Saturday, December 14, 2013

How I plotted Operation Devil's Fire and Behind German Lines

As I mentioned at the end of the post for 26 October 13, I'm going to talk about how I plot my novels. 

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.

Chapter VP Char
1 Marston
2 Dunn
2 Dunn
3 Miller
4 Dunn
4 Dunn
5 German
5 German
5 German
6 Miller
7 Churchill
7 Dunn
8 Churchill
8 Dunn
8 Churchill
9 Dunn
9 Dunn
9 Dunn
10 Dunn
10 Dunn
10 Madeline
10 Dunn
10 Madeline
10 Dunn
10 German
11 Dunn
11 German
11 Cross
12 Pamela
12 Donovan
12 FDR
13 Dunn
13 Cross
13 German
14 Marston
15 Dunn
15 Cross
15 Dunn
16 Dunn
17 German
18 Marston
19 Dunn
20 Miller
20 Miller
21 Dunn
22 Miller
23 Dunn
24 German
25 German
26 Lawson
27 FDR
28 German
28 German
29 German
30 Dunn
31 German
32 Marston
33 Dunn
33 Miller
34 Saunders
35 German
36 Dunn
37 Miller
38 German
38 Dunn
38 German
39 Dunn
40 Miller
41 Dunn
42 Miller
43 German
44 Churchill
45 Dunn
46 Churchill
46 German
46 Churchill
47 Dunn
48 Miller
48 Miller
49 Claire
50 Pamela
51 Dunn
52 FDR
53 Dunn
53 German
54 Dunn
55 Madeline
55 German
56 Dunn
57 German
57 Dunn
57 Dunn
57 Dunn
57 Dunn
58 Dunn
59 Dunn
60 German
61 Dunn
62 Churchill
63 Dunn
64 Dunn

Here's how each character's appearances add up as a percent of the total chapters.

POV  %
Dunn 42%
German 22%
Miller 11%
Churchill 7%
Marston 4%
FDR 3%
Madeline 3%
Pamela 2%
Cross 2%
Donovan 1%
Saunders 1%
Lawson 1%
Claire 1%
Total 100%

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.

On page 257 of 583.