How to Juggle Jellybeans

One of the things I thought when I was revising this novel last year was that it was like a juggling act.  I had all these plates in my hand, and I was trying to keep them in the air–but I kept losing track of what was what.  This was one of the reasons I had to get details under control.  With this revision, the non-lists I made have become a useful tool at controling the chaos and dealing with “jellybeans”–the small, colorful things that are needed in the story but a nightmare for someone not detail-oriented.

The lists actually aren’t very big.  There’s about ten pages of them, mostly because I wrote big and at all different angles.  The goal was not to record the details, but identify things that would lead to appropriate details.  Since I started revising, I’ve added a few more items to the list.  Some of them include jellybeans like:

  • One sense of smell or taste per scene.
  • One sense of touch per scene.
  • One color per  scene.

Then, once the scene is done, I can scan my non-lists and then review the scene to see if I got all my jellybeans in the basket.  When dealing with something like the five senses, it’s easy to either complete forgot to include anything or treat it like a checklist, trying to jam all the senses into a paragraph of description.  Instead, by imposing a limit, I both make sure something gets into the story and I don’t get too much into the story.  I also make sure that what gets into the story is important rather than window dressing.  For example, if I have the limitation of one color in a scene, do I want to waste it by stating the color of the character’s eyes–a detail that’s generally not very unusual–or use it as part of the world building?