If you had asked me a couple of years ago whether I was a pantser or a plotter when it comes to writing novels, I probably would have leaned more toward the pantser side of things. Yes, I had some rough outlines and ideas about where the books were going, but I also wasn’t about to tie myself down to the limitations of detailed plot planning. Nope. My process worked just okayfine for me without resorting to spending a lot of time on plotting. Worldbuilding, yeah. I had this concept that building the world and the characters would be enough–the plot would come.
Well, that worked for what I was doing at the time, when I was spending most of my time in one location, maybe writing a novel a year along with assorted short stories. Certainly I wasn’t working on anything book-wise that I needed to keep track of continuity of in earlier works. Plus I was working part-time and didn’t have the mental energy to spend working through detailed plotting exercises…or so I thought.
And then I decided I wanted to amp up the writing schedule. I needed to get two books a year cranked out, if not more, in order to get what I wanted to say down on paper. Plus I was facing a complex book, Netwalk’s Children, part of a series where I had a LOT of stuff going on in a very short time frame. Added to the complexity was the reality that I was writing this first draft of a book I’d been struggling with during a long-distance move of most of our household to our second home in Enterprise. I couldn’t just putz around with editing and easing my way into the story every day before heading off to work. I needed to be able to snatch an hour here and there between packing and loading without doing any special invocations of the Muse to get back into the flow of the story.
What to do, what to do?
About this time, someone published a link to the matrices that J.K. Rowling created to track her characters. I looked at that matrix, and decided that something similar would fit my needs. Enter the Plot Matrix. For the Netwalk books (Netwalk’s Children and Netwalking Space) that meant I listed the major characters down the short side of a yellow legal pad. Then I went through the story pretty much scene-by-scene, noting what each character was doing at the time at this scene, color-coding by pen color to indicate which of the three POV characters was on stage.
It worked that first time. Not perfectly–I ended up tearing it apart and rewriting it about halfway through Children. That was a tough book to write in many ways, but having the matrix handy was priceless for drafting on the fly when I had the moments to write, and when I had to tear things apart midbook? It saved my rear.
The Plot Matrix was followed by the Scene Matrix for the rewrite. I sat down and created a similar document on the computer, landscape layout, where I started by listing page numbers for each scene, identifying viewpoint character, location, other characters in scene, scene summary, and rewrite notes as I went through the creation of the Scene Matrix.
OMG. The Scene Matrix was priceless for continuity rewrites. It gave me an understanding of the book that I had previously lacked.
Of course, next I decided to prove to myself that I didn’t need to use matrices for the next work. Beyond Honor was conceived as a short novel or novella and I didn’t think I would need the matrix for it. Ulp. I spent far too much time scrolling back-and-forth trying to keep track of things in that book, and I swore never again would I avoid the matrix.
So. Next up was Netwalking Space. Four POVs. Fast-paced story. I did the full-blown plot matrix for it–and guess what?
To start with, I somehow managed to avoid the muddle in the middle. I started work on the first draft on July 31st and finished it in early September. I was able to maintain a daily word count of 300-3000 words without killing myself over it. Disruptions didn’t mess up the work flow. Then I let it sit for a week before going back to create the Scene Matrix. Rewrites were relatively simple and it’s out to beta readers right now with a projected publication date in January.
And here I now go again. I have a short urban fantasy novel start that kind of petered out about halfway through 2015. I’d started it after Netwalk’s Children but before I got the rights back to Pledges of Honor, then dropped it when I got the Pledges rights back. One problem with Welcome to Klone’s Folly was that I didn’t have a clear picture of where I was going with the story. I had a rough idea of what I might want to do, but no details.
Well, that’s fixed. I sat down with what I have of Folly, and over the past week have hammered out a plot matrix for the darn thing. It was a bit harder than either Netwalk book because different characters, a standalone book, somewhat different genre. I might end up tearing this matrix apart in about 30,000 words…or not. It will be a good way to find out if this particular method works for a single POV urban fantasy or not. In any case, after I wrote the matrix, I found it easy to write the blurb/pitch/whatever.
It will be interesting to see if the method continues to work.