First, I'm going to give a recommendation and tip my hat to Cathy Yardley. She wrote a fantastic book called Rock Your Plot, which is like a compilation of all these different methods of structuring your novel, put together in a way that makes sense and allows broader understanding of structure. Best of all, explains what the job of each element of structure is in clear and easy to understand terms. It's a quick read, it's only $2.99, and I can honestly say that I understand structure now, during my sixth book, because of this book. Pick it up. Take a couple hours. It's fabulous.
I'm going to paste another chart below I made for myself after reading this book. I'm not going to really go into what the different bits are for(read the book for the big insights!), but listing them and the chart to better explain how I use these different structural elements to work through my 3-GMCs when outlining a book.
And here is where it gets a little harder to explain. For a bare-bones short category romance, you have six plot threads, three per character. Both Internal and External character arcs advance the Romance Plot, which should be the main thrust of your story. But the vehicle that starts the story is usually something to do with the External plot. So that's where I begin.
The Inciting Incident generally comes to me with the story nugget, so that's not something I spend much time digging for. Good place for me to start. I whip up six of the above charts(I have blank ones that don't have the WHOA-BIG LETTERS in them). Six charts, one for each of the three plot threads per character. In that first box I sketch out how the inciting incident pertains to that specific plot thread. What it means for the heroine's External GMC, Internal GMC, Hero's too. How does it advance the romance plot. Some of these will be duplicated, but I keep the six cards going through this because not every event will read the same way, though there will be some overlap. And all of those insights can spawn ideas for scenes that could come next.
I go through that above charts and all the GMCs and explore turning points and where to up the stakes, etc. This all sounds very formulaic and obvious, but there is something about the act of actually writing out the story questions in keeping with the appropriate thread that solidifies the concept for me. Otherwise, my ideas have a tendency to remain nebulous and undefined. I think I know what it is, but until I put words to it, I really don't know anything.
And this epiphany is where I differ significantly for this book from books-past. I had been trying to blanket make every pinch or plot point work for both characters, but that's not really how things work. You're moving two characters through an external plot, and they react internally to the things that happen. But maybe one of them has a growth-making reaction during the event... and the other only reacts to that event three scenes later... when something else happens to get them over the hurdle. Your turning points don't have to line up across both characters. And if they don't? Even better, you have more scene ideas to work with.
Getting ahead of myself. Rewinding! I do this for every each of the eight points above for the six threads and that's when my scenes start to materialize. Not in order, either. I write each scene idea blurb on an index card, and then shuffle them around, adding and subtracting cards for scenes that link or facilitate the turning point scenes. I'll still probably only end up with about 70% of the scenes I need(if that) this way. I get something more detailed than an overview, but less detailed than gets dull for me :)
When I'm actually in the trenches, writing the first draft, it is a different filter and I might find out that what I had planned won't work at all. This happens to me at least twice for every book. When that happens, I stop what I'm doing and figure out what should happen, and how that affects the rest of the plot, and then I go back to it.
I've also found that if I use more than the barest, fragmentary description for what a scene is(think: Scene Title), then I get bored with the idea before I write it. So only when I think it's important that I remember to include something specific in a particular scene do I go into any detail on it. Otherwise, the spot on my outline just says something like:
- Barfing at the fish market.
- Changing Room Shenanigans (Where'd she get them scars?!)
- Hero tries to make her talk, but she isn't up for it. Something something... angry red scars
This blurby outline is actually what ends my synopsis, and that's why I say it might not work for unsigned writers--you're still hoping to dazzle with your wordsmithery and in this format you only have that first page of Quick Backgrounds to dazzle(Which can be done, but ... I don't know if anyone else's editor but mine would like this format). But if you include an outline of scenes, at least the editor can see at a glance that you have a whole idea.
So I'm sharing this as a story planning tool, as it's nearly impossible to have a story that is not sufficiently driven by conflict or which creeps at a slow pace this way. I'll try to get an example synopsis together to post in the next few days. I'd use the current book, but talking too much about a book is also bad for my mojo... Muses are persnickety things.
First part of this post is here.
Edited: Because I wrote this in the morning and I was a bit word-drunk, as in I'd been working most of the night and used up my brain juice! It's still rambly, but a little more coherent.