If you’re not interested in the creative process and how I get from “idea” to “book,” you’ll want to skip this one.
So. I have had a storyboard on the wall for book two in my trilogy for, maybe 18 months, maybe longer. It started off with only three cards, but as I thought of stuff, I would pin it up there to deal with later (when I was smart) instead of writing it down somewhere to lose (when I was dumb), or more likely, assuming I’d remember it (when I was flat-out stupid).
That’s just a small portion of the board, but it shows that some of them are scribbled by hand, some printed, some on colored cards (meaning I am not sure about them, but maybe they will take me somewhere), and post-its show up there, too, although they sometimes get knocked off so I really prefer cards with push pins.
Still, not enough cards to write a book, or even a brief synopsis, because they are isolated scenes with no connective tissue, no major mile markers to guide me, just a general idea that this scene probably will fall in this part of the book (beginning, middle or end).
The time has finally come to build this story.
But I couldn’t find the spine of the story. What kind of story is it? I know what happens in it, and the big huge revelations that explode everything to hell and back, but in Blake Snyder terms, I couldn’t figure out if it was door number one, a Golden Fleece or door number two, a Whydunit. And from my experience plotting the first book in the trilogy, I knew that as soon as I understood what kind of story it was, at least some of the pieces would suddenly start falling into place.
I kept reading/skimming story breakdowns in Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies and could see elements in both Golden Fleece and Whydunit that fit my story, but neither was a clear winner. So, I whipped out the colored index cards and decided to put the story elements that fit Golden Fleece on pink cards and story elements that fit Whydunit on blue.
And it still felt kind of murky. (See? It even looks murky there, and that’s not because I adjusted the settings in iPhoto to make it look murky. Okay, it is because of that. Sue me.) Anyway. This tried and true process still wasn’t giving me answers.
BACKSTORY: I might point out that when I was looking for the structure of the first book I read through every Snyder-genre in Save the Cat Goes to the Movies, and dipped back into Save the Cat, too. (I say Snyder-genre because he redefines genre in a way that is amazing and is what truly opened my eyes to structure, but honestly he should have used a different term because genre is something tangible and defined. His interpretation is something new and not really “genre” at all, and if I just left “genre” hanging out there, you’d wonder if I’m totally insane, not knowing if I’m writing a romantic comedy or a horror or a science fiction novel, right? What Snyder actually isolated is about structure and elements of plot that certain story-types have in common, not truly genre.)
Okay, so I was almost to the end of his book thinking, “This doesn’t work. I thought it worked; I thought he was brilliant; this doesn’t work for my new story.” And then I hit the last section–Superhero–and like a flash of Hollywood dazzle and special effects, the elements were there, this was the story I was writing. What’s more, as soon as I recognized that, many other story pieces made sense. Ideas and scenes I already knew I was going to write were right there in the superhero structure Snyder outlined, and suddenly they were fleshing out and I was able to connect them better and the whole thing started taking shape.
Which doesn’t mean it got easy. It just means it finally started revealing itself to me with logic behind it, not just floating in the primordial ooze that my muse hands me. /BACKSTORY
So, here I was again, struggling to find the right Snyder-genre, waiting for the pieces to suddenly click into place, and it was staying vague and if-ish and maybe this and maybe that and, haven’t I been here before?
Oh yes. I have. Indeed I have.
Exactly here before.
Ladies and gents, boys and girls, the answer was right in front of my nose. Intellectually I had already decided I knew what this story was not. It wasn’t another superhero story, because, duh, I didn’t want two books in a row to have so much structural in common, plus, we’d already established that part of the bigger three-book arc, plus–
I was wrong.
And as soon as I recognized I was wrong, look what happened.
Behind door number three–
Answers started coming faster than I could write them down. Yellow cards started piling up. Until now I feel like I just was dealt the winning hand in the championship round of Texas Hold ‘Em. Read ’em and weep, boys. Read ’em and weep. (Okay, nobody can read my handwriting including me, but still.)
Which doesn’t mean it will be easy.
But it just got fun.
4 responses to “And behind door number three…”
Thank you for sharing this! I love seeing how writers start planning their stories. For one I just like the feeling of getting to “snoop” through the more private parts of writing, and for another it’s always helpful in developing my own style of planning.
Funnily enough, your style is very similar to the one I’ve started for myself, though I use different colored pens instead of different colored index cards, and they are scattered between a board and in little cheap index card boxes. Seeing how much importance you put on the specific structure, however, is really interesting.
Plot and structure has always been my weakest area. I managed to sell five romance novels simply by groping my way through and trying to go by “feel” — this feels rushed, this feels like it’s dragging.
When I studied screenplay structure I recognized that there was a simple form that would help me. I’ve continued to study structure and have tried various approaches, but this is the first time I’ve put so much emphasis on it, and truly the first time I’ve outlined in detail before writing. But since I was writing a trilogy I felt I needed to have an outline to know what was going to happen in each book, and to make sure there were enough story elements to fill three books!
I don’t always outline this way. I’m not sure I always will. Right now it’s working, and that’s all I can ask of it.
Thanks for stopping by!
It’s actually an idea I might steal and caper off with. I only stopped and forced myself to start my index card outlines was because ,any time I started a chapter work, I would get a few chapters in and then realize I was floating all over the place. There was a certain length to how far I could go just by making it up. So now I’m trying to make myself hand holds with my outline: I’m still making plenty up in between each card, but I have a place to begin and end.
It makes sense, though, that your outlining might change for each project. I am glad that this, at least, is working for you now!
It’s not letting me respond to your last comment, so I’ll do it here. I suggest you begin with a foam core board or some sort of board you can put on the wall (or stand on a table). Then just start putting your cards on it in the order that seems natural. But the nice thing about writing a card for each scene (“rob bank,” “borrow getaway car,” “accidentally shoot foot while picking up hooker”) is you don’t have to spend a lot of time developing them. You just think of any scene you know you’ll need, or you think might be cool or interesting, and put it on the wall or board. The cards are so fluid. It’s so easy to rearrange them, or take one out when you think it might not work and see how the story works w/o it.
And it’s fun!