miles a. maxwell's

State Of Reason

How I Write

After years of use, many of these cards are curled and some of the printed notes are torn, but this is my beat-up plot board for Search For Reason. I thought you might be interested to see how I keep track of so many plot threads and interweave them together. Without the various colored cards it would be impossible.

I use standard white cards for Franklin and Victoria since the story's main thread follows them. Everon is light green (for money, industry) -- his subplot climax is right in the middle of the book at the bottom of the board. Zhou is purple. Governement is pink. The medical (Dale Rass / Enya) thread is olive. The religious plot thread is a pale yellow. The Arab thread is more of a gold.

Where the threads intersect, you'll notice there are multiple colors on a card, for example when Franklin and Everon are together at the beginning of the book, or later when Everon calls Franklin to warn him General Anders wants to arrest him. At the end, in Search's climax, there are many colors on each card -- and the cards are double or even triple length to fit all the colored threads together. If you widen your vision and let your eyes go out of focus while keeping a particular color in mind, you can see how any subplot flows.

The pictures are to keep me in the right environmental mood. Otherwise it would be too difficult to write about a snowy day when it's summer and eighty degrees outside my house. The large printed notes are key questions I want to be sure to answer -- or not -- as the story unfolds.

Here are a couple of tips for any writer who decides to use this method: 1. I use Scotch double-sided tape on the back of each card, purchased at Target or Office Max. The stickem doesn't last forever but it's a lot more stable than push pins. 2. When you purchase your foam core boards at Office Max or wherever, pick up a roll of clear packing tape and coat the entire board strip by strip. Otherwise you'll end up ripping the hell out of the foam core paper-face as you move cards around when you decide on shifts in your plot.

When I get stuck on a sequence, I'll do mini-outlines on those segments of the plot on a legal pad, then rearange the cards and finally correct the scenes, each of which I print out separately on paper. Each scene is it's own Libre Office file.

For frame of reference, those tiles the board is sitting on are two feet square. Why do I use this system instead of something computer-based like Scrivener? I answer that question in one of two novels I'll be releasing right after Finding Reason, the second featuring Naomi Soul called Vibrate.

You might be interested to see one of the scene-analysis spreadsheets I did for Loss Of Reason from a couple of years before publication:

At the time there was one major change from previous versions, and two major differences from what we released.

Prior to this point, Franklin and Everon's sibling was their brother named Steve, a man who was married to a beautiful woman named Cynthia. I thought it would be interesting to find out how it would read if I swapped Steve and Cynthia. The resulting manuscript tested substantially higher in a reading party, so the change stuck.

After this analysis, I moved all the religious subplot scenes, all Zhou-related scenes but three (two of which included the Torentinos), and all Arab subplot scenes to Search For Reason. Narrowing the plot caused Loss Of Reason to be more of a straight action book, focusing primarily on Everon, Franklin and Victoria.

And finally, at the time I made this spreadsheet, I contemplated releasing a very small book called Edge Of Reason which would run up to where Franklin And Everon left Teterboro for the City, leaving the balance of the first part of the story as a separate book, Loss Of Reason. Testing results showed the plot was not developed sufficiently, and reader interest was not as high as with the two halves together, so I rejoined the book and left it as one novel.

As on the larger board above for Search, each plot thread is color-coded. White for Franklin, green for Everon. The small black tabs in the narrow column to the right of the scene names are for the nuclear cloud, which was my second time clock -- finding Cynthia being first of course. Some of the primary emotions of particular scenes -- "Frustration," "Rage," "Anger," "Defeated" -- are in a column toward the right side.

I'll be posting here on the website some of the things I've learned about plot and prose in the next few weeks, so check back occasionally.

Best Regards,