Using the Scroll Method

I've tried many, many methods for developing a manuscript and still experiment, but I've discovered that the fastest approach for me is what I call the 'Scroll Method'.  It actually consists of two processes, done more-or-less in tandem.

First, I create a new file on my computer, which I will use to actually write my book.  In reality, I already have a "template" file I use, that contains the following:

Twenty chapter headings, labeled logically enough, Chapter One through Chapter Twenty.  I have a few blank lines between each heading, and right before each chapter heading, I insert a section break (in MS Word, this is done by selecting the following from the menu:  Insert / Break and then under Section Break Types, I select:  Next Page. 

Reason:  I insert section breaks so that I can use the menu commands Edit / Goto and use the sections to quickly go to the last section I was working on, since sections will equate to chapters. I also like being able to "see" which chapter I'm working on at all times, by the section number.  Not to mention that it also forces the next chapter to start on a new page, just the way a manuscript is supposed to do.

Second, I create a character grid.  I shamelessly stole this idea from Laura Baker and Robin Perini's wonderful workshop:  Discovering Story Magic.  This grid lets me develop who my characters are, what their goals are, and most important of all, why they want what they want.  The why is the critical thing here, because most of the time, the characters don't even know why they do what they do, or have the goals they have.  More about this grid on my Character Grid page.

Then, going back to the manuscript's file, I then proceed to type in a few critical points that need to be covered for each chapter.  Nothing elaborate, but just enough to remind me what needs to happen in the chapter.  I generally try to have three "things" per chapter.  For example:

The bullets listed for each chapter never stay the same.  Often, I find I have to move them around or delete them and add new ones altogether as the story progresses, but the advantage is that I never start the day facing a blank piece of paper, not knowing what the heck I want to write about, now.  I have a starting place.

At this point, I can start writing.

But wait! you exclaim wildly.  What about that darn scroll you were talking about?  Oh, I start that, also, but right now, I just use pencils...nothing you can't erase.

The Scroll...

I like to use the rolls of continuous paper for FAX machines because they are relatively inexpensive and last forever.  In fact, I'm still using my first roll.  Anyway, I cut off a long piece, maybe about 6 feet long.  This is my  continuity sheet.  I scribble all over it and use it extensively when I'm doing my edits.

At the start of the manuscript, I pencil in the basic timeframes, so I know when things are happening.  This keeps me on target so I don't have strange time anomalies where they suddenly go back in time for hours or days (assuming this is not desired).  As I write, I also add character names, what they are wearing, eye colors, hair colors, important points (such as clues discovered) and so on.  Trivial minor things such as a rich uncle named Bob are also annotated on this sheet, because you never know when you're going to have to refer to him again.

Put anything and everything on this sheet that could cause a continuity problem if you forget it later, including sitting arrangements around a card table, or where people are standing/located at a crucial period.

By the end of the manuscript, you will probably have filled up your 6' (or longer) scroll, and you now have a "visual" representation of your entire manuscript.  You can actually see if you've got problems, particularly sagging middles where nothing is happening.

Then, using this scroll, you can go back and edit/correct anything that needs it.  That's why I do a lot of my "work" on this scroll in pencil - so I can erase it and move things around, later.

That's it.

This method seems to help me quite a bit both during the writing and editing phases, cutting back on how much time it takes me to produce a manuscript, because it helps me keep track of things I need to remember.  I no longer have to waste time trying to find trivial details (what color was that dress my heroine wore when Henry was murdered?) that are buried somewhere in the story.

I hope it works for you, too!  If nothing else, it's a lot of fun to roll that scroll out and see an entire story 'in situ'.



Books by Amy Corwin
The Dead Man's View