The Post-It Note Code

Purple is for plot.

Fluorescent green is for character arcs and character change.

Yellow is for the scene’s mission, character growth, and contextual significance.

Pink is for style.

My editor sent me her final editorial letter earlier this week with excellent criticism.  Her compliments were amazing.  I was so thankful for them.

But her criticism invigorated me.

I knew I had problems with my novel.  I knew that I was nowhere close to perfect.  And I was okay with knowing I had problems with my novel. But after 12 years, I just found that diving into the piece was wearying to my soul.  I just wanted to know how to improve.

I’ve been reading books, magazines, blogs, and articles about self-editing.  I’ve worked with critique groups and beta readers and I’M NOT COMPLAINING.

I just knew that I was missing something, that the pieces weren’t falling together and this puzzle I was staring at was not fitting.

And then the letter arrived.  And it was like God spoke and I finally listened.

Too many adverbs…cut.

Too many metaphors and similes….I am sharpening my knife and finding my tissues.  

Not enough character growth…

Scenes that become repetitive because the characters don’t grow…

I received the letter Monday….Tuesday?  I can’t remember.  I received it in the evening and read it greedily (eek…an adverb).  I nearly hugged my  computer, I was so happy with the critiques.  I understood.  I got it.

I am an organic writer.  I find an idea and chase it as hard as I can.  But this can mean a sense of disjointment between the idea’s origin and its conclusion.  And going back to the beginning and trying to chase out the frayed threads is so hard.  I can’t see it all.

I finally broke down, though, and sort of constructed an outline.  Actually, it’s more like a tactile flow chart, a pop-up book of thoughts and ideas.  I taped together six or so sheets of legal pad paper and started writing out scenes on post-it notes.  I lined them up and then started tier-ing them together.  Colors became meaning; thoughts became concrete.

Last night, my writing partner and I looked at scenes, re-read my editor’s letter, and answered questions…

  1.  What is the scene’s mission?
  2. How do the character’s grow?
  3. How does the scene relate to the plot’s/novel’s context?
  4. How does the scene push the novel forward.

I scribbled as fast as I could as ideas fell from both of us.  Huddled over an accordion of dreams and ideas, we talked our way through points.

I love this.  I love this experience.  I love the fact that I am using Post-It Notes because I can easily lift and shift.  No anxieties about permanence.  I can just change as needed.

I am chasing this dream.  Hard and sort of fast.  I have my thoughts.  I have my ideas.  I have my Post-It-Note pop-up book  that looks tacky and amazing.

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