31 Planning Posts in 31 October Days
Not to be confused with begin to write a draft.
That’s a form of story planning, perhaps, but it’s not one you can afford to try during this planning month. Besides, you can’t really begin writing your draft until November 1st, anyhow, just to be clear.
Story planning isn’t cheating (actually writing parts of your draft is), it’s empowerment. It’s working smart as well as hard.
So when I say write it down, I mean write down your plan… in the form of a beat sheet.
A beat sheet is a skeleton outline for a full treatment. It consists of short bullets that define a specific scene, either in terms of its generic purpose (mission), or what actually happens. A beat sheet bullet might look like this:
– First glimpse of antagonist (generic/mission)
– Old boyfriend calls out of the blue (specific).
From those bullets you will expand the thinking toward what is, in effect, a sort of mini treatment/summary for the scene itself. You are done with your planning when you have such a bullet-morphed-into-summary paragraph for each and every scene in your novel.
This approach forces you to do it right: one expositional mission per scene, delivered with characterization. When you try to stuff more than one primary story point into a scene you are risking pace and expositional power.
Flashback to an earlier post: you can’t accomplish this without an overriding vision for the entire arc of the story.
Also, it’s critical to realize — to accept and embrace — that this is an interative process, and while the end product will be linear in nature, the process may not be. You may actually — and actually should — have a clear vision for the final scenes of your story (how it ends) long before you have a clue what the expositional scenes along the way will be.
But you will get there. Piece by piece, scene by scene… all in context to your vision for the story… and in context to the architectural model that calls for four distinct parts separated by three game-changing story points (PP1, mid-point, PP2).
Now visualize it… literally. It’s time to write it down.
Your beat sheet is your primary planning document. The time to begin it is now, after you’ve been working on the Big Picture of your story and you have specific scenes already burning holes in your head. You’re now ready to write those ideas down and and put them in some semblance of story sequence (structure), in context to the whole.
In effect, you’re about to create the blueprint for your story. Ideas always preceed and empower a blueprint, and the blueprint (even if it’s just in your head) always preceeds the actual draft… at least, if it stands a legitimate shot at working.
You probably don’t yet know how many scenes your story will need.
That’s okay, you will. But for now, assume it’ll take 60 scenes. Divide them into four piles of 15 scenes…each with a separate and critical contextual mission: set-up… response… attack… resolution. The final scene in each of those piles is, in fact, a major transitional story milestone… a plot point or the mid-point, depending on where it lands.
Piles of what? Consider 3 by 5 cards. Yellow sticky notes. Sheets of typing paper. An open MS Word document numbered 1 through 60. It all works, the specific form doesn’t matter… as long as it enables you to see your story as a whole, and from a 10,000 foot level.
This is where you can and should change things, find mistakes, experiment. Much easier done here – and more effective – than during the drafting process itself.
At this point you’re playing God with your story.
You’re looking down on a string of 3 by 5 cards spread over your dining room table and seeing the whole story, watching it flow, identifying what’s missing, what doesn’t fit, what could be, what to move and where to move it.
Your story was always a puzzle… now you’re actually working with it as one. Filling in blanks (scenes). Shifting things, discarding things, adding ideas, expanding and polishing flow, pacing, dramatic tension.
Once you know what a scene needs to accomplish, you are now free — and empowered — to write it with perfect timing and optimal energy. To blow it out of the water, rather than simply checking it off a list.
And it’s all in context to a goal: four sequences of scenes in context to their respective parts… separated by the milestones.
Because you’re now 12 days into your planning, chances are you know how your story will open, what your First Plot Point is, as well as the Mid-P0int, Second Plot Point and the ending. You should be close to knowing that by now.
And if you do know those moments, you also realize they need to be set-up and reacted to, which requires other scenes before and after. Which means that each of the milestone scenes has from three to five other scenes surrounding it, teeing it up, then paying it off.
Add that up… simply by nailing your major story points you can immediately identify a third to half of the 60 scenes you’re shooting for (that’s an adjustable total, by the way… just try to keep the parts proportional). And you’ll be well down the road to creating the connective tissue (scenes) that bridge the story points naturally, organically, in in context to those physics I wrote about yesterday.
This is the most exciting, and important, part of the story planning process. Dive in and see how quickly you’ll realize that your idea is doable and eciting… or not.
And then watch how the whole thing grows into a fully functional, architectually-effective story that works. One that, come November 1, will be screaming to be written… just as you’ve planned it.
At that point, because you’ve planned it, you’ll be adding value rather than still searching for your story or fixing problems.
Want to review this entire series? See the middle column under “Recent Posts” (or under “Categories”) for a menu of these NaNoWriMo planning posts.
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