So, it’s a new year and you’ve decided this is the year you’re going to write a book. Or, perhaps you’ve already written a book, but you’re not satisfied with it. According to Beta readers, your manuscript has missed the mark completely, and you have no idea how to fix it. The more you work on the manuscript, the worse it seems to get. You’ve somehow gotten lost in your own manuscript.
I sympathize with you, my friend. Been there. Done that. Several times.
I was so lost in a manuscript once; I wanted to set it on fire. I had an agent at the time, who was awaiting a new project from me, but I just couldn’t finish. For some reason, the manuscript wasn’t working, but I had no idea why. For weeks, I moved things, cut things, shuffled paragraphs around, then shuffled them back. It was tantamount to playing a game of never-ending, progress-less chess. The end result was a lacklustre compilation of meaningless words. I felt sick to my stomach. This was my big chance. My agent had gone out on a limb and sent the first few pages of my manuscript to a number of bigtime editors, who had expressed genuine interest in it. I was in way over my head.
I was soon to learn that plotting was not about writing out every word of your potential story in sequential order. It was about exploring your potential story in an orderly fashion.
It was right about then, I attended a story development course that would change my writing life forever. I’d been a Pantser up until that point (not that there’s anything wrong with that) with two feet firmly planted against the notion of ever becoming a Plotter. I hated the idea of writing out all the important parts of my book, only to write them again. I was sure it was going to kill my creative process. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was soon to learn that plotting was not about writing out every word of your potential story in sequential order. It was about exploring your potential story in an orderly fashion. (Huge difference!) I further came to learn that A) plotting could be an incredibly useful, time-saving, aggravation-squashing tool, and B) it would not destroy, but rather enhance my creativity— taking it to greater heights than I’d ever imagined.
As a result, I found myself more at ease with the process of plotting, and more creatively jazzed than ever.
Plotting (if approached advantageously) is about planning out the story path you’d like to pursue, by identifying or pin-pointing (and securing), a selection of pivotal story elements (or major plot points), in advance of starting the writing journey. By outlining these basic plot points, and working through them (loosely, of course), figuring out where and when they should occur (ie: solidifying the character’s basic trajectory, or arc) my mind was then freed up to concentrate on other things— like fleshing out the rest of the story, and the creation of poetic prose. Essentially, now that I knew where I was going, I was better able to take in the scenery. As a result, I found myself more at ease with the process of plotting, and more creatively jazzed than ever.
Since, in my opinion, story should flow from to beginning to end in one continuous circle, (instead of up and down, as I was forced to teach to students when I was a teacher), I’d always thought of my stories as a circle. Knowing that story follows Shakespeare’s three Act formula, with act two lasting twice the length of one and three, divided in the middle by the highest (or lowest) point of (emotional) action, it occurred to me that plotting stories on a circle might work. Even better, plotting stories on the four quadrants of a clock face would really be helpful.
I fell back into my pillow, amazed. I had accomplished all that in a fraction of the time, with half the frustration. I’d created a story map of my entire novel in less than two hours, and I hadn’t lost my mind over it.
I quickly revised my circle into a clock and began meticulously plotting. Discoveries began to flow. I soon found that the precipice of act one (where act one ends and the reader is launched into act two—that moment where a character enters their new world, or new circumstance, or sets out onto a new journey) fell splendidly at 3 o’clock on the clock face. Correspondingly, 6 o’clock (exactly, half way between through act 2!) became the hour when my character suffered his/her highest (or should I say, lowest) degree of emotional tragedy (ie: the most intense point of action— essentially, the point where he/she faces his/her greatest challenge/fear.) I continued working through my planned story elements, plotting them onto the clock face, and by 9 o’clock CHARGE! my character was launched into battle (ie: beginning of act three.) He/she had discovered the answers to long-sought after questions, and was off to fight for the kingdom, over throw the bad guy, or win back the girl! (whichever fits your manuscript.) By 11 o’clock, the battle was won, with enough time left over to show readers a little Afterglow (ie: the state of the character’s world after the fact, what was gained/lost or achieved, a snapshot of what life now looks like.)
I fell back into my pillow, amazed. I had accomplished all that in a fraction of the time, with half the frustration. I’d created a story map of my entire novel in less than two hours, and I hadn’t lost my mind over it. I had a (loose) story plan, outlining the pertinent events of my novel (the essential story beats), all affixed to a clock face by sticky note! I could now see where my novel had too many events happening, and where it didn’t have enough. I could fix stuff before I started! (Another benefit of the Tick-Tock Plot strategy—balance.) Sure, it took some time to figure out the plot points, but it was a lot less time than I’d spend rewriting scenes. I felt like I had unlocked Pandora’s secret box for writers, and unearthed the treasure within!
I was so excited about what I’d discovered, I started to share it with anyone who would listen. I later went on to teach—the Tick-Tock Plot strategy—at various conferences and workshops. The more I used it, the stronger a plotter I became. Friends started noticing that I was an excellent story puzzler and wanted to know what I was doing. I was becoming somewhat of a story plot guru, able to identify problem spots in others manuscripts quickly and help them work out solutions. After having so many writers ask me to help them plot, I decided it was time to write my strategy down. So, I created the eBook Tick-Tock Plot: How To Speed-Write Your Next Blockbuster eBook. Inside, I include loads of visuals, as well as a working example, using a well-known, modern day, popular book, to help readers better understand how to apply my method. I include a second example, for those interested in signing up to my Exclusive Reader’s List, on my website. It’s nice to be able to help other authors. I love that I’ve been able to share a useful tool that makes the writing journey a little easier.
PS: In case you’re dying to know the course that changed my writing life (*insert shameless plug here à*), the course is called StoryMasters . (*they can thank me later*) If you get the chance to attend. Do it. You won’t regret it. (PS: If you’re Canadian, I hear they are coming to Toronto this May!)
For more about Jacqueline Garlick, her writing, and her books, or to receive advanced notification of upcoming releases, specifically the Tick-Tock Plot for Writer’s Series, sign up to be a part of her Exclusive Reader’s Group at jacquelinegarlick.com. Tick-Tock Plot: How to Speed-Write the Next Blockbuster eBook is available on Amazon. (Now available in paperback, too.) Also, check out Tick-Tock Edits: How To Edit Your Own Writing: Ten Quick and Easy Tips To Strengthen Any Manuscript, Jacqueline’s second book in the Tick-Tock Plot for Writer’s Series, also on Amazon. Pre-Order her third book, Tick-Tock Character-OZ-ation: Developing Unforgettable Characters, coming soon. Jacqueline’s award-winning Illumination Paradox Series, can also be found on Amazon. Contact Jacqueline on Facebook, Twitter, website, email.