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Title:How To Organise A Story: Icarus Gets Out The Weed Wacker
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Author name: Icarus
Author email: icarus_ancalion@yahoo.com

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A friend asked me how I organise a story, explaining that often when she starts longer pieces, they... start to get out of control. Following is my reply.

Excuse me a minute while I squeal and clap my hands in delight at your question.

1 - Paper or Computer?

I tend to write things on paper first. Just because I allow myself to write hen-scratch notes on paper, but as soon as I start typing, oh... I get all bogged down in description, details. For some reason type-written to me means "done."

2 - Organising Notes (sort of).

I keep notebooks with the name of the Fics inside on the cover. I like bound ones because that way I don't lose my notes (I'm a slob). There's one drawback: I have a hell of a time finding my notes when they're scattered all over the book. But I have a good memory so I do all right, and I usually scratch the name of the fic a note is about underlined above it (my SNAFU notes are scattered all over hell in these books). It's not a perfect system, but it works for me.

I've heard other people (like JKR) keep files with little sheets of paper they can move around and resort. I'm too disorganised for that and am better off just writing in a bound book and having trouble finding it later.

3 - Writing A Short Story
Step One: Hen-scratch notes.

For short stories (and for chapters of novel-length stories) I write them down in quick hen-scratch in my notebooks. Bullet points. That's step one. For example, Hagrid's Hut:

* Ron face looked up at Harry w/that gentle vulnerability that made Harry's throat catch. Couldn't tell if he did this for the sex or just to see Ron like that.
* What're you looking like that for?
* Like what?
* Harry hefted The Book of Eros onto the counter, Ron sort of smiled as the- picked out things they wanted to try.
* Somehow they felt funny about using Hagrid's bed.

It's really sketchy, but I write fast to "capture" the story before it escapes. I don't let the the details, complete sentences or even spelling get in the way of getting the whole thing written out. I just want to get the flow and feel of it while it's still fresh. I'll flesh it out later, change it later. A ten page story might have 2-3 pages of notes. The notes are usually dialogue, characterisation and plot. Maybe a little description, if I have a great image that just must be written -- but mostly not.

Step Two: Typing and fleshing it out.

Then I open up Word and start to type. Since the plot, most of the dialogue and characterisation is written, at this point I just need to flesh out description, write in setting. As I type, I focus on texture, mood, poetic language, pacing.

I find this makes the writing process go pretty fast because by the time you're typing the story, it's essentially already written.

4 - Writing a Novel
Step One: Write an Outline and a Theme

For novel-length stories I write an Outline of the scenes so I can structure the story carefully. I will often 'hen-scratch' a chapter or two first, just to get a feel for the story and then write the outline. Somewhere in there, not necessarily in the beginning I admit, I pick an over-arching Theme for the novel.

Primer, at first the theme was: why won't Dumbledore let Snape teach the Dark Arts?

It changed to: Are the Dark Arts evil? Where is the line between good and evil with the Dark Arts, and how does Harry grow up and learn to decide for himself?

The Outline is not allowed to have detail (no matter how tempting it is). Instead, I write one sentence (okay, sometimes two) that has the main insight for that chapter. I end up writing and rewriting this outline many times as the story changes and fleshes out, or I find I need to rearrange the chapters.

So for Primer to the Dark Arts it looked like this at first (you'll see I changed a lot):

- Dark Magic, w/Snape! Harry had to admit, he was curious
- 1st class in Dark Magic ---> Snape's mystery
- Disappearing notes!
- The rescue of notes - the Book of Eros (I had this chapter written)
- New relationship w/H & R - Avoiding each other! Ron ignores Harry & chases Hrm. (intensely, it irritates her. Harry is relieved, but lonely)
- Snape's lesson Dark Potions - Love Potion is dark magic? Of course. It is a form of madness.
- Ron & Harry fight over nothing / a grope in the dark
- Falls asleep on H's chest -- nearly caught! The Great Escape
- Snape's trick ---> he finds out about H/R
- Snape torments Harry over dinner
- Snape torments Harry in class (watch H. with burning eyes, a hint of a smile playing at the corners of his mouth... but starts calling him Harry. Hand on shoulder.)
- Hermione catches on: finds it amusing
- R & Hrm in R's bed
- Snape hears of R/H fight (or R/Hrm together? late?) - Sympathy, A word of advice
- Dark Lesson - Snape loses control of his lust for power nearly flattening Harry
- Snape nurses Harry himself --> hide the damage
- H/S morning after (I had this chapter already written) (added later in red) - Snape demonstrates how Harry is holding back - Eureka, Success
- H. runs to Dumbledore
- S. is crushed when class is cancelled
- D. requests one more class
- H. performs Dark Magic, bind (added later in red) - Gift... opens it. A glass unicorn blinks up at him. Card in the box says "Don't break it this time."

