March 7, 2011 by Sarah D.
*Thanks to Marly Allen for this guest post. Follow Marly’s blog at Making My Own Work. If you’d like to share your own experiences with the book, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.*
I’ve attempted to write several books over the years and always got stuck because I didn’t know where the story line was going. One problem came in when I needed to switch things around, and got confused as to what went where. Making each chapter heading a different color helped, but it was really hard on the eyes, especially since the latest Word version only has pukey colors.
Then I tried writing the basic premise for each chapter in red on my Word document. That way, I could simply write (in blue) whatever struck my fancy at any one time, rather than having to first write chapter one, then two, etc. The problem here was that if I decided chapter one really belonged after chapter four, I’d have to highlight it and cut it, then scroll down and try to remember where four ended. It was madness—absolute madness!
Then I came across Sarah’s “Choosing The Best Outline Method For You” chapter from 90 Days to Your Novel. She said that the advantage of using notecards was that it’s easy to move cards around to find the best order; it visually breaks the novel into mini compartments so it’s easy to see how the story is progressing, and they are portable. That made a whole lot more sense to me. So, I simply transferred the major plot details from my Word document onto individual cards.
One problem I found was that, when the cards were in one neat pile, I couldn’t remember what was supposed to happen two cards in, so I spread them out on the kitchen table. That fixed that problem, but since the table wasn’t very big, I quickly ran out of room, especially since it is where I pay my bills, leave my gloves to dry, read two and three books and magazines at any one time, and, of course, eat my meals.
So I moved everything to my massage table, and you know something? It worked beautifully. As the table is 7×3 feet, there was plenty of space to spread things out, and still have room to write. With the table next to my computer, I can simply go back and forth as the spirit moves. Another advantage is that the surface is padded, which makes it much more comfortable on the arms. And mine has a table warmer!
Having the outline left me free to focus on bringing my characters to life and creating a new world, rather than continually wondering what happened next. Now the problem is that my characters keep changing their minds, or withholding important facts about themselves until I bug them. Liz keeps tapping me on the head and saying things like, “This doesn’t make sense. If I was supposed to be here, then how come I was doing that?”
Having my characters continually question everything I write does make for a better story line. I do have to wonder, however, if Liz sometimes just does this to tease me.