Writing–The Plot Matrix

It’s been a while since I have written about writing. It’s been very slow.

I had a first draft of my novel written some time ago. I wasn’t very happy with it. My foray into the world of thriller reviewing gave me a lot of ways I could improve the novel. You learn a lot by reading the work of successful writers. My plot could be a lot less complex.  The stakes in the novel could be a lot higher. The characters could be a lot less flat and better developed. Too few of the characters were female. This is probably a vestige of old thrillers that I have read along the way. Any new thriller needs to have at least one strong female character or it won’t get too far in the publishing world, and will cut down on the potential market. My continual reading about the craft of writing also showed me in no uncertain terms that my writing could be a lot better. I delayed diving into the second draft. The demon of lack of self-confidence manifested itself. Now I believe I am ready.

In order to get things moving, I created what I call a plot matrix. It is a simple two-dimensional outline. The vertical part of the matrix is chronology, a time order when things happen in the novel. The horizontal element of the matrix is by character and character grouping. I can see at a “glance” what each character is doing or not doing at a specific point in time.   Right now it has over 40 rows.  Each row represents a particular point in time, and 15 columns, each with a character or character group. This way I can see the sequence of things, and determine who is doing what and when they are doing it. The more complex it gets, however the more difficult it is to see what is happening.

I learned some things by doing this.

Some of my chronology was not logical. Things were out of order, and it wasn’t clear how some situations came to be. Some of the events could be relegated to backstory.

I had too many characters. Some may have been unnecessary. I could collapse some of the characters.

I spent a lot of time and mental energy doing this matrix. I still don’t feel it is perfect. There are several inconsistencies remaining. I do feel I have a starting point for the writing of the second draft, however. I can see which of the old scenes can remain as is, which scenes need to be revised in order to enrich the characters or support the new, higher stakes plot, and which scenes can be trashed. There appears to be a path through the woods, but many weeds, thorn bushes, and predatory animals remain along the way.

Paralysis had me for a while. Insecurities abound, and I have found many excuses to do other things than move forward with the second draft. The matrix is providing a way, and giving me some hope about moving forward. I need to make sure the matrix doesn’t constrain me, and that if I get a great idea about the plot or the characters as I move forward, I can have some fun with it.

We’ll see how it goes.


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