Structuring your novel with the post-it method

I meant to talk about something else, but over the past few weeks I’ve found myself explaining this method so often that I just decided to write it out so I could have a link to post. Here it goes!!

The “post-it method” is, I find, the easiest and most efficient way to come up with an outline for your novel. Its non-linear process helps naturally eliminate surplus or nonessential scenes because you tend not to come up with them in the first place, as opposed to when you’re working in a linear fashion and constantly have to come up with what happens next.

All you need is a pen and a pack of post-its (or masking tape and index card, or sticky tack and cut up pieces of paper, you get the idea… basically something you can stick to a wall and remove and reposition easily, or a software that allows you to do that, even Word with cut and paste works great) and a piece of blank wall. I have used the staircase, the headboard to my bed, my kitchen cabinets… there’s always a space in your house that you can use to do this. And don’t worry about needing to have it up there for a couple of days or more; this method is so easy you should be spending a lot less time on your outlines.

Step 1: timelines

The first thing I want you to do is if you know you’re going to have subplots, divide your space into the amount of “timelines” equivalent to these subplots.

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Behold my kitchen cabinets, and the low-battery induced bad lighting!

Step 2: the best scenes

Next, you should write out your favorite scenes on individual post-its. We all have a few scenes in our heads that we KNOW are going to happen when we come up with a story, the ones we’re excited about. Start with those, they’re likely to be pivotal, and well, you’re excited about them, so you might as well! Don’t write out the full scene; just one sentence summarizing the main action in that scene.

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Behold my horrible handwriting, and more badly lit kitchen cabinets!!

Step 3: filling in the blanks

Put your best scenes up in the timelines where they belong in relative order of causality. Even if you’re doing anti-structure, your outline should be done in order of causality just to make sure you’ve wrapped up anything; you can deconstruct it later.

Once you’ve done that, comes the hardest part (and it’s really not that bad). You need to fill the spaces in between your best scenes so that the reader has all the information that they need to appreciate/understand those scenes (and obviously, the climax, if it wasn’t part of those scenes). That can be events, character development, etc. (If you’re wondering about that, you can read my posts about scenes and my post about exposition.) Come up with all the scenes that you need to fill in that information, and put them up there, until your main plot and all your subplots are wrapped up nicely and there are no loose ends.

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Ok so this is the broad lines of a story whipped up in 15 minutes for the purpose of writing this post. Typically a novel would have around 30-40 post-its (at a rate of one post-it per scene), if you’re going for a 70-80k average.

Step 4: putting it all together

That is the easiest part. Basically, take all your timelines, and put them together in one great timeline, deciding which scenes are merged, which bits of timelines interact with others, etc, creating the natural rhythm of your story. This is also the part where you can deconstruct your timelines, in the case of an anti-structure storyline (as in Memento, Pulp Fiction, etc.)

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Why are some of these post-its stuck on one another? I merged some scenes. You might find that you need to do that too.

Step 5: get that stuff off the wall before your child eats it or your roommate throws it away

If I’m lazy, I usually take down the post-it notes and stick them directly in a book, in the order they go in. Then, because I don’t want to lose that book, eventually I can transcribe that outline to Word (or whatever software you are using) and BACK IT UP. And you have an outline.

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More horrible handwriting! And there’s my lens cover for my no-battery camera!

I hope this is helpful in its very crude and non-witty way.

Interview on Ottawa Writes podcast

Hello everyone! Last week I gave an interview to Kevin T. Johns for his awesome podcast, Ottawa Writes. We talked about many things, mainly the release of my newest book, Kindred Spirits, the themes which I discuss in my writing, my crazy productivity, my involvement in Renaissance Press, and the importance of a writing community. In the beginning of the podcast he also discusses Goodreads reviews. You can listen to it here!!

Book launch!!

Please join me for the launch of my latest book, Kindred Spirits, the third novel in the Family by Choice series!

kscoverSaturday October 25th 2014, 3:00-5:00 PM at the Comic Book Shoppe 2 (228 Bank St, Ottawa, ON, Canada)

There will be free candy, because, HALLOWEEN, but also…

!!!COSTUME CONTEST!!!!

