Tag Archives: corkulous pro

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

Planning Act Two

It occurs to me this series also includes some data about story structure. There are many structures you can use, but I prefer three act structure. In fact, it’s actually a four act structure as we’ll see today. Act Two comes in two parts. Feel free to use any structure you like.

Many of the comments from the last post were about the technology. I use my iPad for everything, and am comfortable with a corkboard app. Use whatever you like, including a physical corkboard, or a storyboard.

At the end of the first act, we reminded ourselves to make sure all the settings, players, and stakes are in place. The main character has made a choice from which there is no return.  Act Two is the place to do something about the problem. The beginning of Act Two looks like this:


At this point your characters are taking steps to solve the problem. The first action is usually to power up. Maybe they need training, or weapons. Maybe it’s a makeover and new clothes in your sweet romance.

Like I mentioned, the cards are just reminders and help to spread out the big things that must happen. I write over the basic card for my individual tales.

Here’s what my beginning of Act Two looked like in The Cock of the South:


A mixed group of races left their home at the end of Act One. They had a plan, but that scene was all about looking back. Act Two begins with them crossing into a new part of the world to execute the plan. They are looking forward at this point. They are going to learn new skills from each other in order to survive. (A form of mentoring, and making allies.)

Obviously, things aren’t going to go according to plan, and there should be some failures to go along with the successes. The characters learn as much from failure as from success.

imageThis card isn’t strictly necessary, but since this is a post about my corkboard process, I threw one in. It’s basically a reminder that I need to have specific things in place for the next card which is of major importance.


This is almost as important as the premise. This is where it all hits the fan. It is the beginning of Act Two, Part Two. In case you can’t read it, it says: Completely changes the game, even the plan. A setback, loss, death, love interest, huge revelation, huge personal loss. Use re-calibrating, desperate acts, unethical behavior, to get to the end of this act. Great place for a ticking clock and dark night of the soul.

The game changes completely at this point. Think of it like Freddy’s plan failing, then Scooby & Shaggy take some desperate act to make up the difference. I spend quite a bit of time coming up with my midpoint these days.

Here’s an example of my midpoint card from Arson:


In this particular story, a freaky mentor/instructor actually becomes a love interest. This changes the dynamic and requires new thinking for my main character from this point on. It also introduced some cool extra stresses and distractions.

Filling in the cards between the Midpoint and the end of Act Two can be one of the most fun parts of the process. Let’s look at the end of Act Two.


This is the point of total revelation for your character(s). They know everything they need to know, but that doesn’t mean the villain can’t still have a surprise. There may be a plan formed, or there may be an act of desperation. This probably depends on your character more than anything.

Here’s my notecard for the end of Act Two in The Cock of the South:


The loose band of peoples are bickering. They’ve accomplished much, but aren’t acting together. Will they scatter to the four winds and eventual extinction, or come together to make a stand? Cobby takes a desperate act to try bringing them all together. They have complete knowledge of what they are facing, and failure to work together is fatal.

That’s Act Two in a big nutshell. As far as the remaining cards go, you have the important foundations to build up your outline. Add in cards to take the story from point to point. I frequently have cards to discard completely (usually research), and even move some around from act to act. This is also the largest act, and can make up half of your story. It isn’t unusual to move the cards around for quite some time to get them just right.

Part one is here. Part three is here.


Filed under Writing