Many years ago I was at a residency with a not-yet famous author. Residencies are awesome things because small talk is often about writing (or food). Writing and food are two of my favorite subjects, so I fit right in. The novelists were hanging out talking about plot. As a plotless wonder (aka poet) I perked my ears up.
“I draw charts!” my friend said.
“Charts?” The other novelists nodded knowingly, but I was fascinated.
“Sure, you want to see one?”
“Yes please!” And my friend brought out her thick three-subject notebook with her neat round handwriting.
“It’s nothing fancy,” she said laughing.
“I don’t care.” Her x axis was each chapter, and she explained that she had three plot lines going in her young adult novel: the supernatural mystery, a budding romance, and tension with the family. Each plot line had a color.
“I try to advance one of the plot lines in each chapter,” she explained.
I just got 22 single-spaced pages of professional feedback on the memoir. It took me a good week just to process the feedback. And then I talked to the editor and it might take me another week to process that. This brings me to Thanksgiving.
Probably the week before two out of three of my sisters come to visit for Thanksgiving is not a good time to work on my manuscript. And that’s okay because I’m struggling to understand how to even begin the revision. But I think it’s going to involve a chart.
I too have a few plot lines, or lines of tension. I can plot those plots on a draft and color code them. (A convenient excuse to buy new pens or maybe color pencils and sticky notes? Perhaps break open a field note notebook??) Then I can color code the manuscript and impose order on chaos. That is the dream anyway.
First I have to establish the lines of tension. Some of them are old and worn and some of them are new, teased out by the editor. I’d best have a publishable work by the time this is all over. Whenever it’s over.