Jane Yolen on How to Find Your Plot (In Comic-Book Form!)

Aliera from Curses Foiled AgainEver get lost in your own story, unsure of where it’s supposed to go next? You’re not alone. Even famous authors like Jane Yolen, author of
The Devil’s Arithmetic and more than 300 (yes, 300) other books gets stuck sometimes. And sometimes, even famous authors need a little help getting unstuck.

In the following comic, Jane explains how her illustrator collaborator, Mike Cavallaro, got her out of a narrative jam with some well-timed advice. The images are all from Jane and Mike’s new graphic novel, Curses, Foiled Again—but with a brand-new story, just for Figment readers!

When I was asked to write a piece on writing my new graphic novel, Curses, Foiled Again, I decided that just doing an essay would be boring—to me and to my readers. So I decided to take several pages of the book, using Mike Cavallaro’s wonderful pictures, and use them to lead me through some of my thoughts on plot. A graphic novel that has a writer and an illustrator (instead of one person doing both) is a very organic and cooperative venture, and that’s what this piece is about.

The pictures below are of from a series of scenes in Curses that take place in a troll dungeon underneath Grand Central Station and the subway system. In the real world, my publisher, First/Second, is in the famous Flatiron building in Manhattan. Getting into the building is like getting into the White House—a visitor has to show credentials, have a photo taken, and someone in the company has to be called to vouch for him or her. It can take quite a bit of time.

page from Curses Foiled Again by Jane Yolen Mike Cavallero 1

page from Curses Foiled Again by Jane Yolen Mike Cavallero with new text 2

remixed page from Curses Foiled Again by Jane Yolen Mike Cavallero with new text 3

remixed page from Curses Foiled Again by Jane Yolen Mike Cavallero with new text 4


remixed page from Curses Foiled Again by Jane Yolen Mike Cavallero with new text 5

remixed page from Curses Foiled Again by Jane Yolen Mike Cavallero 6

Of course, the conversations with Mike Cavallaro didn’t go quite that way; after all, he’s not green, we weren’t in a dungeon, and my flash drive is . . . considerably smaller than that magic foil. But he did help me with pacing, which led to better plotting. After all, Foiled, which is the book before this one, was my first-ever graphic novel, though I’d already published many novels for middle grades, teens, and adults.

As a note, if Picture Boy had been allowed to finish his sentence, he would have said: “There are two kinds of writers—the ones who figure out a plot ahead of time before writing, and the ones who set their characters in motion and then run after them saying, “Hey. . .wait for me.” Guess which kind I am.

— Your book friend,

Jane Yolen

20 thoughts on “Jane Yolen on How to Find Your Plot (In Comic-Book Form!)

  1. But how are your characters supposed to lead you? Authors always talk about characters telling them things, but I’ve never experienced that…. How does that happen?

    • Well, It’s weird. You don’t actually hear them talking to you. You just kind of think, well, I know this character. They totally wouldn’t do THAT! They’d do this! And after a while, you just have all your characters wanting to do their own thing, so you just kind of let them.

      • When you really get to know your characters, they get stuck in your head. Sometimes you dream about them. They may only give you one scene, and that scene could be chapters away, but they gave you something and its up to you to follow their tracks and figure out how they got there.

  2. I guess I’m the latter also! Of course, I do have a rather vague idea of what I want to happen. I have a beginning and and end. Everything else is in the spur of the moment. Sometimes I just wish my characters would hurry up and tell me what to write though…

  3. The same kind I am, the fun kind that always get left behind at parties. We just can’t keep up with all the action! There’s too much! *flails*

  4. You know, I had to read Edgar Allan Poe’s Philosophy of Composition for english class. I don’t think he would have like this very much. He was a plan everything out before even writing the first sentence kind of guy. And he was arrogant about it too. To think I used to like Poe. Those were the days.

  5. This definitely helped! And I’m the “wait for me!” kind. My characters drive me crazy, sometimes I’m typing eighty words a minute to keep up with them, and other times I’m like “……are you going to do something interesting any time soon?”

    • Characters can be fickle little things quite often. They always seem to want to be the most active whenever I am most unable to write things down (like at work or while driving to work). The best characters are usually kind of jerks. XD

  6. I plan. Yes, I plan and plan and plan, and then I go to my characters and tell them exactly what to do… But they just run off and do their own thing. Sigh…

  7. I usually have a general idea of what I’m doing before I start, but sometimes that changes by the end, once I get to know my characters better. my characters don’t usually tell me what to do, but who my characters are and the direction that the story is going in sometimes tell me what is going to happen next, like, this character dies, or this character falls in love, etc. and sometimes i have no idea what’s going on at all.

  8. Heh, I’m always planning and planning- and then my characters run off without me anyway.
    I’ve actually taken to arguing with them in my head.

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