Murderboards; Learn to Find Answers by Stabbing Things
Today, Rekka breaks up the S.M.A.R.T. Goal monotony with an interview! This time, we are joined by Jennifer Mace, “Macey” in conversation, who is the fantasy author responsible for the process now known as Murderboarding.
Since Rekka has decided to employ a Murderboard in creating the outline for her next project, she was going to discuss it today on the podcast, but better to let Macey explain. Macey typically uses this process for revisions, after she pants..es? a draft, so they will talk about it a little bit from both sides.
Jennifer Mace, Fantasy Author
Jennifer Mace is a queer fantasy author who roams the Pacific Northwest in search of tea and interesting plant life. The type of person who talks to strangers in airports, she writes about odd magic and the cracks that form in society. She is represented by Kurestin Armada of PS Literary, and podcasts as 1/3 of Be the Serpent. Find her on twitter as englishmace, where she is usually shouting about trees.
Alrighty, time to put the murderboard out to pasture because this revision is officially Done! 😁🎉🌳❄️👩❤️👩😭✨😆 pic.twitter.com/txiYtJiMPx— Macey || Jennifer Mace (@englishmace) December 10, 2017
You Will Need
- a cork board (any size, but if you have trouble writing compact script, recommend you go big)
- 6 thumbtacks and string for dividing the board
- map tacks in multiple colors
- string or embroidery floss in various colo(u)rs (might help to match your tack colors, optional)
- paper (index cards or printer paper)
- a writing project
- Begin with your cork board divided into four, evenly spaced columns. These columns represent your novel’s four quarters (probably best to think in terms of word count). The best dividers are simple string and thumbtacks.
- Using a spreadsheet to write a very brief summaries of your novel’s scenes or chapters, print those out at a size that will take no more than half the width of each of the columns created in step one (in other words, your cards will be no more than 1/8 the total width of your board).
- Tack your scenes/chapters into the first half of each column in the approximate place relational to their position through the word count (f.ex., For a 100K word novel, the bottom of column 1 represents 25K words, bottom of column 2 represents 50K, column 3 ends at 75K, and column 4 at 100K)
- Side note: You can export your Scrivener outline to a spreadsheet!
- Determine which color map tacks represents which aspects you are tracking, and add pins to each scene/chapter card where those aspects are present. (Macey recommends not tracking more than the novel’s major elements and hints that if you cannot remember what color represents what, or if you are using so many colors of tacks you can’t tell the difference between two shades, you may be attempting to track too much.)
- Sit back to look at the board and see where you may have clusters and gaps for each element, then decide what scenes might be edited, moved, or added (or what could change in the scene itself) and note that with an edit card in the second half of the column, next to the appropriate scene/chapter card.
- If a scene is coming out or moving, figure out a system that works for you to note that without losing what your current draft looks like (f.ex., Macey will put an X card on top of the chapter that will be totally rewritten or moved, and create a new card for it in the edit side of the column where appropriate).
- When you place edits on the board, pin them with the map tacks that represent the tracked element so you can see how it will affect the spread/distribution.
- Use thread to wind around the map tacks and trace the course of that element through the story (not making a spider web here, best not to try and trace them all at once) to see that there is even distribution throughout the story, and get a sense (by tying fiddly knots around tiny tacks) of how often that aspect of the story comes up.
- We didn’t talk about this in the episode, but Macey’s podcast co-host Alexandra Rowland recommends committing these changes to a Google spreadsheet so you an access your murderboard edits anywhere you go, without having to drag the cork board along.
- Revise your work according to the changes you identified!
- Maybe do it again!
Rekka is using the murderboard from the opposite end, to outline a third book in a series. Though she doesn’t have the whole list of scenes to start with, she is finding similar benefit in that she can see where the “bits she knows have to happen” are concentrated, and work backward from there to draft an outline that spreads elements and scenes evenly across the four columns. Though she’ll admit the temptation is REAL to use all 28 types of map pins she got to track EVERYTHING all at once. Her self-control is a matter for another day!
Hopefully you found some tips or techniques to try here. There’s always the possibility, if you’re not interested in getting so hands-on, of trying something similar in a spreadsheet or using Scapple, but as mentioned in the episode, Rekka found it very useful to break out of her usual methods and get physical with the cards and the pins.
HUGE thanks to Macey for coming on to talk about this process!
You can find Macey online:
Her Website (where you can find links to her fiction)
@englishmace on Twitter
Listen to Be The Serpent (very eligible for Hugo category “Best Fancast”!)
Specifically, Macey mentioned the episode “The Room Where It Happens“
Will you try murderboards for your next plotting or revising adventure? Please let us know in the comments or on twitter!
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