Driving down the street today, the  jacarandas are out in bloom. Once upon a time, when I was a uni student, this meant exams, no sleep, fast food on tap. Nowadays, as I finish up marking my students final assessments and handing in all the necessary paperwork, the purple showers represent something different. It’s MY time to do some intensive creative writing. 

My writing is pretty inconsistent throughout the year. Some weeks, I manage only a few hours, other times if the stars align, I can clock up to thirty hours a week. But between October and February is where I do the hardcore slog, the parts of writing that takes the most brainpower – critical plotting, editing and researching. 

As soon as I handed in my last report, I dug up an old manuscript from the bottom of my hard drive. The Apprentice Guide to Fairyside, is a middle grade choose-your-own-fairytale about an ambitious squire, a vain prince charming and a magic mirror on the path to freedom. I’d sent it out to a few publishers and agents about eighteen months ago. It had been met with enthusiasm and helpful suggestions but ultimately had not been picked up. I knew it needed a structural overhaul and had been just waiting for enough down time to work on it uninterrupted.

Because The Apprentice Guide to Fairyside has a non-linear structure, I’d been too lax with plotting. My branching pathways were based on random pantsing such as ‘Hey, should Shelby the squire fight a strangler swan or a carnivorous, saltwater mermaid?’ or ‘What could do more damage– one mad minotaur loose in a maze or a hundred miniature minotaurs infesting a tree?’

None of my decisions were based on emotions – which is the driver of all action in straightforward linear narratives. So, I went back and studied a story map for a linear story I’m working on – a young adult, science-fiction manuscript titled Love in the Age of Time Travel.

 In my story maps, I put all the narrative events in chronological order (in blue), then the emotion of the main character driving the event (in pink) followed by how this action raises the stakes (in purple). I also note my seven plot points – the ‘now’, the inciting incident, the first turning point, the midpoint reversal, the second turning point, the climax and the denouement.

I tried to replicate this story map for my non-linear Apprentice Guide to Fairyside and made … a mess. I couldn’t pinpoint the structural plot issues because there were problems with my data visualisation. The map looked like a minotaur’s maze. I’d have to use a string to lead me out of the mess but that wouldn’t help me fix it. 

So I came up with a new solution to map my non-linear story. I made a central ‘spine’ which contained the seven points that made up the plot structure. This has to be the straight line that runs down the middle. Each point is three layers deep; it contains the event (top layer), the emotion (2nd layer)  and the stake (3rd layer). Any side quests branches out from the spine; these can have emotional layers but can also represent different narrators’ voices, playful experiments or deeper world building. This new mapping system made it much easier for me to see how to ramp up (or down) the story beats, as well as control pacing for a more entertaining reading experience.

Apologies for the crafting blog update. I don’t usually share technical writing advice (because I don’t know enough about the topic and there are so many websites that offer better advice). But I’m so excited about my new non-linear plotting method (I’m a nerd. I’m okay with this), that I had to make a blog post. 

So the plan is to spend the next week on edits. Hopefully, I’ll publish a couple of chapters on the blog before sending it off to another round of find-a-publisher again. Fingers crossed. 

What about you, creative peeps? Come up with any insights into your creative process this week?