Today at the School of Writing Janet Evanovich guest lectured about her writing process from her book How I write. Janet is the author of the very funny and successful Stephanie Plum series. I’m so happy that Cee, my WFF (writing Friend Forever) lent me the book yesterday. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
You see, even though I’d been making progress on the story I’d still been worried about What To Do Next and How Was I Going To Get There. I was afraid of getting stuck. Janet shared a very clear, practical process on structure, which really helped me out. She does two things: creates a timeline of the action, and then maps out a storyboard. For class today, I decided to try both as exercises.
Janet’s timeline method is fairly simple:
“I start with the characters. I do a short character sketch for each of my major characters. Next, I pick a location, and then I decide what the crime is going to be.
Once I have those elements down, I make a time line of the action. This means that I know the beginning and the end and a bunch of things that will happen along the way.”
After reading this description, I finished my own timeline. It was only two pages, but my story is going to be shorter, so that was okay. Moving onto storyboarding, which Janet describes this way:
“I have a huge white dry-erase board that hangs on the wall in my office…I map out in a couple of sentences what the physical action is going to be…every now and then, I’ll add what is going to happen in Stephanie’s romantic relationship and sketch in the secondary plot information as well.”
Here’s storyboard excerpt from her book Twelve Sharp:
(Fri) Go to bonds office—interview losers—get Leon James—dinner at parents’ house with Morelli—go to see Lula and band at the Hole—spend night at Morelli’s house
(Sat) Go to bonds office—interview second batch of losers—discover Carmen dead in SUV—get report on Virginia Rangemanoso—go to Ranger’s condo and look in computer files—find photo of Un-Ranger—Ranger waiting in her apt.
(Sun) Wakes up in her apt and Ranger’s there working—go to Newark to canvas neighborhood—take train to Virginia to talk to Carmen’s parents about Carmen’s husband—get info on employment—go to mall—get name/Edward Scrog—go to Scrog’s apt and get computer and scrapbook—drive home—Ranger spends night with Steph.
It was at this point, that I put the book down, rolled my eyes at myself and thought two distinct yet important things:
1.) What happened on that Sunday that Ranger ends up spending the night?! I need to re-read the book again (I’m a Ranger girl all the way.)
2.) Are you kidding me? It’s this easy? I can storyboard. Hell, this isn’t even a storyboard. This is project management. I do this at work all day. Let me at it!
So I marched back to the computer, fired up Google Calendar, printed out three pages of week views, sat down with pencil and paper and created a storyboard in 5 minutes flat. Then I went back to the computer, and fleshed out my timeline with the storyboard. And then for good measure, I typed up the storyboard in the same format as Janet’s, and ended up with even more insights. Completely unstuck! Now all I have to do is to write the scenes that make up the storyboard.
Finally, after all that work, I was ready for a doughnut. Just like Stephanie Plum.
What I learned from school today:
1. Sometimes the writing you do around a story is more important than logging in word counts. It’s still a good day of work if you make progress on the story.
2. I didn’t get the impression that Stephen King broke his story structure down like this, but that’s okay. It’s good to hear perspectives on writing from different authors, and I’m happy to learn from all of them.