Writing a story or a post series can be very challenging, especially if it is stretched over a long length of time. The more posts you have in your series, the more complicated it can get. Here on Beyond Unique, I write serialized fan fiction. Keeping track of all the characters, past events, future events, places, and what I have or have not explained to the reader is one of the things I have struggled with the most since I started writing my stories in this format. That is why I have my Writing Sidekick: The Thread Tracker.
I have not had the time, the space or the supplies to make a storyboard for every each of my stories. Even if I did, I have created something better and more efficient. I keep a collection of story folders on my computer, each containing notes including various types of lists, my story drafts, pictures, and any other related documents.
In this post I am going to talk about the different types of lists I have started creating for each of my stories. These ideas will help you in organizing and writing blog post series or your own stories. I call these notes my Writing Sidekick aka the Thread Tracker.
Using the Thread Tracker, I lay out the past, the present, and the future plans for each thread of my story. Then when I am ready to write a post, all I have to do is connect the dots.
These dots might be events, points I want to make, places I want certain characters to go, subjects I want to cover, questions I want to answer, relationships I want to develop and more. Each of these is listed in my Thread Tracker. In other words, I list out the main threads so I don’t have to go digging when I don’t know what I have or have not covered. That’s a time saver.
Form 1: Plot Tracer
The first form of the Thread Tracker that I use (It is also the simplest) is what I call a plot tracer. I use shorthand for my plot tracers because it makes them shorter, and so that I am the only one who will understand them :). Here are a few examples from one of my stories:
- JL Choice-GA find BF-What now?-
- NW Stress-LB’s behavior-leak/tell tale-result/s?-
- Arch-shool lgs-merc krypto-late lex-still needs name-kidnaps LL
I use a Word® document for this form, though you could use any program for this one. Since the above plot tracers are written in code, you probably have no idea is going on here. It is actually not as complicated as it looks. The formula I use looks something likes this:
- Event or Status – resulting action – (or) resulting effect
The dash represents the word ‘next’ (or the result of). If we where to turn the second plot tracer into a summary (see form 2) it would look something like this: NW’s stress is a result of LB’s behavior. Someone told to those in charge (leaked) about it. What will be the results?
Form 2: Episode Summaries
The second form of Thread Tracker I use requires a bit more work than form 1, but it has become my favorite. I call it episode summaries. Now I realize you might not be writing a series like I am, but this form isn’t just for writing episodes. In this form I use a program called Numbers® because it is what I am used to and it is what is installed on my computer. However, I am sure there are other options (including simply drawing your own). Below is a sample of the layout I use:
There are 5 categories on my summary forms that I fill out for each ‘episode’ or post. Category 1 is Title, Category 2 is Arc, Category 3 is Location, Category 4 is We Learn… and Category 5 is Summary.
Category 1: Title
This column is where you put the temporary and eventually the final title of your post. Often I will put a placer or temporary title in and won’t replace it until I have actually finalized the post contents. Though I might eventually decide to stick with the temporary title, it is not always relevant to the final post.
Category 2: Arc
You might be wondering “What does an arc have to do with a blog post?”. An arc, in this case could be translated to main theme. An example would be the first 2 episodes The Phantom Jedi arc was called ‘New Padawan’ due to the fact that a new padawan was being introduced in the story (basically). Another example would be my blogging series I posted in June. The first two post where about starting a blog, and the second two posts where about blogging in general. In other words, the first two where a mini series about starting a blog.
Category 3: Location
I will admit, there is a fairly big difference between how I use this for stories and how you could use it for a blogging series. I use it to keep track of which city or planet (or both) the events recorded in the episodes take place on. However, you could use this column to record who is writing the post or (if you write for other blogs or have multiple of your own) which blog you are going to post it on.
Category 4: We Learn…
In this column I put the main things the reader learns in the post. This is not a summary of the post! That is what column 5 is. This is just for the main plot tracers (see form 1) you would find in the post. Using the same examples I used for category 2, the We Learn columns of these episode contain things like: We learn that Acacia was exiled from the Jedi order and that Obi Wan Kenobi is to be her master (teacher/mentor). On the other hand, the We Learn column for the first two posts of my blogging series would be: We learn why teens need a blog and how to start one.
Category 5: Summary
To summarize is to give an overview (or the shorter version) of whatever you are summarizing (in this case a blog post or episode). I often pre-write these and use them as guides for writing the actual episode, changing them as I go. Below is the summary I wrote for Episode 2 (titled A Padawan’s Calling) of the Phantom Jedi:
“The council send Obi Wan, Anakin, and Ahsoka to Mandalore to find Acacia. Acacia acts on a plan and defeats and captures the majority of Death Watch. We see more of Acacia’s relationship with Satine and with her advisors. We meet an important Character in Captain Cole Nuhri.”
This summary basically explains what happens in the episode, though not in great detail. I use these summaries when I am looking for plot points, places I want to quote or reference, etc. However, this might be a good idea for keeping track of contributor posts or you could just use it to remind you what the post is about specifically.
Form 3: Concept Art
This is my personal favorite Thread Tracker. Sometimes when I am thinking about plot points and what I want to happen in a story, I decide to draw it. I might also use drawing to figure out a new look for a character or a developing new character idea/concept. You could use images to keep track of things you want to write about (such as taking children hiking or how to grow your own vegetables). Concept art can help you sort the ideas and images in your mind. However, that is another blog post.
Form 4: Timeline
I currently use this is for when I want to keep track of time and events that occurred before the story begins. An example of this in blogging would be to track the schedule for your posts. This can help you if you get ahead (which is awesome place to be, but it is hard place to get to) or when you’re are planning out a series. An example of this would be the lists I have of on my Monthly Themes page. I tend to use it when writing a story like Beyond S.H.I.E.L.D, when I am writing about the past and the present, and how the past is effecting the present.
Form 5: Character Lists
Have you ever read a book that had so many characters that you got lost? If so, you experienced a small part of what it is like for a writer that has 7 or more projects going on at once. Even if those projects only have 3 characters a piece, that is 21 characters. And we all know that most books have more than 3 characters.
Therefore, I have always create some form of character list for each story. Sometimes this means a fully detailed bio and description, other times it is just a list of their names with a way to tell what part they will play. It usually depends on how much of the story I have already written, because when I am just in the beginning phase I don’t see the point of writing a detailed description of a character that has a good chance of either changing a ton or getting cut from the story.
Form 6: Minecraft Buildings
As I may have mentioned before, I use Minecraft® to visualize the environments (mostly buildings) in my stories. Just recently I built the main character’s apartment from Beyond S.H.I.E.L.D. Though the details are never perfect, a lot like the concept art, it brings clarity to the surroundings.
As you may have guessed, there are endless ways that you could use The Thread Tracker in blogging.