What I'm reading: 8th Confession, by James Patterson
I've continued working with my modified story board, and I'm still liking it. I know there's nothing this method does that a computer program can't do – and perhaps do better – but I like the "change of media" approach.
Since last time, I've gone back and started another thing to track: Where. My chapters each contain at least two POV scenes (I haven't jumped on the Patterson bandwagon with 2-3 page "chapters" instead of scene breaks within chapters).
The colors on the storyboard tell me "who" at a glance. These are my larger stickies, and they summarize the plot points, and from which character's POV that scene takes place. I've got Green for Gordon, Pink for Megan, and Blue for Justin. I started with each character having a POV scene in each chapter, but as the mystery threads are demanding more page time, I've cut that back. Right now, Gordon, my small town police chief, has a scene in every chapter since chapter 8.
I can look at my board and see that his character wasn't on the page much at first – a brief introductory scene in chapter 1, and then he doesn't appear again until chapter 4. I may have to re-think that, because if he's the cop, he should be involved in solving the mystery. But there's no 'rule' about this – I've read a number of books where the detective won't show up for several chapters. I prefer not showing the villain's POV, and usually the 'delayed detective' scenario starts with showing the reader the crime. But until I finish writing this, I'm going to stick to my "good guy's POV" preference, and decide later if I need some more foreshadowing with my cop sooner.
The little stickies (no real color code for them) on my board are plot points or clues or things to remember. They start out on my idea board, then migrate to the plotting board as they're introduced. Once I've covered them, I can toss them. But I like the reminders that show me where a plot point was introduced. Right now, I have a little stickie reminding me to check the timeframe for the press conference. (And I'll admit, a lot of these little stickies actually get their start on the plotting board. Far be it from me to restrict what happens on the page to what I've stuck on my idea board. If something pops up, I'll make a note of it as I go.)
I'm hoping this visual approach will help me remember details. I've read some books where threads have been dropped, or attention to details was lacking. For example, a hero with a broken leg that's only a problem for him for the next chapter. Somehow, his cast seems to disappear. Making a note that I've given Megan a bump on the head and a sore wrist will make sure I deal with her injuries in a logical manner. If I need to, I can go back and increase or decrease the severity of the injury, but once it's established, I'm obligated to keep things consistent.
Another example: the power failure creating the plot point that there is total darkness. No moonlight, nothing. It's a great way to show some physical contact between hero and heroine, but when they take that a step further and are in the midst of making love, all of a sudden he can see the color of her eyes, or her smile. Nope. If it's dark, it's dark. Easy enough to research from a darkened bedroom. It's a minor hiccup, but it shows inconsistency.
Or the importance of finding out if a character has a surgically implanted locator chip. It's stressed as being a vital clue that could provide a lead to the villain. But we never see if they actually found one in the character. And if they did, somewhere between the pages, did the chip give them the information they needed? They ended up not needing it, but for me, it was a dropped thread and made me go back to see if I missed it. I tried. Several times, but never found it. (Advantage of e-books: you can search for words!)
Adding authenticity, local color, interesting details, can connect with a reader. But when is something window dressing, and when does it help the story? A reader likes to see there's a payoff for remembering those details. And a mystery writer tries to hide the important ones!
Having read Lee Child's most recent release, Gone Tomorrow, I'm impressed by how he uses every detail. When a fellow passenger rambles on about the different kinds of subway cars in New York, it's not idle conversation. That tidbit shows up front and center later on. And even the little things, that might not be plot points, such as the origin of the use of "Hello" to answer the phone will appear, letting the reader know that the character was paying attention, too.
I can't pretend to be of Child's caliber, but I hope by noting little details, such as the fact that Justin carries a handkerchief, I'll make sure it shows up again. And that since I've established limited cell phone coverage in some of my scene locations, I don't have the phone work when I need them and not when I don't.
As for my new "Where" stickies: I'm jotting down where each scene takes place. It's important to keep things moving, not only with the pace of the story, but also the action of the plot. A change of scenery keeps things from stagnating. This way, I can tell exactly where my characters are in each scene at a glance, and decide if I need to move them around more. Since my characters aren't always in the same place at the same time, I'm less likely to lose one.
Tomorrow, my guest is author Skhye Moncrief, who's sharing some fascinating tidbits about things medieval. Be sure to drop by and find out how to win some summer reading material.