Monday’s Friend: Jeff Chapman

Today I am pleased to welcome Jeff Chapman to the blog, revealing some of his plotting secrets. Take it away, Jeff.

Visualising your Plot
By Jeff Chapman

Jeff_chapman-headshot-small-221x300 (2)I spent a month this spring editing a thriller novella, fleshing out the characters, getting into their heads more, and tweaking the scenes to make the story more … thrilling. Not sure if I succeeded. I’m still waiting to hear back from the publisher, but I did develop a technique that helped me to target my revisions.

Stories typically have scenes of low tension that build to high tension. You can imagine these as waves. A longer story will have more of these waves. I defined a high-tension scene as one involving violence or a dramatic change to a character’s status, either good or bad. Winning the lottery, being arrested, or a gun battle would be high-tension scenes. In low-tension scenes, characters might be planning their next move or discussing or contemplating what has happened. A medium-tension is somewhere in between. This is not an exact science by any means, so you’ll have to measure your scenes against each other.

I’ve never written a thriller before so I was worried the plot wouldn’t be exciting enough. I needed a way to see how the different parts of the story were working together. That’s when the idea came to create a graph. I listed the thirteen scenes on a piece of paper and wrote a few words to remind myself what happened in each scene. I then ranked the scenes as low, medium, or high. The story is about the kidnapping of the President’s daughter and how this event intersects the lives of an adviser and his family.

Here are the scenes and their ratings. (I’m being a bit vague in some of the descriptions so as not to give the whole plot away.)

M Scene 1: late night in oval office, introduction to problem
H Scene 2: kidnapper’s house, violence between hostage and kidnapper
L Scene 3: adviser’s house, he and wife discuss situation and their own daughter
M Scene 4: cabinet room, president receives call from kidnapper
M Scene 5: FBI raids a house
H Scene 6: oval office, adviser learns that the kidnapper requested his daughter’s involvement
L Scene 7: kidnapper contemplating past while watching the hostage sleep
M Scene 8: adviser’s house, the president has contacted the advisor’s daughter directly
H Scene 9: oval office, the adviser confronts the president, ends when the advisor throws a punch
L Scene 10: kidnapper’s house, feeding the hostage and tending her wounds
M Scene 11: adviser and wife plan to remove daughter; attempt fails
H Scene 12: someone dies violently
H Scene 13: months later, kidnapper confronts adviser in a bar
plot-graph (2)

 Note that low-tension scenes always follow a high-tension scene and there are never multiple low-tension scenes in a row. Initially, I ranked scene 9 as medium. When I saw how it related to the neighboring scenes, I revised it to raise the tension. The visual representation clearly paid off in that case.

Author bio:

Jeff Chapman writes software by day and speculative fiction when he should be sleeping. His tales range from fantasy to horror and they don’t all end badly. He lives with his wife, children, and cats in a house with more books than bookshelf space. His latest title is Last Request: A Victorian Gothic, available on Amazon.

LastRequestCover300x186 (2)

Find him online at the following links:


3 comments so far

  1. Jeff Chapman on

    Thanks for having me on your blog today, Sara.

  2. HFBrainerd on

    You’ve given me a whole new way to visualize my stories, Jeff. Thanks!

  3. Tyrean Martinson on

    Love the way you made that graph. I don’t do that often enough. Thanks, Jeff.

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