About five years ago, I learned about structuring your novel. It started when I read Evolution of a Beat Sheet. I found the article quite interesting, and it lined up perfectly with my analyzing/organizing nature.
A Beat Sheet is basically an outline done on a spreadsheet. You can use any structure you want, but a common one that many will testify to is sometimes known as the Three Act Story. In essence, you lay out the most critical parts of your story. Then you start to fill in other scenes. Sooner or later, you have laid out a nice arrangement of your story. From here on, you can start writing your story. Writing a Beat Sheet isn’t easy. I think I spent a year at it. At one stage, I was stalled out because one tiny aspect of my world was unresolved, and it blocked me for some time.
After resolving that, I was suddenly writing at full force. Words flew out of my fingers. The detailed character profiles I had written combined with my structured story made it simple to crank out my novel. Being the software geek that I am, I added the extra ability to estimate total word counts at the end. I spotted half way in that my story was light, so I went back to the spreadsheet and crafted a subplot that happened to fill a big gap in the story. Blam!
Now here I sit, prepping for the Clarksville Writer’s Conference later this week. My plan is to schedule a slot to chat with an agent. I would like to show him my query letter and synopsis to get a read on how good or bad it is. Ever try to take an 80,000 word story and boil it down to 750-1000 words? Yikes! People say this is harder than writing the query.
But I had a secret trick in my backpocket. Each scene summary in the my beat sheet! I grabbed all the text from my beat sheet and pasted it into a document. I swept through it in ten minutes, picking paragraph chunks. Poof! 2800 words that depicts my story end-to-end. Now I just need to walk through it again, clean up the sloppy language, and throw out redundant or unnecessary stuff. This should get it into range for a proper synopsis.
To top it off, I’m hoping this entire process will help lend me towards writing the query itself. This is when I can whip out that one-sentence summary I wrote a long time ago based on the Snowflake method.
Have fun at the conference, Greg! And best of luck on your query.