Kami Kinard: Plotting Daze: Planning Your Plots with Calendars and GIVEAWAY

We’ve received a ton of good advice so far about how to make things happen in your manuscripts! By now, you must be thinking about your character’s motivations and what they have at stake.

So today I want to concentrate on the WHEN of plotting — the passage of time.

If things happen out of order in a plot – at the wrong time – the plot won’t work.  The hero can’t vanquish the villain on the first page, we all know that. But it’s important that other events happen in the right order too.

You’re probably all familiar with this very basic plot chart. The one where the plot is like a mountain your character has to struggle to climb (only to topple from the pinnacle later).

Rising Action 1 - typed

You’ll notice the main character’s climb – the rising action – takes up the most space on the chart. This will happen in your book too. And it’s often where plots start to unravel. So let’s talk about rising action.

Rising action in a novel is like rising dough in bread baking. It takes time. If you don’t allow enough time for your dough to rise, it will fall flat. The same is true of your plot.

I had this issue with my current work in progress (WIP). For this book, I wanted the action to occur within thirty days. I wrote it that way, revised it, and sent it out to my critique partners. I was thrilled to find they really liked it!

But then they suggested we have a Skype conversation to talk about some “plotting issues.”  Whaaaaaaat?

Some of the action was happening too fast. The plot also had a few holes. Hmmmm. It seems I’d let a major character AND a major event fall through the cracks. In other words, I had been so excited about helping my character climb the plot mountain, that I hadn’t given my rising action enough time to rise. At that point the plot chart for my WIP was looking something like this:

Rising Action 2

boy projectI immediately knew which plotting tool I’d use to fix the problem: a blank calendar. I used blank calendars to help plot both The Boy Problem and The Boy Project. It was extremely helpful to be able to see at a glance how my main characters, Tabbi and Kara, were moving through those novels. Using calendars made it easy to ensure that weekend events, due dates for science projects, and interactions with other characters happened in the right order and at the right times.

I had also used this tool to plot my WIP to begin with, the one I was having trouble with now. But at first I’d started with a thirty day calendar. After the critique process, it was clear that I needed to stretch out the rising action. I needed to add more time to my plot.

For a project like this, a large desk calendar is indispensable. The larger sized squares make them a perfect canvas for post-it notes. When I was re-ordering pieces of my plot, I could easily mix around the sequence of events with post-it notes. Some events had to take place on certain days. These couldn’t be moved. I had more flexibility with others.  So I moved the conclusion further down the calendar, then stretched out the existing events, while adding a few more in order to fill in those holes my critique group pointed out. Below you can see the before and after calendars used for this project. I don’t know how I could have written, or revised, the manuscript without them!

Calendar - reduced, not readableWhen we start writing our books, we usually have a good idea of how to begin. And not long after that, we are able to see how our stories might end. But the rising action…. that’s the tough part. It’s hard to make our characters take all of the time they need when they could be reveling in the glories of our fantastic conclusions! Still, it’s important to give them time. Using a calendar as a plotting device is one one way to make sure you do that.

the boy problemTips:

  • You can employ this technique whether your story spans a year, a month, a week, or just a few hours. Using the table making function in Microsoft Word, create a calendar-scaled table, or a chart to accommodate any other unit of time.
  • Use different colored markers to indicate subplots so that you can see at a glance. This will make it easy to realize when you drop a thread.
  • Mark your calendar with symbols or initials to represent secondary characters. This way, you can keep track of  how often your main character interacts with them.

Head Shots from Carpe Diem 015Kami Kinard is the author of The Boy Problem (Scholastic, 2014) and The Boy Project (Scholastic, 2012). Her poetry, stories, articles, and essays have appeared in numerous periodicals for children and adults. A former public educator, Kami remains dedicated to teaching and often leads writing workshops at conferences and in schools. You can visit her at  www.kamikinard.com or atwww.NerdyChicksRule.com where she blogs with Sudipta.

Kami is giving away a TWENTY PAGE manuscript critique with a follow-up phone call or Skype session. If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win this prize, please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing. Good luck!

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Kami’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

If you haven’t registered for #KidlitSummerSchool yet click HERE.


242 comments on “Kami Kinard: Plotting Daze: Planning Your Plots with Calendars and GIVEAWAY

  1. susan says:

    As I have gone through this lesson another time along with the homework, I am realizing how helpful and important it is to have a sense of the chronology even in my
    PB. Thanks…again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am floored. I have never thought of using a calendar in this way. I am so glad I’m catching up on these posts. I can’t wait to try this out with my MG!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. rgstones says:

    Thanks for this post! I’m using a calendar while revising my current WIP, but why didn’t I think of post it notes or color-coding? I’m wearing my erasers down, because the calendar highlighted so many problem areas. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Leah Heilman Schanke says:

    You bring using a time line to a whole new level. The advice to use sticky notes and color coding is invaluable. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Priya says:

    Going to use that for my revision

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kim Taylor-DiLeva says:

    I love this! I am such a visual person (and post-it-note fan!). Putting it all out on a calendar will be fantastic for me and my WIP’s. Thank you so much for sharing this!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. SevenAcreSky says:

    First thought looking at worksheet…”this won’t work for my 1-hour-long picture book timeframe.” But then I modified it, columns in 10 minute increments, and used rows for actions/thoughts/emotions. Became a priceless tool! Thanks Kami!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. ritaborg says:

    I so want to rite a longer boo, hope this can help

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Susan Cabael says:

    So smart to use a calendar for plotting–I have an outdated 11×17 one whose squares would be great for PB dummying. Thanks for the inspiring idea!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. susanzonca says:

    Taking my “finished” manuscript back to the drawing board thinking about the timing of the plot for my PB. Hadn’t thought too deeply about this before.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Debbie Vilardi says:

    I have a 2003-2004 calendar from my daughter’s preschool all marked up with events in my story. Well, actually the story happens between February and June. I move Easter by a week, though, because it fit the story better. Hopefully none of the readers will check the calendar.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. kamikinard says:

    Is your story set in that year? If not, I doubt it will matter since it is a holiday that moves. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Dawn says:

    I’m not sure if this is mostly for MG or Chapter Books, but I’m going to try it on my PB ms. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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