The past couple of weeks did not include much writing. They did include taxes and financial aid forms and bills, laundry and taking care of miserable dogs and a bit of cooking, plus a lot more sociability than I’m used to. I’m grateful that the old year is done, as much so I can get back a bit of normalcy in my schedule as for any other reason. Compared to 2011 and 2012, 2013 was a pretty decent year, so no regrets on my part. Still, I’m ready for the fresh start feeling of every January.

And I’m ready to get back to writing every day. I’ve been working on a short story–one that might turn into a novella before I’m done–and trying out a new planning process. For some reason, I thought it was called story beats, but screenwriters actually have a solid claim to that term and they’re using it in a different way. According to wikipedia,

“A beat is the timing and movement of a film or play. In the context of a screenplay, it usually represents a pause in dialogue. In the context of the timing of a film, a beat refers to an event, decision, or discovery that alters the way the protagonist pursues his or her goal.”

What I’m doing is sort of similar, but it’s more of a map. I’m blocking out the story in paragraphs. Each paragraph will eventually become a thousand words or more (and become the actual story). The paragraph includes information on the setting, the characters, the interaction, the plot, the emotional states, the goal of the scene. With a complete set of paragraphs (which I don’t have yet), I’ll have a full outline, but I can also look at the story and see where my turning points are, where the crisis hits, how the tension holds up, that the scenes balance out between lows and highs. It’s a lot more complicated than any form of outlining I’ve ever done before. I’m glad to be trying it out on a short story! A full novel would be extremely intimidating in this form.

But the goal, of course, is to make my writing more efficient and also better. Instead of feeling my way through the scenes, leaving it up to my intuition to say, “hey, this gets too slow here, pick it up,” I’m hoping I’ll be able to spot those problem areas before I hit them, and that the so-called “murky middle”– the points where you have the beginning and you know the ending but you don’t know how to get from one to the next–is less of a swamp and more of an ice rink, something that I can skate on through. We’ll see how it goes!

So today’s goal: 500 words, and at least half of my story beat outline completed in a way that I’m satisfied with. Yeah, not too ambitious, but it is a holiday. And I do have a bit of a champagne hangover. (My 500 words might wind up being recipes from some of the appetizers I made yesterday to post on my food blog, because I made several really fun finger foods, including an artichoke spread, cranberries & brie in puff pastry, spicy crab tarts, smoked salmon crackers, and a bacon & cheese appetizer that was absolutely delicious–I’m sorry you missed it, Lynda!)