I remember reading an interview with Libba Bray about A Great and Terrible Beauty where she said that after finishing one of the early drafts she realized the main love interest vanished for over a hundred pages in the middle! Like, not literally vanished because of some magical apparatus or whatever, but vanished because she’d forgotten to include him in more scenes.

Similarly, I’ve had readers mention that some of my plot arcs become M.I.A. in the middle of my latest draft. I have a decent excuse — there’s a lot of other major stuff happening in the middle — but it is true that I can’t just drop plotlines and pick them back up later. They’re all supposed to weave together through the novel and, you know, arc.

It’s a little tough to arc if the line drops out altogether for a while.

I’m thinking this probably comes from my lack of outlining. I’m a fairly organic writer, feeling my way through the story. But at some point (oh, say draft four) it’s necessary to get organized.

So yesterday I listed every scene in every chapter and labeled them (so the second scene in Chapter 5 would be Scene 5b, etc). Then I created a table listing my plotlines (at least one for every character, pretty much) down the side and chapters across the top, plopping the scenes into the intersections. 

Tedious? Yes. Helpful? Definitely. Seeing it visually like that was eye-opening.

Sorry to be a little secretive by cutting off the names of the plotlines, but notice how bad that sixth one (a blue line) is. I’d built it up nicely in the first five chapters only to have it disappear until Chapter 20! Oops. And the one under that I’d introduced briefly and then ignored until seven chapters later that plotline hits a crisis moment with readers not even remembering it was a thing (or so they’ve told me). And the last one’s pretty bad, too.

It’s not like I want every plotline to show up in every chapter. That would just be overkill. But there should be some kind of development (build up) for each plotline at least every third chapter or so and probably all of the plotlines should appear multiple times right before and during the climax to make that climax nice and complicated in a pleasantly tangled way.

Moral of the story? Well, a little organization goes a long way. I’d been wondering what scenes to work on next, and now I can see exactly where I need to either add new scenes or weave these plotlines into the existing scenes.

What works for you when you need to get organized? Outlines? Notebooks? Index cards? Three-ring binders?

Leave a comment!

4 thoughts on “Scattered Plotlines

  1. Nikki, that is so awesome. I know it’ll help. I’m actually such a plotter when it comes to my outlines, but I went and did the same thing last Saturday. The reason being I have to add a few more scenes, and I wasn’t sure where to put them. I also wanted to make sure that every scene had at least 3 things brought out in it (moving forward the plot, building the romance, ect). So I used 2 huge things of butcher paper on my wall and outlined the whole thing. Then I added sticky notes for what needed to be included, and now it’s all put in the word doc and I have a better picture of how to start my third draft.

    It’s very tedious, but it definitely helps give you focus. So kudos to you!! LMK how it goes 🙂


  2. I’ve realized I need to do something like that and it has scared me so badly that I’ve been avoiding my WIP. I really should just do it. Sigh.


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