Marieke Nijkamp is joining us today with her novel This Is Where It Ends. Here’s the publisher’s description:
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.
The auditorium doors won’t open.
Someone starts shooting.
Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.
What’s Marieke’s favorite bit?
When I started writing This Is Where It Ends, I knew I wanted the entire story to take place over the course of fifty-four minutes and follow various different characters. In short, it seemed like an impossible task. Because not only did I have a ridiculously short time frame to play with, several of the characters also happened to be in the same enclosed room. Everything one character did, immediately influenced the others, and vice versa. And even in the few cases where I did not have to relate the events consecutively, there were entire chapters that took place over the course of a minute, and I could only focus on simultaneous happenings for so long without messing up the balance of the story.
It took me all of two chapters to figure out I needed a very clear roadmap for this story. Now I wasn’t too fazed. I plotted stories before. I was convinced I could do this.
The story didn’t quite agree. It sort of maybe fitted one structure but not quite. It needed elements of another. It was to the drawing board and back to the drawing board for me.
Eventually, with the help of Excel, two massive pots of coffee, and the famed example of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter spreadsheet, I started creating what turned into my story blueprint: the Massive Spreadsheet of Doom.
A spreadsheet that tracked most, if not all on-page characters on a minute-by-minute basis, from shortly before the story started until the very end. I plotted where they were, what they did, how they did or didn’t influence others, and in what order their scenes appeared. The last was color coded, of course.
And there is something about forcing yourself to think through the movements of every character on such a micro level that drove me up a wall while I worked though the spreadsheet… and became such a massive help when I was writing the story. It helped me to see the shape and the balance of the story. Whenever I felt blocked, I only had to refer back to the spreadsheet to get myself back on track. I could play with minor elements without disrupting the overarching narrative. And with every revision, I could color code problem areas to reshuffle, revise, rewrite.
The spreadsheet became the thing I geeked out about most. My favorite bit, and the perfect example of exactly what I hoped to do with the story. Besides that, it became a really cool thing to show to both readers and aspiring authors. I figured it might be the perfect method for someone else too, and it’s inevitably one of the behind-the-scenes things readers ask about first, whenever I’m skyping with schools or libraries.
So of course, when the next story reared its head, I knew I had found the perfect method—my favorite method. Except, as stories are wont to do, this one didn’t quite agree with that format. The perfect structure is the perfect structure for a single story—not for all of them. So it’s to the drawing board again. And here’s to a new favorite blueprint.
Marieke Nijkamp was born and raised in the Netherlands. A lifelong student of stories, language, and ideas, she is more or less proficient in about a dozen languages and holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies. She is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, geek. Her debut young adult novel This Is Where It Ends, a contemporary story that follows four teens over the course of the fifty-four minutes of a school shooting, will be published by Sourcebooks Fire in January 2016.