As writers, we do a lot of work on computers. Even if we start by writing things out by hand, we end up using Microsoft Word, Scrivener, Final Draft, Google Drive, or whatever programs work best for our purposes.
But there's only so much staring at a screen you can do before your brain and/or eyes stage a rebellion, especially if you're prone to migraines. Even if not, you eventually get bleary-eyed, can't think of anything useful anymore, or whatever. So what can you do when you're all electronic-ed out but need to keep working on a piece?
This little (or not-so-little) tool has worked surprisingly well for me.
Yes, it's a whiteboard. But not just any whiteboard. This, my friends, is what helped me finally crack the restructure of one of my more difficult screenplays.
You see, I'd written the first draft before I'd read Save the Cat!, and I knew Blake Snyder's structuring method would make this screenplay a lot better. However, after six months or so of trying to apply that structure, I still couldn't get the screenplay to work. I had the first act down and the third act well on its way, but the second act had me stumped.
I had a general outline of the story in Microsoft Word, but that document contained so much information that trying to work with it felt overwhelming. I needed something that wasn't electronic.
So I decided to try another Snyder tool: The Board. The idea is to take some kind of board—corkboard, whiteboard, even a blank sheet of paper—and divide it into four rows. Following the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet, one row each goes to Act 1, Act 2A (from Break into Two to Midpoint), Act 2B (from Midpoint to Break into Three), and Act 3. Then you can write ideas for scenes, action, dialogue, or whatever on index cards, stick them on The Board, and move them around to help you figure out the structure of the story.
Snyder would do this with a grid drawn in a notebook and a pack of index cards so he could work on his stories anywhere. I tend to lose stuff like that when on the go, plus I like having a bigger version, so I've created a few iterations of The Board over the years:
A roughly 25" x 30" whiteboard + 3" x 5" cards (cut in half) + magnetic tape (the version in the picture)
A similarly sized piece of foam board + Post-It notes (much cheaper and lighter)
Using my notes and the finished sections of the troublesome screenplay, I wrote out brief cards for each scene that already existed, each important scene I still needed, and any key details I needed to remember for those scenes-to-be-written. That process helped me figure out what (major, at least) pieces I was missing from Act 2 so I could stick them in and ultimately finish the screenplay. Eureka!
This trick could also work well for writing nonfiction. You could start by putting each major point and supporting point on its own card. Then you can play with the structure of the argument and order of the points without having to move big chunks of text around on the computer (and mixing up or accidentally deleting things).
Just like we talked about with poetry yesterday, this method can shake up our brains because it engages our sense of touch along with our sense of sight. That's super helpful for visual and hands-on learners (like yours truly). It's also much easier to see the whole picture at once when your story/argument points are spread out on The Board versus being visible only a page at a time on a computer screen. That really helps when you want to make sure a character, object, theme, or whatever pops up at key points throughout your piece. And no staring at a screen required!
Of course, sometimes you can have plenty of tools at your disposal and still get stuck. That's why I'm here. I can help you untangle those knotty problems in your work. Or, if you're too strapped for time, I can even write for you. Click "Contact Me" at the top of this page and tell me what you need!