November 26, 2003

Color Coding the plot

Someone asked if I ever use color codes on my plotlines.

Usually I don't do this until I'm deep into the story and deep into trouble. I write what's been described as 'twisty' plots, which results in lots of little loose ends that all need threaded through the entire novel.

I color code out the plotline on a seperate sheet of paper usually, which each thread a different color (yes, one must buy many colors for it to work).

I write out something like this:

Ukiah returns home from Oregon and immediatelly called into case of missing person. (the scene)

Ari tells them about missing children (red)
Ari tells them about homeland security (blue)
Mention that Ukiah went through unexpected growth in Oregon to start I'm-not-a-kid-anymore plotline (green)

Ukiah and Max return to office after finding kid.

Sam has left message on answering machine(yellow)
Homeland has left message on answering machine (blue)
Accountant has left message about taxes and dealership left message about new car (green/yellow -- note: this is why Max can't pick up Sam)

As you can start to see, I can tell when the various threads are mentioned in the book and follow all the stages needed for them -- set up, conflict, resolution -- as they move through the outline. If I'm missing one section of it, I can see more clearly where one thread has been dropped and where it needs to be inserted. For example, if the first time Sam (yellow) is mentioned is where her conflict of "why didn't you tell me you were a milionaire/is this relationship going to work" comes to a head, I know that I need to back up and start doing set up for her somewhere -- which is the phone message.

Posted by wen at November 26, 2003 06:54 AM

Interesting technique. Any way to apply it via a computer?

Posted by: Joel at November 26, 2003 09:59 AM

Well, if you don't mind shelling out 70 bucks, you can get the computer program Inspiration (or there's a free thirty-day trial of the program on their site.) As I understand it this is educational software intended for kids, but I use it for plotwork because it's such a very good brainstorm machine, and because I also tend to write "twisty" plotlines for which traditional outlines don't work.

And, yes, it can color-code, which is nice.

And, jeez, is it nice to know that other people plot this way. I was starting to think I was the only one in the world who couldn't write off an outline. *grin*

Posted by: Kat at November 26, 2003 01:38 PM

I haven't been able to figure out outlines either--hated them as a kid in school, and they don't do much for me now for writing.

I do have Inspiration and have only used it a little bit. I believe I'm going to find it most helpful. (Did my entire NaNo novel off an Inspiration brainstorming session from the trial version. When the trial expired, I decided to buy it to get my brainstorming session out in time for NaNo. *grin*) If you're not sure this will work for you, try the trial version. The full version also comes with some interesting (and potential useful) writing templates. I didn't see the templates in the trial copy.

Posted by: Jean at November 26, 2003 03:46 PM