August 11, 2009


Some writers use index cards to track characters and plot. Others prefer multi-colored Post-Its. While writing the first draft of The Mermaid’s Daughter, I used hand-written scene trackers: diagonal lines on pieces of plain bond paper, with scenes plotted upwards along the line (a reminder to keep increasing the tension), and a different color assigned to each character. It’s a strategy I learned from Martha Alderson at her Blockbuster Plots workshop.

After completing a chapter, I’d tack up the scene tracker around a mermaid sarong draped on the wall behind my desk. It looked nice, but wasn’t suitable for revisions. I needed space I could reach without clambering over bookcases, desks, or file cabinets–which pretty much eliminated every wall in my office.

So, where to put a storyboard that showed the whole book but still allowed easy access while I was deep in revisions?

I considered a huge bulletin board, but that still meant groping around furniture. I wondered about taping the pages to my sole window, but my office faces north and I’m not ready to give up what little sunshine I get in the late afternoon.

The answer came when I stopped focusing on solid surfaces and started thinking about space. Eureka! My office includes an open closet. Now curtains hang where doors once rolled. On these curtains I’ve pinned page protectors to hold chapters and other pertinent parts of my book.

There’s room for the title, and colored pages to show the different sections: beginning (green), middle (yellow), and end (red).

Traffic light colors. An old classroom standby.

I also created a chapter template on my computer–Macintosh, the only way to go–that’s more detailed than the hand-written one. Now I can add, replace, or discard, whatever the story dictates, and print out a new page in seconds. Best of all, when I’m finished, the pages can be stored in a binder for quick reference while I’m working on my sequel (or prequel, as the case may be).

Easy. Any old curtain will do. Cheap. A box of page protectors, a packet of safety pins, and a binder cost less than 10 bucks. Versatile. Changes are a mouse click away.

Hardly glamorous, but it does the job.