Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tip O'Day #386 - Complex Plot Lines

Guest blogger Cynthia Richards on “Keeping all the Wiggling Worms Straight.”

I love complicated stories with twists and turns weaving intricate patterns of clues or deception. These are the stories that keep me up until midnight, turning page after page. Tracking each strand of intrigue or character sub-plot in the writer's mind, however, can be as difficult as sorting worms in a bucket. How can an author make certain their character A isn't racing in his speed boat to rescue the scientist while in character B's point of view, character A is giving a lecture on physics at the same time?

I turn to my experience as a software developer. Computer code, depending on the software application, can be extremely complex. To keep the functionality straight in their minds, developers turn to a process called "Flow Charting." They use graphic representations of each step their code goes through to get from point A to point B. Sound difficult? It's actually very simple.

A writer can follow this same process with pen and paper. Start with the protagonist's story line. Draw a box and write a brief summary of the scene or event with the perspective of how it impacts your protagonist. Do the same thing with each scene, tying them together with arrows beginning with the first box (scene or event) to the last box. Voila! You have created a flow chart for your plot. If you’re using more than one character point of view, then do the same thing with the next character's storyline. Try printing out the flow charts for all your character story lines and comparing them. I've discovered quite a few plot holes I would have missed otherwise.

Paper and pencil work just fine as you’re flow charting, but if you'd rather save your work in e-copy, there are software tools available. I recommend Open Office, because it's easy to use and it's free (big plus). Having an e-copy version comes in handy when you’re writing your synopsis. The major plot points have already been written. You’ll just need to copy/paste into Word and then freshen up the language.

A co-author of horror and urban fantasy novels, Cynthia’s first solo fiction project is scheduled for release in 2013. Learn more at her website.


  1. i need to try it for my graphic novel script.

    1. I think that would be a great fit! I hope it helps. Good luck!