In a previous article, I wrote about a single day, when my trusty writer and I exercised what was more or less a loose collection of scenes for a novel into not 3 but 4 acts of structured story awesomeness. Read that here.
It was another week or so before I saw her again. I’d kept the cork board at my house. It was a full board, but the sticky notes were still in my handwriting. It was time for her to take the sharpie. Her task, to rewrite my loose summaries on each card into her own words. Basically replace me work with hers. Part book-keeping, part rewrite. She did it, adding more stick notes as she went.
it didn’t take a day tho. It took more like 6 sessions of a few hours over the coarse of 2 weeks to do this rewrite. But in that time she’d continued to evolve the story. There weren’t just 10 cards per act there were 15 to 20 per act. Every scene having various specifics that could take up the surface of a sticky note. The work was growing, and as she wrote on the physical card with a physical sharpie, she paced, and the muse kept pace with her.
But that’s not totally what we mean by outlining. Okay, she’s got a bunch of sticky notes in order. Is that it? No. Once the entire board is covered in her handwriting, we replace sticky notes for index cards. You know, those white, lined, 3 by 5 inch cliches. Yeah, even tho it’s tempting, it’s not time to start writing pages yet.
Remember, the whole purpose of this method, these recipes is not to get there quickest, but to forever eliminate block. So the next stage is to rewrite those sticky notes onto index cards. But of course, not word for word transcriptions. While each sticky note indicats a seperate idea in the story, each index card will represent an actual physical location change in the scene. There are 6 prompts, or questions you can answer to fill out an index card. They are questions about what happens in the scene.
1. Where are we. Interior or Exterior or Both. Name the room, the building. Whatever it takes to put us there.
2. Who is in the scene. Which characters. Name them.
3. What is the crisis for these characters. What’s at stake and who is acting to solve the crisis.
Now when I say crisis, it need not be a 4 alarm fire for a cat in a tree each and every scene. A crisis is a good way to start a scene. Sort of the opposite of happy, not a care in the world. Scenes have been started with one character not finding any ice cream left in the carton. Or finding out their roommate left a mess. Crisis, simply drives the character to act, instead of sit around and ponder their navel. It’s the heart of an active (not passive) story and characters. So come up with one.
4. How are the characters in conflict. Who is at odds, what do they want from the interaction. It can be related to the crisis, like Bruce Willis seeing Bonnie Badellia in danger at the end of Die Hard. He and Alan Richman’s character are definatly in conflict, but you notice they’re still talking. They’re able to have conflict and still deliver interesting suspenseful dialogue becuase of the best part of any story. The stakes character. Bonnie allows the audience to care about the good guy losing, without the good guy always swashbuckling with the bad guy. If someone or something loves is at stake, it’s as good as him. Write about the conflict. This is the meat of the scene, it’s going to climax at the next promopt.
5. What is the climax of the scene. The scene has to end sometime. This isn’t Dinner with Andre. The conflict or comedy of a scene should have a natural climax. Nothing too crazy at the beginning of the story. We don’t want to let all the pressure out, until the full story climax. Scene climaxes are simply the result of the conflict being too good. This can also be thought of as the place you want to write towards in the scene. If the beginning is Batman and Robin walk into a bar, the Climax is the part where Batman uses his utility belt to save the day. The Conflict is then the meat, all the clever banter, clever detecting and kicking bad guys in their turkey necks that make up any Batman scene.
6. What is the comedy in the scene? Even devilishly dark scenes have room for a little levity. If you’re writing something comedic all the better. Audiences love cleavr surprises and adding a little of that to the card couldn’t hurt. While comedy is not required, it makes for better scenes and better final pieces.
Can you think of any more parts to a scene? I don’t know. I’d like to deconstruct various genres and perhaps make more specific prompts/questions for the scene cards.
For now your homework is to turn your sticky notes into index cards. It won’t take one day. It may even take one day per card. This is the meat and potatoes of your story work. When you put people in a place and give them something to work towards, you’re doing the work right before pages. The work that guarantees you will sit down and write every single time you want to. You are technically writing the 3rd draft. So let it wander from the first two rounds with the sticky notes. Write clearly and abbreviate if you need to. It’s about finishing 1 card after another, until you fill that board.
Now, you’ll find there are plenty of roadblocks along the way and I will tell you, there’s no fool proof way to fill the spaces in your story, but there are prompts for each scene along the way. No, I’m not talking about scene prompts, but plot prompts for each story. My writing partners and I have come up with 21 prompts. They’re a bit too long for this article, but if you’d like to read them, come over to the CSF Forums to check them out for free.
In the final installment (for now) of this series, we look at writing actual pages. How to set yourself up for success and how to do it daily, without fail.