Plot is the enemy of character. At least that’s the advice you can find throughout the writing world, usually delivered by authors and instructors who have whipped a plot into shape so they could finish a novel.
The trouble with this advice: while plot might be the enemy, we still long for something interesting to happen in a story. Yes, you can can find novels, some a bit successful, where not much happens throughout 300 or more pages. But the best tales give your well-crafted characters something notable to do, experience or endure. It might be as simple as losing a dog. It might be as epic as discovering a secret government plot to experiment on virus victims.
You are at the right moment to craft such plot points once you know your characters well. But after you know your people, shuffling their story about can take place on, well, index cards. It’s well into the 21st Century, but these are still tools that the pros use, in some form or another.
Above you see my plot cards for Viral Times, my novel about a government plot during a pandemic. They are the second generation of the plot, standing on the shoulders of a simple Word file written in outline mode. Each color represents a Point of View, a chapter or simply a scene. After I write the action, I note a goal for the scene or chapter. They have changed in order, expanded and some have even been scrapped.
There are good tools out there for plotting with the index card. Up on the Web site 43 Folders I’ve found an insightful discussion of using index cards. Blake Snyder, a teacher of screenwriting, offers up an Excel spreadsheet that mimics index cards, set up for the classic three-act structure found in so many screenplays. Then there’s Synder’s Save the Cat, a new and popular screenwriting book that loves index cards as a plot tool. Have a look at a good Web page that waxes eloquent about how to use your cards. Go ahead, visit Office Depot and make your writing more clear. Use Post-Its in colors instead of cards, if you like, but go old-school to plot.