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Author Topic: How to develop a novel plot using Flying Logic  (Read 36573 times)
AndreasE
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« on: October 21, 2007, 07:26:33 AM »

Preamble:

I write the following after several days spent on the serious development of the (mildly complicated) plot of the second half my next novel. Being more than just "playing around" (I have a contract for it, and it's due soon!), it led me to several insights about how Flying Logic should be used if abused to develop novel plots. Nevertheless, my small article should only be understood as a starting point for discussion and own experiments.

I would like to underline that I consider the creation of a novel plot as different from the creation of a movie plot, let alone from the creation of any kind of scientific text. Whether the techniques I am going to present are adoptable should be discussed separately. The same goes for the difference between creation and analysis of a text: I believe they are two very different species.


Basics:

To develop a novel plot - something Flying Logic was not designed for -, you'll need the Pro version, because you'll have to create an abundance of your own domains and classes and have to feel free to do so at any point of the process whenever you feel like - "on the fly", as one is tempted to say. (Creation of domains and classes is only possible in the Pro version.)

You start by creating a new document.

Choose "Left to right" as Orientation.

Switch both "Add Entity as Successor" and "Note Numbers" ON.

Then you're ready to go. (The choice of Operators is of little importance for the purpose of novel plotting, because no calculation will be needed.)

I suggest you create then three new domains: "Novel General", "Plot Threads" and "Characters".

In "Novel General", create a class "Theme" (grey), "Note" (yellow) and "?" (white). ("Notes" will be used for - well - notes of any kind.)

In "Plot Threads", you'll create classes for every thread through your story. I had a "Protagonist's Story" (red), a "Villain's Story" (blue) and a "Love Story" (green). (I used other names for my purposes, more speaking ones, but they would not say much here.)

Although I took this not too far this time, I tried to underly the usage of colors with meaning. I intended to use primary colors for plot threads, lighter colors for "character journeys" and very light ones for character development, but I have to admit I didn't use the last ones, and I sometimes got confused whether some event was rather a "character" thing or part of a "plot thread" - maybe this division is unnecessary. On the other hand, this kind of confusion did no harm; as long as the event is in the picture, it's okay.

Of course you are free here. Should anyone find other divisions and uses of colors more useful, I'd be interested to hear about it.


What's next?

The basic of idea is to create a lot of entries, each of them representing a specific event - and to interweave them afterwards, making use of Flying Logics ability to arrange them properly on its own.

For our purposes, an entry in Flying Logic is just a kind of index card that will know by itself - magically! - to which position on a virtual corkboard it has to go. The "class" simply defines the title written on this card and the underlying color, and the "domain" is not more than a category that allows to arrange the classes in a certain order.

Arrangement happens easily by dragging an arrow from one entry to another. The arrow signifies "this event has to happen before that event" - being "this event" the origin of the arrow and "that event" the target. Flying Logic will rearrange everything after each new arrow, and if we draw enough of them, we'll end up with a long chain of events (neatly from left to right, because we chose this orientation), surrounded by a lot of arrows. (More than would be needed, that is.)
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AndreasE
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« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2007, 07:27:13 AM »

The "Scene Group":

My first idea was to consider each entry as representation of a scene, the basic building block of a novel: I thought that in developing the plot, I would arrange scenes. But this did not work really. I understood that although a scene is the basic unit of a novel, it consists nevertheless of a multitude of events, aspects and other items. A scene can be a changement of circumstances plus the introduction of a new character plus a new aspect of the underlying theme plus...

So I finally abandonded this idea in favour of another: I decided to represent a scene by a group. A group keeps one or more entries together, in this case all the entries representing the different items of a scene.

An example:

Let's say, we have a scene in which we introduce a new character B by having him a dispute with the already known character A. Let's say, A loves hunting and B, the son-in-law, is against it. We use the opportunity to plant the clue that there is a gun in A's locker, a weapon that will play a role later on.

