Transition Girl

Why transition girl?... Best answered by a quote from the Iliad....."The soul was not made to dwell in a thing; and when forced to it, there is no part of that soul but suffers violence."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

story boards

A bellowing catcall awakened me in the wee hours of the morning, not once but twice and I am now wide awake. So I've slipped out of bed after an hour of tossing and turning unable to find sleep again. Damn it.

Today I want to talk about one of the things I do as preparation ahead of writing an actual story.

I call it a story board. It's not in a technical term. It is just what I call it. I am sure there is a proper writers' term for what it is but I cannot see the point of looking up the right terminology as only another writer would really care about calling a spade a spade. If I want to call it a shovel or better still a sithe then so be it.

The story board in concept is mapping the main narrative of your work. In concept it has application to just about any creative pursuit. Every writer is different in how they do this mapping.

I must confess that my process has evolved considerably since my first novel. Perhaps it reflected the shift in genre but I used songs that had meaning for me on a personal level to map out my key plot points in the story arc of my philosophical first novel, Transition Girl. And I also used three profound quotes from Tim Winton (Dirt Music), an inspiring episode of This Life, and the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. Much like a mind map, it filled but one page when I put the quotes that would guide my novel drafting on a piece of paper. It was rather unstructured and this may have been a contributing factor to the long time it took me to write the first novel (three and a half years).

In stark contrast, I chose to identify themes for at least 12 "blocks" (effectively chapters) within a single story arc in preparing to draft my second novel. The high level summary still only fitted on one page (as a visual person, I like my prompts to be easily accessable) though below it was a more detailed block by block identification of key scenes within each block and characters introduced in each block. (Aside: I also did alot more research on the subject matter for my novel before I started writing - several books worth in fact - which helped to underpin the credibility of ideas presented within the story). I retro-fitted the timeline later during two major redrafts of the story board, when I (a) needed to iron out inconsistencies in the story and (b) as the story evolved and original ideas for sub-plots did not make sense any more and I refined the story. Embedding better structure in my process improved my writing pacing, with the second novel taking less than one year to draft.

The second novel now drafted is part of a trilogy, so it was important for me to prepare story boards for the other parts of the trilogy. These story boards are even more structured. In addition to the high level summary and identification of key scenes, there is a paragraph summary for every key scene I expect to write in the drafting process matched to a timeline. At roughly five scenes per block, that's around 60 scenes mapped out in quite a bit of detail. I have found this a necessary addition to my process to ensure consistency across the trilogy!

I have even jotted down a few ideas for a further book...which would be a fourth in the series if the trilogy was well I believe it may be necessary to have an idea of where I would like to take the story beyond what is written on the last page of the trilogy. Knowing where you might end up if critical for plotting the journey to get there. I am anticipating inevitable demand for a further book as an avid fantasy reader always wants more.

As I found with the drafting of my first novel, I expect the story will evolve with the novels that I am currently writing so their story boards will evolve with that. An example of this is where characters may not be working well in terms of their motivations so it becomes a matter of changing the character or nuancing the story. I have found that changes to the story board are more substantive early in the drafting process, though I have also gotten into the habit of updating my story board for changes suggested by my editor. The latter is to keep track of changes as it is much easier to find scenes you may want to edit looking through a story board of 15 pages than reading through the full novel draft of near 400 pages itself.

It's now six am and time to get up to get ready for work. It's going to be a long day.


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