Michael Crichton’s Method for Plotting Out a Story

Happy to welcome Dorothy Cora Moore today, author of Writing Made Easy: How to Develop a Tight Plot & Memorable Characters. Dorothy is both a novelist and screenwriter, and so has the advantage of understanding story and characters as they pertain to both books and screen. Many of you know I am a HUGE fan of learning from screenwriters, so when Dorothy contacted me wanting to share Mega Bestselling Author Michael Crichton’s methods which she discusses in her book, how could I say no?

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Writing made easySome of us come into this world predominantly right brained and, because of this, the telling of a story and dialogue comes more easily to us. However, the same cannot be said for plotting. I was warned of this when taking a career designation program at UCLA in motion picture arts and sciences.

One of my screenwriting instructors had won awards, and was a no-nonsense instructor. In fact, he could be cruel to some of my classmates. One evening before class he told me:

“Dottie, you are good at telling a story, as well as writing natural dialogue . . . but people like you always have a problem with plotting. If you cannot master this, you will have to write with a partner!”

Michael Crichton’s method for plotting out a story is what came to the rescue. After I learned his simple technique, I had to agonizingly throw away two-thirds of my original screenplay and start over.

As you may know, Michael Crichton was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1942, and passed away in Los Angeles, California in November of 2008. He was not only a successful author, selling over 200 million copies of his books worldwide, but he was also a successful film producer, film director, screenwriter, and television producer.

If there is one thing we all know, it is that Michael Crichton certainly was a master at working on more than one thing at the same time. He even had the unique distinction in 1994 of becoming the only person to have the number one book in sales, Disclosure, the number one television show, ER, and the number one film, Jurassic Park, all in the same year. That was quite an accomplishment.

Michael said he developed his 3″ x 5″ index-card method of plotting out a story while going to Harvard Medical School, and he did this before writing one word. He needed to supplement his income by writing books under a pseudonym, and this is how he did it.

The cards were easy to take with him every day to class, because they would fit effortlessly in his shirt pocket or in his lab coat. As ideas came to him, he would just jot them down on a card. If a long sequence with dialogue came all at once, he would merely staple those cards together.

At the end of the day, Michael would throw the cards he had used in a shoebox, and replace them with a fresh batch of blank cards for the next day.

Michael said that when the shoebox was full and nothing more came, he would take all the cards out of the box, lay them out on a large table, and rearrange his plot by shuffling the cards around into the order he wanted to tell the story.

Once he was satisfied he had a good plotting sequence, he would walk away and let the cards sit for a few days; going back to the table from time-to-time to reread his story’s plot. New cards would be created, and then slipped into the layout where he wanted to set something up that would happen later. Slowly he let the process work, and when nothing more came that day he would, once again, walk away.

After several days had passed without adding any more cards, Michael would carefully pick up the entire sequence, and place the stack in an index-card box. Mission accomplished. He had his plotting outline.

Now, whenever he had some extra time, he could sit down, pull out the first card in the box, and begin writing the first paragraph of his story. The hard part was over, and he could be creative. His plot was tight, and his story would not fail to hold a reader’s attention or go off in the wrong direction.

When a writer has a tight plot, he or she has what they call in the publishing industry a page turner.This is what we all want to create. If you have more than one story in your head you want to develop, all you need are two separate shoeboxes, with a working title stapled to each.

As you may already know, writing is 90% thinking and 10% getting your story onto the page, in that we are always thinking about our story. The most important thing is not to allow ideas to flitter away, because we did not take the time to write them down. So please save yourself the agony of losing a good story idea. Just get some cards and keep them with you.

We cannot all be as exceptionally gifted as Michael Crichton, however, we can certainly learn from him. Now we all know his method for keeping his projects separated and organized, and that is a great start. All we have to do is apply his technique.

Yes, I know it isn’t easy, but a great big door has just been opened for you. Now all you have to do is walk through it. Do you think you are ready to start plotting out your next story?

Great! Go get those cards.

Dorothy Moore(The above is an excerpt from the book Writing Made Easy: How to Develop a Tight Plot & Memorable Characters by epic novelist, screenwriter and creative writing instructor Dorothy Cora Moore.)

For more information about this great resource for writers, click on the link above!

Also by the author: The Atlanteans

 

 

 

 

 

 

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180 Responses to Michael Crichton’s Method for Plotting Out a Story

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