Daily Archives: December 6, 2010

Story Trees

Last night Dear Daughter finished up her family tree project.   When we went to bed, we were stupid tired from all the work she put into this and another uber-crafty project.

When I woke up this morning, an epiphany struck. 

Hello!  Why not a Story Tree?

I’m a highly visual person and informally creative.  Plotting and planning and outlining makes things lose their magic for me.  Yet sometimes we desperately need to keep track of details while writing.

Enter the Story Tree.

In my DD’s version, you can see the branches that make up her genetic history.  The leaf puffs provide the genetic traits and family traditions she has collected from the generations that came before her.  The two teepees beside the tree represent the Native American ancestry–a tribe from each side of the family.  Each teepee is decorated with facts from each tribe.   As I was adopted by my dad, the clouds at the top provide a loose connection to the physical traits passed down from my biological father. 

So, what can a Story Tree do for us as writers?

I picture it in context of the story.  The trunk is the MC and his goal, while the two main branches would indicate the internal (right branch) and external (left branch) conflict that my MC faces.  The smaller branches would provide a nice visual of the obstacles my MC must overcome.  And each leafy puff would record the outcome–or rather, the impact of each obstacle on my MC and his goal. 

Now, I didn’t just visualize this, I actually sketched it–at 5:22 this morning–and the theory holds beautifully.

My Story Tree lays out all the elements of a manuscript in a very simple format.  It’s easy to see at a glance where one plot line dies and produces no leaves.  It’s easy to pinpoint the cumbersome plots that threaten to topple the unbalanced tree.

And for all you story arc fanatics, my Story Tree shows this as well.  Look again at DD’s family tree project.  See how nicely the leaf puffs round out at the top?  A good Story Tree does this as well, because ultimately if the external conflicts are met in a way that impacts the character, the internal conflict has a nice resolution at the end of the novel.  Right where it should be.

In addition, each teepee (if you want to make one) can flesh out the protag and the antag with all the quirks and details that need recorded and remembered.

The clouds?

We all need to dream right? 

How do you keep track of your manuscript as you write?  Do you meticulously outline every detail or do you scramble during rewrites to see how everything flows and fits together?  Sketch out a quick tree and let me know what you think!