We’re going to do another sequence of posts. I haven’t been real lucky with sequences, but I’m a glutton for punishment. I have a few disclaimers to make before we start:
First, I don’t want to come across like a pretentious douche. I’ve benefitted from everyone else’s methods, and I simply want to share mine.
Second, the best method is the one that works for you. I’m not saying I have the secret to anything.
Third, I don’t always follow my own advice. I try new things too. I used “bookend” outlines when I wrote Panama. One to get me started, and another one to help me tie up loose ends in the final parts.
Third, I called it “planning” on purpose. I want seat of the pants writers to read along too, but it’s secretly an outlining series. I wrote my first few novels by the seat of my pants. If I can open my mind to something new, so can you. You can croak the entire idea after you’ve given it some consideration. I won’t be offended.
I use a cork board app called Corkulous Pro. They haven’t updated it in years, and it’s getting a little strange on iOS8. I heard there is something similar in Scrivner. I’m open to other suggestions for apps. I’d kind of like some pushpins and strings to help with plants and payoffs.
When we talk about outlining, most people think of the formal outlining method they tried to teach us in high school. This is unhelpful, and even detrimental to the creative process.
My method is a storyboard style, using a three act structure. This can be as detailed as you like, but mine aren’t. Some people like all the detail, but I still like to leave my characters a bit of control. What I’m looking for are more like mile markers.
In the USA, highways have mile markers along all the route. The idea is that you can’t go from one to three without passing two. They are also helpful in the event of an emergency. You can tell the dispatcher you’re in trouble at mile marker 141 so someone can find you faster. Bear with me folks, not all my readers are in the USA.
My outline markers serve the same purposes. They keep me moving in the right direction, and give me help if I crash. With the big exception that I can move them around if I want. Sometimes an event you planned out simply works better in another location. That’s one of the big tricks, don’t be afraid to deviate from the plan. Look at the storyboard and make sure you really want to change things before you write through it.
Let’s look at a blank board to get started. I’m going to be outlining several stories in the near future, and this is how I’ll start.
Notice the open drawer at the bottom of the app. This holds index cards, sticky notes, and quite a few other goodies.
Today, we’re going to talk about the blue card, and the two cards on the left side of the board. I can use any color, and made the one blue just so it would stand out.
Kristen Lamb had a great post today about a one sentence pitch for your novel. Her suggestion was to create it before you start writing. This is a great idea, and one I believe in. I’m just a little less formal about it.
I usually just include a blank card, so here’s one I used when I wrote Arson. I’m not afraid to use two or three lines.
I’m also not afraid to rewrite it part way through my draft. Remember, I said this wasn’t a rigid process. You know how it goes, characters develop and things change along the way. Change things if you want to.
Think of this like a set of tools, and not a rigid chemical formula that you absolutely must duplicate.
I’m going to stop after Act one today so I don’t swamp you with information.
In case you can’t read the photo, Act One is all about introducing the characters, the situations (genre), and the stakes.
I always type over this card with my individual introduction. There isn’t much on the first card.
We’re only detailing the major cards in this series. Think of them like mile markers for the outline. They will help you place the other mile markers.
I’ll go ahead and show you one I used in The Cock of the South.
That’s all it says. This is Cobby’s introduction to the reader, and will show a little bit of genre. There’s a lot of prejudice in this story, so I introduced a bunch of it right away. Now let’s move to the end of Act One. You kind of have my format down by now so here are the screen shots.
It’s simply a question. Are all of the stakes, characters, and themes present? All of them have to have made a choice from which there is no return.
At this point in Will O’ the Wisp there have been a couple of deaths that all seem to tie together. Patty has a plan to sneak off for some research. The story changed slightly by this point, and the card isn’t a perfect match for the final story. Because you can change things up, that’s why.
You can add even more detail at this point if you’re of a mind. You can write a target word count on this card. 25-30K seems like a good target. I stopped doing that.
You can also plan out chapters if you want. What I do is add cards between the beginning and end of Act One. I like one of the traditional story structures, and I’ll even mix and match them. Maybe you need a herald character, or a mentor. Maybe you want some scenes for your villain. Make a card and describe what you want to happen.
Do you have a cool scene you like. Make a card for it. Move them around, maybe they work better in a different order. You can have as many or few as you like.
I’m not in love with outlining chapters. I usually make a new chapter after ten pages. That seems about right for a 21st century attention span. When I write the story, I use my cards like mile markers. If something isn’t working, I go back to my storyboard.
This works for me, because I’m a very lineal writer. I actually write my stories from Once Upon a Time all the way to Happily Ever After. If you like to bounce around, knock yourself out. I still think a storyboard is helpful.
We’ll dive into Act Two next time. I figure another post for Act Three, then one about all the bells and whistles that make a storyboard so handy. Stick with me folks, the bells and whistles are pretty cool, and really bring your board to life.
So what do you think? Is anyone out there willing to try this out? Does anyone have a better app to suggest? Am I out of my mind for quashing your creative process?
Read Part Two here.