When I decided to write my first novel, Operation Devil's Fire, I knew I had only a vague understanding of plotting. I bought a copy of Ken Follet's Hornet Flight, read it, then sat down and plotted it using Excel. I entered the name of the point of view (POV) character and a one-sentence description of the chapter. Next, using Excel's formulas, I counted the number of times each character appeared and calculated the percentage of "screen time" they each had. Side note: I have no idea how Mr. Follet writes his books.
For my next step, I bought two books on writing:
and the companion workbook
I read them both cover to cover and still have them in my home library. Mr. Marshall laid out a logical approach to plotting, which I converted to Excel using a pattern of appearances by each of my POV characters. I saved the file as ODF Story Plan.xls and used that same naming convention for my latest book, Behind German Lines BGL Story Plan.xls.
Because my books are thrillers, my chapters tend to get my characters in trouble, then end, switching POV, often to the bad guys whose chapter then ends with a new threat that the reader knows about but the main character doesn't. This doesn't occur all the time, but I use when needed. Remember, the writer wants the reader to worry about the characters and wonder how in the world he or she is going to get out this jam.
Using Marshall's general POV pattern, but modifying it for MY story, I ended up with a spreadsheet whose POV column looked like this. Note that some chapters are listed more than once - this is due to perhaps just moving them from one place to another in the same chapter.
Here's how each character's appearances add up as a percent of the total chapters.
My main characters in bold, take up 82% of the total, with the minor characters taking the rest.
In the new novel there are only 5 POVs. Each story has different needs.
The key advice I can give you is: if you decide to plot your book in a similar fashion, always remember that the story is the boss. Don't always put a POV chapter in a certain place just because the spreadsheet pattern says to; you have to adjust all the time so the story stays tight, tense, and true.
Help your readers come to love your characters, care about whether they survive, and cheer for them when they do.
Thanks for stopping by today.
Starting today, I'm going to post the name of the book I'm currently reading, with the Amazon link if there is one.
D-Day, June 6, 1944; The Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen E. Ambrose.
On page 257 of 583.