Some are discovery writers. Some are outliners. Some are in-betweeners.
Whatever the plotting style, great writers track their story from start to finish.
I, not yet being a great world-famous writer, was in my fifth chapter of NOLA when I realized I’d used much of the same language in Chapter Two. Now, we all know New Orleans is worth visiting more than once, but this novel is a mystery, not a time travel sci-fi. So, back to the old storyboard I went.
Only I didn’t have a storyboard. No worries. I remembered enough to keep it from happening again. Until I didn’t. And it did. Chapters Eight, Twelve, and Fifteen all began to sound just a little too familiar. It took a few days of reviewing and re-reading to discover the duplicate matter and correct it.
You may already know this, but I am not an outliner. I am a discovery writer. Sure, I can tell you how I expect NOLA to end. But getting from A to B to C? I don’t know all the details ahead of time. I know it when it happens. I have a general idea, but basically I like to let the characters tell me what to write. I figure I’m just the translator to the life they are already living. Too deep? Sorry. It’s a writer’s truth. Quite often your characters will say and do things you never expected. Even if you’re an outliner.
I also realized, being from the Southern California desert, I was a little too in love with writing about the humidity in the Crescent City. Of course my lead character, also from the desert, finds it unique, refreshing, but at times oppressive. But she doesn’t have to mention it in every conversation, does she? Nor do I have to make it rain in every chapter.
With two hundred pages written, I was beginning to struggle with following the little details, and found myself spending too much time scrolling back and forth in the document to verify whether this thing happened or that character did something or, yes, whether or not it rained in the last two pages.
So I devised a helpful tool that I’ve shared with a few fellow writers, and now I’m sharing it with you.
The Story Card Kit consists of:
- Card box
- Lined Index cards
- Colored pen
- Black pen
My kit not only helps me track the story. It also gives me insight into character growth and little details I want to focus on. New Orleans is famous for its food so of course I want to reference just the right amount in each chapter.
Characters, conflicts, location, weather, food . . . That’s a lot to remember, yes? My cards make easy reference and when laid out in sequence, help me see the bigger picture.
Some scenes are great, others need work. Maybe Chapter Seventeen, Scene Two could really be Chapter Ten, Scene Four.
Being able to pull the cards out of order is a lot less messy than deconstructing the story in a Word doc.
Here are the vital elements for each NOLA card:
- Day: References the day the story started, and the day of the week. Also time of day, and/or specific calendar dates if necessary.
- Chapter/Scene: Tracks how many scenes in a chapter.
- Characters: Follows the important people. Also tracks secondary characters.
- Conflict- Major: What is propelling the drama forward?
- Conflict- Minor: Are there smaller issues? These may later turn into bigger issues.
- Location: How often are my characters at home, in town, or in a specific place?
- Weather: Has there been too much rain? Is there a storm coming? Is it a clear, sunny afternoon?
- First line: How does this scene start? It should grab the reader immediately.
- Last line: Does it make the reader want to continue?
- Best lines: My characters can be quippy or snotty. New Orleans has its own voice. The best lines from each scene, when brought together, create a fun summary of the book and keep me on track.
When I’m going somewhere I can’t take my laptop, I bring my story card kit. I can read, review, make notes and process changes. I can draft new scenes. So even when I’m not writing, I’m writing.
Now it’s your turn: What tips and tricks do you have for keeping track of your story?
And Frankly, My Dear . . . That’s all she wrote!