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I'm Kate Risheill. Welcome to my blog on writing.

Plot Mapping

Plot Mapping.jpg

Whether you are writing a very literary and character-focused story or a sprawling fantasy epic, your plotting is of utmost importance. Ultimately, whatever you are writing should be building towards some kind of pay off. There are certainly some who think of plotting as a dirty word, that thinking consciously and deliberately about your plot will suck the soul out of your writing and turn it into some kind of horrible, fad-chasing dreck. Frankly, that's bullshit.

Plot should be important to writers of any ilk. I've discussed plotting and pantsing in an earlier blog post, but to summarize: plotters do a lot of pre-writing and planning, while pantsers prefer to fly by the seat of their pants, so to speak. While plotters have the term "plot" in their name, I think both plotters and pantsers can benefit from using some plot mapping techniques, though I suspect they will use these techniques differently.

If you are unfamiliar, plot mapping just refers to the idea of creating some kind of diagram, or map, outlining the various plot threads of your story. Perhaps the most basic of these is Freytag's Pyramid. This very basic plot map is the one we all learned about in school, showing the core story elements of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. While a useful starting point for plot mapping, this basic dramatic structure doesn't have the complexity necessary to render complicated plot structures.

Image from  Wikimedia Commons  

Image from Wikimedia Commons 

Many plots are intricate. They involve many characters and subplots that weave in and out of the main narrative. For example, Game of Thrones has multiple story lines going at any given time, all intertwined, but following their own individual plot structures. There are many ways to plot out a story. You can map out the emotional highs and lows for your story as a whole or for individual plot lines. You can map out the time line of your story and how individual plot lines weave together. You can map out which characters interact with each other throughout the plot of the story. There are many ways to visually represent the action of your story and trying a few different ways of mapping can help you to figure out what works best for your story. For example, below is a "subway line" diagram by Gabriela Pereira that is useful for understanding how your different plot lines fit together and identifying where you might have weak points in your story. 

Image by Gabriela Pereira on  DIY MFA

Image by Gabriela Pereira on DIY MFA

I can already feel the pantsers recoiling at the thought of diagramming out a plot in such an analytical way, but I don't think pantsers need to create these diagrams before writing. Instead, these diagrams can help you in the editing process to recognize the plot lines you've developed and identify any places where story lines aren't coming together well. If you are a plotter, you may want to sketch out your plot map ahead of time to better understand how your plot builds towards your payoff and to create subplots that fit into the main story. Personally, I think I will be doing some combination of the two, creating a rough plot map before I write and then updating that map during the editing stage to try to analyze and improve the plot.

There are no hard and fast rules about plot mapping. You can do it at any point in the writing process, can take any approach to mapping that you want. What is clear is that having a full understanding of how your story develops, the way that the characters and the story lines interact with each other, can help you to create a stronger story. Sometimes, we don't realize that we've gone off into the weeds until we look back at a map and see where we've gone astray. 

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