Plotting and Re-Plotting Stories

Sculpture at the Redmond Public Library

I'm always trying to add new writing tools to my toolbox; ways of plotting and replotting stories for rewriting are always useful.

Here’s another example of using a Stumbleupon-discovered post to spur a rewrite.

The story I just finished, whose working title is “Villa Encantada,” is one whose beginning I wrote over a year ago. I picked it up last summer and added a couple of scenes, but something about it has felt wrong and it’s been just lumpy scenes stuffed full of description of a balcony garden. I was pretty sure it didn’t begin where it was supposed to, and also pretty sure that the best thing to do would be to start it again from scratch, write it, then mine the previous efforts to see what should get folded into it.

So when I read this post on plotting out stories, I decided to use it to plot out mine. All you do, according to the oridinal webpage, is complete the sentences. I’ve thought about the story and its theme and know it about halfway well enough, I think.

1. Once upon a time . . . there was a woman who could not forgive herself.

2. Every day . . . she tried to kill herself in the very smallest of ways, cigarettes and high heels on stairways.

3. Until this . . . she meets a new neighbor, who is bossy and ominous and presumptuous.

4. Because of this . . . she tries to make friends and allies in the rest of the apartment complex.

5. Because of this . . . The bitchy neighbor, who is a witch, attacks her in increasingly powerful ways, leading up to a third neighbor’s death.

6. Until finally . . . the protagonist is pissed off enough to stop feeling guilty and react in a way that saves herself.

7. For every day . . . I’m not sure what to do with this last, but I’ll wrap the story up with some gesture that shows that her forgiveness of herself is a lasting and life-changing thing.

Okay. That let me start thinking about it in terms of scenes, once I had the overall arc in my head. From there I did start from scratch and write the story from my head. In the process I found myself adding a frame story. Once I finally had that draft I could go through the first version and fold in passages that I wanted to keep. I’m still not happy with the end, but at least I have a complete story now that I can tinker with.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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