Whether you’re writing something brand new or breathing life back into a manuscript you’ve found languishing in a drawer, getting started can be tough. Keeping track of your story line and getting balance right is always difficult. However, courtesy of Roz Morris I’ve found a couple of tactics that really work.
The card game
This is probably something that you’ve heard of but if not, let me explain. Take a pack of index cards and a felt tip pen and write a short note on each card of what’s in a scene. Once you’ve got them all written down, you can start to play. Lay out all the cards in the order they come in – or that you think they come in. You’ll need a large table or area of floor for this bit. Once you’ve done that and taken a step back, it’ll become clear where your story goes wrong.
Before I’d even finished laying out the cards I’d already spotted three or four areas where my story went ‘squishy’. The good thing about this game is that you can play for hours, moving things around without the fear that you won’t be able to keep track. Just remember to take photographs as you go along and certainly of the end result just in case you mix up the cards. It also makes sense to number the cards in pencil. That way you know what order they were in and can easily change the number once you move them around – and you will!
The beat sheet
I was sceptical about this one. Surely it’s an unnecessary step that you take to put off the actual work of writing /editing? For those who don’t know, a beat sheet is something used by screenwriters to ensure that their story is balanced. In this case, you take a number of coloured pens and start to write out the scenes of the book in a list, using a different colour for each character.
Thjs gives you a quick accessible way to see who is doing what and when. For me it’s made it clear that my police characters are doing a lot more than my main character. The hero starts out confidently enough, but somewhere in the middle he goes a bit quiet. He’s being acted on by other characters rather than doing anything himself. That won’t do, of course, but I now know that my first job is to make sure he steps up in the middle part.
In one long Word document no matter how many times I read it I would never have noticed those issues.
I’m not a particularly patient person, preferring to launch into the work as quickly as possible. It seemed like an unnecessary amount of work to use both tactics, holding up my getting started. But in reality it was vital. It’s given me a great overview of the book and shown me the major issues I need to work on. That’ll mean no more getting blocked because I don’t know what to do next. All that’s left is to update my spreadsheet of actions and then I can crack on.
The beat sheet and card game are courtesy of Roz Morris in her book “Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and how you can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence”.
What do you think? What tactics do you use to help you plan and edit? Share your thoughts below.