My daughter and I recently presented at a conference for the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA). My daughter is in the field of market research. I know. You’re wondering what I might bring to that conversation. It was a team effort.
Our topic? Using storytelling tips and techniques to write compelling research reports. We titled it Getting Beyond “Once Upon a Time.” It’s what happens when you bring a qualitative researcher and a novelist together around a dinner table.
One of the areas we discussed was that of organizing the essential elements of the report, or for me, the pivotal scenes. We also talked about rhythm and weight. It occurs to me these foundational components are similar to learning to dance. Learning the steps or figures in sequence, moving to the rhythm of the music, and being aware of the weighted foot to know where to begin the next movement.
Today I want to talk a bit about these pieces as we craft our novels. You see, preparing for this conference was a good reminder for me about what to do as I write and revise. And I learned a few new tricks to employ.
Outlining may be as simple as a list of bullet points or as complex as your tenth grade teacher expected to find in your homework assignment. Outlining is usually implemented by “planners,” though I’ve talked with “pantsers” who tell me they at least have an idea of how the story begins and the general direction of where it is going. A sort of mental outline of the sequence of events.
Another, more visual tool is to use storyboarding. Traditional storyboarding for me is create eight to ten pivotal scenes that move my story from Point A to Point Z. I sometimes draw stick figures for each scene to identify the characters essential to that scene. My storyboarding is not elaborate by any means. I’m talking about 3x5 cards here. My daughter brought to the forefront the notion of creating visuals for the storyboard by using Power Point. What a great idea! I can put together a slide for each pivotal scene. I can include characters and text I can actually read (My handwriting is sometimes more of a mystery than any plot I might concoct.) I’ll address storyboarding more in next week’s blog post. By the way, Scrivener offers you an embedded tool to create a storyboard.
I call this keeping the flow of the story moving in the right direction. It helps the writer avoid the sagging middle. My suggestion to the researchers in the room is the same as my suggesting to you as you draft your novel. When the story begins to bog down, write shorter sentences. Shorter sentences trigger the reader’s brain to continue to read. They signal, “something is about to happen—hang in there.” Divide that compound sentence into two sentences. Take that list of items in a series and break it up into smaller segments. Read what you write out loud. You’ll hear the rhythm of the story as it unfolds to the reader.
What is most important to the story line? For these researchers, we pointed out that while they may have collected some interesting data, it is important to not let the essential information be crowded out by minor details, no matter how interesting it may appear. Think about it. Have you had times when the subplot seemed to be taking over the main plot of your book? Have your supporting characters developed into ruling tyrants? You may need to think about where you spend your time…or a sequel.
Step-by-Step, Rhythm, and Weight. Used properly, your book will shine. So might your dancing.