The Story Thus Far, Part 2

To pick up where we left off before being so rudely interrupted by the holidays…

Wait, back up for a second. For the curious, here’s a picture of my workspace, from the Ceiling Cat perspective.

Yes, thats a big pink owl on top of my mini. No, I wont tell you why.
Yes, that's a big pink owl on top of my mini. No, I won't tell you why.

This is where I do most, but not all, of my writing. The desk is not always this organized but I’m working on trying to keep my creative space in some shape, to help me work, if not faster, at least more efficiently. Hence the Big Board.

This will get a lot more cluttered, very quickly.
This will get a lot more cluttered, very quickly.

As you can see by the above picture (blurred for your protection[1]) I’m organizing my chapters and scenes using the tried and true note card method.

Each card has a brief scribble noting what should happen in that chapter. The 8 cards in the top left hand corner are the completed chapters while the single card just below those is chapter 9, where I am (and feel as if I always have been). The three cards (and attendant sticky note) below Chapter 9 are chapters 10-12. The four cards bellow those are chapters 13-16, which are the beginning of Act 2. As you can see, I’m breaking out the last third of Act 1 right now.

Act 1 is the Set up. That’s where we introduce the bulk of the characters (all the important ones anyway) and set up the drama that will get complicated in act 2, reversed in act 3 and resolved in act 4.[2] The note cards let me shuffle some ideas around before I even start writing the scene, that way I can tell if I even need the scene, or if I can move the action into another chapter. This makes things easier for me to see where I am and what’s going on, rather than just tying to visualize inside me wee little noggin.

Each act of this story is slotted for 12 chapters. Every 4 chapters makes an episode, with each of the 4 chapters as a miniature act. This, chapter 9 is a set up chapter for what gets complicated in chapter 10, reversed in chapter 11 and resolved (kinda sorta) in chapter 12.

And that’s where I am. I’ve been wandering around in chapter 9, trying to figure out what happens here in relation to what went before and the hundred and one strange ideas I have fr what happens next. You can’t se eit on the blurry picture of The Big Board, but the card for chapter 9 says:

Major Tom moves into a bungalow in the Castro and throws a housewarming party. Hijinks ensue.

This is more of a suggestion, or a hook, but it gives me something on which to focus. It’s a nice little set up. Two months have passed since chapter 8. Tom is settling into the 21 C but is having a few issues, such as a mild case of PTSD. But Salome and his gay neighbors are helping him through it and then along comes Alice Atomo, a friend of Salome’s invited to the housewarming party. Oh, and she’s brought her father with her. Who’s a mad scientist. It sounds sort of like a new story is starting, which it should. This chapter introduces the romantic subplot and, if I play my note cards right, a few other things that will get interesting later.


1. I used the secret Photoshopping skills called “not focusing the camera” to hide the incriminating evidence of my heinous handwriting. It’s blurry not because I’m concerned about people finding out my precious ideas (I do actually want people to read my book) but his post is more about the method I’m using for breaking the story than what the actual story is all about. This clearly is not a secret, as I wouldn’t be writing this if it were.

2. I’m using the modified 4 act structure, based on the the 3 act structure outlined by just about everyone. Most people recognize that act 2 in the 3 act structure is twice as long as act 1 and hinges in the middle on the climax. They dutifully break the act into 2A and 2B. But really it’s 4 acts. So for our purposes, if you read Syd Field or any other story structure guru, when he refers to act 2A, I’m talking about act 2 and when he says Act 2B, I’m talking about act 3. act 5 is right out.[3]

3. Historical anecdote: most plays written before the 19th century had a 5 act structure that was just the same as our 4 act structure but they always added a sort of prologue explaining the set up, called an introduction. You see this in Shakespeare’s plays, especially Romeo and Juliet, where someone comes out and sets the scene for you. By the 19th century, most writers realized this was redundant, as the details of the story could easily let you know where you were and who was doing what, so they dropped the introductory act.