Storybuilding: Project Management

By day, I’m a computer programmer (although technically I don’t actually “code” much any more — I do the analysis, write up the design, and hand it off to other people to code) and project management is a key tool we use on every single project.

Now when I said rather glibly yesterday that I needed to work on project management for writing, I was thinking more along the lines of managing multiple projects at the same time.  How to keep one project “in the zone” and still successfully plan or revise another at the same time.  But true Project Management from a business or programming standpoint concentrates more on a single project.  How to get THAT project done, the resources needed, and the timeline to complete it.

Great stuff we can use for Storybuilding!

Since I am trying to storybuild the next major project even while writing Victor’s story, I sat down last night and made some PM notes for the new idea.  Here are a few generic notes I generated that I think any solid storybuilding project should tackle.

Scope and Deliverables

When I sit down at work with the business area, one of the first things we define is the scope of the project.  What *is* included?  What is *not* included?  Why are we tackling this project?  What will the business area gain by doing it now, versus waiting until next year?  Some specific questions to ask yourself:

  • What genre constrictions will this project be bound by? 
  • What specific genre elements will I include or concentrate on?
  • What genre elements — particularly in cross genre stories which I adore — am I going to avoid?
  • Is this one book, or a series?
  • If it’s a series, what is the over-arcing story that ties everything together?
  • For a series, what common elements will be used to keep each book cohesive and united to the rest?
  • What length of story am I considering?
  • What market would be ideal for this story?
  • To the best of my knowledge, are the market conditions favorable for this story?  Is this the right time to pursue this project?
  • Should I target agents or is there a particular publisher I want to pursue?

The next things we iron out in PM are the Deliverables.  Obviously the final products I want are the story, synopsis, query, and submission plan.  But I’m going to focus more on the deliverables of the Storybuilding stage.  In order to position myself to successfully finish this story in a timely manner, what do I need to define?  This is a list of things I’m going to consider:

  • Define the story universe and the key elements of genre that bound it.
  • List all story lines and subplots currently known.  Continue expanding throughout the storybuilding stage.  Aside: in business PM, this can be risky and can lead to “scope creep” where too much ends up getting added to the project, compromising the delivery of the product.  So watch out!  Make sure the storylines always tie back to the Universal theme.
  • Outline the storyarc.  For a series, outline the over-arcing arc.
  • Define each culture, core beliefs, strengths and weaknesses.  Unite each culture to the series theme.
  • Define any underlying mythology.
  • Research any science or historical elements required for the story.

My next project is a Story Universe, not a story world.  I’m tying together several different story ideas I’ve had over the years and uniting them by one common theme and unique twist that they were lacking before.  I have folders and notebooks for several ideas already, so the real work this week has been weeding through those notes and making lists of what will stay, and what needs to change in order to fit into the Universe.  Since I do have quite a list of stories that fit inside the same universe, I have to

  • Prioritize.  Which one is the most likely to “sell” the Universe the best?
  • Focus.  I have a wide variety of tastes and interests.  Not all of them will fit into this Universe.  Some ideas, no matter how cool, must be cut and saved for another day.
  • Streamline.  In my mind, each story was separate until this week.  Now they’re united into the same Universe.  e.g. Antagonists can be combined and morphed into something new and more complex.  Sub-characters can cross stories and tie everything tighter.

Requirements

A key area at work where we spend the bulk of our Project Management is defining Requirements.  Now that we know what’s in scope for the project and what the individual outcomes will be, HOW do we get there.  In writing, I see this as the Storybuilding that I already do.  This includes plotting, character development, etc.  

Summary

In the end, this process’s goal is to enable me to estimate and determine a deadline.  At work, if the user area wants a project by year end, the final estimate is a hundred hours, and we have the resource(s) available,  then great!  Let’s go.  However, if the estimate is a thousand hours, then either we need to push the project off until next year, or we need more resources. 

Obviously with writing, it’s just me.  I can’t throw more bodies at my own project in order to complete it by a deadline.

For the new Story Universe, it’s massive, and so freaking cool I can’t wait to dig in.  However, I need to be realistic and smart about how I proceed.  Maybe defining the scope, deliverables, and requirements will help me get it submitted as soon as possible!

After Victor is finished with me, of course.

2 thoughts on “Storybuilding: Project Management

  1. This just makes my organized and slightly obsessive compulsive heart flutter. :D Thankfully, I’m not at a point where I have to worry about deadlines yet. I’m more worried about proper plotting and trying to think of all the elements I need to cover so that I don’t have another case where I get through an entire first draft and realize I totally neglected my heroine’s character arc :headdesk: But yeah, I’m also dealing with a story universe and it IS about prioritizing and streamlining and figuring out what needs to be done NOW and what can wait. Great way to reframe things!

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