This multi-dimensionality is very common for scenes, it is even desirable. Creating this scene in Flying Logic would mean that every item - the introduction of B, the fiercely discussion, the clue - is an entry of it's own, joined together in a group. I'll call this a scene group from now on.

(In fact, one might arrive at such a constellation of events during the process of development: First, one might only have "introduce B" and "conflict over hunting" in a given scene group. Later we might feel the need to plant a clue for a weapon that circumstances made important to have, so - where to plant this clue? Oh, wait, there was this discussion over hunting in the beginning, there it would fit in! So we create an entry "gun in A's locker" and move it into the appropriate scene group.)

I find it useful to give every scene group a short, concise title  that gives an idea of what it's about.

Several scene groups may be again grouped for a chapter, several chapters for an act. This way, one can fold away everything that is either worked out already or to work out later and gain screen space for the actual area one focuses on.


Hidden action

It is very well possible to include things that happen but will not be told in the novel.

This is advisable for example for the actions of the villain "behind the scenes". You'll avoid logical gaps ("how did he get from Tokio to Nairobi in only fifteen minutes?") by conceiving what's happening "outside" of what you're telling.

Hidden action entries are linkes with other entries, but not part of a scene group.


Usage of the "Note" functionality

Another convention I set for myself concernes the note functionality, the possibility to enter notes to entries. I decided to use notes only for scene groups. Once the several aspects of a scene are together, I mark the scene group (which is signalized by a green border around) and use the note field to describe (rather briefly) how the actual scene will unfold in the story.

This way, once you're finished with all scenes, all you have to do is to export the notes (this is a separate function in the "Files" menu) to get a neatly numbered outline of your plot that can be imported in any text processor to be further embellished with details.

OK. Enough preliminaries, let's get started...
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AndreasE
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« Reply #2 on: October 21, 2007, 07:27:40 AM »

First Steps

First step is to simply put down everything that you know already. The events, that have to be in the novel. The plot threads. The characters. Anything. Are there scenes that have to be somewhere? Create them as groups, put entries into them, draw arrows.

No idea how to start?

Create a special class (in BLACK) named "Main Event". Use it to create a string of only the 10 most important moments: the hook at the beginning, the inciting incident, the surprises, the twists and turns, the darkest moment (when all seems lost), the climax, the resolution, the kiss-off.

Put each entry in a separate scene group, save the file under a special name as a starting point where you can return to at any time, and embellish what you have by exploring the development of characters, by finding ideas how to fill remaining gaps, by adding causes and results.


Further Steps

After you have put down everything you know about your story, you most probably have already a huge picture, a lot of entries - arranged in scene groups or not -, chapters and acts and the like.

Now what next? To have everything in a picture helps clarifying things, but this alone would not justify the effort. It should rather just be the starting point, a sceleton on which you put flesh upon, using any technique, methodology, checklist or paradigm you have either developed for yourself or adopted from your favorite writing guru.

Working on your plot consists of:
- creating new entries here and there,
- dragging entries to other places (that is: into other groups; the arrangement of entries is always automatically handled by Flying Logic),
- dragging arrows from one entry to another to signify that the latter cannot happen before the first one;
- deleting arrows that a new concept, idea, whatever makes no longer valid,
- deleting entries,
- creating groups,
- creating a chain of events and interweave them with what is already there,
- jotting down scene scetches...

Whether you adhere to the Joseph Campbell-school of the mythical journey, follow the Sid Field-paradigm, call Sol Stein your master or stick to James N-. Frey's principles, you should always be able to apply a certain technique by creating a chain of events that end up - all of them or only some - somewhere in the big picture, intertwined with other chains of events, enriching your story by bringing new aspects in.

If you've never heard of any of these guys, don't worry: Shakespeare didn't either. You can very well puzzle out things on your own. For example, you might think about the theme of your novel, using the class of the same name, jot down different aspects to it, just what you think is important, and later search appropriate places for them.

In any case, the automatic arrangement of items (you cannot even do it yourself!) frees from any concern about overcrowding areas - a concern that might severely hinder your creativity when you're using a big sheet of paper instead.

