Method and process, part 2

So last week I nattered on about process and today we’re wrapping up. I talked about my giant mind maps for outlining and how I use those maps to explore shadowy areas of the plot that I need to clarify. They are never pretty and there’s no proper organization with certain colors marking out specific issues. (I switch colors when I get bored.)

Once I have done a few maps, ideas will start fitting together and that’s when I begin to scribble on some of the newsprint. I’ll jot ideas, strike them out when better ones come along, and jot new ones. I will create new maps, working out the possibilities for every possible permutation of a plot point until I find the right one for this story. Then I scribble more notes, working up the shorthand diagrams into actual words. I spread them out around me–usually on the bed, but sometimes at the kitchen table or on the floor–so I can see everything at once.

When I think I have a working plan, I turn to notecards. I buy the big index cards in multiple colors, and I don’t code these by color either. (I need big ones because my handwriting is lavish and I buy color because white ones bore me. YMMV.) I work my way through the maps and diagrams and jotted notes to transfer the plot points to the cards–one point per card. Then, I arrange the cards in chronological order according to the story. If they work, I number them.

From here, I create a master plan–a punch list, really–of scenes to be written in order. Now, many of the scenes may be already written and if there is a good chunk of the book finished and it’s going to stay in place, I’m likely to write “OPENING” on a single notecard and that can stand in for a hundred pages of manuscript. Otherwise, I  may jot a few keywords to signal scenes that are going to remain in the book even if they get reshuffled. The master plan is just a single-spaced document I print and leave on the desk as I write, marking off scenes as they are written. I may tape the notecards up in order on the wall next to my desk, putting a large check on each as it’s no longer needed. Wiser writers than I will create a separate document for each scene to make it a simple thing to arrange them in order in the master manuscript, but I am not that smart. I cut and paste within the document of the manuscript itself, a messy and dangerous process made a little easier because I use a large monitor for my computer.

Whatever the plot issue, whatever the character trouble, I have never turned to my newsprint and markers without making progress of some sort. I can work out problems I would never be able to solve with a keyboard. Why? No idea. But I know what works for me. Maybe it will for you too.

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