How I Ramble-Plot a Chapter

I’m trying to include more “how I” posts, even though I realize you probably do things a different way. So this time, it’s how I plot a chapter.

This comes after I have the skeleton of the book outlined, so I know sort of what happens. Yeah, sort of. To figure out what REALLY happens, I go for a walk with my voice recorder, and I talk my way through it. To demonstrate, I’ve included the transcript of an actual plot exercise for The Coming of the Fae, which is in my new series. This scene isn’t terribly spoiler-y (just a little), which is one reason I’m using it instead of something else. I cut out teensy bits for your benefit (stammering, etc), and redacted a spoiler. I stopped the session before reaching the end of the chapter.

(Hop on the treadmill, start the recording)

Okay, we’re going to try chapter 15 again. Ah, which has changed since the last time we tried it, which is all right. And it needs *more, so we need to figure out which threads we have dropped. (Yes, I talk to myself in plural when I plot, because it’s me AND my characters. Or whatever. I’m not crazy.)

So Miknon is going to catch, I guess maybe not over here, but catch some of the highborn swapping empty crates for full ones. Um, moving the food up to their deck.

Let’s see, we also need to check back in on the prince. Oh, in the last chapter with Gil, we need to make sure we have some kind of check in with his family, to see how his mother and brother are doing after the death of Grandpa.

So this chapter, check on the prince, and maybe Miknon is an official spy. Did we already leave the fleet behind? I do not remember. (Pull up outline on phone.) Oo-hoo, do not fall off the treadmill. Ah, yes, we’ve already left the fleet behind. So we need to deal with that. Okay, so this needs to be a political chapter, pretty much.

So in the last chapter whenever it’s appropriate, we need to—we can’t find the council, so we need to keep an eye on them, so the prince asks Miknon to do it, but Miknon doesn’t want to do it. She doesn’t want to be involved in this, and Gil talks her into it, and that I guess is where we give her the friend signals.

Um, okay, so now Miknon is actually following some of them around, trying to find out what they are up to. That’s how she catches them swapping grain. Uh, some of the guards do know (spoiler redacted), dur, because they were in the room when all of this went down. But only a few of the guards. Right, right.

Okay, so, and how are they getting it through the halls—the boxes of grain— without anybody noticing. These people are up at all hours. Okay, what if they have a meeting? The council calls a meeting to update the crew on the progress of the ship and what they’ve discovered. And during the meeting– so everybody who’s awake is at the meeting, supposedly, and they’ll hold another meeting for everyone who’s asleep. And while they’re in the meeting, their cronies are sneaking down the hallway with the grain, and Miknon catches them at it. So she flies in, uh—

But we need to have a funeral, too. Too late to have a funeral, it would have already been way, way over by now. Cuz we are coming up on Mars, right?
Okay, so the meeting is to say we are approaching one of the— we’re approaching the third planet, the red one. Um, it’s half the size of our destination, but we’re going to check it out, because if it’s a possible place to live, then we’ll just move there instead. That’s a good distraction.

Okay. So a lot of backtracking to do. That’s all right, that’s why I plot ahead. (Yes, that’s in the actual recording. I try to encourage myself instead of scold.)
So when Miknon finds out, there are only a limited number of guards that she can talk to, so she has to find one of them. He’s going to pull the rest of the guards and go catch the people, who are going to throw a fit, and Kishar says, um– No, Zaidu says our deck is short on food. The guard says everyone’s deck is short on food. Oh, and Miknon can overhear this by climbing in the light sconce and pretending that she’s supposed to be there. Ha, ha, hide as a light bulb, that’s cute. Okay.

Okay, so… Zaidu says we’re short. Everybody’s short. Well, we’re more important. And ah, this is where we get to pull the (unintelligible), right? And the king promised we would be equal. Well, the king is dead. (Spoiler, sorry, but it wouldn’t make sense without it.) You promised to obey, you promised to follow the will of our leader. The leader is now the council. For now.

And the guard says, well, I can go tell all the lower decks that you’re doing this, and and what will you do then? And Zaidu says our magic is better. And the guard says, do you have enough energy to do your magic when you’re on short rations. Well, we wouldn’t be on short rations if you’d let us take the food. And Kishar says, we don’t want a riot on the ship, and lots of dead bodies would spread disease. We are almost there— he’s right you know. Do the whole Orthallen bit with this. This was a poorly, uh, we apologize for the misunderstanding, and we will put everything back. And Miknon stays in the light sconce, which she gets to, by the way, by sneaking out of the tunnel grille closest to it and gradually coming on. Ah, so she stays there, and after the guard leaves—

Ah, well, okay, so he doesn’t say everything. He says, um, we didn’t realize the other decks were as short as ours. Of course we’re sorry blah blah blah. (Yes, I really said that.) After they leave, then they say, why’d you do that. Well, we can’t afford a riot until we have enough energy to blast them with our magic. Wait until we land and recover, and then we can do whatever we want. Okay, that’s a good start. (End of session.)

I’m sure you noticed several things.

First, I backtrack and change my mind a lot. That’s okay; that’s why I do the pre-plotting.

Second, I change things in previous chapters. Also okay. The back of the embroidery is generally a mess, but the front is the point of the project. In other words, if it works out in the end, it doesn’t matter if the process is messy.

Third, I don’t add much description. That comes later, but it does come. Ditto the emotion. During these plotting sessions, I usually say things like, “He’ll be sad,” or “Insert drama blah blah.” *Shrug* It works for me.

So, does this give me a “finished” plot?

I wish, but no. It does give me really good notes that (usually) let me get the chapter drafted before I go back and edit it. It’s still pretty likely that I will think of stuff to change or add. Again, it doesn’t matter how messy the back of the embroidery is.

What’s the point of this?

Well, first is to entertain you. I know I always like hearing the nitty-gritty details of how authors actually work. If you want a whole book about it, try The Making of Delgath, by Michael J. Sullivan.

Second is to reassure you that it doesn’t matter if your process is different from your writing buddy’s. If it’s working for you, then it’s fine. If it’s not working for you, then try something else.

And in case you missed it, this book is now out! Yay!

Happy writing,
Marty C. Lee

© 2023 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Author: MCLeeBooks

Marty C. Lee told stories for most of her life, but never took them seriously until her daughter asked her to write the first in the Unexpected Heroes series. Between writing and spending time with her family, she reads, embroiders, and gardens. Her characters take over her brain on a regular basis. If you catch her muttering to thin air, she's probably arguing with one of her characters. She has learned to keep a notebook by her bed to jot down ideas so she can go to sleep and deal with them in the morning.

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