Tag Archives: writing a new novel

How to create a storyboard for your novel

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In my last post, I wrote about an excellent resource for writers – Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel.

In this post, I’ll write about storyboarding and identifying key plot points.

Some writers are tempted to run the opposite direction when they’re told to “outline” or “plot” their novel before they begin writing. We call these writers “pantsers” because they write by the seat of their pants. Writers who prefer planning are called “plotters.”

Honestly, I believe today’s post is for writers of both camps. Creating a storyboard is a fun process which gives structure to one’s novel but isn’t quite as formal as the traditional outline.

Basically, it’s about visualizing the timeline of one’s novel and the placement of all the important events.

A storyboard follows the three-act structure, which you may have seen before. I learned about a similar method called the “plot clock” at a past writer’s conference. And more recently, I’ve become familiar with the “master outline” which is featured on Better Novel Project.

*I’ve come to realize that it isn’t necessarily a strict adherence to any one of these methods, but rather a combination, that does the trick for me. It’s all about finding what works for you.

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MATERIALS

tri-fold poster board
Sharpie markers
*LOTS and LOTS of post-it notes

*Okay, so, you don’t need LOTS and LOTS. I just find it’s much more fun to have a variety of colors and sizes to choose from.

LAYOUT

Use your Sharpie to draw a line down the middle panel, splitting this section in half. You should now have four columns. Label these “Act I,” “Act II A,” “Act II B,” and “Act III.”

Label important story elements on post-it notes and place them on your board. The remaining post-it notes are for the scenes which make up your story. This is where my love of color-coding comes into play. On my storyboard, scenes are blue, ideas/thoughts are orange. Some people prefer assigning colors to their characters¬†so it’s easier to keep track of subplots.

PLOT POINTS

Major plot points include the inciting moment, Act 1 climax, Act II-A climax (midpoint!), Act II-B climax, and Act III climax. Each climax should represent an important decision your protagonist makes to move the story forward.

The storyboard is helpful because it allows you to see where pieces of your story fit into the overall plot arc. Also, it feels less intimidating than outlining, as there’s a feeling of flexibility. It’s easy to move your post-it notes around the board.

 

I hope you give this method a shot and decide to create a storyboard of your own. Put your spin on it, and let me know how it goes!

 

Recommended read: Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

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Short recap:
I’ve begun a new blog series about my writing journey… I’ve started writing a new novel (completely from scratch) and I want to share every single step with you.

Check out my previous posts:
Blog Series: Writing a New Novel
I thought I had an IDEA. I didn’t.
What comes first, characters or plot?

So I’ve promised to share not only my experiences but also the resources I’m using, and so I thought I’d take a day to write about a book that’s really made an impact on me as a writer.

I can’t remember exactly when, but someone recommended Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel and swore that it was an excellent resource for writers. I read it for the first time about a year ago (and wrote a review, which actually sums up my thoughts quite nicely!). And then recently, someone in my writers group referenced the book and I knew I needed to reread it. I immediately ordered a copy from Amazon and waited anxiously for it to arrive.

I’m already over halfway through.

It IS an excellent resource for writers – for aspiring writers, novice writers, experienced writers. The book is about writing a ‘breakout’ novel. What is a breakout novel?

A breakout novel is “deeper, stronger, and more memorable.” A breakout novel is “highly detailed and generally complex.” Maass points out that genre is not necessarily a factor, and that “what matters is that your characters, your story and your fictional world live for you intensely.”

But how do you tell whether you’ve achieved breakout status?

Maass writes, “There is no agreement in the book business about what exactly constitutes a ‘breakout,’ let alone what is a breakout novel. It is, and should be, many things. Breakouts can happen on many sales levels. The first novel that soars to a top five spot on The New York Times best-seller list is the dream breakout scenario. For me, however, any sharp upward movement in sales and in attention paid to a novelist by publishers, bookstores, the press and the public is a breakout. Some may be mini breakouts, but all growth is good.”

