Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

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Plotting with the Browne Circular Diagram

I should be doing various other things, but I thought I'd post quickly about the Circular Diagram that I use for plotting stories, as invented by Nicky Browne. It will be handy to have it on LJ for future reference.

This is what Nicky originally posted on rec.arts.sf.composition

I draw a large circle and mark off the quarter hours. I decide how
many chapters I want - I write short chapters of slight less than 2k
and I use that as my basic measurement. I know I'm going to need say
ten of these to get to my first quarter so I mark off ten subsections
for each quartile. I then mark in where I think the key turning
points should come and other things like intersecting subplots (
though I'm quite a simple girl and tend not to have too many of those)
It works quite well to have key turning points around the quarter mark
for many structures so that every few chapters you are working towards
a minor dramatic climax. It rarely turns out quite so neatly in the
writing so it is unlikely to read in a formulaic way.

In my mind the end and beginning of a story are closely allied and in
three of my books the story ends pretty well where it started and even
in those books which don't - writing the end events next to those at
the beginning reminds me to keep the plot connected to its starting
point. What has changed and what has stayed the same? How much needs
tying up at the very end how much has already been sorted out in the
rest of the story?

Nicky does her Circular Diagrams in pen; I've adapted the method for use with spreadsheets.

For a novel, I decide how many chapters there are going to be and how many words per chapter. This is not set in stone and can be altered later (the reason I do mine circular diagrams on a spreadsheet is to make it easy to change things during the writing), but you need to have a figure to start with. I then create a spreadsheet something like the one below. For the novel in progress, I have some clever IF statements that will use the real chapter total if the chapter is complete or will use the estimated figure if the chapter is still unwritten, but this isn't necessary really. However it does mean that the finished diagram gives me an immediate impression of chapter lengths for the whole novel.

Here's a circular diagram I did as an example. This isn't a novel; it's a short story based on Little Red Riding Hood which I used it for one of the activities in the play writing course. As I don't think I'll ever really do anything with this, I'm happy to put it here.

Then you simply produce a pie chart from the cells containing the story outline and the corresponding estimated figures.

If you have a lot of text, as here, you will probably need to drag the labels around until you can read everything.

For the finishing touch, I re-colour the sectors to indicate the amount of dramatic tension required for each scene/chapter. Here the pale yellow is an ordinary chapter, rising to a dramatic point for the first red sector, then a moderately dramatic scene, followed by another tense scene and then relax for the happy ending.

As a visual thinker I've found the concept of planning on a circle to be absolutely brilliant. Other methods people have mentioned just didn't really help. As soon as Nicky explained how she did her planning, I had a moment of enlightenment and if I ever manage to sell this novel, there will be a dedication to Nicky for her help in making the planning of the structure possible. *g*

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