Writers Write creates writing resources and shares writing tips. In this post, we show you how to use pulse plotting to get your story moving.
Get Your Novel Started, Right Now
If you struggle with plot, there is a way to simplify it. Pulse plotting is a shortcut for the frustrated writer, the rebel writer, the experimental writer, or even just the panicked writer getting ready for NaNoWriMo.
What is pulse plotting?
In the early days of film, a projector’s reel capacity was just enough to show 10 to 12 minutes of film. So, film makers made sure that something exciting happened at the end of the reel to keep audiences intrigued enough to stay in the seats while the projectionist loaded the next reel.
The same principle can be applied to a novel. Make sure that something exciting happens (“pulses”) every 5 to 10 pages or every 500 to 1,000 words, so that the reader doesn’t get bored.
While knowing the theory of the best structure for your novel is important (for example, the inciting moment, a three-act structure), an organic approach is perhaps not a bad idea.
A “pulse” can give your novel a rhythm, a beat – it keeps the plot “heart” beating. It can be an action point (Carla serves the poisoned champagne), emotion (Malcolm is overcome with grief on the beach), character (Soledad’s ex-husband pitches up at the courthouse), in fact anything you want it to be.
The idea is to raise the “heartbeat” of your novel, to pump life into the story.
The best way to do it is to set a time lock to your plotting.
How to pulse up your plot!
The beauty of pulse plotting is that there is no right or wrong way to employ it, as long as you stick loosely to the rule of 5 or 10 (as above). Or adapt it to suit your genre.
For example, look at how the pulses (●) could fit into this simplified scenario.
○ Lady Vivian and search party look for little Leo in forest
○ Near a ravine, she finds his jacket, ripped and covered in blood
○ Vivian and loyal guide, Edwin, argue about which direction to take
○ She urges the party to follow the river and they find a cabin
● They discover Leo is being kept captive by evil Prince Christos
○ Meanwhile, back at the palace, the King meets with his mistress etc.
Why try pulse plotting?
- If you don’t want to restrict your novel to a traditional structure.
- If you want to make sure that the pace of the novel doesn’t drag (thrillers, action)
- If you want to give your story an energy and emotion that grips the reader (romances, dramas)
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