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Treasure Map…

June 14, 2012

The old joke about men not asking for directions has been around for years (okay…decades). The gist is us guys would rather drive around for hours on end trying to hunt and peck our way to our final destination instead of stopping and asking for directions.

I wish I could say this statement is without merit…*sigh*…but I can’t. We all (yes, women too) have the tendency to wanna get there on our own. Asking for help is sometimes akin to giving up.

When it comes to writing, however, don’t dive into a story without first making a map of where the heck it is you want to go. Failure to do this will ultimately result in you (and your poor reader) wondering around for hours on end. Don’t do that to yourself…or one of your honorable fans.

The image I dropped into this issue is one I found on-line (sorry, I have no idea who to credit this one for other than JK herself…) that shows a page from one of JK Rowling’s notebooks (hey…even the bigwigs take notes). This one is from the Harry Potter series, The Order of the Phoenix.

Story maps don’t have to be elaborate or even very detailed. They can be as simple as an half dozen bullet points on a page indicating the basic flow. Or, they can be more detailed and show exactly when and where a character is supposed to do or find something. The detail is up to you, oh Creative One.

I have done my fair share of these over the years and they have ranged from the basic to the overly detailed. I started out like so many and just dove in. Blah….who needs to think this stuff out, right? The story will flow on its own.


Right. Oh, it flowed, but so does a septic system. I ended up with so many contradictions and dead ends that I was completely frustrated and gave up on the story.

Next I moved on to plot outlines. This allowed me to keep stay creative while having the events flow naturally as I created the final “world”. This approach generally ended with me writing a short story that I would later use as a guide for the full story. This is how Back to Justice was written. This seemed to work.

I then took that approach one step farther and started creating character outlines.Where did so-and-so come from? Were they a high school drop out or did they get their masters degree? Are they right handed or left? Do they have many friends? These became bullet points that help me keep character traits straight as I write. What I have learned by doing this is to not stop the creative process as I write. These characters come to life as we write them. Situations will spark certain results. It’s okay to go back to the outline and add to it. Maybe the character is afraid of spiders. Make a note just in case they have to overcome that later.

I’ve refined that approach over the years and now have one of those silly composition books full of notes and plot outlines. I keep this beside my computer as I write. As new things pop up, I write it down. There is page after page of story outlines, concepts, and even simple titles that may spark a thought later.

The important thing, I guess, is don’t be afraid to create a road map before you begin. Doing so will allow you to be creative without having to constantly worry about keeping track of all of the little details. Give it a try. Your readers will thank you.

From → Writing

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