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Monday, March 28, 2011

Flowcharting - the Techie's Plotting

Once upon a time I wrote - not mysteries, not sci fi, not romance - computer programs.  I designed and wrote the code for a number of software applications.  I'm talking old school programming here, very linear. Point A to point B to point C. 

One of the standard tools of programming was the flowchart.  A simple diagram that showed process,  decision points, alternate paths/actions,etc.  Done correctly, the flowchart would anticipate any variable that the program or process might encounter and provide a suitable response.  It could even include sub-routines that the program could branch onto to accomplish specific tasks and then return to the main program.



Now I'm writing fiction.  And I'm the first to admit, I'm a plotter, not a pantser.  But as I read and study plot and structure, I realize there's an awful lot of similarity between plotting and flowcharting.  A good flowchart gives direction, allows for variables, provides decision points, offers alternate actions, incorporates sub-routines, and keeps the programmer on track so the code is tight and effective.

Sound familiar?  At least to you plotters, it should.

Oddly enough, I hadn't thought about flowcharting my WIP until I began to have trouble with my plot.  I know everything that needs to happen, I'm just having trouble arranging the sequences.  When a friend asked me what wasn't working; I told her it just didn't flow well.  Flow?  Well, duh.  Guess what I'm going to try next.

How about you?  Ever used a flowchart?  Ever thought about using one to create a plot?  Did you know there are tons of free flowcharting tools (including templates to get you started) available on line? 

Special Note:  A very Happy Birthday to my friend, Maria Zannini.  Stop by her blog today and wish her a happy.


My current word count: 31,131

I'm currently enjoying: Deadly Heat by Cynthia Eden

Groaner of the day: Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was excellent. 

10 comments:

Maria Zannini said...

Sometimes if I'm really stuck, I list Point A and Point Z and then fill in the blanks.

And thank you for the birthday wishes!

I don't feel a day over 65--unfortunately, I'm much younger than that. Oy!

Beth Caudill said...

I use mindmapping software to keep track of everything related to my story.

One branch for characters, one for places, and one for plot points. It's also good for tracking research. You can make weblinks and link between maps. As well mark things for priorities.

I use FreeMind a free java program: http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page

There is a Mac program called Curio (http://www.zengobi.com/products/curio/) which looks really cool, but alas I can only afford a PC.

Vince Ferraro said...

I don't flow chart per se but I do something like it. I take notes and put them together like a story board when making a film. Like you said I know what needs to happen and I create scenes that further it along and then put them together. Works the same way but it is not as structured as a chart :)

Linda Leszczuk said...

Maria - Sounds like you're quasi flowcharting. Guess I need a bit more structure. It's the old programmer in me.

Feel young, sweetie.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Beth - Thanks for the software tip. I'll check it out.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Vince - I like the story board idea. Never have the space to set one up.

Stephen Tremp said...

I used Visio back in the day when I had a real job. We had to desing flow charts of all interdepartment proceedures for Sarbenes Oxley. I loved the project. Weird, I know.

Anyway, I don't use them now but I do sketch drawings per se as a flow chart. Helps me visualize an action scene and then go back and improve on it.

Liz Fichera said...

I do quasi-flow-charting/outlining too. Every time I start a book I always say I'll get more organized but I never do. It's a sickness.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Stephen - I'm trying a cross between a flowchart and a sketch. Trying to get that overall visual.

And not so weird - I used to like design the flowcharts for computer programs, too. Sort of like working out a puzzle, trying to allow for every possibility.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Liz - I guess we suffer from the same malady. *grin*