September 5, 2017

Writing Principles: Plotting vs. Mapping

The words plotting, mapping, and story boarding can be confusing to readers and new writers who are not clear on novel organization. In my experience, writers tend to identify the writing process in their own ways. Words like outline, plot, and map are sometimes used interchangeably; other times, phrases like story boarding are substituted.

Here's my take on these sometimes confusing principles that are useful in a writer's toolbox and interesting for readers to learn:

The plot is one of the first parts of the story we learn to identify in grade school. It is simply what happens in the story -- from start to finish. It is the course of action from page one to The End.

One thing to note about plotting is that a single story can have, and will need, more than one plot. For example, a romance story has its main story plot, but there is also a secondary plot, the romance plot, where the development of the romance moves from first sight to deep and true love.

Fast Fact: You can find all kinds of forms online for different plotting techniques. Download a style that interests you or create your own. 

When I'm plotting, I use a rather simple document form with columns for each turning point. Summaries and word count are penciled into each story section. I make overlays of other plot maps, as I call them, to track the romance and any other subplot development. Even if you write by the seat of your pants and don't outline, plotting your story after its written will give you a better editorial eye to make sure the story flows and doesn't have any holes.

Story Mapping
The story map is a completely different principle. While I immediately picture Tolkien's sketches of the hobbits' shire and the lands of Mordor when I hear the word, story mapping is actually the overall picture of the plot, the characters, the setting, the conflict, and the solution. You can find graphs and charts online to create simple or complex story maps for your novel, but there are other ways to map, too.

A Hobbit House. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Many authors use pages and pages of detailed information to map out their story, including character back stories, setting detail and sketches, and so on. Notebooks are a great tool for creating one big encyclopedia of knowledge for you to refer to as you go; that's if you prefer to sketch out every detail of the book before you begin. No worries; not everybody works that way.

Did you know? Harry Potter's, J.K. Rowling, has released beautiful sketches of her characters and scenes. They can be found online for study and enjoyment.

Besides mapping, you may have heard the phrase "story boarding" before. Story boarding is a classic Disney principle. It is the organization of scenes into a story graphically illustrated. The interesting thing about story boarding, is that it isn't just for film production. It can be used to help writers "see" the ebb and flow of a plot, and if one can't draw, there's always words!

Fast Fact: Disney animator, Webb Smith, has been given credit for inventing the concept of the storyboard. 

I use my own form of the story board concept after I write my first draft. Instead of pictures, I use words. Each scene gets a card. The card contains a summary with a highlighted list of characters, point of view, and a tag identifying whether or not the scene is action or sequence. Once taped on the wall in sequential order (or spread out all over the floor), I can get an idea of the story's length, where chapter breaks should fall, and most importantly, what works needs to be done on the next edit round.

Last year's story board for my work in progress. Note I used painter's tape so I didn't ruin the wall!

As a writer begins to work out the mechanics of writing and organizing a story, these principles begin to make sense. Writers develop their own routine and way of doing things. They create their own toolboxes and slang. That's the fun thing about writing. The hard and fast rules are never always hard and fast; and the how-to process can be uniquely individual.

Stay balanced,
~Danielle Thorne~

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