Writers, brand new and veterans alike, have one thing in common: they all scribble down their notes. Some have shelves filled with notebooks (of which at least half is never or hardly ever used), others pin their walls like Sherlock Holmes to come to a final deduction. There are so many ways to keep track of your work, but only one is my absolute favorite: The Investigation Board. Let's take a deep dive into how it works and whether or not it fits your style.
I am one of those Sherlocks. I have a wall in my writing office where I pin cards and use colored threads to connect the individual characters and storylines to plot beats and hidden lore. Each name tag is accompanied by a small description of the scene I have in mind, and some cards are accompanied by sketches or drawings to clarify the visuals. The cards are then connected to characters or other scenes that are affected by it, causing the whole thing to fan out until there is a final solution in sight. This way of working has a lot of perks. For example: if done correctly, you reduce the chance of finding plotholes drastically. Every choice a character makes, every hidden storyline that is somehow connected, is being tracked until the very end of the story. It makes the invisible visible, while you can continue to work on those details and dialogs. The wall remembers for you.
Author or Serial Killer? Prepare for Scrutiny...
Of course, this title is a joke. But that being said, there are some downsides to IB's. I mean, let's be honest, you need a spare wall to put up an investigation Board/Pin Board. Where most people would gladly decorate their house with posters, paintings, or pictures, a writer that uses an Investigation Board will risk the scrutinizing gaze of the accidental guest who enters the office. Also, working with an IB needs to be done correctly in order to work. You need to be very strict in what you should and shouldn't pin, and you need to stay very consistent in doing it. Once the flow chart breaks, imminent plotholes shall rise. Create a legend that indicates which color thread explains what subject, and remember to always use the same color for the same thing. Never forget to add a scene or concept you have in mind, and never-ever forget to plot out the consequences. This technique is a great way to edit your work while jotting it down by the way. If a scene has no consequences on the Board, are you sure that scene needs to be in there?
Can this be done digitally?
Of course! For those who wish to avoid the scrutiny or simply don't have the walls available to decorate with post-its, threads, and who-knows-what, there are plenty of digital resources out there. The question is though, what type of board fits your style of writing? Let's make a list of the best (free) resources available to keep track of your story progress and plot beats.
Yes, Pinterest is the number 1 free resource when it comes to pinboarding. Even though it's difficult to actually create schematics or flowcharts for your plotbeats, it's easy enough to keep visuals and text nicely organized into their own separate Investigation Boards.
My absolute favorite when it comes to making flow charts and schematics. It's a 100% free-to-use app that can be utilized through the web or installed on your computer. It's easy to use and allows you to expand into infinity (which is great as any writer may know that stories do tend to change from time to time).
Story Plotter is a fantastic tool that allows you to keep track of your story beats. Color tagging, plot diagrams, and flow chart are all easy enough to set up with this online program. Keep in mind though, Story Plotter requires you to connect with one of your social media accounts.
FreeMind is a free, online tool for mind mapping. It isn't fancy or visually very attractive, but it definitely does the job of connecting the dots and outlining/plotting. It's pretty easy to use, however, there are some limitations when it comes to usage on iMac platforms.
How about you?
What do you use to plot your stories? Did I forget anything? Let's hear it! Drop your comments down below to get a conversation started. I'm sure there's plenty to talk about when it comes to plotting styles.