Inklings #5: Checkpoints

Hi there! Welcome back to Inklings, where I take my 3 decades of writing experience, and use it to help you through your writing projects. If you have something you’d like me to address, comment or drop me a line, and I’ll be happy to give my perspective!

Today, we’re talking about getting all the way through your story – whatever length it is.

How do you get your story from A to Z? Why, via the rest of the alphabet, of course!

It’s a daunting task, starting with an empty page. But sometimes it’s even more daunting to be writing with no idea where you’re going, or how to get to the finish line. This is where Checkpoints come in. If the beginning of your story is A, and the ending is Z, then you have a lot of letters to get you from one to the other. Not that you need to use all of them (or the alphabet at all, just replace letters with numbers or whatever else feels good to you), but they make a good way of tracking your story.

Some folk will have their whole plot planned, some none at all, and some will have a bit of an idea. Any of these are fine, but might work a little differently, so let’s break some things down.

For the All The Way Plotters

You like to know everything your story is going to do. Each twist, each surprise, each character, each scene – they’re mostly planned. Chances are you already have some form of Checkpoint system, in order to keep track of these. The best advice I have for you,  is to create a To Do list with short descriptions of each of these points, and simply check them off as you hit them. Seeing each of those points be reached and passed will give you a motivation boost, especially as you near the final hurdle – where it’s so easy to drop.

For the Partial Plotters

Having half an idea of what’s happening is great. Whatever ideas you have of where your story is going, those are your Checkpoints. Write them into a To Do checklist, and take a look at what’s missing. Is there a large gap between D and E? Do O and P need something to connect them? Doing this, and adding in extra Checkpoints to cover obvious issues, you’ll be able to spot potential plotholes and places your story isn’t tight enough much more easily. Use the checklist for your motivation boost, as above. It doesn’t mean you have to plan everything, or even that everything must follow the plan you do have, it’s just a guide. If something changes, update your Checkpoints and keep on that path. When you reach Z, it’ll be with much less messy text to edit, and a much clearer vision of your story.

For the Plans? What Plans? plotters

I’m you. I mostly just have to begin writing, and then try to figure out what’s going on. And I’m often wrong even then. It’s still useful to have in mind some potential Checkpoints, though. Make a note of some things you want to happen, any ending(s) or key moments you’ve envisioned, and order them as well as you can – and as you write, keep this list updated, and add notes where needed for sections you know need work. Your first edit will generally be fixing the holes and issues and continuity errors that creep in, which is fine. Keeping those notes as you go, will shorten this process a lot. And on that first edit, making notes of the key points – what are now your Checkpoints – will help you have a framework as you move forwards with it.

Think of Checkpoints like a video game

You’re given quests, locations, and actual checkpoints, to guide you through the game. You don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen at each of these points, but they’re good places to save what you have, and look ahead to what’s next.

Just be careful not to overplan – don’t be a Ubisoft game.

Hope this helped! See you for the next blog in 4 weeks time.

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