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How Filling out a Form Can Help Perfect Your Novel

Okay, I know the title has already gotten you going “wha???  Forms?” Yes, forms. Why, because it’s a great way to trick your left brain. You’re looking down the barrel of your next revision and you’d rather pull out your toe nails, right? Instead, tell yourself this, “it’s just a silly one page form, how hard is that going to be? And besides, it’s not writing.” And that is the trick. It is not “writing” per se, but I designed this form so you can do a couple of things:

  1. Focus on each individual scene in your novel
  2. Have one place to make notes and new ideas instead of scribbling it a bulky printed manuscript
  3. Help design your plot and keep track of sub plots at the same time

I call this thing the Master Plot Profile, and you can just think of it as an index card on steroids. Another reason why I created it is because my background is in producing television shows. Producing is a fancy way of just keeping track of a bucket load of details. Creating scenes on paper is one thing, but when you actually want to shoot it on film or video, that takes time and money. Since you don’t want to waste time, you need to answer all sorts of questions,  like where are we shooting today, who needs to be here, what props do we need. In the “biz” both for television and films, producer create what’s called a “call sheet” for each day of shooting. Because I think it would help you guys to begin to think like you are the movie producer/director for the movie that will run in your reader’s mind, I figured why not make a “call sheet” for each scene in your book.

This is an early version of the worksheet that I used for my own novel. Note all the ideas and changes ;-)
This is an early version of the worksheet that I used for my own novel. Note all the ideas and changes 😉

But I didn’t stop there. As a director, you need to learn how to work with your actors. In this case, the characters in your novel. I’ve included some key questions to pin point your point of view character’s motivation in the scene? What does she really want to get out of this scene? What conflict gets in her way.

The idea is you fill out a form for ever scene in your book. Sounds like a lot of work, but if you are dealing with an overwhelming first draft, it’s a great tool to get organized. It’s also a litmus test. If you check your scene and find that there is nothing in it that meets the criteria, then maybe you need to re-think the scene or incorporate it into a different scene.

The other benefit is instead of flipping through a monster 400 pages of stuff, you now have maybe 60 – 75 pages that are much easier to flip through. Make a change in scene 35 that has to be reflected in scene 17? No problem, flip some pages and scribble in your notes. Yes, you need to do this by hand, but I know often times ideas pop in my head and I’m always scrambling to get it down quickly. Computers take time to warm up and this way you can scribble, re-write, revise all in one place.

seriously, which binder would you rather flip through when you're rejigging the plot?
seriously, which binder would you rather flip through when you’re rejigging the plot?

And let’s face it, we don’t always have time to work on our novel. Life gets in the way and let’s say it’s been a week since you had the chance to work on it. Where did you leave off? What was the last scene I was working on? Use a post it note to mark where you left off and now you can jump right back in.

I will be premiering this worksheet and another one to help you with revisions at WANACon, the oh so fabulous on-line writers conference. (Newsflash: you can sign up for Day 1 or Day 2 separately!) My session will be held Saturday, October 5th at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time

Once the class is over (and once I figure out the tech part of it) I’ll post the forms here for you guys to download and play with. In the meantime, here’s a photo.

master plot photo

Do you think something like this would help you? If you have any questions, please feel free to post them here, or send me an email, rheller@wanaitl.com.  Thanks so much for stopping by!