In this three-part series, we go over how to set up a plot board to develop your story from an idea into a tailor-made synopsis that is as detailed or sparse as you want it to be. The tri-fold cardboard display board that we set up last week serves as a visual representation of your novel’s key scenes. Using colored Post-it® notes and markers to set the scenes up on the board, you can see at a glance whose point of view the scene is in, as well as the major plot points.
Last week, we went over how to set up the plot board by dividing it into three sections: Act One, Act Two, and Act Three. On the left-hand side of the board, Act One should contain character and setting notes, and any graphics or visuals as desired. Also, listed on the sticky notes will be a few sentences about the beginning, the inciting incident that starts the story, and the first major stumbling block for the characters, which is the first plot point.
Once you get that down, you’re ready to start in on Act Two, which is the largest section of your novel. Half your book takes place in Act Two. For example, if you were writing a 60,000-word novel, 30,000 of those words will consist of the roller coaster ride that your characters will go on while they’re journeying to the end of the novel.
If you’re not careful, you can get bogged down in minutiae in Act Two and lose readers’ interest. To help avoid that, draw a large letter W in the middle section of the plot board. At the top of the letter, put a sticky note. Here you’ll write a plot point where the characters are having a good day. This is a success that they’ve achieved after the first plot point in Act One. (For simplicity, I’ll use popular, beloved movies to illustrate.) It’s where Dorothy gets help from Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz and told to follow the yellow brick road to the Wizard. In Star Wars, it’s when Luke and Obi Wan Kenobi hire Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon to take them off Tatooine. It’s when Neo first meets Trinity in the bar in The Matrix.
To keep reader interest, after you raise the character up, you must knock the character down. The higher they are, the lower they must fall. Slide down that W to the first low point. Put another sticky note and mark what happens. Dorothy gets put to sleep by the poppies in the field. The safe harbor that Luke and Obi Wan were trying to get to has been destroyed and they are captured by the evil empire. Neo gets arrested by the agents and has a tracking bug inserted inside him. Continue with this method until all the points of your W have a sticky note attached to it. You can make several “Ws”, but I wouldn’t do fewer than one.
During the downward and upward slides of the W interesting things will happen. This is referred to as the “Fun and Games” portion of the story. Dorothy meets the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion. Luke gets to meet a smuggler, a wookie, and take part in a space ship battle, culminating in a jump to hyperspace. Neo gets information about a secret world that he’s always expected existed, and gets a chance to speak to the mysterious Morpheus.
Break out the multiple colors of the Post-it notes so you can keep track of who is doing what and when. Make sure the slide up and down the sides of the W have enough conflict, romance, or action, depending on the genre you’re writing. Conflict is key to a riveting read.
In Act Two, the character is exploring his new world. In Dorothy’s case, it’s Oz. Luke’s off the moisture farm for the first time in his life and is exploring the galaxy. Neo has been extracted from the matrix and is for the first time, living in the real world.
In the center of the board on the bottom, fix a larger Post-it note or an index card. This is depicting The Midpoint. You need to think up a really good twist to throw a wrench into your character’s plans. In the Wizard of Oz, this is where the Wizard refuses to help Dorothy until she brings him the Wicked Witch of the West’s broom. In Star Wars, it’s when Obi Wan Kenobi allows Darth Vader to strike him down, allowing Luke, Han, and Leia to escape. In The Matrix, it’s when the Oracle tells Neo he is not The One.
After the The Midpoint, things get increasingly worse for your character. Act Two ends when your story is about 75-90% finished. It’s when your character’s flaw comes to the front and pretty much ruins everything. Called the “Black Moment” or the “Dark Night of the Soul,” Act Two should end with the ultimate tragedy of your story. All hope is lost. This will get your readers eagerly turning the pages to Act Three.
Next week, we’ll concentrate on knitting up all the loose ends, getting your characters to make the final step from living in their identity to reveling in their essence, and giving the readers a satisfying ending.
USA Today bestselling author, Jamie K. Schmidt, writes erotic contemporary love stories and paranormal romances. Her steamy, romantic comedy, Life’s a Beach, reached #65 on USA Today, #2 on Barnes & Noble and #9 on Amazon and iBooks. Her Club Inferno series from Random House’s Loveswept line has hit both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble top one hundred lists. The first book in the series, Heat, put her on the USA Today bestseller list for the first time, and is a #1 Amazon bestseller. Her book Stud is a 2018 Romance Writers of America Rita® Finalist in Erotica. Her dragon paranormal romance series has been called “fun and quirky” and “endearing.” Partnered with New York Times bestselling author and actress, Jenna Jameson, Jamie’s hardcover debut, SPICE, continues Jenna’s FATE trilogy.