Organizing This Frickin' Mess
by Jim Butcher
So you've got a great idea for a story. You've got some good characters, some
good plot, maybe a great scene or two in mind. You're ready to plunge in!
If only you could figure out WHERE to plunge in.
Be wise and listen to me, young padawan writer: get a few things organized
first. It'll save you enormous headaches in the long run. I'm going to share
what I do before I start a novel with you guys. Hopefully, that'll give you
one idea of how to lay your groundwork.
This isn't the only way to do it, God knows. This isn't meant to be a "Thou
Shalt Do This" kind of article. But this is how *I* do it, and it seems to
work out most of the time.
Page One--The Basics
The first thing you need is your STORY QUESTION. See the article earlier in
this journal. Get your story question and write it down.
I haven't done a full article on them yet, but I *have* done an article on
characters. Write down your protagonist, his tags and traits, and how you
intend to introduce him.
Ditto, but for the main opposition. He's a character too, so all the same
Page Two--Story Arc(h) or PLOT
I'm never sure how to spell that.
Get a BIG piece of paper. Draw a big curving arch on it. At the LEFT side of
the arch, write a brief phrase about the opening scene. At the RIGHT side,
write a brief phrase describing the climax of the book. That's your pot of
gold at the end of the rainbow.
At the TOP of the arch, write down your BIG MIDDLE, or whatever event it is
that starts the dominoes to falling.
Then make a bunch of tick marks along the way and fill in any scenes that you
have in mind that you know you want to do. Once you've done that, add in some
more tick marks in between, and add in phrases describing scenes that lead
your character from one established tick mark to the next, in a logical
Pages Three to Whatever--SUBPLOTS
Do Story Arches for all of your subplots. Make sure you know where they
begin, end, and what event causes them to be resolved.
MORE PAGES--CHARACTER PROFILES
You need to profile EVERY significant character on his own sheet, just like
you did your Protagonist and Antagonist. I like to go through creating
character profiles as I create the story arches, creating each one as needed
for the story, or attaching established characters to the main arch or to
OUTLINE SCENES AND SEQUELS
RIGHT THEN. Now you've got a good skeleton. In fact, you've already created
a number of Scenes and Sequels without even knowing it.
Each of your tick marks and phrases should describe either a story event (a
SCENE) or a logical point that leads you to the next story event (a SEQUEL).
Starting from the beginning, outline your first SCENE on its own page, as
described in the article on SCENES. Then outline the SEQUEL that follows.
(A lot of writers put these on index cards and lay them out in a line in order
to work out which events go where. That works, but it takes up a LOT of floor
space, and if you have dogs or children, they tend to break your plot.)
Repeat until CLIMAX.
Sketch out the CLIMAX, as described in the article on CLIMAXES.
You now have a packet of pages that gives you a solid foundation to begin
from, as well as handy reference material to check when you forget what color
your character's eyes are in chapter 20. You've created signposts to help
guide you along the way, to boot.
Yeah, it really is that simple. But it damned sure ain't easy. Still, you've
got a good point to begin, and a path laid out for you to guide the way.
As you continue writing books, the process is going to change to suit you--that's what it's supposed to do. You'll eventually come to understand your strengths and weaknesses, and how to plan ahead for problems you've run into before. But for now, that's not a bad way to get going.
So write already. :)