Outline a romance that readers will root for

Want to create a romance readers actually care about? Give them characters they want to root for. Your character’s lie/fatal flaw/misbelief/internal struggle, whatever you want to call it is what’s going to to propel your story forwards. Because look, a story–romance or not, is going to be boring if our characters are perfect. When we take a flawed character we relate to that because we can empathize with imperfect characters, making imperfect decisions, on an imperfect journey to find what they need, while going after what they want. It’s super quaint, I know, and I love it. So we take our flawed character, trying to find their place in the world, and we introduce them to another flawed character also trying to find their place in the world, and we thrust them together, push and pull, and eventually, and probably even reluctantly, they experience character growth and vulnerability, hopefully due in part by one another, and experience something on the tail end of that called, love. I’ve oversimplified yes, but that’s the gist of it. So how do we achieve this?

Create characters people are going to root for

The characters who are going to fall in love should have their own struggles, goals, wants, needs, misbeliefs to make them feel real. Give your character a flaw (that needs to be fixed), a want that is not only tangible but that your character is pursuing, and a need which is the thing (the life lesson) they’ll need to learn that will truly make them happy (because the want isn’t going to cut it). Your romance will revolve heavily around each individual character’s journey, struggle, and goal. Even without the aforementioned romance plot, you still have a story, which is key. Therefore the additional romance layer is going to make our character transformations even more worthwhile once they start to take shape.

Internal conflict that’s unique to each character

Conflict really does make the creative writing world go round, but if we’re not making our characters suffer what are we even doing this for? In all seriousness though, it’s true that the internal struggles/inner conflicts/misbeliefs will be the driving force for our characters and in turn create new conflict when it encounters romance with the other character. I know, that’s a lot, but it’s what’s going to make your relationship so much more worth it.

Outline a structure that incorporates the romance beats into your story

Set Up Act 1
Act 1 is all about the catalyst of what brings our two lovebirds together and their fighting, learning, and waning resistance to that attraction.

Push and Pull Act 2
Act 2 is the push and pull of this relationship, doubt, and eventually the rock bottom.

Accepting Love Act 3
Act 3 is our character transformations after hitting rock bottom and the eventual grand gesture that will allow our two lovebirds to be together/or not, that’s up to you!

If you know me, it’s no surprise I’m a big fan of the Save the Cat! Story Structure, so of course by association I’m also a big fan of Gwen Hayes’ book Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels. You do not need to understand Save the Cat! to incorporate the romance beats into your creative project but you should have a good handle on the 3 Act Story Structure. I highly recommend knowing the basics of the Save the Cat! structure (subdivides the beginning, middle, and end of a story into 15 “beats” or plot points) because it’s fantastic, easy to use, and I incorporate it into my own writing. To make it easier for you, I’ve shared the Romance Beat Sheet I used on my Patreon, you can view all 3 acts in great detail down to every beat.

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Make each scene matter with a fail-proof system

Even more love for Lisa Cron‘s book Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel, but today we’re going to be talking about scenes. How to make scenes matter and how to make them have meaning by being part of a cause-and-effect trajectory that will build your story. No more individual scenes that don’t help guide your protagonist to their end goal.

How do we do this? Scene cards. And they’re going to prompt you and remind you to answer important questions that link your plot to your story, every single time. I’ll post my own examples on my Patreon soon, but here’s a blueprint similar to the example Lisa provides in her book. I hope it’s helpful.

Scene #1: Name of scene
Alpha Point: The key role the scene will play in your webtoon/novel/project’s external cause-and-effect trajectory. It must answer: Why is this scene necessary? What’s its main job?

THE PLOTWhat happens
• What happens in the first half of the scene
The consequence
• External consequence of what happens in the scene–the consequence of what happens in the scene itself—not the consequence it will have in the next scene.
THE THIRD RAILWhy it matters to their misbelief
• Why what’s happening matters to your protagonist, given their agenda
The realization
• The internal change, the realization that the event triggers for the protagonist (or the scene’s POV character and also the protagonist when they find out later).

