Where I'm At

tlwt 3 act boardAs I get closer to the final form my novel will take, I like to use this Three-Act chart, based on my friend Alexandra Sokoloff’s book, Screenwriting Tips for Authors. The top picture was taken as I neared the end of writing my upcoming June book, The Lies We Told. Notice how neat and organized and peaceful it looks!

tmc 3 act boardBy contrast, the lower photo is where I’m at now in my Work-in-Progress, The Midwife’s Confession. Messy, disorganized and chaotic, sort of like my office (see my last blog post). Every card represents a scene (or occasionally, the internal feelings of a character at a point in the story), and  I spend hours moving the cards around to be sure the pacing of the story will be fast enough to keep my readers engaged and exciting enough to keep them surprised. I have a bit more shuffling to do. Can’t wait till picture #2 looks more like picture #1!


  1. Margo on February 8, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    Fascinating Diane!…this must be the procedure after the ‘sticky notes stuck to each other’ on the dining room table phase…have all your books gone thru this preliminary setup?…you mentioned earlier that you’re very disorganized but I’d say the opposite…I know that pic #2 looks a little chaotic…but, it eventually becomes like #1 and it takes a a real talent to be able to put it all together with the outcome a fabulous novel…you are absolutely amazing to me…(-O;

  2. Diane Chamberlain on February 8, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    Margo, in the past, this has been one of my dining room table phases. The difference now is using Alex’s three act structure, which helps me with pacing by visualizing the scenes on this chart. Although at the moment, I’m ready to toss the whole thing in the back yard!

  3. Ann on February 9, 2010 at 12:37 am

    Please don’t!!

  4. Margo on February 9, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Oh No!!…if it’s too frustrating, how about going back to what you know best which is the original sticky notes on the dining room table…that always seemed to work for you and you were comfortable with it.

  5. brenda on February 9, 2010 at 11:12 am

    Diane, you are a true artist. One knows that the final outcome will be a joy to those of us who read your books. However, I tell my students that if a strategy does not work for “you”, toss it…some folks are left-brained-must work in a structured way; some of us are right-brained-we do our own thing…the outcome is usually the same. I teach so many strategies in writing, analytical reading, etc…they take what they can use…Good luck. I am overly eager to hear about this novel.

  6. Margo on February 9, 2010 at 11:59 am

    I am like Brenda, very anxious to hear more about this WIP.

  7. Diane Chamberlain on February 9, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    Turned one of many corners last night, and it’s thanks to Alex’s chart. It helped me see the error of my ways. Look at how many cards there are in picture 2! Way too many. The book was destined to be 1000 pages long. I’ve cut a subplot, tightened a few other things, and am on the road to victory! I hope.

  8. Margo on February 9, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    I’m happy for you Diane, but oh how I’d love a 1000 page novel by you…

  9. brenda on February 9, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Margo-could you imagine reading l000 pages by Diane? WOW…that would be fantastic. I must admit that I don’t know how you work, Diane, in this cold winter? I have accomplished absolutely nothing except working, reading, movies, and EATING…my Arthritis is too bad in this type of weather for me to do much of anything…and when in pain, I can’t accomplish much else…Good for you though…

  10. Diane Chamberlain on February 9, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Brenda, my RA isn’t affected by the weather. Sorry your athritis is. That would be hard. It’s POURING out today and the wind is supposed to arrive tomorrow, but at least no snow for us.

  11. Margo on February 9, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    Brenda, when Diane mentioned her WIP was destined to be 1000 pages long my first reaction was ‘how fantastic that would be!’, but whether her books are 400 pages or 1000 pages, I’ll take whatever I can get…anything by Diane is something to savor.
    I’m so sorry for your arthritis Brenda…this weather must be absolutely awful for you right now.

  12. Margo on February 9, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    Diane…I have to ask, have you ever thought about a HUGE novel that’s close to 1000 pages or would something like that be completely out of the question…

  13. brenda on February 9, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    I agree Margo. Right now, this novel, ROSES, is draining me…I stop, weep…then go back to it…what an emotional story…this one has hit me hard, and everything I have read about it is not enough to describe this book. Thank you for rec. it…

  14. brenda on February 9, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    Must add that I have read some bad reviews about this book-of course–but some of those people didn’t like GONE WITH THE WIND either…to each his own.

