I knew going in, the hardest part of writing a novel would be keeping it straight in my head. News articles, poems, short stories are all manageable because you can hold the entire thing in mind at once. The beginning, middle and end are clearly laid out and the story arc is easy to visualize– setup, buildup, payoff. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.
Not so the novel.
I have a storyboard, post-it notes, 2 Save the Cat Beat Sheets, 2 hero’s journeys, more character sketches than I know what to do with, stacks of 3×5 cards for characters and conflict strategies and immutable laws of story physics and mixed drink recipes… and none of it worked to organize my story into an intelligible whole— until now.
Last week’s Is Life LIke This? assignment was to have a couple of six packs. And I got carded.
I wrote up 6 scenes that absolutely have to be in the novel, jotting down 6 key elements of each: characters involved, mood, tone, conflict, etc. (See last week’s post A Couple of Six Packs.) Because it was such a jumbled mental mess, I wrote them on index cards. And that was the key.
I started arranging those index cards on the table, and all of a sudden I saw the whole story at once. Opening, first and second plot points, midpoint, climax, finale. Plus I made cards for 3 bonus scenes!
I printed out everything I’ve written so far that seems to belong, which actually totaled over two dozen scenes, each one in a different color to keep them separate. Now I’m ready to arrange them, probably on the floor, starting with the main six, then filling in the rest where they might go.
Dufresne is anti-outline, and even reiterated “we’re not outlining here” in this chapter. BUT, taking the time to create just that little
mini-outline set of index cards, has given my novel a backbone. Suddenly the grab-bag of drunken randomness I’ve been writing is starting to look like a body.
Do they make skirts out of index cards?
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