Robin Lythgoe on How She Writes a Book

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Robin with the Release Poster of As the Crow Flies

I wrote my first published novel, AS THE CROW FLIES, “freestyle.” I enjoyed the writing itself, but not so much the revisions afterward. I decided to plot the next book, but I dislike the notion of figuring out every little detail beforehand. What I’ve got now is a nicely dressed skeleton. There are points to aim for, but plenty of room along the way to learn new things. I use the Scrivener application, which is wonderful for keeping all the important information in one place—and easily accessible. While I’ve tried using it to outline (it has a great outline view and/or index cards), I found I needed a wider visual view, so I’ve created a monstrous plot board. Okay, it’s only 36×48. It might give me too much room to add my sticky notes!

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Robin’s Plot board

I’ve got the Board broken down into three acts with two sequences each—but in the middle of my planning I found I liked three sequences in each section better. There are the important hurdles to include: the inciting moment, the midpoint, the ordeal, and the climax. I won’t forget if I have them written down! I also have a basic list of points or scenes I want to accomplish in each sequence, which I keep in Scrivener in a “Plotting” folder where I also keep notes of things I might want to include, such as a character list, a place list, a timeline (though I confess I actually prefer to keep my timeline in a spreadsheet), and other helpful ideas.

With the key points in hand, I write a brief sticky-note for each, then start expanding. I use one color for the protagonist, one for the antagonist, other colors for secondary characters. As I add them to the board I can easily see what plot lines and character arcs need attention. As you can see, my current board still needs a little wor, but at this point I want to write and see what comes out of each situation, find out how the nuances I discover will effect the last half. I still feel there’s much to discover about that “blue” character. When I get stuck on the plot I bounce ideas off my awesome writing partner; I really don’t know what I’d do without her!

Then I go to Scrivener and create a folder for each act, and one for each sequence within the act. I transfer those brief notes and expand a little in a synopsis. Then it’s time to write! It looks structured — and it is, to a certain point — but getting from Point A to Point B isn’t always a straight line. I aim the characters in the right direction, and they show me what they’re made of. Sometimes the plot board will have to be rearranged (again), but the ideas are fairly fluid, they are not carved in stone. There can still be room for those epiphanies I have in the shower.

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Author Robin Lythgoe

As I write I sometimes come up against details that need investigating or creative untangling. Rather than stoppingPro the flow of my writing I make a note to myself in the document and mark it with an easily searchable hashtag. Inserting a comment would do the same trick, but I find the hashtag quicker and just as easy to find when I go to Round Two, where I fix the obvious and start looking for the inconspicuous gaffs.

Since I’m writing a series, I use the back side of my Plot Board to create an over-arching outline that covers the whole story. It will have the same key points, but broken down into individual volumes.

In the process of actual writing, I aim for a word count (depending on the time I have and the mood I’m in). Whether or not I reach it, I try to leave my writing with a question in my head. Or in my case, written as the last line of the day. It provides a great place to pick up the next time I write, and I’ll already have something in mind.

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