Deck The Halls With Strings of Book Scenes


Fa la la la la – okay, since it’s August, I’ll spare you the ear bug. For now.

So I finished my first draft.

Not gonna lie, I watched this much longer than necessary while pretending that Simon Cowell is actually proud of me.

As some of you may know from my previous post, I was having a tough time with this one, mostly because I didn’t strike that balance between plotting and pantsing. This led to much hair-pulling and, worse, a story that didn’t have a clear outline.

To remedy this, I drank a ton of coffee. More than any human should consume. But I did it in the name of my craft!

My alter ego is a caffeinated Sailor Moon. She saves the world one draft at a time.

This gave me the courage (and energy) to mimic some of the great authors of the past and tape scenes from my manuscript to my wall. Because that’s how you get famous.

But, in good ‘ol Sarah fashion, I didn’t stop there. Before grabbing the tape, I marked every scene based on:

To help me keep track of all this, I created Sarah’s Magical Outline Key.

Note: Llamacorns poop rainbows, too.

After all the books I read on writing, I vaguely remembered some other ways to tag scenes, so I left some room on my Magical Outline Key for the future.

Another thing I wanted to do with this was to get a visual picture of my protagonists’ emotional highs and lows. This was one of the major takeaways I got from The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers was that many bestsellers shared similar character-emotion structures.

Say what you will about these titles, sales don’t lie.

Basically, Archer and Jockers ran thousands of books through an algorithm to highlight trends between bestsellers. This resulted in the graph above. The protagonists that catch our hearts generally undergo evenly spaced emotional highs and lows throughout the story. Most of us have already noticed this, at least on an intuitive level, but I like science.

So, using the character emotion tags I placed on each scene, I charted my own story on my wall. I divided the scenes between my main protagonist and her alter ego, because they’re both pretty important to the story. All of this is less scientific, for sure, but hey, at least it looks pretty.

This belongs in the Louvre. Robert Langdon will use it to hunt down some naughty Illuminati.

I know what you’re thinking. This looks nothing like the graph. Please also remember that I’m short, and my arms got tired at the end, thank you very much. Also, I’m not a computer.

There’s still some peaks and valleys, right? And it looks like it could be well spaced, depending on other factors (like my arms not dying).

So yeah, my Bestseller Code idea didn’t work out as well as I’d thought, but I did get to see  a decent visual representation of my manuscript as a whole. It helped me figure out where certain parts of the plot need help, and where to adjust pacing.

Not ashamed to say I’m proud of this. So proud that I wanted some artsy, “I’m a struggling artist” photos with my work:

This is where the coffee really kicked in. Also, I’ve been watching too many telenovelas.

Fellow writers: have you tried something like this with your drafts? How did it go?

*Writing this, I’ve just remembered a tag that I really shouldn’t have forgotten: my findings from my dissertation. This MA is already coming in handy 😀

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