Planning your novel, part four

I’ve given everyone a pretty good idea of how I set up my board, and how I move my cards around to get between the cornerstones of a story. I’ve also explained how you might use a different style and still benefit from a storyboard. Today is all about the bells and whistles that really help me with a story.

My app comes with a drawer that holds things in addition to index cards. Some of these are very handy, others not so much. I have no need to put a contact card in my outline. (Maybe a pizza place that delivers?)

Note: if you want to try a physical storyboard, you can do all the same things.

I want to start off with the checklist option. There are certain things that you want your character to do. Why not make a checklist and include it in your outline. This is a good way to keep from getting out of logical order. Here’s a decent example:

The stages of grieving


We put our characters through a lot. It’s more realistic to have them experience a loss by following the stages of grieving. In a novel you might be able to skip a step, but it details how most folks would act in the event of a loss. This is one example. You can use a checklist for all kinds of things.

My app comes with some cool little arrows. Since I can change the colors, I can coordinate what they mean with the key elements of a story.

In this example, I might add yellow arrows to take my main character from Ron Weasley all the way to Gandalf.

I’m an old guy. I don’t always remember minutia from day to day. When writing a novel it could be month to month.

If I know I’m going to use the old falling anvil trick in Act Three, I need to hoist the anvil somewhere in Act One or Two. The pink arrows can really help with that.

I don’t always follow this advice in my outline, but when I have, it makes everything much easier. There are still plenty of times I’ll have to go back and modify chapter three while I’m working on chapter 29, but it still helps.

I don’t color coordinate anything, but the potential is there. I did it for the purposes of this post. I use a lot of sticky notes. Again, my memory is still there, it just isn’t as fast as it used to be. Sometimes, at the end of a writing day, I’ll add a note about some idea I want to use in the next writing session. I call them “Hey Dummy” notes. It helps when the next writing session is fourteen days away. Here are some ideas for sticky notes:

When I finally get back to writing, I review my “Hey Dummy” notes and delete them.

I also read back and forward a bit. The story always deviates from the outline, and there is no law that says it can’t.

I’ve even been known to change the outline, because I’ve come up with some brilliant idea while writing.

Of course, I’ve also abandoned the outline completely on occasion. At least it got me started on the right foot. The cornerstones of three act structure were still useful to keep my story on track.

Its more typical for me to start writing before the outline is finished. I usually pay the price and have to go back, update the outline, and plan out the rest of the story.

One of the best things about a storyboard is pictures. Pictures really help with descriptions. I add them to my board at key places. Since this is the private part of your work, you can grab anything you like off the internet. No need to worry about copyright. Here’s an example from Arson:

Everyone’s favorite pyrophilliac has a distinct hairstyle. (Maybe she’s just my favorite.) She would never wear that horrible bow thing.

She also has some unique items she uses for work, and to decorate her office.

I find pictures to be extremely helpful. If your character has a unique style, you can pin some clothing or other bits to your board.

Maybe you want some actual crime scene photos to remind you to include specific details like pin flags or number markers.


True story time. When I was writing Arson, I was also outlining The Cock of the South.

Outlining is something I can do while my wife plays her music or watches American Idol. It doesn’t take quite the concentration that writing does.

I decided to completely outline the whole story. It was one of those personal challenges I talk about on occasion. I learn by trying new things, and this needed to be tested.

My app lets me seat a board within a board. I filled this storyboard with pictures and character arch reminders. I wound up with a board for each section.

The payoff was writing the whole novel in three months. Remember, I have a family and a full time job. I only get to write on Saturday mornings and one rotating day per week. Researching during the writing process was kept to a minimum. It was just writing. It was almost as if the only thing I had to concentrate on was making sure my cast of characters stayed unique and engaging. The image is how the links to the subsequent boards are displayed.

I’ve never taken it to this level since then. I should, but I always get too excited and want to start writing. My next challenge is to outline multiple projects and make them fight for my writing time. The losers will still be around, and may get a chance later. Here is a section of the board from The Playground. It shows some of the bells and whistles together on an actual storyboard.

My boards don’t start out this way. Most of them are a collection of loose notes. I won’t even fill out the premise or important act points until later.

Lorelei, my Muse, has been haunting me again blessing me with her presence. She’s been giving me ideas about all my potential stories. I decided to start a board last night so I could share one here.

This story doesn’t even have a title yet. The premise and act cards are still untouched. None of the cards are anything more than random ideas. My sticky notes are all about things I need to research. They aren’t even in columns right now.

I’ll move them into columns when the time comes. The research stickies will get discarded and replaced with data. If you want to expand the picture, there might be a spoiler or two, or everything could change. I might not let this one off the island. It’s a fair enough example for this post.