• Your protagonist’s worldview must change even a little bit in every scene.

And so?
• The action that happens as a result of what occurred in the scene

Reminders: The plot is the sequence of events that helps you tell the story. The ‘third rail‘ is the terminology Lisa uses to describe the protagonist’s internal struggle. Isn’t it lovely how they’re always tied together here? Cause and effect, it’s flawless, and it’s been so helpful to me in polishing off my episodes. Let me know if you have any questions, good luck!

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Use science to write compelling story

I am not being paid to promote this book, I genuinely believe in its ability to help you rethink your writing.

As I read (and re-read) through the outlines, scenes, and various narrative that I’d been working on, I started to see something I didn’t like. My protagonist was being dragged along by the plot–and I had been very cognizant of this I thought! My story needed to be character-driven, not plot driven, and try as I may I was not doing this successfully. I sat down, and after a bit of dread, apprehension, and uneasiness–I decided I needed to make my character’s want/need and misbelief a little more ironclad.

To the rescue comes Lisa Cron‘s book Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel. Let me tell you, I hated this book, and not because why you might think. This book was frustrating because it forced me to look at everything with a fine tooth comb, the what if, the who, the cause and effect, plot and even subplots. I thought I had done this already! All of this information can and will tie into your story’s electric third rail (which will supply your story with the electricity needed to propel it forward, like a train!), which is directly related to “how the protagonist is making sense of what’s happening, how she struggles with, evaluates, and weighs what matters most to her, and then makes hard decisions, moving the action forward.”

Lisa’s book asks tough but important questions, here’s a few that stuck with me:

  • Why does this story stick with me?
  • Why do I care about writing it?
  • What is the point of my story?
  • What do I want my readers to go away thinking about?
  • Who is your protagonist before the story even starts?
  • What does your protagonist want before the story even starts?
  • Can you envision the moment in your protagonist’s life when their misbelief took root?

The book is a goldmine for questions like these. I highly recommend following along with the book using the PDF resource: Story Genius Novel Writing Method Worksheet. Whether you’re stuck, just starting out, or want to make that narrative indestructible, consider using this book as a resource, I highly recommend it.

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Storyboarding your narrative

Totally not a spoiler…I removed the dialog at least 🙂

As with many things creative, there’s a lot of ways to storyboard your idea. I am by no means prescribing how storyboarding should be done, only that I use storyboarding as a tool to develop my narrative at the visual level.

One thing that’s helpful to understand is that the act of script writing and storyboarding is pretty fluid and they lend themselves to one another. In fact, I believe that a healthy back and forth between the two is very necessary in order to convey the right tone, idea, and visuals. For example, I wrote my script with a visual in mind and added cues in my writing where I felt necessary, but once it goes into a quick sketch, there are things you can absolutely convey without text, and vise versa there’s some antecedents that require more context from the writing side of things as well. Storyboarding absolutely helps with sussing out the type of narrative you desire, so it’s important to be flexible and let the process flow.

Use a script to guide your visual narrative
I write out my scripts like scenes where I have both dialog and non-dialog displayed, and I experimented with various layouts before I ended up with the below script template example. This is what works for me:

The above is a 1:1 screenshot of how this appears in my docs file


[I use this as a way to convey action, scene, setting, or anything else that might be non-dialog. There’s unlimited ways to write and layout a script so try different things to see what works.]

Character A: “Hopefully this helps with ideas for how to layout a script.”

[I use this as a way to indicate some sort of action or non-dialog.]

Character B: “Do what’s comfortable and works for you.”

Character A: (smiles) “Couldn’t have said it better myself!”

Don’t worry too much about the fidelity
Your storyboards don’t have to be perfect, in fact it’s better if they’re not so you can make adjustments without a lot of revision work. Think of your storyboard like a rough outline of your graphic novel. Each moment conveyed should take small strides in telling your story. Your storyboard overall is meant to save you time, so once you get to the illustration, coloring, and lettering portion of the process, you’re a little bit more foolproof when it comes to revisions, which can take a lot of time and that’s what we’re trying to save by adding this to our process. In the image below I’m using the webtoon scroll format because I think it lends itself beautifully to the handheld device medium.