Not that I am against paper...
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AndreasE
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« Reply #3 on: October 21, 2007, 07:28:08 AM »

Use Paper!

I found it useful not to rely on computer screen alone, but to make use of paper, too.

Every writer know that any text looks different from how it appeared on screen once it is printed out on paper. We read it different, we see errors and flaws we weren't able to spot on the screen.

Same thing with Flying Logic: It helps to export the evolving plot diagram as JPG, to print it out and to attack it (maybe the next morning) with pencils and markers.

(NOTE: I still have to find a way to print a very loooong image on several sheets. I've cut the JPG, using an image processing application, and printed the pieces separately - but this was far from being comfortable. Maybe someone has a hint?)


Brainstorming

Remember that you can always use a group to keep otherwise unrelated entries together. A group prevents them from being spread all over by the Flying Logic algorithm - you can drag them out of the "brainstorming group" and into another place at any time later.


Identify the gaps

Still no idea what to do? Good! Then continue by writing down what you don't know .

Our human mind tends to overlook unpleasant problems as long as they have no actual consequences. Gaps within a story don't have so as long as we are still plotting; they start to hurt not before we go into the writing - which is too late.

To avoid this, we should make a conscious effort to identify at least the questions.

For this purpose serves a class simply named "?". Give it a bright, unique color (I use WHITE) and make lavishly use of it to mark story gaps, unresolved questions and logical difficulties. Once there are questions in the picture and we are constantly reminded of what's open, chances are we'll find answers to them sooner or later.

Speaking of our human mind...
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AndreasE
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« Reply #4 on: October 21, 2007, 07:28:39 AM »

A Word of Warning

There lies a constant, great danger in developing a novel plot using Flying Logic, and one should stay aware of it in order to hopefully avoid it: One tends towards an attitude of simply "shifting characters around on the chessboard", neglecting things like motivation and character changes that are fundamental for good storytelling. The graphical representation provided by an application like Flying Logic flashes no red warning light at any time in the process if one fails to care for the inner life of one's characters!

I came up with a special little trick that helped me to stay aware of what is going on with my characters: Whenever the flow of the story concerns the development of a certain character, I used the AND-operator to signify which events lead to a change , a realization or the like. (You do this simply by dragging an arrow not to another entry but the arrow that leads to this entry - the moment of realization, for example.)

However, this trick alone won't do it. One has to be constantly aware of what one is doing. Again, switching to a print-out from time to time helps.


Summary

I was (and I am still) quite happy with the results of my first test drive. (Whether my readers will be happy as well, remains to be seen.) Flying Logic helped me to create a rich, interwoven plot line, even more than I imagined. Most likely it's not the tool for every writer, because everyone's different, but the 30 days testing period should be long enough to find out whether or not one could take advantage from it (and it can be a useful deadline against postponement, too).

In the case of the novel I was working on, my characters were already developed, so there was little left to do on this side. How to develop characters using Flying Logic needs therefore to be investigated further - I am unsure whether this could be done in Flying Logic or not, or whether Flying Logic provides any benefits for this task. In the field of action logic, however, the application shines.
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Jottce
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« Reply #5 on: October 21, 2007, 11:33:25 AM »

Wow, what a useful post this was! I wish I was this far in my use of Flying logic. And I have to say: though I agree with you that analysis and creation are two different things, occur in two different states of mind, it was very helpful for me to read it. 

I had the same problem with printing. My solution was to export to pdf and drag the resulting file into OmniGraffle, which allows complete control over how the graph will print. For example, I printed a chart that I made for one of my chapters on 4 sheets of A4 paper and then glued them together to put them on my physical corkboard for markup etc. I think the developers are working on a solution that should allow you to print directly from Flying Logic.

All the best and thank you again for your helpful workflow description!
J
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Robert McNally
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« Reply #6 on: October 21, 2007, 01:33:56 PM »

Excellent post! Thanks for exploring this area, and I've very pleased you found Flying Logic to be a help.

I think the developers are working on a solution that should allow you to print directly from Flying Logic.

