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Jen Frankel - Weaving the Threads

Jen Frankel - Confessions of a Disorganized Mind

I have to admit to being a person who, although I enjoy cleanliness, find order difficult to maintain in my workspace.

Part of it would relate to just how much information and creative work I have assembled over the years:

  • Notebooks: I have tons of them. Well, one very large box anyhow.
  • File Folders: Seemed like a good idea during the years I spent assembling them, but I swear some of them haven't been opened since I first put them away.
  • Sketch books: Lots. Some filled, others just randomly used.
  • And the napkins, bank receipts, backs of drafts, and other random places I've jotted down ideas.

I dropped out of the habit of carrying a notebook with me at all times during the last few years I spent in Stratford, ON before moving here to Toronto in May of 2005. But gradually, I've worked myself back into the habit. Now, the one constant, even if I've forgotten my keys, is my ability to record anything I think of.

Now, one of my problems is that large box of notebooks. I know there must be gold in there... or at the very least the solutions to problems of plot and back story Iím trying to sort out right now... but itís hard to bring myself to even open one or two of them up.

It seems, even within a single story, and ignoring the many Iíve begun and not completed over the years, that sometimes Iím weaving a very complicated rug with too many threads and not nearly enough fingers.


Creativity can solve almost any problem. The creative act,
the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything.

George Lois

Jen gets organi... well, MORE organized

One of the best techniques Iíve found for staying organized inside the plot of a complex story is to get physical.

Itís a lot easier to follow different threads if you can do it physically, if you have something to actually look at, shuffle, manipulate with your hands.

When I write, I often have ideas for scenes, and little else. I know how the story starts, how it ends, a few things in between, and a few of the characters.

One of the first things I like to do is get a stack of recipe or index cards (the same thing to two different kinds of people...) and write down each of the scenes ideas on a separate card.

Then, I can lay the cards out on the floor or a (large) table, depending on the number of cards, and organize and reorganize them at will.

You'll find this technique especially useful if you're writing something that follows a non-sequential chronology.

When I was writing my novel, The Last Rite, I had about three hundred cards, each written on a different colour of card to represent the different characters I was following. I may have overdone it a bit... When I was working on the book in a small cabin on the coast of Nova Scotia, the cards covered so much of the floor I wasn't left with more room than it took to skirt them with my back pressed against the wall to get to bed at night.

Jen talks commercial solutions

If you use Final Draft to write your screenplays, it has a great built-in tool to help you visualize your script in shorthand. It's called the "Script Navigator" in Version 5, and looks like (surprise!) a series of index cards. You can print out the cards if you like the more hands-on approach like me, or view them in a browser window. Go to any scene you want by double-clicking on the card. The Navigator stays open in another window.

You can also use the Navigator to move whole scenes easily and with - well, less chance of deleting an entire section of the script accidentally. Not that I EVER do that.

My best friend in computer world: the CONTROL-Z undo function.


To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.
Joseph Chilton Pearce

Jen gets more graphic

Another thing I often do, something that helps make sure that the scenes I'm developing actually serve the greater arc of the story, is to actually plot the story on a graph.

I plot the events in chronological order on the X-axis against their emotional impact or significance on the Y-axis. The higher the point, the greater the stakes.

This way, I can start by putting my climactic event on the Y at the highest point I intend to reach, and somewhere about 4/5 of the way along the way - or a little farther when I'm writing for film and I know that there's going to be very little in the way of aftermath.

It's kind of fun to play connect the dots with my outline! Not always the way I approach the complex weaving that goes on when constructing an intricate plot, but a great tool.

Of course, you will develop your own methods, through trial and error, and by investigating your own personal preferences. The way you learn to deal with your problems is part of your development as a writer.


Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.
Art is knowing which ones to keep.

Scott Adams (Dilbert)

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