Notecards and Story Structure

We’re deep into Beer Magic revisions this week! My wonderful agent and I had a great phone call about the novel and thoughts for the next draft. It involved much pacing around the apartment while we thought out loud—and also lots of leaping to my laptop/notebook to jot things down.

Fortunately, it doesn’t need a massive structural overhaul. Even so, this is what my office looks like right now:

I’m not sure I’ve talked about my notecards, but they’re an essential part of my initial plotting process and later-draft revisions. My method is kind of-sort of adapted from Holly Lisle’s notecard plotting workshop. She uses notecards to throw scene ideas down and weave a plot from thin air.

I find it difficult to plot that way. My stories tend to marinate for a long time in my head and then burst out in a torrent. But part of the marinating process is getting a roadmap. And that’s where the notecards first come in.

The first step is knowing the major plot points. Beginning, catalyst, midpoint, crisis, ending. It’s the barest of five-act structures. (Note that I usually don’t know the climax yet—I have no idea how the crisis gets resolved into the ending.) But whatever, I write all of those scenes down on notecards.

By then, there are usually some few discrete flashes of story floating around. Unconnected scenes, moments from a mental movie trailer. Those get their own notecards as well. Usually, it’s just a single line or a few words—enough to trigger the scene in my head.

“A Canticle of Light”

Then we get away from the desk! I start laying cards out on the floor: main plot points first. Gradually, an order starts suggesting itself for the unconnected scenes. More importantly, I can see where gaps appear in the plot. “If B is here and G is here, what has to happen in-between?”

Eventually, a basic point-by-point outline emerges from the morass of notecards. That outline gets transferred into a Word doc (I don’t worry about assigning scene POVs yet—that happens in the moment), and then I write the book.

That sounds like it should be more complicated. But that’s all it is. I follow my map and I write the book.

But then the notecards come back!

After the first draft, some scenes inevitably need to get moved. Or maybe there’s the same POV for a million years in a row and it needs to get broken up. I’m sure there are programs to help play with the structure of an ms, but I’m an analogue kind of person.

I lay my notecards out again. This time, I include the POV character (assuming more than one). Sometimes I even colour-code them, so that I can tell narrators at a glance!

And the re-arranging begins. For me, the tactile nature of physically moving scenes helps me hold the entire story in my head. I can literally see and manipulate the structure.

Would this method work for everyone? Of course not. But that’s the way it goes, right? You mess around, adapting advice and experience until you find something that works for you.

Onwards with rewrites!

-KT

What I’m Listening to this Week

It was another Ešenvalds week. We had “Long Road” on here not that long ago, but the poetry is so good, I had to return to it.

Posted on February 11, 2019, in Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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