A few months ago, I came across a blog post by Alexandra Sokoloff that detailed how she plots her novels using screenwriting techniques. For that post, she broke down her plot by acts and sequences using the index card and structure grid method.
I read the post several times and decided to purchase her book, Screenwriting Tips for Authors. If you have a collection of books on the craft of writing, you’ll see that much of it is repetitive, but Sokoloff writes in an engaging manner that no matter how many times you’ve read about character arc, you keep turning the page to learn more of how she gets the story down.
I consider myself a cross between a pantser and plotter. I like to have a general idea of where the story is heading. One way is to create a number of scenes and just title them and provide a one line summary (at some point nailing these summaries will be helpful when you begin to write your synopsis). Other than that, I don’t go into micro-plotting because, as in life, shit happens in fiction. In one version your leading man is this charming and funny guy and in the rewrite you realize the story is much improved if he’s a narcissistic prick.
So now that I have these various scenes, I need to organize them into acts, sequences, and climaxes. This is when Sokoloff’s method proves to be a gem. It’s the foundation of your story’s structure, and you can see where all the plot points are laid out.
[A loud voice from the peanut gallery]: So what does this have to do with Scrivener?
Ah, I knew sooner or later someone would ask that. First some history.
Crikey, not one of those long-winded explanations.
I’ll ignore that for now. I wanted the same flexibility, but also the visual quality, of a traditional whiteboard or corkboard. With that in mind, I first turned to Tinderbox, which is a powerful application, but has one helluva learning curve. Visually, it provided what I wanted—
Wait! Are you telling us that we need Tinderbox?
No. I wanted to play around with the application because it helped me see how the story was broken up. If you like to use another application, Literature and Latte’s Scapple works well as do other mind-mapping applications. Tinderbox has more oomph under the hood, and I wanted to see what it does. However, it can be cumbersome and it took me a long time to set up my digital corkboard to look like this:
If you click on it, you’ll see how I’ve broken down, using Sokoloff’s index card technique, by acts, sequences, and climaxes for each act. It looks cool, but it is clunky. The downside is that if you need to add a scene to a sequence, your notes (index card) aren’t locked in place in the container, and they end up moving around. To see them, you end up having to zoom in and out to find them (unless, of course, I figure out a better way to rebuild this).
But I wanted to do something similar in Scrivener where I have this visual. So fiddled with my scenes in the Binder and broke it down into acts, sequences, and climaxes:
As you can see, Sequence 1 in Act I, I’ve expanded it so you can see the scenes. The numbers to the left indicate, Act 1, Sequence 1.
I love this! What a neat idea to break it down this way in the Binder.
The next step is to see it as an index card. Presumably, each scene has a blurb in each text file, so it appears in the Inspector’s synopsis. I want to see the sequences laid out in the corkboard—similar to what I had in Tinderbox.
[Rubbing hands in glee] Yes!
Okay, now I have to manage expectations because the next step is a Mac-only feature.
[Head in hands, wailing] Noooo!
[Another voice from the peanut gallery chirps] I have the Mac version. Please continue.
To see the structure of your story on the corkboard, you can use the Stacked Corkboard feature. Select each sequence by pressing Cmd+clicking on the sequences with your mouse. The Editor will turn into the Corkboard; you’ll see that each selected sequence has its corresponding Corkboard—each one stacked on top of another. At the bottom right of the Corkboard, you’ll see that you can change the layout. I have it vertically stacked with the index cards wrapped.
The result is I have a visual both in the Binder and Corkboard, plus I can make my changes all in one place without having to switch back and forth between applications.