I don’t believe that simply by reading this book I’ll write a breakout novel in one draft. I’m not sure I can write a breakout novel even with a second, third, or fourth draft. That’s actually not the point.

The point is to recognize what makes a story great and to have those elements in the back of my mind as I’m writing. I want to be aware of what sets a story apart and to always strive for it. Because I think, for many of us, the “breakout novel” is less about sales or recognition and more about our desire for improvement. Why do we write? It’s not because we hope to be published (although we do!) but because we love writing.

(Was that too deep? Whew.)

Seriously though, BUY THE BOOK. And read it. And then read it again. ūüėČ

I’ll continue to reference this book in my following posts! There’s so much to learn!

What comes first, characters or plot?

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I’m a characters-first kind of gal. My protagonist will sort of jump into my head and demand to be heard. I usually have a strong sense of his/her personality and voice. I know who they are and who I want them to become.

Soon after, the protagonist will reveal his/her love interest, family, and friends. At this early stage in the developmental process, the character may or may not be attached to a particular story. This could mean I don’t yet know what he/she wants more than anything in the world (which I determined in my last post is a fairly important thing to know!).

I like to come up with the “fun stuff” first. (I think it’s “fun stuff,” but I’d be curious to know what you think!). This is physical appearance, age, hobbies, relationships with other characters.

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*A peek at my secret Pinterest inspiration board.

Needless to say, I tend to get a little carried away when it comes to relationship dynamics. The tension/attraction between my protagonist and his/her love interest is always especially interesting. ūüėČ

Sometimes I get too caught up in creating the cliche/stereotypical relationships we see all over the place – twins separated at birth, best friends who are secretly related, a seemingly dead parent who is actually alive, the villain is revealed to be my protagonist’s father. (Seriously, coming up with this convoluted stuff is my guilty pleasure.)

Plot, unfortunately, is not quite as easy.

For those of us who create characters first, how do we get from life-like characters to a plot that drives the story?

The answer, I think, is more eloquently stated by S. Jae-Jones (JJ) over at PubCrawl in this awesome article about turning an idea into a novel.

She also tends to start with character (sometimes it’s nice to know we’re not alone!), and she writes about separating your “story seeds” into three categories: Character, Premise, and Plot. You’ve got to identify which of these three you’re missing.

In my last post, I wrote about the necessity of your character’s greatest desire/goal, and it’s direct effect on the conflict of the story. I also wrote about my frustration over realizing I didn’t know The Point of my story. (I’ve capitalized it here like JJ¬†capitalized it in her article.)

She described the feeling like this:

For years, I lived with these characters; I knew their backstories, their histories, their futures, but what I did not know was The Point. Essentially, I didn’t know why other people should care about these characters. They didn’t have any purpose…

Sometimes all it takes is more brainstorming. Sleep on it. Free write. Combine two or more ideas and see what happens. (This is what ultimately worked for me!)

 

So you tell me – what comes first for you? How do you round up the other story elements? Share your thoughts! Let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to address¬†about this process.¬†

 

I thought I had an IDEA. I didn’t.

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My last post was an open letter to readers about my new series of blog posts, chronicling my journey to write the first draft of a new novel.

I have an idea.

This is what having a new idea feels like:

My idea is not quite as original as Emmet’s double-decker couch. *Sigh.*

As many of us know, an “idea” is just not enough. But we’ve got to start somewhere, right? And it’s that seed of an idea – a “what if?” question, a character, a unique setting – that inspires a story.

So I have an idea. When it came to me, I immediately wrote it down – just took some quick notes about the characters who popped into my head and what I knew about them thus far. It really wasn’t much. But my interest was piqued, and I knew this was something I’d like to give more thought.

*Tangent – For me, characters come first. (I’ll be writing about this in my next post!)¬†I’ve realized it’s better to wait, to hash out more of the details, before I put my fingers to the keyboard. Because unfortunately, everything else, including the plot/conflict and the story world, is incredibly vague at this point.

The Notebook.

When I realized I wanted this idea to be my next novel, I decided it needed it’s own notebook. I’ve tried to keep my notes about WIPs in my idea journal, but it just doesn’t work. I like to have everything in one place – so why not designate a separate notebook to the idea with potential?

(I take notes/outline/brainstorm on paper. I draft on the computer.)

And since then, anything/everything related to this idea has made it’s way into the Notebook. (It shall be capitalized from here on out, to emphasize¬†it’s immense importance in this endeavor.) Also, I’ve spent way too much time on Pinterest creating a secret inspiration board. *This is procrastination at its finest, my friends.

The frustration.

I soon came to a realization. I had to¬†admit that the story I’d been so excited about didn’t actually have a point, and this was embarrassing. I didn’t even have an antagonist.

It’s really frustrating to think you have something and then realize you actually don’t. And this feeling of frustration was even greater for me, because this same problem was the reason I reached 30,000 words in my previous WIP and then shelved it. I didn’t even finish, because I realized I didn’t have a plot, and the plot should have been established before I ever started writing.

This is not to say you’ll have everything all figured out before you begin a first draft. But I strongly believe there are important structural elements you should know before setting fingers to the keyboard.

Is my idea solid enough to move forward?

So here’s the thing – you’ve got to know if your idea is workable. I struggled, for a while, figuring out what this meant. How would I know my idea was solid enough to move forward?

Here’s the decision I came to:

  • I must know what my protagonist WANTS (more than anything in the world!).
  • I¬†must know what my antagonist WANTS (more than anything in the world!).
    ^These desires should be at odds. This creates conflict!

And if you have at least one of these two elements, it becomes easier to establish the other.

I realize this is a gross simplification of all the elements that make up a story. But if I can’t answer the questions “What does my protagonist want?” and “What does my antagonist want?” with more brainstorming, it’s probably a sign I shouldn’t be moving forward.

(P.S. I didn’t come up with that on my own! Some very helpful writer friends hammered it into my head, so I thought I’d pass along the favor.)

I’ll expand on this in my next post! Please¬†share your thoughts and let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to address. Until next time!

 

Blog Series: Writing a New Novel

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DEAR BLOGGER FRIENDS,

I’m writing a new book!

I would tell you what it’s about, but I’m in the very early stages, and to be quite honest, I’m not entirely sure yet myself.

But I’d love to share the journey with you. I’ve read several blogs which have done something similar, so this isn’t an original idea or anything, but I’m not necessarily trying to be original with this new blog series. My goal, actually, is to solicit your help.

I haven’t finished a writing project in a long time. Fear has held me back – I’m a perfectionist, and I’m not a huge fan of failure.

But I’m ready to break some barriers. And I think, with a little accountability, I can finish the first draft. At this point, it’s really just about spewing the words on the page so I actually have something to work with. I think you know what I mean.

And my secondary purpose in blogging about the step-by-step process of drafting this book is to keep a record of what’s working and what isn’t. I am going to be completely honest about every success and every setback. I’ll reference all the resources I’m using to tackle this project.

Hopefully, when it’s done, I’ll have something to come back to when I take on a new project. Because even the best of us know that the fear can creep back in even after a completed third, fourth, fifth, or even sixth novel.

I’m excited, and I hope you are, too. I’m not entirely sure where this is going to take us, but I’ve decided to embrace the unpredictability of it all.

If you have ideas or suggestions, I’d really love to hear them. Leave a comment, shoot me an email, or reach out to me via social media! Also, if you have questions you’d like me to tackle, I say bring it on. I’m totally willing to try new things and let you know how it goes – anything to reach ‘the end’ of this first draft.

So it’s a little ambitious, as I’m not quite as fast as some of my other writer friends, but my goal is to finish the first draft by May 1. Let’s do this!