24 September 2014

Above the Plot Planner Line: How to Test Pacing and Tension in Stories

When I'm not required to take notes in a Plot Consultation, I often create a mini-Plot Planner for myself to better "see" a writer's story and visually plot and follow along as she recounts scenes.

I cringe when I find the 2nd scene takes place around the dinner table with no conflict, tension, suspense or curiosity and the protagonist in control. Hating to write a scene under the Plot Planner line so early in the story, I celebrate when instead, I'm able to pop that same scene above the line because of what happens toward the end of the action.

The slow dinner scene ends with an object foreshadowed in a prior scene falling and threatening to expose the protagonist's secret, lie, irresponsibility, thus showing the protagonist no longer in control. His fear takes over thus moving this scene from quiet and safe to fraught with tension which earns the scene a place above the Plot Planner line. The short sense of normalcy (how the family interacts provides a glimpse into his backstory) offers us plenty of opportunities to compare who he projects himself when feeling safe and supported versus who he shows himself to be when stressed and uncertain.

Drawing a line by cause and effect, connecting one scene neatly to the next, I find nearly every scene is above the line in the first quarter of her story, proving to me that her promise to her reader is true -- this story is filled with external dramatic action and lots of ensuing chaos and mayhem, a page-turner, on the edge-of-your-seat-with-excitement sort of story, one any middle grade boy would be left clamoring for more.

Test your scenes by placing them one-by-one on a Plot Planner either above or below the line. Stand back and objectively assess the number and placement of slower, quieter scenes in relationship to more tension-filled, exciting scenes.

Today I write.
For plot help:
Read my Plot Whisperer books for writers

Watch Plot Video Workshops Series:
Facebook group ask questions that come up in either series and share your progress.