I’m starting a new series of blog posts as of today, a weekly endeavor, to discuss my process a bit more thoroughly. Each week I’ll feature one notebook (or binder,or file folder, as is the case today) in my massive stack of notes. Mostly these will be cohesive, dedicated to a single story. File folders always will be. Some binders are collections of one type of information for multiple stories, and some notebooks are a mishmash of all sorts of things. Some works, like my large multi-story fan fiction projects, will have multiple posts about them as they have multiple notebook (or other things) dedicated to them.
Today, we’re looking at a fairly simple, fairly representative case: the file folder for my fan fiction, Against the Odds.
In essence, there are two things in the folder for this story: a character list and an outline. For a story plan that’s actually two stories (Against the Odds and the eventual sequel I have yet to title), this doesn’t sound like much, but I’ll break this down a bit.
The first page in the folder is the character list. This can be divided into three sections The top section is a two-column list of Gryffindor students in the Marauder’s year. This includes the names of familiar canon characters (the Marauders, the Prewett brothers, Marlene McKinnon, Lily Evans, Mary MacDonald) and two critical OCs, Sanna Scott (main character) and her best friend Anissa Nelson. Apart from their names, the only information listed here denotes that James Potter is a Chaser, the Prewett brothers are Beaters, Anissa is a Keeper, and Sanna is a Seeker for the Quidditch team.
In the second section, I have another two-column list, this of the siblings of the two OCs. Sanna has three sisters, all marked as Chasers (the youngest for Ravenclaw; the rest are in Gryffindor). Anissa has seven older siblings, one marked deceased. Among these are two Slytherins, three Ravenclaws, and two Hufflepuffs, leaving her the only Gryffindor in the family. Off to the side of these two columns I have a scrawled note that canon character Daisy Hookam is a fourth year who replaces Sanna’s elder sister Grace as Gryffindor Chaser in the second year of the story, after Grace graduates. Thus I have defined necessary familial backstory for the two OCs and developed the Gryffindor Quidditch roster for the extent of the story.
The third section is a multi-column list of offspring between my OC and her eventual husband. I won’t say who that is (because what a spoiler, honestly), but I will say that there will be (outside the scope of the story, mostly) seven children. The list includes their first and middle names, birthdates, Houses, and any additional information required to get a sense of their time in school. Four are Hufflepuffs, two Slytherin, and a Ravenclaw, for example. There are four Quidditch players among them, a Chaser and three Seekers (one of these a Quidditch Captain as well). Five are Prefects, and the eldest becomes Head Girl. I confess, there are dots next to three of the names, and I have absolutely no memory of what those dots denote. I’ll probably make something up when the time comes.
After this first sheet, I have thirteen sheets of paper stapled together: the outline. This outline contains information on two stories. Part One is designated as 57 chapters long, Part Two at 79 chapters plus two epilogues. Here’s where it gets messy.
Most pages are laid out in a similar way. Along the left margin I have the month the chapter takes place in listed, with the year accompanying every January and the top month of each fresh page so I can keep track without flipping back to the most recent January. The story starts in January of 1977, and the last non-epilogue of Part Two is May of 1998. The second epilogue is May 2048, for those interested.
Then I have the chapter number, with three lines dedicated to the three main points to be covered in each chapter. In the top right margin of each page I list the characters in play, which generally includes the characters from the character list and any secondary characters important to the plot. On the first page, for example, I have all the Gryffindors in that year listed, plus Sanna’s sisters, plus the three most important Slytherins in the story (Mulciber, Rosier, and Snape). That’s seventeen people.
As I go from page to page and time passes, I cross off people who die (or are otherwise taken out of the story, but usually they die) and add people who come in as important. On page two, for example, I add Dumbledore and cross off a character I’ve killed. Page three I kill another character. Page four another. On page five three characters are killed, one goes to Azkaban, and a third flees the country. Page six, the last page of Part One, I cross off five characters, three who die, and then Peter and Sirius (whose fate is known to anyone who has read the books and knows what happens to them after Lily and James die). Part two starts up with Sanna, Remus, Dumbledore, Mulciber, Snape, and Sirius (escaped by now) listed, as well as Scrimgeour, Harry, and Arthur Weasley.
Whereas in Part One I continually kill off characters, detracting them from my list, Sanna’s interactions continually expand in Part Two, so while I start off with a list of nine people, two pages later there are fifteen people. Still, we know from the books that characters die, and the last page is the final battle. There are nine people on the last page without their names crossed off, although obviously not the same nine Part Two started with.
I used those lists to remind myself who was available to talk about, and also to remind myself of important events I needed to prepare for and cover, so that as I built my outline I could stay on track. This is a technique I started using relatively recently, and I have to say it has given me a lot of clarity of thought when organizing stories. I first used it when organizing the massive project that is Craving Comfort, and I’m pleased to say that it has worked well for organizing shorter works as well.
So that’s the folder of Against the Odds! I’ll have another folder/notebook/binder next week to analyze!
P.S. If this means anything to anyone, this entire folder was written in emerald green ink.