Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Plot Noodling

Yes, it`s a weird title, but work with me.

Plot Noodle
The act, by a writer, of constructively analyzing the makeup of a story with one or more humans.

Note a few important words in the definition.

(1) Writer

No one else would endure the plot noodle session save a writer. Sure, we sometimes sit in a café and discuss the movie we've just watched and extol its virtues or ridicule its shortcomings (or both). But a writer wants more. SO. MUCH. MORE.

(2) Humans

You can certainly tell your cat or dog or rat all of the details of your novel. But I'm guessing that they are unlikely to provide any constructive feedback. You can argue that the cat's disdain counts, but it doesn't.

(3) Constructively

Plot noodling is NOT about ridicule, or power trips, or indifference. You don't plot noodle with your mother because she's going to love your novel no matter what. (It's her job, she can't help it!) Choose someone you can trust to give you honest feedback. Someone who is capable of having a coherent debate. Plot noodling is NOT story editing, or copy editing. You're painting with a roller, not a finely-tipped brush. Expect to get paint in your hair and wear washable clothing, because you never know what can happen at a plot noodle session.

(4) Analyzing the Makeup of a Story

You and your buddy (or buddies) are going to look at every aspect of your novel. A short list includes:
Concept - your elevator pitch
Characters - personalities, goals, obstacles
Plot - introduction, high points, low points, climax, resolution
Subplots - connections, relevance, high points, low points, climax
Setting - relevance, world building (climate, geography, social structure, etc), palette
Voice - POV, language, relevance, dialogue
Market - genre, comparative similarities, timing, goals, length

Now that you understand the what, I will explain the how.

Generally, a plot noodling session requires some time. A long lunch probably won't cut it. A weekend is ideal, especially when several writers want to discuss their respective projects in a back-and-forth situation, but not everyone has that kind of time. Give yourself a minimum of two hours to hash out the big ticket items.

Start with your elevator pitch. This gives everyone a chance to decide if the initial premise is lame or needs some work. Once you've answered the quick "what is my novel" question, you can move on to the details.

Bring plenty of stationary supplies with you. I find it helpful to use index cards, but not everyone does. I use one for each character, one for each of the major plot points, and a few for setting, etc. (I even color code mine, to make it easier, but I'm a bit of an organization-junkie.) Many "novel writing software" programs will include ways to keep track of all of these details, so you might only need to bring your computer to the meeting. But let me stress this:

Visual Aids Help!

You know this, deep down. A power point presentation is more exciting than the boring, droning manager in a dark room (where your colleagues tell you how loudly you snore and you have a drool stain on your shirt).

Some plot noodle sessions use huge pieces of paper to which you can attach post-it notes, so that by the end, you have your own story board. (Hey if it works for the movies, why not for novels?) [At this point, you probably realize why it's harder to do this at a Starbucks using those tiny little tables.] You can move the post-it's around as you make changes. Color code, again, to help keep track of plots and sub-plots. There's something really easy about moving the bits of paper around, freeing you to be brutal about what works and what doesn't.

By the end of the plot noodle session, you will be more confident about your novel. You will have a better sense of the plot, scene by scene. You will know your characters and they will be more rounded. You will have worked out the kinks that niggle at you every time you sit down, freeing you from worry and opening your mind to easier, faster, more productive writing sessions. And most of all, you will have friends who will be eagerly anticipating the book to see how well you pulled it off!

For those of you who eagerly join the ranks during NaNoWriMo, you will find it's much, much easier to hit the 50,000 word goal in a month if you've plot noodled first.

Do it now:
- Make a list of possible plot noodling co-conspirators.
- If you're ready for a session, email your writing buddies/friends/co-conspirators to begin the process of committing to and confirming a date and time window for your session.
- Head to Staples to buy what will work for you, like post-it's, flip charts, index cards, and sharpies.

Have some brilliant tools/techniques for your noodle-fests? Share them in the comments section.

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