#NaNoWriMo – Plotting my story-within-a-story

Earlier today I spent two hours working on plotting for the story-within-a-story. My main character, Jenna, watches a soap opera called Spruce Ridge. Instead of just writing random things, I decided to create a story and characters for the show. Especially when I found this HILARIOUS soap opera digest generator. Basically, if you look at TV Guide or a soap opera magazine, the plot for each day is summarized in a few short sentences. For example, I just used the generator and got this:

Sun returns from the dead and haunts Carswell. Abbott goes on a tirade against Candace in the rain. Roddy talks about the accidental shooting with Raoul.

It’s awesome because many names in the database the generator uses were characters or actors on actual soap operas, and the situations, crazy as they sound, are things that have happened on soaps. How many times did Stefano Dimera come back from the dead on Days of Our Lives when I was growing up? Remember when Vivian buried Carly alive?

Yesterday I used the generator over and over and copy/pasted the results into a Word document. Then I started replacing names, because there were way too many characters. Carly and Erica were both changed to Candace. Nick used to also be Landon, Dylan, Coleman, and Carlos. And on and on. I made notes on how many times each character was used so that it would be roughly even. I ended up with 20 names. Then I printed my list twice, each sentence on a different line, and cut it up so each sentence was on its own little piece of paper.

I had found large index cards in the cabinet at work that haven been there since before I started working here 5 1/2 years ago. I wrote each of the names on a separate card and spread them out on my desk. Then I separated the sentences so I could see each characters’ story points. For example, a sentence about Candace and Adaire would be put on each card (hence printing two copies). After I did that, my desk looked like this:

plotting Spruce Ridge

Then I looked at one character at a time. I pieced together the sentences into a logical order, starting with Serenity. I wrote her five sentences on her card in order, then rearranged my document to have these sentences in order at the beginning of the page, in a bulleted list timeline. Like this:

  • Serenity pays off a debt to Trevor.
  • Ambrosia confirms everyone’s worst fears about Serenity.
  • Dolf is indicted for embezzlement along with Serenity.
  • Serenity is struck by a car driven by Boyd.
  • Serenity tosses an engagement ring at Boyd at the hospital.

You can kind of see how this could be fleshed out into a complete storyline. Next I moved on to Boyd, since he’s clearly involved in Serenity’s life if he tried to kill her while they were engaged. I put his sentences in order, starting with the lines that were already in order. In my document, I added Boyd’s story points to the timeline, interspersing them to create a chronology. I kept going like this, starting with characters whose names were already in the timeline, one by one. It seemed to me that Monet, Candace, Trevor, and Kaitlin are all high school students, so I changed Serenity’s first point (above) to be repaying a debt to Adaire – it didn’t make sense anymore that she would be indebted to Trevor. I changed a name on a few other points so things would make sense in the existing story arc.

I threw out anything that was nonsense (Elden romances Mack with humorous results), and as I worked I figured out characters that were extraneous (Quinn’s not doing much, and if I change this one thing to let Candace do it instead, I can just throw her out altogether). I ended up getting rid of eight characters (not that it matters, but the names no longer being used are Quinn, Elden, Mack, Lukas, Rodrigo, Kamani, Jordan and Amber) leaving me with a much more manageable cast of 12, which by happy accident turned out to be half male and half female.

Here are my finalized cards:

plotting Spruce Ridge

As you can (maybe) see, I have a card for each character listing their story points (bottom), a card that lists the characters (top left), and a card that has all story points in story order (top right). The next part of planning will be to expand on the story points, but that might be something I do as I write my novel.

So today, not much secret noveling, but lots of secret plotting… which sounds WAY better. And really, one of the two hours I spent on this project was my lunch break anyway.

So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed reading this little glimpse at my process. 🙂