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S.D. Grady

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Plotting Ahead
by S.D. Grady   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Friday, July 20, 2007
Posted: Friday, July 20, 2007

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Advice for the new writer regarding outlines and schedules

Plotting Ahead

by S.D. Grady

At the moment it appears simple. A brilliant idea for your novel has just been delivered by your cooperative muse (it seems she returned, after all). You sit down to whip out the first dozen or so chapters, because you can see each and every detail in this moment of inspiration. And then the phone rings. When you return to the computer the lightening bolt has withered into a speck of glass on the sandy beach. The idea is there, but now it’s nearly impossible to transfer to paper. You need a plan!

Outlines, character sketches, storyboards and deadlines are the backbone of the writing world. Watch the special sections of an animated feature DVD and you will be treated to a snapshot of the creative process that began years before the final release of the film. Walls and computer screens are filled with storyboards. Editors and directors discuss outlines. Actors/voices are handed detailed character sketches.

Your challenge, as an author of a novel, is that you are all of these creative people and you need to keep yourself in order.

“Rules Subject to Change”
Remember, everything is temporary. By writing an outline, you are not committing yourself to a set of rules. You are merely suggesting them to yourself. You are still the boss and referee.

         1. A one-line catch phrase.

You know, that teaser that will be on the movie poster. Why does it need to be there? It is your focus and your inspiration. What are you trying to accomplish? Maybe you are writing “Star Wars”. Your one liner might be, “Luke, a young farm boy, must save the universe from evil domination!”

Yes, there is much more to the story, but that line will keep you focused on the major premise as you work out all the twists and turns of the plot.

         2. Character Sketches

Introduce yourself to your major characters. What do they look like? What do they act like? What is their flaw? (Yes, you must let them be flawed! Perfect people are not interesting.) If you are gifted, draw a sketch. If not, simply write down what they wear, what they like to do. Maybe even write a vignette, to let them walk around and show you what they are like.

Who are your character's relations? It pays off to figure out exactly how your hero fits into the community around them. This will include that old flame from high school. Giving your character a history gives them depth.

Don’t forget to do the same for your villain! He should not be delegated to a two-dimensional existence. Besides, it is likely the villain that will create the most dramatic changes in your main characters.

         3. The Story Board

This is the real outline. Flesh out the plot of the story. Where does it begin? Where does it end? And what does the road in the middle do? Don’t fool yourself into thinking you are writing the whole book right now. You are just recording the highlights.

What happens in each chapter that will be important? Will your character get injured? Find the Holy Grail? Deliver a baby? That’s it-—the exciting stuff.

You may find that all you need is a single sentence for each chapter. However, don’t cheap out! If you need to write a whole page, then do it! Your muse will not be kind and remind you what you meant in three months when you are staring at the outline and asking yourself, “What does ‘he’s in deep water now!’ mean?”

Not only will a storyboard create your plot line, it will create a map. Where in town is the doctor’s office? Is it across the street from the hospital or the post office? When your character is running down Main Street trying to save the world, don’t let him take a wrong turn! Deciding ahead will help you move your story forward later.

Keep a bibliography of any research notes for easy reference. This may include the "lingo" of your book. There will be catch phrases and foreign words. Writing them down will help you remember their origins later on.

         4. The Deadline

Why a deadline? One day, when you’ve submitted your completed manuscript to a publisher, an editor is going to call you and say, “I have some changes I would like completed. We’re going to press in three weeks. Can you have them done by then?” The kicker is the editor is not kidding. You are merely the new untried author on the block. To the editor, you are expendable. Somebody else is waiting in the wings to have their book published. And they are ready to meet that deadline.

Set yourself deadlines for completing new chapters, editing and submitting your work. If you find yourself uninspired, you have your outline to spur you forward. Genius does not have to fly forth on every new page. It will come when you’re editing (promise).

You have a goal (your one-liner), your characters, a story world for them to play in and a deadline. You have created a reference library just for your novel. Now, you are ready to start writing.

By using these tools, you will give yourself a better chance of completing your story. You won’t be adding yet another incomplete manuscript to the stack in the attic. Instead, you will become one of an elite breed—a writer who FINISHED a novel.

Web Site: S.D. Grady homepage

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