Monday, November 16, 2009

Finding Your Story's Pathways--The Art of Rethinking What Your Book Is About

Today I had plenty of creative energy, so I decided to tackle a big project: storyboarding my new novel. It's the sequel to Qualities of Light, which was published this fall. I've been working on this sequel for five years and I love the story, but it's gotten complicated. Three characters, three separate plot lines. In desperate need of a storyboard.

I've taken this new book through NaNoWriMo twice, so I have a decent first draft. I just haven't tested the draft for logical flow. Which is the purpose of a storyboard.

So I set about it. Got tea, a piece of homemade pie, and closed the door to my little office. Began to note the main points for each chapter and the islands (separate dramatic scenes) within each chapter. Arc them on a flow chart as a series of cartoon boxes. Test their track.

They didn't. Track, that is. Boring, boring, boring.

The critic got real happy. "You're a one-novel author," it shouted. "Yes, your current book is getting lots of great reviews and people are loving it. But that's it, baby. Nothing more to come."

After a pretty discouraging two hours fighting my storyboard and this ruthless inner voice, I went back to bed. Screaming under the covers does help, especially when someone who cares a lot about you is listening and can give good advice.

Such as, "What story are you really wanting to tell? The one you have sketched out so far?"

No. Not really.

"Then how do you rethink it?"

I talked it through. I went through each character's main plot points, or story arc, and let the words out into the air. As I spoke them, I could hear the strengths--there were some!--and the flaws. "What does she really want?" I answered that question. "What about this idea?" It was a good one. Suddenly I had to run back downstairs and write it all down.

The result wasn't a revamped storyboard--that will come later. It was a character plot chart. One for each of the three people I'm tracking. As I wrote down their initial longing (that opens the story), their main challenges (that provide meat for the story), their crises (that peak toward the end), and the results, I saw the overlaps. I realized I needed to do three separate storyboards, one for each of these characters. Then weave them together.

Whew. Saved from my own self. The critic stood back, nodded, said, "Maybe you do have another book in you, after all."

This Week's Exercise--for Novelists and Memoirists Make a plot chart for each of your main characters. Keep their passageways separate until you get each uniquely on paper. Then place them side by side and see where there's overlap.

If you feel extremely brave after this, try storyboarding what you learn.