Plotting with Post-it Notes helps you structure your story. Not only does it help keep you focused on where you’re going, but it keeps you from sitting there wondering what to write next. You can see the whole picture of the story, so you can judge if it’s balanced with the major action happening with the main characters, and if you’re writing suspense you have included enough romance along with the danger.
To start, a three-way project cardboard works best, but you can use a large, flat poster board about two and a half feet by three feet. Estimate the number of chapters you’ll write and mark the cardboard off into rectangles, one for each chapter. Mine has room for twenty-four chapters.
Now for the basic plan for the story. Pick your characters, their goals, their positive attributes and flaws. The flaws will be what gets them into trouble and the troubles will challenge them to change as the stakes for not changing grow higher. Their decisions and their strengths are what will help them to act to win their goals and deserve them after all the struggles you put them through. In a romance, both main characters need one trait that will clash with the other and become things they will have to compromise on or learn to live with. It’s best to give each main character an inner conflict that stands in the way of true romance. Little by little, as the story goes on, each main character can resolve the problem to free him or her (or both) for true love.
You need to pick the ending you’ll aim toward. Of course, in romance, it’s the happy ever after. In romantic suspense, you have to catch the bad guys, save the town or situation from disaster, and then give the hero and heroine their happy ever after.
Now get out your Post-it-Notes in several colors. I use pink for the heroine, blue for the hero, orange for the villain or danger, and purple for romance. You could add green or yellow for setting, or use it for an important secondary character. On each note, write a phrase showing what you want to happen. In the first chapter, you’ll want the hero and heroine to meet (or meet again) and be affected by some change that surprises him or her or both and calls for immediate action, something different from what they have been doing. Choose the right time for snippets of backstory, perhaps something one character tells the other about.
Phrases for scenes written on the notes could include: scene showing heroine’s character flaw, scene showing hero’s character flaw, scenes to show her learning flaw is obstacle to goal, scenes to show character realizing flaw is obstacle to winning at love, scene to show she has changed, scenes to show progress of romance such as:
a. First kiss
b. Fondling and caressing
c. Almost love scene
d. Full love scene or more if desired
However, you may find when you are writing the story, the characters may not be ready for a kiss or a love scene, depending on how the heroine and the hero are relating to each other at that time. Historical writer, Emma Merritt, said she was ready to write a love scene, but her hero wouldn’t do it then. If your characters act like that, then move the note to another chapter and continue writing.
Include obstacles to goal, obstacles to romance, and in romantic suspense, dangers to their safety. Make each obstacle harder to overcome than the one before. Western writer, Jack Bickham, (Apple Dumpling Gang) advised letting your character lose each conflict or if he or she wins, add a disappointing complication. That way, the reader will root for the poor heroine or hero. Include the emotion your character feels from setbacks. You can write in disappointment, anger, heartbreak, joy, etc. on the notes, but when you are writing the story, you’ll want to show such emotion by their thoughts and actions without mentioning the emotion itself.
Include the climax near the end when the stakes are high, and let the hero and heroine win this conflict. Include scenes to show each has overcome the flaw so they will be changed persons.
If you have a black moment when all seems lost, put it near the end and show lots of emotion. Then the reader will worry for your characters and cheer when everything comes out all right.
If you’re writing romantic suspense, be sure to include the downfall of the bad guys so the heroine and hero are safe and free to confess their love their love for a happy ever after.
If you write your story scenes and post them on a story board, you won’t wonder what to write next, writing will be easier, and you are more likely to stay focused on what needs to happen next in your story. Also, you’ll be able to see if you’ve balanced the parts of the story so it flows well without spending a lot of chapters on the hero or heroine, when they should be together most of the time.
Carolyn Rae has had eight romantic suspense novels published. Her most recent one is PRETEND PRINCESS, a modern version of the prince and the pauper, where a look-alike, missionary’s daughter is hired to take the place of a missing princess until the real one can be found. Tricia worries she won’t be able to stand in for the princess, but then she falls for the prince, who is supposed to marry a titled lady instead of a commoner.
See below for detailed outline to print and keep for reference.
Detailed Outline to copy and print for reference by Carolyn Rae
I. Why Use a Story Board
A. Prompts you what to write about next
B. Helps keep you on track
C. Helps you structure the story and evaluate it
1. Pick when to have first kiss and love scenes
a. You may have to adjust the timing as you write if it doesn’t feel right
2. Aim scenes toward the end, keep action moving in that direction
3. Add “plants” – a gun to be used later, a thematic symbol
4. Position the dark moment if you have one
II. How to Use a Story Board
A. Buy a large white cardboard or 3-way poster board for projects
B. Mark off into chapters
C. Choose characters, goals, flaws and situation to begin story
a. introduce problem in first chapter
D. Decide ending to aim for
E. Buy Post-it Notes in several colors 2X 2 or 3X3
F. I use these colors
1. Pink for heroine
2. Blue for hero
3. Lavender for romance
4. Orange for villain or danger (to romance or characters)
G. Write scenes on each note
a. If lengthy, can set margins to 2 inches, type note, print, then staple to note
1. Write scenes in 1 -3 phrases (mention setbacks and obstacles)
2. Add emotion character feels from setbacks
3. Write scenes to show heroine’s character flaw
4. Write scenes to show her learning flaw is obstacle to goal
5. Write scenes to show her realizing flaw is obstacle to winning at love
6. Write scenes to show she has changed
7. Write scenes mentioned in 3 – 6 for hero
8. Write scenes to show progress of romance
e. First kiss
f. Fondling and caressing
g. Almost love scene
h. Full love scene or more if desired.
9. Write Climax – critical moment, show high stakes if lose
10. Write black moment when everything seems lost (optional)
11. Tie up suspense before you resolve the romance
12. Check the balance of the colors to be sure you have enough scenes of each type – some for hero’s growth, some for heroine’s growth, progress of romance
13. Write resolution
a. Be sure to tie up all loose ends and questions, even if there’s a sequel
H. Judging balance
1. Large amount of one color shows lots of one character’s viewpoint at a time
2. Too little purple shows you haven’t focused enough on the romance