Sunday, March 16, 2008

Plot Bookkeeping 101

In previous blog posts, I've talked about a variety of tools and processes that make it easier to set up a whole book. Today, I'd like to talk about bookkeeping!
No...nothing with numbers. Simple tools for making sure your time line works, and so that you don't let your subplots fade into oblivion. Editors and contest judges and readers will notice! But how on earth can you keep juggling your subplots, and make sure you stay on track?

Maybe some writers have that kind of memory, but I simply can’t do it without help.
And what if you sell your manuscript, and are suddenly faced with revisions--and need to find out exactly what you had where in your huge, complete manuscript?! If the editor starts questioning time line problems, you're going to have a challenge on your hands!

Even lighter revisions are a real challenge. Just think about it....if you change something about a subplot or character---that element may have octopus tentacles throughout your entire book! So... consider using a calendar--either a hard copy, or a computer file. Jot down every chapter, every scene number in the appropriate date square, and add a very brief note about the biggest action in that scene. You would not believe how much this simple tool can help make sure that you keep your ducks in a row.

I also print off an "ARC" copy (Advanced Reader copy) of every chapter, as soon as I finish it. This goes in a three-ring notebook by my keyboard, for instant reference. What does an ARC look like? Just open a novel and look at the two facing pages. I go one step further, and create this in a vertical alignment instead (portrait instead of landscape) because so many lines of dialogue are quite short, and thus I can fit even more on a single page--approximately four pages of Courier New/double space 12 point font!

The benefit? I can see those four pages at a glance, and easily catch repetitions. I can check the flow of the scene easier. I will use this to go back and write myself all sorts of notes in the margins--things to remember when I get to The End and want to start revising. I'll cross out paragraphs, circle sections and sketch in arrows--it becomes a wonderful worksheet, so I can keep plowing ahead to the end of the story and not get sidetracked with all the "fixits". I may even go through and use color-coded highlighters to track the progression of the suspense, or romance, or a subplot that isn't quite working.

To create an ARC file like this. Save you chapter with a new name--like Chapter 1-ARC. The:
1. Select "ALL"
2. Change to single space Times New Roman, 10 or 11 point.
3. Set the margins at 1.0 at the top, 0.7 on the sides, 0.5 on the bottom, and set the footer to 0.1)
4. Turn off Widows and Orphans.
5. Set columns to two, with a center gutter of .2 and click the box for a center dividing line.
There's still plenty of room to write notes in the margins, and you can plaster your pages with sticky notes, too!

It would be fun to hear about some of the handy tools you use when you write! Until next's wishing you great success with your writing!



The Write Life said...

Roxanne - this is a wonderful idea and I thank you for sharing it. I can't wait to try it!


Patty said...

Wow, you are way organized. I supposed you probably have to be to get everything to come together well enough to present it.

pleblanc_1 at charter dot net

Flo Moyer said...

I really like the arc idea. I've been working on major draft #2 for my contracted book, and it would be better to get more organized than just sheets of paper with notes all over. Thanks!

If I'm not already entered, and the contest finished, could you enter me in the drawing for your book?
Flo (fmmoyer at

Pamela J said...

I'm so thankful for these writer's tips. I plan to keep them so I can have them all in a row when it is my turn to use them. Thanks.
cepjwms at yahoo dot com

Lucie B. said...

Roxanne, Thank you for sharing your personal tools. This really sounds like a great idea! I am going to try it! Right up my alley - right down to the Post It notes LOL!!


Lucie In CA (at) aol (dot) com