I’m a little hesitant to return to a paranormal story right away. I’ve written two, back to back. Since this one is set in history, it doesn’t lend itself easily to fantasy or science fiction. It will have to compete for its writing time.

Storyboards provide a nice visual. It’s easy to see when you don’t have enough material in one of the acts. It’s usually Act Two. The beginning and ending are easier to come up with, because they’re more exciting. One glance can show you the problem.

Read Part Three here.

Let’s call it. This was my sequence on story boarding. I’ve learned so much from other writers that I thought it was time to share. My process formed by grabbing bits and pieces from other writers. Are you going to attempt a storyboard? Did you gain a nugget to add to your own style? Is it all bullshit that stifles creativity? Is storyboarding a mental version of water boarding in your mind? Could it be useful under some circumstances, but not others? Maybe you have a tip to offer? Let me hear from you.


Filed under Writing

23 responses to “Planning your novel, part four

  1. Pingback: Planning Act Three | Entertaining Stories

  2. You’ve given some great ideas for story-boarding and I can’t wait to test them out. I actually do “dummy notes” on paper post-it notes all the time. They’re always scattered around my desk. How much better to have them organized in an app. And I grab visuals, too, although that usually happens as I’m writing and I want a quick impression of someone/something.

    Enjoyed your series!


  3. I have really enjoyed all this, learning about your process. (And I don’t care much for reading about writing.)
    I think it’s a great help — I wish I had some visual aids now and again…
    Have a happy weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your process is really a lot like mine with Scrivener. I love learning about how people set up and progress. Fascinating. Some neat ideas I haven’t tried. Excellent series.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Your post made me remember something that I missed in my WIP. I really need to get an app rather using my notebook. What app do you use for your sticky notes?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Hi Craig, it’s been great having an sight into your planning. I use scrivener and do a bullet pointed basic chapter by chapter plan to make sure things happen when they need to. I use Pinterest to create character boards too. And i always have maps of my fictional places! I use a notebook when out and about but occasionaly I want to remember a place or object or person catches my eye. I’m going to try corkulous out on my phone for this. Thanks for introducing me to it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ali Isaac

    Thanks Craig! I love that having this planned from a to b enabled you to write your novel in just 3 months… thats wowser! How long did you spend on the planning?

    I guess I use Pinterest for all my visuals. Usually I start with invisible boards only I can see and release them when the book is published. I keep my outline on a pad beside me as I write, its very brief, and I have a ‘Notes’ document open for each novel as I write. Track changes is useful in the draft manuscript for annotating ammendments in draft stages. This is very simple and basic but its all I need. Im not into fancy gadgets at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like the way so many of us use visuals. When I was outlining, I never paid any attention to how long it took. For me, I need to get back to that kind of outline. It took entirely too long to write The Playground’s draft.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks so much for sharing your process! it reminds me to check my outline for the 3-act pattern. I don’t consciously set my outline up that way, but I think it’s a good way to “fact-check” the way I’ve laid out the scenes. I use Scrivener to do the writing, but I’ve been using MS Office’s OneNote as my catch-all. I’ve got a OneNote notebook “template” set up according to Karen Wiesner’s (First Draft in 30 Days) worksheets, so there’s a section for character sketches, another for setting, etc. OneNote is nice because you can save images from the Internet (it remembers where they came from), move the text “chunks” around, and even though I don’t use it that way, it’s got an online component with an app (I think for both Android and iOS) in case you’re out and about and need to make a note.

    I like your coded arrows idea! I’ll have to see if I can set something similar up in Scrivener or OneNote. They remind me of sticky notes.

    I was going to ask about you writing on your iPad. Do you do all your writing on the iPad? Do you use an attached keyboard, or one you use with the iPad propped up somewhere? I’ve been considering getting an iPad to use for writing, but my Yoga is nice (and Windows-based 🙂 .

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Reblogged this on Helen Treharne and commented:
    Another post worth a reblog on the dark art of planning! Love it! Thanks for sharing it “Entertaining Stories.”
    I’m a big fan of post it notes and a wall for planning and capturing ideas, but increasingly there are some great, free tools which can help create a virtual alternative. Trello, although designed for sharing ideas and lists, is one tool I’ve used for workload planning and I can see that would have some value. I’ve recently rediscovered Pinterest, which I’ve found a great tool for scrapping booking inspiration and ideas.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I *LOVE* the “Hey, Dummy!” approach! As a matter of fact, after the last two books of mine that you’ve critiques, I’ve made some real (not virtual) Hey Dummy post-its from your notes, and they stay in close proximity to my computer at all times. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your wisdom! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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