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WIP Diary: Now in Wonkavision!

One of the things that has made this a bugger of a story to write is that it is really three stories layered on top of each other. One, it is a historical domestic comedy. Two is a romance. Three is a supernatural mystery. So at times, it can be kind of hard to keep track of what's going on and who was where and when.

For awhile, I was able to keep it all in my head and could neatly toss the scenes around in my mind. But at some point after I passed the 80,000 word mark, it all became a hopeless jumble.

Then--going back to yesterday's post--I got a fascinating critique that suggested that I needed to think about what the reader would want out of the story.

I think in general, if the reader connects with your main character, the reader will want your main character to be happy, to find fulfillment, to at least escape from under the weight of the problem the novel presents. But what, in more specific terms for this novel, would the reader want for Eddy? I'm sorry*, but the answer is love.

Great! Thinks I. I have provided Eddy with at least three likely candidates to be dowered with her deepest affections. But she can't have all three. It is 1810, after all, and I am not writing that kind of a book. Gotta pick just one. With the help of critiques, it's pretty clear which of the three the reader will be rooting for and I think the reader is right.

But back to the original problem presented in this post: there is a massive bunch of crap going on in this book. I'm juggling historical detail, catty girls, angry mothers, nosy neighbors, broken hearts, housecleaning, cats, ghosts, blah blah blah. And now I've got to keep three guys up in the air so the reader is never quite sure which one Eddy will pick, even though the reader knows which one she wants, and it is becoming next to impossible to remember which guy appeared in which scene last and what happened in that scene.


What is Wonkavision? Remember that scene in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where Willie Wonka transports a giant candy bar--and then a bratty little boy--by means of television broadcast airwaves? There is a moment where the candy bar and the little boy hover in the air over the heads of Willie Wonka and the parents, broken up into "a million little pieces," before the receiver puts them all back in order in a recognizable form:

And there you pretty much have how my brain feels about this book. I had to figure out some way to keep it all organized. I needed a receiver at the end to bring all of those million pieces back together in some smaller recognizable form, so that I could see where everything fit without having to keep rereading the @#$%@% thing. A written outline didn't help because the book is just too long and involved, so I'd end up rereading the outline over and over.

Now I've seen a lot of my livejournal writer friends use sticky notes or storyboards to outline or map out their stories or aid them in revision. And I've tried it before but the problem in the past has always been that I never knew what it was I needed to focus on, so I never knew what to highlight and what to track.

But this time, I knew. So the other day, I made this:

It's HOSvision! Specifically, here's what I did. I outlined what I already had by assigning a different colored sticky note to each scene depending on who was in the scene:

Pink = the girls (including Mama and Anna)
Blue = Hugh (half of one of the love interests)
White = the earl (the other half, trust me, this makes sense....I hope)
Orange = James (bachelor #2)
Yellow = the outsiders (non-family/household members like neighbors, including hot guy #3)

And then laid them out by chapter. Then I also went through and for each scene, marked with initials a couple of other points that I needed to keep track of (like the times a mysterious heartbeat makes its appearance) as well as the tone of the scene. H for humorous, E for highly emotional, that sort of thing. Though I think I might need to go get tiny little colored stickers instead. (I smell an office supply store trip! Does anything get a writer's heart pounding more swiftly than the promise of purchasing office supplies?)

So you can see how you can glance at this and get a quick picture of who appears where and when in the novel. (Chapters are laid out across the board, four rows so far. Paul, I hope you're not reading this...) At this point, it looks more balanced than expected, but I think it will also help me find places to beef up the Ultimate Winner's scenes.

One thing that jumps out at me that's interesting is that many of the yellow "outsider" scenes take up whole chapters. Also, many of those scenes have the "H" for humor. I'm betting more study will show other interesting patterns.

And I'm thinking now it might be interesting if I could find colored stickers in a range of sizes to remap the whole thing by the size and importance of the scenes.

The thing is, this was a type of writer-think I could never engage in before and it was because I didn't know what I was looking for. Once you know what it is you need to pay attention to, there are all kinds of ways to lay it out. And while I think I am a visual person, I'm not like massively visual. But when you are drowning in words, it is sometimes very helpful to be able to see things and have them make sense quickly rather than having to process meaning through language.

So a big thank you to all of the writers out there who have shared similar methods in the past. Took me awhile, but I finally figured out how to make use of it!

*If you thought I was going to say "a self-supporting occupation or perhaps a commission in the navy," you are not the reader I am picturing for this book.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 3rd, 2010 07:34 pm (UTC)
Color me staggered! I did something a little like this for the latest draft of my WIP, but it only involved index cards and magic markers. I'm thinking I need to get myself to an office-supply store, pronto.
Aug. 4th, 2010 12:15 am (UTC)
I've tried colored index cards in the past, too, but I think I'm just not organized enough for that. And this way, it's all spread out in front of you. If you have a patch of bare wall, you don't even need the posterboard. You can just slap the stickies on the wall.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )