15 September 2006

The Plot/Action Calendar

I've been talking in various forums about the new technique that I've started using to prepare for writing Security & Exchange for NaNoWriMo this year, so I thought I'd give a little sample of what the mapping on this calendar looks like. First, let me tell a little about S&E for those who haven't heard what I'm doing this year.

Security & Exchange is a first person narrative Detective mystery set in Seattle and other locations during the month of November 2006. I will be blogging the entire novel at Security & Exchange during November, and each day's entry will be the detective's narrative that is associated with that day, what has happened on his case, what he's experiencing, etc. This creates several challenges. First, detective stories often (dare I say usually) take place in a very short period of time. This is so you can keep the action consolidated (an old Greek theater term called Unity of Time, Place, and Action). So one of my challenges is to keep the action moving and interesting over a full month without such great conventions as "a week later I found out..."

In order to facilitate this, I have to consider what else is going on in my detective's life. As he progresses forward through the month and his investigation, he also progresses through the final phases of heart disease that is killing him. Periodically through the month he jumps backward through the decades of his life, reviewing scenes that become strangely relevant to the investigation and the culmination of his life.

In order to cope with the unique challenges of this novel, I need to keep track of a lot of surrounding data that is not necessarily in the direct storyline. In order to do that, I've created an Excel spreadsheet that charts the days of the month across the columns, and all the characters who appear in my story in the rows. For every day, there is some entry that tells what is happening to that character on that day. Here is a two-day cut from my spreadsheet.

Feel free to comment on this and to use the concept if you think it will help in planning your story. What I divide up in days you could map to hours if your novel takes place in a shorter period, or months if it takes place over a longer period. It is especially useful if you are trying to make sure that two characters can get to the same place at the same time for an interaction. It also helps me to highlight visually in the spreadsheet what parts of this action are being exposed to the reader in the narrative, what parts are being exposed to the narrator that he's not passing on to the reader yet, and what parts of the action the narrator hasn't discovered yet. It is possible that I will be able to impart clues to the reader, as well, that have not surfaced in the MCs mind, but that can be deduced by the clever reader. We'll all know how well this works when November 30 rolls around.