Color-Coding: A better way to see your Story Threads

In the midst of working on the sequel to Stronghold, the study guide to Stronghold, my NANOWRIMO project, and various shorts, I had a day of free-associative writing wherein I just began to type a story, and I began to fall in love with the idea, and I kept writing. And writing. And writing. After two-three sessions’ time, I had a promising opening to a new, very different book from my first two. I had begun a young-adult romance.

I’ve had a blast writing it. Frankly, I don’t know why I have waited so long to do so. In essence, this novel is a lover-letter to my high school youth group, to its leaders, and to the whole experience of the weekend retreat. In some sense, the work also serves also something of an apology letter to several young ladies whose attendance at said retreats was complicated by my unwelcome romantic pursuits and gestures. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, and I have spread my own loathsome proclivities over a number of different characters of either gender. I’ve tweeted about the process of writing this book–the re-opening of old wounds to pull meaningful and deep emotional moments and also the joys of doing so, being removed from them as I am these days.

Strangegly, however, I have not touched on one of the most fulfilling aspect of this latest process. I think it’s because I’m somewhat embarrassed to have come to this realization so late in my writing career (novice, though it is). I am referring to a means of organizing data and subplots at the outline stage of the story by color-coding arcs and conflicts. I cannot believe how much easier it is to track subplots or story threads when they are designated by color. It makes them pop throughout an outline, shows their constancy (or lack thereof) throughout the storyline, and In the end, provides a wonderful tapestry for the work, making it feel dynamic and complex, despite how intentionally straightforward the plot design is. As an example, I am going to provide you with two portions from my outline, one with color coding, one without. Please note that everything presented here is in shorthand as this comes from the outline, and the final, actual text will have more meat to it. =)

  1. The group arrives at the campground, and an encounter occurs between Ryan and Michelle. He grabs her bag and takes it for her (all the guys do this for all the ladies, but he looks for hers). She wants to focus on God and friends, and she is both obtuse and uninterested in him, though she has some level of odd attraction.
  1. Brian makes the boys grab the women’s luggage.

 

  • Julia comments to this effect.

 

 

  • Tom tries to grab it but Ryan Thwarts him.

 

 

  • Ryan returns, also grabs Leanne’s bag also

 

 

  • Charity watches. Reaches out to Michelle

 

 

  • Ryan and Kenneth comedic encounter 1

 

 

  • The youth attend their first service, during which Ryan is undeterred in his interest. HIn fact, his opinion for her only increases. And he sits near Michelle but next to her. The speaker calls to the students to join the “Eternal Romance”.

 

  1. Brian sits with arm around Cindy. Had Held.

 

  • Julia sits next to Ryan

 

 

  • Tom sits by Michelle. K on other side. Paige sits next to him.

 

 

  • Leanne sits on other side of Ryan

 

 

  • Charity sits behind Michelle

 

  1. The group arrives at the campground, and an encounter occurs between Ryan and Michelle. He grabs her bag and takes it for her (all the guys do this for all the ladies, but he looks for hers). She wants to focus on God and friends, and she is both obtuse and uninterested in him, though she has some level of odd attraction.
  1. Brian makes the boys grab the women’s luggage.

 

  • Julia comments to this effect.

 

 

  • Tom tries to grab it but Ryan Thwarts him.

 

 

  • Ryan returns, also grabs Leanne’s bag also

 

 

  • Charity watches. Reaches out to Michelle

 

 

  • Ryan and Kenneth comedic encounter 1

 

 

  • The youth attend their first service, during which Ryan is undeterred in his interest. HIn fact, his opinion for her only increases. And he sits near Michelle but next to her. The speaker calls to the students to join the “Eternal Romance”.

 

  1. Brian sits with arm around Cindy. Had Held.

 

  • Julia sits next to Ryan

 

 

  • Tom sits by Michelle. K on other side. Paige sits next to him.

 

 

  • Leanne sits on other side of Ryan

 

 

  • Charity sits behind Michelle

 

Notice how in the second one, we see better how to connect the threads. They are easier to locate, and we can be sure that they are not dropped later in the outline or 90 pages into the book, becuase we can track that green text over 7-8 pages of outlining very quickly to ensure they are there. In addition  if a later chapter has only three subplots in play, then the subpoints of the outline are not confusing (like if a thread is labeled subpoint “a” in one chapter and “c” two chapters later. I love it, and I cannot believe I never applied such a method to subploting. In the past I always used the “Lettered Threads” method, so that subplot A was called SPA, and Subplot B called SPB and so forth, but I gotta say, I am dropping that system altogether. Beyond the issue I already mentioned with the confusion over the letters in varying chapters of the outline, the lettering does not “pop” like the coloring does. . This color-coding is the money melon. Anybody else use it?

Thanks for reading,
C

About C.J.:
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