Yes, basic printing is coming, but ultimate flexibility may still be achieved by starting with a PDF and then running it through a post-processing program like OmniGraffle, Adobe InDesign, or Adobe Illustrator.
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AndreasE
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« Reply #7 on: October 23, 2007, 05:33:52 AM »

I had the same problem with printing. My solution was to export to pdf and drag the resulting file into OmniGraffle, which allows complete control over how the graph will print. For example, I printed a chart that I made for one of my chapters on 4 sheets of A4 paper and then glued them together to put them on my physical corkboard for markup etc.

Thanks for this hint. I exported to JPG, put the picture into OmniGraffle (even demo version is sufficient), drag it smaller (with Shift key pressed to preserve height-width-relations) and printed it on a looot of A4 sheets... Far more convenient than before, although sometimes entries get cut in two pieces this way.

Should a future version of Flying Logic provide printing on a choosable number of sheets, it would be good to avoid divided entries.
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AndreasE
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« Reply #8 on: October 23, 2007, 09:11:59 AM »

 Embarrassed

Oops! I ran into an error.

Is there a limit to the number of entries? I think I've reached it. JPG-export is no longer possible, gives "java.out of memory" or the like. PDF worked.

This was soon, regarding that I have only a third of a novel before me... Oh-oh. Seems my abuse was too heavy...!
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Robert McNally
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« Reply #9 on: October 23, 2007, 11:20:33 PM »

Embarrassed

Oops! I ran into an error.

Is there a limit to the number of entries? I think I've reached it. JPG-export is no longer possible, gives "java.out of memory" or the like. PDF worked.

This was soon, regarding that I have only a third of a novel before me... Oh-oh. Seems my abuse was too heavy...!

Well, exporting to JPG can result in the creation of some rather large bitmaps internally... it is certainly possible for us to increase the maximum memory that the Java environment is allowed to grab, but the memory management for large images is nowhere near as sophisticated as, say, Photoshop's. The bitmap-based export features were designed more with smaller diagrams in mind-- for use in Powerpoint or the like. PDF is a better choice whenever possible, because it can represent a lot more information in a lot less space, and programs can render it at whatever resolution they prefer.
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AndreasE
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« Reply #10 on: October 24, 2007, 12:49:16 AM »

OK, I understand. Exporting via PDF worked, indeed the printing result was even more satisfying than before.

But anyway - is there a limitation in how many entries, groups or arrows (how are they called precisely? Edges? Links?) one could use? I had the impression yesterday that suddenly the process of rearranging slowed down remarkably. I count 101 entries in the moment, most of them are linked to 2 or more other entries. (Or was this impression rather the guilty conscience of the abuser?  Undecided )

My current picture represents around a third of a novel of average length, and one could imagine to add some more entries when working longer on it. Let's say, it would sum up to 150 entries; that would be around 450-500 for a complete novel. Grouped in 4 acts, each act in about 10 to 15 chapters, each chapter into 3 to 4 scenes. Would Flying Logic break down then?

Not that I'd regret having bought the licence. Just to know what to expect to find a way how to deal with it. I'm not sure about how I will actually use it on a complete new novel (have to write this one first); maybe Flying Logic will be the tool for preliminary considerations (before going into the writing of an exposé) and the tool for tying up all loose ends towards the final. We'll see.
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Robert McNally
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« Reply #11 on: October 24, 2007, 01:51:15 AM »

There is no built-in limitation on the number of elements a graph may contain. The speed and/or smoothness at which the graph animates is largely dependent on the processing and/or graphics power of your computer (and also perhaps how much RAM you have.) You can also experiment with the animation settings in the Preferences to see whether they can get you better results.

However, sooner or later a graph of sufficient size will bring any computer to its knees. The number of elements that Flying Logic must draw each frame is the major determinant. But note: the number of elements drawn is not necessarily the same as the number of elements in a graph. A graph can have many more elements than are drawn, and the primary way of doing this is by grouping related elements and then collapsing the group. You can use nested groups for each scene and/or chapter, with your list of events inside them. Edges can span between groups, collapsed or not. You can then expand just the groups you are working primarily on, and Flying Logic should be pretty responsive.