Step Two: Organise Outline of Scenes into Chapters

After I write the first outline of scenes, I group the scenes loosely into chapters with brackets.

Step Three: Write Chapters As If They Were Short Stories

Once I have the outline sketched out, I start writing the rest of the chapters. I treat the chapters as short stories. I try to make it so they could almost be posted as short stories. Just like for short stories, I write them in hen-scratch notes first and then type them out. I sometimes will write a whole bunch of chapters in hen-scratch notes before I flesh any of them out. Sometimes I'll draw a blank on the next chapter, so I'll just jump ahead and sort out transitions later.

I found that my original list of chapters for Primer was 12 chapters. Then, when I did the Hen-Scratch notes, I added some more Harry/Snape, it was 16. Then, when I typed out a bunch of chapters I needed to resolve a lot between Harry/Ron, Hermione. Then, I skipped ahead, and realised I needed more transitions to get from point A to point B. It steadily climbed from 12 chapter to 27.

5 - When the Outline Doesn't Help
One: Focus The Outline

Sometimes I find that my story feels "out of control" even after I've written the outline. The pacing is off, I'm adding things that I'm not sure how to resolve or how it ties back to the point.

Then what I do is rewrite the outline.

I look back at my Theme and decide what is important to the main plot. Then I underline the Key Chapters where the plot is advanced. Anything that doesn't advance the plot is subject to deletion.

In Primer, the Key chapters were:
- Harry learns of his Dark Arts classes.
- Harry/Ron Book of Eros
- Ron not okay w/it
- Snape learns of Harry/Ron
- Love potion doesn't work
- Snape loses control of lust for Dark Magic, injures Harry
- H/S relationship from Dark Magic class.
- Harry cancels Dark Magic class, Snape is crushed
- Harry does Dark Magic - CLIMACTIC SCENE
- Final scene: resolution. H/S resolved. H/R resolved.

Two: Doublecheck Your Theme

Sometimes, my theme has changed and hit a larger issue in the process. So I have to re-write my theme.

In Primer to the Darks Arts the original theme, why won't Dumbledore let Snape teach the Dark Arts? was too thin and the story out-grew it. I re-read my hen scratch chapter notes and wrote a new theme: Are the Dark Arts evil? Where is the line between good and evil with the Dark Arts?

Looking at my Key Chapters, I realised I had two plots - the Dark Arts, and Harry's relationships. How did that fit with my Dark Arts theme? It felt like it fit, and that was because the story was about Harry growing up and deciding his ethics concerning the Dark Arts and Relationships.

I re-thought it again: Are the Dark Arts evil? Where is the line between good and evil with the Dark Arts, and how does Harry grow up and learn to decide for himself?

The Harry/Ron subplot was tied to the main plot because it drove Harry to Snape. Then the relationship between Harry/Snape forced Harry to decide what to do about his stand on Dark Magic. Ah. It worked.

In Primer, the Key chapters were (main plot is in bold, supporting subplot in regular print):
- Harry learns of his Dark Arts classes.
- Harry/Ron Book of Eros
- Ron not okay w/it, avoid
- Snape learns of Harry/Ron
- Love potion doesn't work
- Snape loses control of lust for Dark Magic, injures Harry
- H/S relationship from Dark Magic class.
- Harry cancels Dark Magic class, Snape is crushed
- Harry does Dark Magic - CLIMACTIC SCENE
- Final scene: resolution. H/S resolved. H/R resolved.

6 - Overview

So that's my process. Yours will probably be different, and each book or chapter even will be different. It probably sounds complicated, but it's really just two steps:

1 - Organise your thoughts before you write.

2 - Periodically step back and look at the big picture.