By Annette Dashofy
Last night at a Pennwriters meeting, our discussion topic was “process.” As in how we write. I found it interesting that every single person had their own way of doing things. Some outlined. Some wrote by the seat of their pants. Some outlined in their heads, but not externally.
Considering that my brain is on sticky notes all over my house, is there any doubt that I would be an outliner?
I did try the seat-of-the-pants method when I wrote that last short story. The 4,000 word one that ended up being 9,000 words. If you expand that to novel proportions…well, you get the idea. Life is too short.
For my current work-in-progress, I’m trying a different kind of outline. In my office, I have a set of cabinets from Ikea. They have three, white, unadorned doors. Three doors: Act One, Act Two, and Act Three. I bought large, multi-colored sticky notes. One each sticky note, I jot down a sentence or two (occasionally more) about each scene. And I stick them on the door corresponding to the appropriate act.
Here’s a picture.
Yes, Act Three is a little bare at the moment. The pink note is the climax. The yellow note is a list of clues I need to remember. I’ll fill in the gaps before I get there.
The notes are color coded. (Don’t tell me I’m anal. I already know that.)
Blue notes signify scenes told from Pete’s POV. Purple indicate Zoe’s POV. Pink notes are scenes with both Pete and Zoe in them, so POV needs to be determined. The green ones at the beginning of Act One simply indicate character introductions. The yellow one in the middle of Act Two is the MAJOR PLOT POINT (AKA the second body drops). I have little flags attached. Those have something to do with red herrings and suspects.
It made perfect sense when I devised the whole thing.
The colors let me see if Zoe’s getting too much time front and center. The red herring flags let me know if I’ve gone too long without mentioning a suspect.
I can yank a note off and move it somewhere else if need be.
And the sticky notes don’t fall off! Amazing. (I tried this on poster board once and all the notes curled up and fell off. Not good.)
I’ve heard of people doing similar things using their dining room table. I don’t have a dining room table. The only table I have, we use for meals. And it’s not big enough anyway.
With this set-up in my office, anytime I suffer brain freeze, I can get up and study my sticky note outline. It usually helps get me back on track.
No, I am not suggesting that you all switch to my method of outlining. Heck, I’m not even sure I’ll use it for the next book. But I might. (Especially if this one finds a publisher!) I’m curious to hear about YOUR plot process. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Or a little of both? Do you have any weird methods of pseudo-storyboarding like I do? Time to share.