Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Plot Dot Test: Plot-to-Page method

I saw a post about what I call the “plot dot test” a while back*, and I’ve found it so useful I think it’s worth a highlight.

What you need: a chapter-by-chapter outline (or a finished manuscript). Pen. Paper.

What you do: draw a vertical line across the page. Your first chapter is your first dot – start it right on the line. For each subsequent chapter, place a dot after deciding: is the action here higher, lower, or the same as the previous chapter? Place dot accordingly.

Here’s a recent plot dot I did:

And bear in mind, a traditional story arc should look something like this:

(don't worry, the author revised the above example I was working on - to fabulous results)

It’s not perfect, but if you’re having issues with pacing (too fast, too slow, saggy middle, etc) this can help you pinpoint exactly where that’s happening, and direct where to make changes.

For too fast of a pace: insert some same-level chapters or scenes in between high-stakes chapters. For slow chapters, try re-working your plot to either cut and rewrite, re-arrange, or re-direction. It could take several drafts – and have your critique partners give it a try (this is where a chapter-by-chapter outline is best) to help you out!

*I couldn’t for the life of me find it to hyperlink here, so if you know it, please tell me and I’ll add the link! It used a computer program to graph the line instead of pen and paper.