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Putting it all on the line

I've been stuck in revision mode for the past week or so, kind of stymied by how to go at my plot changes. I was brainstorming–my husband was nice enough to point out a gaping plot hole on the way back from the boys' swim meet at Auburn on Sunday–and trying to talk to my characters, but mostly feeling overwhelmed.

The main reason was that I needed a big picture view of the scenes so that I could decide which ones needed cut or modified, and where new scenes would fill in the holes.

Scrivener has a nice outliner, but I can't print it out in a format that I wanted, so today I sat down with 11×17 paper and colored markers and went to work on a timeline-style outline. It was amazing. Just the act of writing down each scene with a bullet list of key events sparked ideas for changes and plot issues that I hadn't yet resolved.

And sometimes, I just need to work on paper, especially when brainstorming or trying to see the whole picture.

The strong marker scent may have had something to do with it too. I asked my tweeps if “nontoxic” only applies to eating, but no one wanted to go there. 😉

I got through 12 of 16 chapters, and came up with several pages of notes too. The best part is that I'm excited about rewriting the story that only this morning had me dreading the keyboard.

Here's a small portion of the color-coded timeline I created. Blue for the hero's POV and pink for the heroine's. (The same colors I use in Scrivener.) Green and orange for a couple other characters who get a scene or two of their own. The ball-point pen is for my notes on changes.

Now that I look back at it, I wonder why I didn't do this sooner. I think each book is a learning experience because we don't just learn how to write better. We learn how to be better writers, more effective writers, and writers who understand the methods that work for us.

In the end, that may be even more important than mastering the craft of writing.
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  1. KM Fawcett


    Great idea, Gwen. I usually do this on the computer using a calendar so I can keep straight what time and day things are happening in my story too. I’ll print it out and then write on it. Helps me to “see” the story better. But right I’m stuck and need to brain storm what happens next.

    • Reply

      The calendar is a good idea. In the synopsis of each chapter, I track which day of the week and week I’m in so I don’t get lost. In my new MS I started using it as the status of the scene.

      I’ve never done a timeline like this before, but it may become standard practice for review and revisions. Thanks for checking in!

  2. Reply

    I’ve done that kind of brain storming as well. It’s amazing how a different view of it helps you get past where you thought you were stuck. I did a map recently to make sure I knew where they were and where they were going when I was writing. I do love making up my own continents!

    I hadn’t thought of the different colored pens…might have to use that one too.

    • Reply

      I think some of the benefit came from forcing myself to sit down and work on the story, but I definitely needed a better view. Maps are a great idea. I’d have to do that with a fictional world or town.

      I always wonder if Sue Grafton made up new street names for Santa Barbara when she changed it to Santa Theresa in her books.

      If you use the colored pens watch out for the fumes! 😉

  3. Dunx


    I recently finished some mind maps of the world I have been building, capturing all the towns, characters, and local wildlife that I have been making up for four Novembers so that I have a clear picture of the world the story is set in. Character story arcs, and a timeline to unify them all are next.

    Good post. I will probably use a similar structure myself.

  4. Christine


    Love to go between hard copy and computer on this stuff. Still have my first efforts on the wall!

    Way to go!

    • Reply

      I brainstorm better on paper, though I’m still working on a few parts of the story line. I think analysis paralysis is setting in. 🙂

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