How do you maintain your plot structure?

Lately I've been thinking a lot about plot structure, and how writers plan the plots of their story. It's an important step in the writing process, for without an overall understanding of where your characters are heading and how they get from A to AB to C etc. you run the risk of having your story fall apart and lose its flow.

With my writing I generally start by completing a rough sketch of each chapter. I may also create a summary of what happens to each character and when, or if, they cross paths. I have found this process useful for planning the chapter order as well as gaining a birds-eye view of the overall flow of the novel. Without this as a guide, the possibility of losing focus and running off on tangents that do not add anything substantial to the overall plot or character development increases.

I also emphasize in my plot and chapter summaries the key elements that need to be included, and those WOW moments that must bounce off the page. When reviewing what I've written, I use my notes to perform a basic check and tick system. Have I included that important characteristic or event? Have I emphasized what the character felt or needed to say? Does that particular scene really make the reader's blood run cold or make them laugh?

That's not to say that the first chapter summary or character summary will match the final novel. Writing, for me, is both a planned and organic process. I prefer to have a chapter summary and structure to keep the story on track, but I also enjoy the freedom to slot in elements that I find essential, entertaining or just too irresistible to omit. As writers, we're putting a lot of effort into the finished work, so why not indulge ourselves every once in a while?

So, let review the steps that I find work for me when writing.

- I create a chapter summary

- I create a character summary, including points about where characters will cross paths

- During the writing and review process, I tick off points in my chapter summary to ensure that I include the important details and events

- I allow myself the freedom to add elements to the story as I write

One thing that I have just started to trial is a bulletin board style plot board. Basically, it involves commandeering an entire wall space in one room where I can place the key plot elements, characters and scenarios in the order of my chapter and story flow. It gives me the flexibility to move the elements around and view them as a whole. By choosing a point on the board, I can trace the path of that particular storyline and make sure that in concludes or continues in the way that I planned.

I would be interested to know how other people tackle the challenges of maintaining plot structure and story flow. It is such an important aspect of writing that I am certain all writers have developed their own method.

Whatever method you have chosen to follow, the best thing is that you are writing. Find what works for you and stick with it. The finished product will be worth all the pain.

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