News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Monday, March 19, 2012

Behind the scenes on PANCHO LAND: The Plot Outline

A look at one author's use of a plot outline
Some writers start a novel with a piece of dialog or bit of narrative and see where the story takes them. Others, like me, don't really begin to flesh out scenes until they have a complete plot outline. Pictured above is one of the spreadsheet drafts I used to create PANCHO LAND, the third installment of the AMERICA LIBRE trilogy.

To avoid spoilers, I deliberately reduced the font size, making it impossible to read. But even at this magnification, you can see five columns that trace the developments for each major character during the story. The spreadsheet lets me integrate the varying story lines and keep each moving together toward a coherent conclusion.

Once I know how the story will unfold, I choose which character will serve as point-of-view for each scene. Although the series is written in third person, I try to present each scene from the perspective of a single character. This adds drama and suspense since the reader only knows what that character knows.

Inevitably, as I begin to flesh out the scenes, I find reasons to tweak the plot. This is another place where the plot outline is valuable since it reminds me how that change will affect all the other characters. When I make this kind of change, I keep the original version of the plot outline and create a new version. There are times when I've decided to go back to a previous approach and having the older version saves a lot of work.

The plot outline is the backbone for several other devices many writers use to craft novels. I will be sharing more about these in the coming weeks.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez


August said...

What a great idea, Raul. I have a tough time with outlines. (I wrote my first after I'd finished my novel. Ha.) I might give the chart method a try. The notion of moving things around with ease seems appealing.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez said...

Each of us has a different way of answering the muse, August. That said, I think we can all learn from each other.Congratulations on the launch of IN HER SHADOW, by the way! Hope your agent can close the deal on the novel very soon.