  15. Ann on February 9, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Brenda, I read some bad reviews of Roses but I loved that book. It reminded me of the old family sagas that I read many years ago.

  16. Glen on February 9, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    Diane, Margo And Brenda,

    1000 pages? I would relish it! I can’t get enough of Diane’s works. I’m thinking of taking up a foreign language so I can read her “stories” again with “mucho gusto” enthusiasm! J.R. Tolkein be damned!

  17. Diane on February 9, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Glen, good to see you back on the blog! 1000 pages, though? Not any time soon. Yikes.

    I’ll have to check out this ROSES book. Not familiar with it. I’m loving Bohjalian’s latest.

    Ann, did you make it to the Outer Banks?

  18. Ann on February 9, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    Yes, I am at the Outer Banks and it is cold!!!! In this weather we enjoy watching the waves and seagulls from the comfort of the living room. It rained some late today and tomorrow is supposed to be windy and a high of 38. Margo, I
    bet that sounds warm to you, doesn’t it? Not to this WIMP!
    I am reading Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt and loving it.
    We are managing to deal with the cold in order to go out to some of our favorite restaurants – one cannot be a wimp when one is hungry.

  19. Diane Chamberlain on February 9, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    Brr, Ann. We’re going to the beach this weekend to do a little work in the condo and we’ll have to go out a few times a day with the dogs. Not looking forward to that, though I’m hoping maybe it will warm up by then? I hope I hope.

  20. Margo on February 10, 2010 at 8:58 am

    LOL Glen!
    Diane, altho I haven’t read ROSES my good friend Linda has and loved it so much…I recommended it to Brenda and from her response I think it sounds like something that will really stir our hearts…it will be my next book.
    Yes Ann, 38 degrees would be a heat wave here…yesterday I came into work and it was -10 degrees…we had another snow blizzard Mon and its still snowing…another storm on the way Fri-Sat-Sun…our state looks like the Arctic with mounds of snow everywhere…you just wouldn’t believe it.

  21. brenda on February 10, 2010 at 11:44 am

    We are out of school-again-when is this going to end? This is an anomaly in our region. Our state legislature has actuallly voted to give each county the legal right to begin and stop school (dates) when needed…that means that we could end up going to end of June and begin early August…we already have a l0 month schedule-practically…This is not life-I can’t go run errands or anything…thank goodness I have books…ROSES…loved it-thankfully Margo rec. it, and I bought it online…I wept…read…stopped reading to weep. Ann, not to give anything away, but after the others have read it, we need to discuss which part we enjoyed the most. There was some weakness in craft, but the story made up for it.

  22. harry dunn on March 6, 2010 at 6:33 am

    Hi Diane
    I wish I had known of the index card method before I started my first novel. It sounds just what I need and am just about to drive into town and visit the stationers.
    I’m at 58,000 words now on my crime novel and I just keep telling myself to keep going, keep inventing. I know the card method would work for me because some of my time lines are wrong and there is work to be done there.
    I hit the part where I began to run out of sub plot and used the trick I had read about whereby you take one of the characters and say ‘what if……..’ Anyway it got things moving again.To Mexico in fact.
    I will have to visit the old quarter in Paris to conduct research but I’m not so sure about visiting the drug cartels Mexico.
    Thank you for your excellent blog which I stumbled on. I have not yet read any of your novels but I’m about to.
    Thank you for your help.
    With Best Wishes
    Harry Dunn

  23. Diane Chamberlain on March 6, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    Glad I could help, Harry. Good luck with your writing!

  24. […] my friend, the wonderful author Diane Chamberlain, has some great illustrative pictures of the grid on her blog. (Far neater than any grid I’ve ever done for […]

  25. Patty Blount on January 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Hi, Diane,

    Could you elaborate more on the headings you’ve included on your board? I’m unable to enlarge your photos and really like this idea. I understand Act 1, Act 2, etc, but can’t make out the rest.

  26. Megan on June 17, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Oh my goodness, that looks amazing! I really need to try that. I’m almost 50% done with my first novel (just the first draft stage) for Camp NaNoWriMo and I’m so excited. But I definitely need more structure. Can’t wait to try this 🙂

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