How a webtoon format would display on a device, far right image shows the storyboard unsliced

You want to convey just enough information in your sketches so that if a stranger were to pick up your storyboard and read it, they’d know exactly what’s going on with no context whatsoever. Your storyboard is also going to fill gaps for you and let you know if you’ve left out any important details in your narrative.

It’s ok to take shortcuts
Making a comic is a huge time investment, so creators are always looking for ways to optimize the process. I use acon3d for things like settings and backgrounds and view the models in Sketchup. Though it’s best to take this into account when you’re storyboarding so you can grab the models and angles that best fit your workflow.

Ask for feedback and revise as necessary
A storyboard will allow you to look at things holistically, which is a beautiful aspect of adding this to your process. Also, don’t be afraid to share with friends and ask for feedback in areas you feel might need more attention. I love getting detailed and actionable feedback:

She’s not wrong.

Good luck with your storyboarding process!

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Thank you for the support. ♡

Reflecting on 2022

This year has been capricious to say the least. But regardless of how tumultuous it’s been, I have been able to continue to pour my heart into the passion projects I care deeply about. This comic has been a wonderful escape for me for the last year and a half, and within that time I have been able to conceive characters and a world that I love and I hope someday you do as well. That being said, none of this consistency and progress would be possible without time and dedication set aside to work on these things.

Making time for Personal Projects

I recently wrote a post about how to make time for the things you care about and want to be doing. Creating The Barrier Scroll comic is a huge undertaking for me, and something that I was, quite frankly, intimidated to commit my time to. I am by no means an ‘illustrator’ or a ‘writer’…but I want to be. So I try to take what time I have in each day, and dedicate it to something that gives me joy and passion. I’ve given passion projects and personal development a lot of thought and it really comes down to one thing: making time. This little cutlet of insight can be applicable to countless parts of our life. We as human beings can be extremely busy, overwhelmed even. However, it’s important to identify what really matters.

I completed my Book Blurb

I decided to stop putzing around and finish my attempt at a “back of the book blurb”, not to be confused with a “synopsis”–which I am also still very much working on as well. I’m not writing a novel obviously, but the need for some sort of way to entice readers to care about my comic seemed necessary. And what better way than a short pithy paragraph or two that leaves the reader wanting more.

Seasons 1, 2, and 3 are outlined

The story of The Barrier Scroll is something that has been with me for a long time, but I’ve never truly fleshed out the details. When you start to think about story structure and character motivations, it can be daunting, intimidating even to outline your narrative, so I put together a post on how I approached this task. Seasons 1-3 are completely outlined, Season 1 is written, and 2 is well on it’s way, and it’s been so enjoyable to do this since the outline really helps propel the narrative forward for me. I know what I’m writing towards, and rarely hit writer’s block now. It’s been such an enjoyable experience and allows me to look at the story holistically–that way I’m able to plant seeds in Season 1 that won’t come to fruition until Season 3–and I’m here for that.

I drew so much and enjoyed it that I’m opening an (unrelated to TBS) sticker shop

I’ll be honest with you I did not expect so much art to come out of me this year, I hadn’t even planned on it. But I was so inspired my the narrative I just drew and drew, some of it good, some of it crappy, but all of it enjoyable. In fact, I had so much fun drawing and doodling that I’m launching a sticker shop called Tiny Chicken Island on January 20th, 2023. The Barrier Scroll and its progress has reignited my love for drawing and I couldn’t be happier. Also side note, a new promo image is coming soon (totally not sneak peeked somewhere in this blog post) with all my favorite characters and I am so excited to share it as soon as it’s done.

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See you in 2023. I’ll have much more to share with you soon, thank you for the support. ♡