June 11, 2014

Writing Club Wednesday: Guest Post by Caela Carter, author of MY BEST FRIEND, MAYBE!

It's the second Wednesday of the month, and that means it's time for a guest post! Today's fabulous contribution comes from one of my favorite NYC-local authors, Caela Carter, whose sophomore contemp YA, My Best Friend, Maybe, just released from Bloomsbury last week. (Caela's also the author of Me, Him, Them, and It, which just came out in paperback yesterday!) 

Caela's been fabulous enough to come talk in-depth about plotting, with some visual aids to show off her strategy. Now, if you've read My Best Friend, Maybe, you know there's probably no one more awesome to show this stuff off, because the character development in that book had me turning pages like craaaaazy. So sit back and take note!

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 How To Plot If You’re Crazy Like Me

When I write plot comes last. I’m terrified to put my plot into words that are not my first draft. It inevitably becomes a huge problem. This is probably not the best, smartest, or most efficient way to solve it, but it’s what I do.

Step 1: I start with a character and a problem. Like this:

Character: Colette

Problem: She misses and resents her best friend, Sadie. She doesn’t know why Sadie stopped being her friend 3 years ago.

Step 2: I come up with a place. Usually two places. Part of me always thinks that if I move my character from place-to-place, I won’t run into the full-stop writer’s block. (Spoiler alert: this does not work.)

Place 1: Suburban New Jersey

Place 2: Greece!

Step 3: Research! This could be a whole post to itself so I’m going to move right on to...

Step 4: Start writing.

Is it smart to start writing at this point? Probably not. I still don’t know what’s going to happen. I only have a character or two talking in my head. But somewhere in the research step, I’ve usually come up with an inciting incident, a first line, a character trait that literally makes my fingers shake until I finally writing it down. And so...here we go!

First line: “So you wanna go?”

Inciting Incident: Sadie says she needs Colette to go to Greece with her family for the summer.

This is the best part of drafting! I’m high on my story. I write words and lines I don’t like, but I can move on past them. I know I’ll fix them later.

New characters crawl out of the woodwork.

Mark
Louisa
Sam
Edie

New problems erupt and muddy the waters even further for my main character.

Colette has already promised Mark she’d go to Costa Rica during the Greece trip.

Mom is defensive and controlling.

Louisa is leaving.

And so I write and I write and I write.

Until it feels more like I write....and I write...and...I...write.

Until it’s just my brian yelling at my frozen fingers:

“Write!”

“Write!”

“Write!”

Step 5 I stop writing and hate myself for about a day.

Then, Step 6 I finally plot.

The thing is, I can’t plot with words and outlines. Even index cards are too much for me. I’ve learned from experience that I’m only going to tell the story in words once. If I do it in an outline, I’ll quit. It’ll be an outline forever.

So I plot with shapes and colors.

By this point, I know generally WHERE the story will take place. So, I take a piece of scrap paper, and I draw four dotted lines: one for the start and three for the location of moments later in the book. Then, I start with my main character, and I trace her progress on each line:




The trick to ensuring there is a plot is to make sure that there is a SHAPE between each of the two dots. Usually I’ve got it for the first two dots:



But it usually take some editing before I figure out a full shape for the main character. Because she is the main character, her shape has to always be changing. Every scene should be essential to her growth. Also, she should have some sharp (hard) changes and some soft (easy) changes. Some people refer to this as pace, but I prefer to think of it as rounds and angels.

After some editing, I come up with something like this:


So, good. Now I know my character has a story, she grows, she’s constantly changing which means she has a plot. But sometimes I get this far and I’m still stuck. Because not every character can follow the same trajectory.

So, I pick a new color, choose a new character, and add her dots:


It’s a good sign that Sadie’s dots are mostly in different places than Colette’s. But, I also have to be sure Sadie has some shape between the dots. Because she’s not the main character, she won’t be in every scene of the book. She might flatline at times, but she still needs to have an arc.


What’s good above is that Sadie’s arc is different than Colette’s which means they both have a shape and those shapes add to the book. What’s bad is that doesn’t help me figure out why I’m stuck.

So, I added Mark’s name and dots above, too. And you’ll quickly notice that Mark flatlines after the first major event. That’s not good. I had to revise his story, add some hope and some complications. Here’s his line post-revision:


Notice that big blue X? That’s because Mark’s story had to change.

At this point, I’m usually tempted to go back to writing because I’ve fixed a problem. But I don’t. Not yet. Because if I can fix one problem this way, I can probably fix a few. So I keep charting until I end up with something like this:


That is how I plot without words.

Then, Step 7 put down the magic markers and finish the draft!

Caela Carter grew up in Basking Ridge, NJ and Baltimore, MD. She's been writing since she learned how to pick up a pen but before the writing thing got serious she spent six years teaching English to middle and high school students in Jacksonville, FL and Chicago, IL. Her debut novel, ME, HIM, THEM AND IT was published in 2013 by Bloomsbury. When she's not writing, Caela is a teacher of some awesome teens in Brooklyn, a Notre Dame football enthusiast, and a happy explorer in New York City.

MY BEST FRIEND MAYBE: IndieBound*Barnes & Noble*Amazon

ME, HIM, THEM AND IT: IndieBound*Barnes & Noble*Amazon


2 comments:

Dahlia Adler said...

I am so. Excited. To try this. I have no idea if my brain is even capable of working this way but I MUST KNOW.

erica m. chapman said...

That is seriously thought-out plotting! I've never seen anything like this, thanks for sharing ;o) Your story sounds great!

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