When it comes time to print a wall poster, then you can turn off the animation entirely in the Preferences and expand every group, then export to PDF. You may also choose to print a number of smaller posters by expanding only certain groups for each export, instead of all of them. This may also save you some paper when you just want to print a section that has changed instead of your entire outline.

Let me know whether this helps.
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AndreasE
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« Reply #12 on: October 24, 2007, 03:56:47 AM »

There is no built-in limitation on the number of elements a graph may contain. The speed and/or smoothness at which the graph animates is largely dependent on the processing and/or graphics power of your computer (and also perhaps how much RAM you have.) You can also experiment with the animation settings in the Preferences to see whether they can get you better results.

Ah, yes. I will have to watch this. I am already used to make the initial switches I need (notes numbering on, new entry follows), but I tend to forget to set the animation time down. Might be this caused the impression, don't know.

(BTW, it would be convenient if a future version of Flying Logic would remember its settings. It would do no harm if it would start in full size, either... Just for the TO DO-List. Or Graph.  Wink )

Quote
The number of elements that Flying Logic must draw each frame is the major determinant. But note: the number of elements drawn is not necessarily the same as the number of elements in a graph. A graph can have many more elements than are drawn, and the primary way of doing this is by grouping related elements and then collapsing the group. You can use nested groups for each scene and/or chapter, with your list of events inside them. Edges can span between groups, collapsed or not. You can then expand just the groups you are working primarily on, and Flying Logic should be pretty responsive.

Now, this is a helpful hint. I forgot about collapsing! I used groups to, well, group things, and that was it. But of course, I could collapse a whole act if it's done. I will keep this in mind.

Quote
When it comes time to print a wall poster, then you can turn off the animation entirely in the Preferences and expand every group, then export to PDF. You may also choose to print a number of smaller posters by expanding only certain groups for each export, instead of all of them.

Good advice as well. Regarding the development of an entire plot, it gives me the idea that one could create the four acts in advance and start by just dropping ideas into them. Further, one could put "lose ends" into the acts where they have to be resolved - to think about it later. (The main problem with plot is not to forget any ball you have tossed up: you have to catch them all before the end of the book.)

Quote
Let me know whether this helps.

I will, but this may take some time - there is a novel waiting to be finished first...
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Robert McNally
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« Reply #13 on: October 24, 2007, 12:10:42 PM »

(BTW, it would be convenient if a future version of Flying Logic would remember its settings. It would do no harm if it would start in full size, either... Just for the TO DO-List. Or Graph.  Wink )

The best way to do this would be to prepare a template document that includes the settings and domains you use frequently, and simply open that template each time. Unfortunately, I just discovered a small bug in that the "Add Entity as Successor" document setting is not properly saved with the rest of the document. This will be fixed in the next release. All the other settings and domains are saved. Sorry about the inconvenience.

Quote
Let me know whether this helps.

I will, but this may take some time - there is a novel waiting to be finished first...

I completely understand! Smiley
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Hugh
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« Reply #14 on: October 30, 2007, 12:04:38 PM »

Things I've learnt so far (following in AndreasE's footsteps above):

  • Flying Logic is the best programme I've found for laying out the skeleton of a fiction plot in graphical form (although I haven't used a quarter of the power of the software)
  • it is particularly good for the bare bones of the backstory, enabling me to spot gaps and opportunities I hadn't noticed before
  • it is inadvisable to put the plot and the character analyses on the same graph: the "shapes" are different - the plot is a long left-to-right flow chart and the character analyses tend to be much shorter blocks - the two don't sit together well and waste screen real-estate
  • groups are your friends: not only can they help to conserve computing resources (see above), they can also clarify plot threads, scenes, chapters and timings by collecting chunks of plot together, and "nesting"
  • a "convert to outline" function would need to include groups as "nodes"/headings to be really useful
  • using the software has so far been an enjoyable stress-free experience

 Smiley
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