Organization, multi-level lists, and the numbers of editing

Hello dear readers.

Shall I express my sincere apologies for posting nothing but writing prompts for the last number of weeks? I shan’t, for I was deep within a story that demanded every moment of focus and creativity, and I happily neglected this blog. The Nereid is the story that emerged from the rough, disorganized, hopelessly bland mass of words I squished out of my mind from NaNoWriMo 2013. In all honesty, I had intended to pick it up again in January… but when I read it through I could not mentally traverse the leagues of work that remained to be done to salvage it.

Then, about a month ago, something clicked. And then something else clicked. Then things were clicking all over the place, like being surrounded by people cracking their knuckles (except, you know, in a pleasant and productive kind of way…), and I was able to move forward on the project.

The greatest issue I was having with my story was how it would be told through time. My draft was a hodge-podge of different techniques.

Inspired by my new job, which at times requires me to format hundred-page, multi-level documents, I did a timeline of my story – from the beginning of time until a generation past its “conclusion” – and assigned each level of the story a number.

For example (not actually the plot of The Nereid):

Part 1: Pre-history of the protagonist
Timeline: 2002-2027
Section 1.1: Protagonist has an accident-prone childhood
Chapter 1.1.1: Protagonist falls down the stairs
Chapter 1.1.2: Protagonist gets hit by a car
Chapter 1.1.3: Protagonist gets hit by a meteor
Section 1.2: Protagonist has a period of incredibly graceful teenage years
Chapter 1.2.1: Protagonist is forced to take dance lessons in high school gym class, and has natural talent
Chapter 1.2.2: Protagonist auditions for a reality dance show
Part 2:  Main body of the story
Timeline: 2027-2034

When I created a timeline for my story, I listed the general plot points that coordinated with each Part, Section, and Chapter in increasing detail. Then, where applicable, I pasted any corresponding parts of my NaNoWriMo draft in the appropriate chapter.

This was an incredibly useful process that I’ve never used before. This multi-level timeline allowed me to see the progression of events from the first moment to the last, assess where my plot was fuzzy or inconsistent, see the places in the story where I have opportunities for character and plot development, and – perhaps most importantly – get a good sense of how much work there still is to do. But my favourite thing about working in these numbered portions is how simple it is to manage my master file. Believe me. It’s a dream.

Until next time, readers.

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