I’ve been asked a few times about my “story sheet”, so I thought I’d write up a blog post I can link to when I mention it in passing and somebody asks what I’m talking about. It’s only one piece of paper, but it’s my everything. I don’t seem capable of writing a book without it. And no matter how much I try, I can’t do it digitally. It has to be paper.
I write out of order. Like seriously out of order. I’ll write two pages in chapter seven and then skip to one paragraph in chapter twelve. Then I’ll work on the ending. Then I’ll write one page in chapter four. Then the entire chapter eight. Then two paragraphs in chapter eleven. I’m not even exaggerating, though I wish I was.
And somehow, it becomes a book. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Yes, it’s as messy as it sounds and I don’t recommend it. But it’s my process and I’ve learned the hard way to stop trying to fight it. (I was going to say “fix it”, but it’s not broken.)
The story sheet is a way for me to visual the entire story as a whole. Because of the way I write, it’s really important to me that it all be on one sheet, blocked out. And if I move a scene, I move it on the chart, which means I can see where it’s falling in the story without rereading what comes before or after it.
Here’s what I start with. Let’s call it Beautiful Broken Billionaire Bad Boy.
(Click on the image to enlarge and then use your back button to come back here.)
Basically, I put the character’s first initial and then a short description of the scene. As I write snippets of scenes or get flashes of it on my head, I make a note of that scene on the sheet. I guess on where it will fall in the story, but they almost always move. There is a LOT of erasing. The initial lets me keep an eye on the balance of POV, and I write just enough so I know what the scene is.
I’ve named our billionaire Dante and our heroine, who works in a small town diner, Bella. So the story opens with: D – Intro – ZOMG he has to marry to inherit! (This would be a scene in his lawyer’s office where he rants about the terms of his beloved but meddling deceased grandmother’s will.)
This is also my answer to plotting versus pantsing. The sheet starts with scenes as I write them, but by about the quarter point, I probably have three-quarters of the scenes listed because as I go, more scenes come to me and I add them where I think they’ll go. It’s not really pantsing because I do look ahead and make notes and will work out stuff ahead of time. But it’s not really plotting because this is literally all there is.
When a scene is complete, I add the word count after the description. When all the scenes in a chapter are complete, I put the chapter’s word count in the box. This way I know at a glance which scenes are done and which aren’t without skimming through the text. And if I have a 2500 word chapter followed by a 6000 word chapter, I look at breaking them up a little more evenly.
Over the course of the book, I end up writing notes to myself in the margins. In this particular case, the heroine’s cat that was cute and made the hero sneeze in the opening has been totally forgotten. You want an unlikeable heroine? Have her run off with a billionaire and forget her cat in her apartment.
Sometimes a scene won’t be clear in my head, but I know about where I want it to fall. First kiss! Hotel sex! The scenes usually end up moving (more erasing), but I like to keep an eye on overall pacing and structure.
The next photo is a real sheet, done in pencil before I discovered the magic that is the Frixion pen. It’s one of my neater ones, to be honest, though most of the paper within the border is thin and softened from numerous erasings.
One of the reasons that one looks so neat in the margins is that there were so many notes, I had to erase the ones I’d dealt with at that point. But there are always more notes, like “move around to accommodate frozen pizza sex?”. (Let’s all pretend I spelled accommodate correctly on the story sheet, okay?)
More notes in the margin. I remind myself to run spellcheck. I try to remember to do a replace all on quotation marks and apostrophes because some of the apps I’ll use on my phone or iPad on the run do straight ones. I search for “xx” to make sure I don’t have any gaps or missing details left. After so many Kowalski books, I have a bad habit of making ALL the towns Whitford and, after the second or third time I caught myself, I made a note to search for it before turning it in. I changed a character’s name and made a note to search for the old one. I’ll make a note of a secondary character’s name rather than keep searching for it. And I do a run down of the chapter numbers when I’m done because I move things around so much they’re almost always screwed up.
I would tell you what “no time for tacos” means, but I don’t remember. Sometimes I accidentally use the story sheet for a scratch pad and the note has nothing to do with the book and two weeks later I’m really confused. Or…it might be from the book. You should read the book and find out.