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#FirstDraft60 Day 45: Thursday Craft Day–Storyboarding to Avoid the Sagging Middle

Thursday, October 15, 2015

#FirstDraft60 | KayeDacus.comSometimes, when we get about 20,000 to 30,000 words into our manuscript, we start losing sight of where the story is going, what we were originally planning to do, or how to get from where we are to the ending we envisioned in the planning process. When the words/ideas just won’t come, that’s when it’s time to step back and do something else for a little while—but something that’s related to our story so that we’re still thinking about it and generating ideas for it, even if just subconsciously. Here are some non-writing but still story-related ideas that can help get you writing again.

Character Casting
LL - Character CastingThe first is Character Casting and collecting images of the Real World Templates for my characters expressing as many different types of emotions as I can find images of or that speak to me and help me in building the character. Yes, we spent time casting characters in the thirty days of prep time, but sometimes, just going out and finding images of the characters with different expressions, in different settings, or (if they’re actors/actresses) in different roles.

So when I get into the middle of writing and I’m starting to lose steam or feel stuck, I’ll either spend some more time reviewing the images I’ve already found (saved in OneNote or PowerPoint or pinned to a dedicated board on Pinterest), or I’ll search out more images (or movies or TV shows featuring the templates I’ve chosen, since I almost solely use actors) in order to see if I can find inspiration for new scenes or new aspects of the characters that can infuse me with motivation to get back to writing the story. For example, here’s a video of my heroine, Meg, whose Real World Template is the model Valerie Lefkowitz):

(And, no, I’m not giving her ugly, yellow-framed, fake glasses or a French bulldog. But this really helps me out a lot in shaping Meg’s personality, how she moves, what her body-language is.)

While here’s a video of the template for my hero, Stone, which helps me, again, with personality, movement, body-language, etc.—plus, he’s just an absolute doll):

Scene Cards
If you followed all of the steps in the pre-writing parts of this series, you saw where I recommend not only writing out detailed backstories for the characters (and the world), you’ve worked out your overall premise, and you’ve worked out your story map/outline and have either a rough outline or a full synopsis.

All but two of my eleven published novels were sold based on synopses and proposals, and those synopses varied from detailed to somewhat vague. But once I started writing, I got caught up in the minutia of the characters and the dialogue and the setting and sometimes lost sight of where the story was supposed to be going—and forgetting some of the scenes I’d had ideas for when I first wrote the synopsis. Which usually brings my momentum to a screeching halt and means it can be days or even weeks on end without producing meaningful word count.

So that’s when I knew it was time to stop and break out the Post-it Notes:
Storyboarding to Avoid the Sagging Middle #ReadySetWrite |
Storyboarding to Avoid the Sagging Middle #ReadySetWrite |

Here are two examples from two different books (and two different rooms!) of how I did my scene cards. They’re color-coded by POV character. In the upper (light wall) image, which was when I was writing Ransome’s Crossing, the stickies in the top section represented the scenes/chapters I’d already written—I’d gone through and re-read my entire manuscript and wrote a one- or two-sentence summary of it. As I was doing that, I was sometimes reminded of follow-up/consequence scenes I needed to write spawned by what was already there. I also went through and re-read the synopsis and wrote out scene cards for the scenes I’d already plotted there. So those are the stickies in the bottom section of the top image.

In the lower (dark wall) image, I did the same first step once I got to my flummoxed point when writing The Art of Romance—going through and re-reading what I’d already written and writing out cards for each scene. The below that, you can see hanging (lowest) on the wall, a page from the Post-it Flip Chart that has my seven-beat outline written out on it, with synopses of what happens in each step. Then, on the page still attached to the flip chart, I was making notes of scenes that I wanted or needed to write. And, interspersed throughout on the smaller Post-its, both with the scene cards and with the character images, are notes on ideas or backstory or tidbits I was thinking about incorporating in the story.

With later books, when I was spending less time working at home and needed my storyboarding more portable, I went back to a previous (old, old) method using PowerPoint:
Storyboarding to Avoid the Sagging Middle #ReadySetWrite |

As if color-coding the “cards” by POV character weren’t enough, in PPT, I can include an image of the character, just in case I forget which color is which character. Each “card” includes the setting (red text) and a summary of what happens in that scene.

I haven’t done this yet with The Linguistics of Love, but I’m almost at a point where I need to.

How are you doing with your writing so far? Have you yet experienced a point at which you’ve felt stuck or unsure of what to write next? How did you get yourself out of it? If you’re feeling like that right now, what do you think you might do to try to get yourself out of it and back to writing?

  1. Lisa Jarvis permalink
    Thursday, October 15, 2015 3:48 pm

    Today’s post was perfect timing for me. I hit a wall Tuesday. I have been away from my computer for much of my writing so yesterday I typed everything I had hand-written. Today I didn’t know where to start. I came here first. I’m glad I did. My protagonist took me on a detour from my outline. I like the detour so I’m leaving it for now, but I have to figure out how to make the most of it.

    Thanks for the direction. I’m going to review my outline and update it with the detour. Then I’ll revisit my cast and write-up a few short “What if?” scenarios for each character based on the changes from the detour. I’ll see which rings the most true and triggers the most interesting conflict.

    I’ll check in again soon. – Sorry if this posts multiple times. I kept getting a message indicating the comment couldn’t be posted.


    • Thursday, October 15, 2015 4:20 pm

      Sometimes I find that typing in what I’ve written longhand can stimulate ideas and momentum to move forward, but I’ve found myself in your position, too, where even that doesn’t help. (Usually, I’ve only written longhand because sitting at the computer hasn’t done me any good and I’m stuck—so switching back and forth can sometimes be helpful, too.)

      I’ve also picked handwriting-style fonts on my computer that I’ve decided are my main characters’ handwriting, and I’ll occasionally start a new document, switch to that font, and start writing a “diary entry” for whichever character I’m having trouble connecting with, having them tell me their reaction to what just happened in the last scene—or sometimes just picking something random for them to tell me about—until I’m struck with an idea for a scene or a what-if that I can explore. And sometimes those “diary entries” turn into a scene, when I go back and realize I switched back to 3rd person and have dialogue and a scene goal, etc., without even noticing, because I got so wrapped up in it.



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