Previously I’ve written about how writing has not gone well for me in the past…well, in a while. And because the act of Not Being Able To Write can lead to this writer’s perennial friend Self Doubt getting up from the couch behind her writing desk to hover over her shoulders as she engages in the act of Not Writing, I’ve been trying to unstick myself.
I’ve amassed a stack of index cards. Well intentioned index cards I carry everywhere. Two inches at least, rubber-banded index cards. I even color coded them to indicate different scenes and characters, questions versus inspiring quotes. It was out of hand. So I started to work my way through them, transcribing the contents from index card to a Word document, and a natural order started to emerge.
A few years ago, I read a book called “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting” by Syd Field. I was reminded of it by The Flexible Persona’s Cheska Avery Lynn. Yes, the book is about screenplays and not novelwork. And yes, it utilizes a traditional three-act structure. Since then, I’ve had the idea of transferring my novel to Field’s Paradigm, but like all aspects of Not Being Able To Write, I, uh, hadn’t gotten to it yet. Something about it made the novel feel manageable, less like an amorphous swirling abstract beast and more like something I could tackle with the right focus. On Field’s Paradigm, I needed to know four things: the beginning, the ending, the plot point at the end of Act I and the plot point at the end of Act II. With only four things I could start to write my novel (again, or again again, but who’s counting?).
As my stack of index cards shrank, my thoughts started to sort into groups and from the groupings I could see scenes and from the scenes I could see the beginning, the ending, the first plot point and the second plot point.
Field advocates for using index cards, fourteen of them for Act I (what he calls The Beginning), plus 28 for Act II (Conflict / Confrontation) and another fourteen for Act III (Resolution). I’d had enough with index cards, so I found a large piece of paper, some color coded post-it notes, a ruler and a good pen and started to map out my novel on Field’s Paradigm. And something close to magic happened:
I went from Not Being Able To Write, the feeling of a dry well, to Being Able To Write, in an instant. The tap had turned on for me. The ideas were flowing. My well was full. Etc. Etc. Etc.
In the last two years of working on this novel, I haven’t been able to see past something like Act I, but now I know how, provided I have a traditional three-act structure, Act II could end. I feel as though I have all the puzzle pieces, the right number of characters and settings, good scenes that I can work through with focus. I don’t know how it will end, but I don’t care. It’s part of the fun — I’ll work out the rest as I continue to research, learn and grow as a storyteller.
Here’s more information on Syd Field’s Paradigm: https://sydfield.com/syd_resources/the-paradigm-worksheet/
Melissa Koss is a Senior Associate Fiction Editor for The Flexible Persona.