Gingerbread Will Help You PlotGingerbread cookie cutters, that is. If you’re just sitting down to that new book idea that’s floating hazily out in the ether, remember the old rule:
Characters are more important than plot.
It took me a few years to get this drummed through my thick, plotting head, but it’s true. Darn it. As a plotter, when I begin a book I usually know three things: how it ends, what the midpoint (or perhaps some other important turning point) is, and a Cool Scene that makes the book so worth it. No, it’s really, really super-cool. You’ve got one, right?
But there have to be PEOPLE to make these scenes happen. How to come up with a vibrant cast quickly? And make sure it’s fluid enough so it can change as your book evolves?
I began by using a good-sized piece of foam board that was lying around. You might use a regular board, or maybe heavy illustration board.
Now go down to your local crafts store and grab some Velcro™ “dots.” They’ll come on a long spool, with an A side and a B side. While you’re there, choose several colors of construction paper. If you want to be cliché, include a good supply of pink and medium blue. If you don’t have a gingerbread man cookie cutter, get one about 6” tall.
When you return home, use the cookie cutter to trace a bunch of gingerbread men (GM) on the various colors. Cut them out.
Using the size of your gingerbread men to judge how far apart rows should be, attach a few rows of Velcro dots onto your board. Make sure you’re consistent in using the same side of the dots (A or B). Done? Now use the other side of the Velcro dots and smack one on the back of each of your gingerbread men. Easy there. You won’t need them all, and you can make more as needed.
You’re ready to go! You’re writing romance? Choose a pink GM for the heroine and a blue GM for the hero. If you’re into other combinations, choose as needed. Put them center on your board, stuck to the dots. Print their names on their GMs or, if you don’t know those yet, just put “hero” and “heroine.”
When I first started this I’d just read a treatise by Jenny Crusie, who always assigns a BFF for the heroine in her book. That meant I chose another pink GM to stand alongside my heroine GM. I slapped a blue GM next to my hero so he could have a buddy (even though she turned out to be his cousin). Pink would mean they were closely associated with the heroine, no matter what their gender might be, and blue meant the same for the hero’s side. Other colors are used when you’re not sure or when they don’t have particular loyalties.
If you’re operating by the Hero’s Journey (or even Heroine’s Journey, which is different), go ahead and assign GMs to the various roles in that, like the Mentor. Maybe some of your GMs will be animals who play important roles.
Now think about your book. What will it really need, cast-wise? Can some positions be combined? Maybe Mentor is also BFF? Maybe some can be eliminated altogether. Does the heroine have too many people on her side of the board? Give the hero some as well, or cut back on the heroine’s posse.
If you’re writing a series with different leads, the h/h’s that will be appearing down the line might appear somewhere on your board. If they aren’t going to have large roles in this particular volume, maybe you don’t need to show them, or perhaps you have a smaller GM cutter to use just so they don’t feel left out.
Don’t forget the villain! Does s/he have friends/allies? (Perhaps some of these will combine with figures already on the board.) (Combined roles add layers to characters.)
Eat some gingerbread cookies as you ponder some more. Can you simplify? Are characters’ roles beginning to change as you see how they relate to the others on your board? Move ‘em around. Reassign. Trash. Make new GMs.
Once I had to draw wings and make a little halo for one of my heroine side’s GMs, as I realized that her mother was dead, though she still played an important part in the story, appearing in flashbacks.
HAVE FUN with the chart. Switch people around and see how they look. When you start to understand things, write down some characteristics on each GM: personality, looks, what important element(s) they provide the plot. THIS WILL CHANGE as your book progresses. Don’t worry about it; GMs are only paper. You can cross out info on the GMs or even plunk a new blank one in the scribbly old one’s place.
And no, you don’t need a board and Velcro. You can do all this on a tabletop with stickie notes. If you’re like me, you don’t have a clear tabletop in the house, or at least one’s not going to stay clear for long. Or maybe you have cats, who have their own ideas about how your novel should be organized. I find that having this board propped up somewhere near or on my desk saves room and allows me to glance over and remember my characters’ relationships to each other. The velcro eliminated a previous problem with stray breezes blowing stickie notes around.
All done? What are you waiting for? Write!
About the Author
When you think of strong women and strange worlds, think Carol A. Strickland. A one-time comics letterhack and outspoken member of various comics message boards, Carol has found herself the basis for two comic book villains. (At times her opinions have not been taken well by the books’ creators.) Her sixth novel, Worlds Apart, is vol. 4 of a fantabulous superhero romance/adventure series that you’d love to read. Really!
Returning to Earth was no honeymoon
The exciting THREE WORLDS superhero romance saga continues!
After the interstellar chaos of the past few weeks, Lina Starhart thinks she now has time to catch her breath and get used to the idea of not only being a bride but of being married to the galaxy’s most powerful man. But she has yet to learn what the job fully entails.
Enemies all around
Not only does her famous husband Valiant have to bear the constant scrutiny of celebrity-watching networks, but he has enemies whose attention now turns toward Lina, whom they see as the hero’s primary weakness.
Can Lina step up to her new responsibilities and show herself to be a mega-level champion?
(That is, if she can survive that long.)