Box 5 should give the false impression of resolution before heading like a freight train to Box 6. Most importantly, it needs to provide foreshadowing for the protagonist's revelation in Box 8. That's a lot for a little box to do, but focus on efficient prose to get it right. Your plot depends upon it.
6. Negative Turning Point
Here's where that bomb explodes and all (word censored) breaks loose. Good thing you laid the groundwork in Box 3. Good thing, too, that Box 9 will deliver some just desserts.
7. Antagonist Wins
The protagonist is defeated here, and the antagonist apparently wins. How the protagonist deals with the darkest hour of defeat depends upon the traits and/or story developed in Box 4, which leads to his or her revelation in the next square.
Of course! The protagonist's revelation turns the tide. Here is where the protagonist connects the dots and overcomes the obstacles of Boxes 6 and 7 via the device introduced in Box 5.
9. Protagonist Wins
The negative turning point in Box 6 is rectified while the character's resolve from Box 8 is brought into full bloom. Congratulations! Another great tale told greatly.
This method has worked very well for me. I taped two 8x11 sheets together, folded it into nine squares, then printed the above text and cut each step out, taping it into the squares. Instant poster. Next I taped two more 8x11 sheets together, made 9 squares, and IN PENCIL wrote down my plot points. Voila! Instant plot map, easy as pie.What about you - have you used this method before? Or is there another method that you depend on?*Special thanks to Plot This, Katie Anderson's and Sarah Frances Hardy’s blog, for pointing me in the right direction.