Monday, February 15, 2010

Support Files

I recently received a question about support files. In my status reports, I will sometimes refer to support files, which seem to take on a life of their own and are not part of the final manuscript. So here are some that I use for novels (which may provide some insight into my process). These are from my current work in progress:

00_Forbidden_Work Plan.xlsx
A spreadsheet with charts, timelines, chapter list, metrics from last book (for reference) and other data specific to this book.

27,554 words
Open ended brainstorming. Much of what goes in here is never used, but over time a usable dictionary, character encyclopedia, world encyclopedia and other reference material I use in the writing process.

The outline usually starts in here. When it gets unwieldy, I move it to its own file.

12,294 words
This starts as a template with a pre-determined series of exercises based on Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method -- a quick, fun way of focusing and developing the initial concept and characters using the concept of fractals -- simple, repeating patterns that form a complex structure. Check it out at: The Snowflake Method.

I don’t usually complete every section, and my outline tends to be more detailed that what the Snowflake produces, but many of these steps provide a crosscheck--if I can fill them it succinctly, it means that area is mature, if the I go on too long it means an area needs further brainstorming.

The end result of this process is a query-ready synopsis, good for marketing, good for proposals.

15,638 words
The outline is just what it sounds like. I have a template for each section, and each level (I outline by section, chapter, scene), as well as an area for tracking subplots, and another for tracking mysteries.

I write detailed outlines, often with blow-by blow scenes and snippets of dialogue, and for each scene I list 5-7 Key Points that need to be worked in--this helps keep the writing on track when I actually write the scene.

4,186 words
This bubbles out of the snowflake file, then gets polished and chopped into different lengths -- the full synopsis (~15 pages), a 10 pager, a 5 pager and the dreaded one pager. Right now, all I have is the full synopsis (which is out for the critique group to review).

0 words (so far)

Being paranoid, and wanting to measure how much rework I have on each project, I save all the big items I cut. Not words, sentences, lines of dialogue, but scenes and chapters when they go away or are totally replaced. This gives me a graveyard from which I can resurrect anything I change my mind on, and a file where I can see just how much I have tossed.

On my previous book (Zombie Proof Fence), my cut file ended up with 65,825 words -- yes, I threw out an entire book worth of material. The worst offender: the basement scene which went through 6 very different iterations before I settled on one I was happy with.

So there you have it, more information than you ever really wanted.

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