Tag Archives: writing exercises

Bischoff Blueprint Part 1

The thing about being writing buddies with Kait Nolan is that she’s always kicking my butt to do things. She’s a lot more patient about it than I would be, gently mentioning something to me 5-6 times (ok, probably more), to which I reply: yes, good idea, I’ll do that (read: some day, when it’s perfect, and the internet is down so I can’t be distracted…). And then, finally, she comes up with something that tells me I really need to just get it done, before I’m good and ready, because that never really happens.

So today my story blueprint went into the virtual world. Look up, see the new tab for Downloads? Click there, find the link. Click the link, the little box comes up–you know what to do. If you don’t, ask. It’s a Word doc right now. If you need some other format, again, ask.

Ok, so what the heck is this thing? This is what you’re asking yourself after you’ve opened it and gone OMG, I don’t want to fill this thing out. And maybe you really don’t. There’s no one right way–that’s why we call it art. But this is a way that works for me, and if you’ve been wishing for something that would take you by the hand and guide you through a process of fleshing out that spark of idea you’ve got–without staring at a blank screen, or instead of writing into what you think might be a story but winds up thousands of words with spider plantish tentacles of tangents and never come to a satisfactory conclusion… You see where I’m going. Try it. Maybe you’ll like it.

This is not intended to be the kind of thing that you complete in a sitting. Ideally, thoughts about the next story are coming to you, even as you’re finishing off the one before it.  This is a place you can start working through some of those ideas, or at least recording some notes, hopefully in a way that doesn’t pull you away from the current project and into Shiny New Book. Pace yourself. Stop when you’re stuck. Set goals and know that even if you’re not writing prose yet, as long as you’ve done some work here, you’re still getting work done. This is part of writing. It totally counts.

I don’t want to leave you with a lame introduction-only post and promise you we’ll get started tomorrow. We all want to get started today. So I’ll leave it at that except to say that if you’ve really given this a try and it’s not working, throw it out. Throw out the parts that aren’t making sense for you. Re-arrange. Take all my numbers and change them to bullets (I actually only use numbers because Word’s auto-formatting stuff confuses me and the bullets never wind up how I want them).


The way that this grows, from that initial spark through the production of a scene-by-scene outline, comes from an article I really enjoyed and got me excited from the first time I read it: How To Write a Novel: The Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson. He has ten steps for developing a novel, beginning with a one-sentence summary of your idea, and building out from there, adding and adding, growing your work outward through a series of exercises that add detail, until you’ve got everything you need to sit down and write the hell out of the thing.

It didn’t work for me. I got it when I read it. On some level it was that internal Yes! for me. But there were still some important gaps in my education. While some of my stories seemed to hold together, others fell apart. But even though I hadn’t read the article in a long time when I really got serious about this blueprint thing, skimming through it today I can see how much it stuck with me.

Step 1: Initial Concept

  1. What is the beginning concept or inspiration for this story?
  2. What do you know about the main characters? List some wants/needs and fears.
  3. What do you know about the story world?
  4. What do you know about the story problem?

As you can see, these are just really basic questions about what you know so far. You’re just getting started, so you don’t have to have all the answers, and the answers you have don’t need to be right. They can change. They probably will. They probably should. For now, just write down as much as you know in this moment. Use the heck out of “maybe” and “perhaps”. You can come back and change this at any time, or you might leave it as is just to be able to see how much your story has evolved as you’ve come to understand your characters better, adjusted your ideas to create a richer drama or better structure, developed your story world, etc.

Tomorrow’s post will deal with the next sections: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, and Character Arc. I’ll talk about where my understanding of GMC comes from and how I apply it to my work, as well as how I perceive Character Arc as something that is the same as GMC and also different.


Filed under Blueprint, Blueprint series part 1, links, tips, writing

Progress report: cards

When last I was here I talked about getting into the habit of using index cards– for quick notes, for organizing thoughts, and eventually for getting visual feel for a story.  Since I’ve got a lot of stuff in my head right now, I set a goal for 10 cards a day.

10 cards has been a good amount for me.  Not so many that I’m scribbling for hours, but enough so I feel like I’ve done something.  I now have 30 cards since Saturday.  A handful of them are from a different story that intrigues me, so it’s cool to be able to make some notes on that without jumping right into “sexy new book”.

Some of my cards are for scenes I can see and have a number of points jotted down.  Some are much more vague: need scene where X happens.  Some are plant cards that will probably be merged with another scene card later: need to plant idea Y that pays off later when…

I just started reading Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint by Nancy Kress, so I will probably have some cards on character notes coming along this week.  I have a lot of character stuff written here and there and I don’t plan to copy that stuff to cards.  But I expect to have ideas about several characters in my world and it will be good to jot down notes someplace besides gmail to Kettle.

I’m really enjoying the craft books this year.  I just finished Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell (part of the same Write Great Fiction series).  Kettle bought that one for me for Christmas (I sent her GMC which I also ended up buying for myself), having heard good things about a few books in the series.  To me it was good enough and different enough from other craft books I’ve read or glanced through that I’m intrigued enough to continue in the series.  I should start a page of some reviews of these…

Anyway, a last quick note on the subjects of cards and P&S: At the end of the book, Bell likened building writing skills to building chess skills.  He suggested an exercise in which you read through a book for the pleasure of reading it.  Then you pick it apart, taking copious, scene-by-scene notes on index cards, noting down things that worked for you and didn’t, etc.  You’ll learn by doing the exercise, have the cards for later review, lay out the scene cards to see the structure of the novels, etc.  His exercise has 10 steps which I’m not going to wholesale copy for you (because that’s not nice) but that’s the gist of it.  He suggests doing this for 6 books over a 12-week period.  Time-consuming yes, but learning often is, and I’m intrigued.  I will try it for at least one and see how it goes.

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Filed under books, craft books, ideas, progress update, tools, writing