Because I’m a big baby and I LOVE dressing up, I suggested this… and people went with it!!! But only if this was optional. So yes it is optional, but be convinced that I ABSOLUTELY will be wearing a costume – and I will post pictures here after the fact to prove it!!

Come dressed as your favorite superpowered character, and there will be a prize for the best costume! 

Excited? Well, I am. Please come share the happy!

 

If you’re on Facebook, please join, like and share the event!

Free book, anyone?

Are you on Goodreads? There is a giveaway right now to win one of two signed paperback copies of my newest book, Kindred Spirits, third in the Family by Choice series. All you have to do is click here, then scroll down and find the “enter to win” button, and click on that! And if you win… don’t forget that the best thing you can do to support authors you love is to leave a review!

Monsters in Horror Fiction

As some of you may know, I participated in The Conference for Canadian Content in Speculative Art and Literature last weekend, and spoke on a few panels. One of those panels was titled “No More Sparkly Vampires! Scary Monsters in Fiction, and I had the privilege of having a very lively and incredibly interesting conversation with Kevin T. Johns, Timothy Carter, Derek Newman-Stille and Mike Rimar. The conversation started by us describing what monsters mean to us, and went on to be about humanity (or lack thereof) of the characters themselves, the concept of black and white and all the gray areas in between, bullying, and social relationships in general. I’m glad someone filmed it!

 

 

On character motivation and the coming of age story – the burdens we choose

I was starting to update this site for the upcoming release of my third novel, Kindred Spirits, but in the course of doing so I found this guest post I did for my blog tour following the release of Brothers In Arms. My main character for this series, Alex Winters, is very young, but burdened with heavy responsibilities. If a character grows to adulthood over the course of a whole series, is that still a coming of age series? What does becoming an adult even mean? See my answers here.

(EDIT October 23rd 2014: It has come to my attention that the blog hosting this guest post has been taken down, so here is the original post.)

The burdens we choose

The thing about having a protagonist in his teens is that no matter how much experience they have packed in their short life, no matter how mature, you’re almost always dealing with some sort of coming of age story, and the case of Brothers In Arms is not different; in fact, the entire Family By Choice series is geared toward the “coming of age” of its main character, Alex Winters, and each volume is another step on the road to adulthood.

A lot of coming of age stories focus on the process of loss of innocence, but with Alex, innocence was never really there to begin with; after fleeing an abusive home at the age of 14, he spent a good deal of time living on the streets, and was then taken in by a brothel ran by organized crime, all of this long before the beginning of Brothers In Arms. But loss of innocence is only a fraction of what it means to transition from childhood to adulthood; to me, the sense of responsibility is the biggest part of it. I believe that you earn maturity through understanding that your choices and actions have consequences, and that when you take on responsibilities, the decisions you make no longer affect only you, but impact the lives of others.

Alex is a man whose heavy past has not left craving vengeance, but justice; he can’t abide innocents being hurt or abused, and when he sees it happen, he steps in, because with his status and special abilities, he is able to intercede in their favor and often save them from a bad situation they may have been stuck in for a very long time, so long, sometimes, that it becomes their way of life. He did it when he saved the kids from the brothel, and in Brothers In Arms, he does it again with another group of people he meets who believe they have no options.

In Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, the fox says “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” This is true because when you take it upon yourself to change someone’s life forever, even if it is for the better, you owe it to them to make sure they will get by afterward; in Alex’s case, when rescuing someone from a bad situation, he also becomes responsible for making sure that they stay all right long enough to stand on their own. After all, if you do not take responsibility for those whose lives you changed because of your principles, you only cared about your principles, not the welfare of the people whose life they affect. As Alex himself put it in Brothers In Arms: “What’s the point of rescuing anyone if I’m just going to abandon them afterwards?”

The cornerstone of the coming of age story is that the character goes through a deep, often multi-level personal change, which brings him to “adulthood”. For Alex, that change takes many forms, and a very long time, but one important aspect of it is that he cannot just be a one-time hero; that really saving someone is a long-term effort rather than a one-time heroic deed, that it takes a long time and a lot of effort, and that it is seldom successful when done anonymously, without developing some kind of relationship to the people you are trying to help.