Scope creep (aka project creep, requirement creep, or kitchen sink syndrome) in project management refers to the changes and continuous (or uncontrolled) growth of a project. This can occur at any point after the project commences.
The plan or design is submitted to the client, who likes it. A mockup of the first iteration is submitted to the client, who still likes it, but … their needs have changed a little, and a new adjustment must be incorporated.
Project creep sometimes occurs because we fail to envision and raise potential issues at the outset. Then, situations arise that are out of our control, and which affect production.
Everything takes longer than we thought it would.
We compound the problem by failing to evaluate new requests before approving them, not assessing whether fulfilling these add-ons is even feasible. At some point we must face the unpleasant truth.
These errors and oversights will either kill the entire project or alter it beyond recognition.
Requirement creep occurs when the project’s original scope is brilliant but nebulous, which is how novels are born – a glorious idea that isn’t fully formed but exponentially grows as we write.
Books are one area where project creep is not only appreciated but encouraged. Stories are particularly prone to this continual expansion of the original ideas. Short stories grow into novellas and then into novels, becoming a series of books.
Nothing upsets a reader more than a book where the author contradicts something that has gone before. The storyboard is one visible, easy-to-comprehend way to keep on top of project creep. When creating a story, one must manage both time and distance, a difficult task.
Oh, as you are writing, you think you have it all straight in your head.
But as a child who has ever told a lie knows—stories grow and evolve in the telling. Eventually, it looks nothing like the way it started out.
Even on the surface, writing fiction is complex. Authors who want to take their books from idea to paperback must become project managers.
We don’t consciously think about this, but organizational skills are critical because we want the story to flow easily from scene to scene. This is why successful authors are project managers, even if they don’t realize it.
The first aspect of this is to Identify your Project Goals – create a rudimentary outline with names, who they are in relation to the protagonist, and decide who is telling the story. Remember, your story is your invention. Some inventions are in development for years before they get to market. Others are complete and ready to market in a relatively short time. Regardless of your production timeline, this is where project management skills really come into play.
I use a phased (or staged) approach. This method breaks down and manages the work through a series of distinct steps to be completed.
- Concept: The Brilliant Idea. Make a note of that idea, so you don’t forget it.
- The Planning Phase: create a raw outline. Some people don’t need this step, but I do.
- The Construction Phase—writing the first draft from beginning to the end and continuing through multiple drafts.
- Monitoring and Controlling—This is where you build quality into your product.
Write the basic story. Build your storyboard/stylesheet and note the changes you make as you go. See my post on stylesheets/storyboard’s here: Self-editing: Ensuring Consistency.
- Find beta readers and heed their concerns in the rewrites. Take the manuscript through as many drafts as you must, to have the novel you envisioned.
- Employ a good line editor to ensure consistency in the quality of your product.
- Find reliable proofreaders. (Your writing group is an invaluable resource.)
Completion or Closing—Employ a cover designer if you are going indie.
- Find an agent if you are taking the traditional route.
- Employ a professional formatter for the print version if you are going indie.
- Court a publisher if you are taking the traditional route.
Maps and calendars are essential tools for the author, no matter what genre you are writing in. Regardless of how you create your stylesheet/storyboard, I suggest you include these elements:
- GLOSSARY – A list of names and invented words as they arise, all spelled the way you want them.
- MAPS – nothing fancy, just something rudimentary to show you the layout of the world.
- CALENDAR of events – especially important if the characters must travel.
A fourth thing your stylesheet/storyboard could include is the rough outline of your projected story arc. This is a good tool for fantasy authors because we invent entire worlds, religions, and magic systems. We don’t want to contradict ourselves.
Your map doesn’t have to be fancy – all you need are some lines and scribbles telling you all the essential things, like which direction is north and what certain towns are named. Use a pencil, to easily update your map if something changes during revisions.
If you aren’t artistic and want a nice map later, your scribbled map will enable a map artist to provide you with a beautiful and accurate product. You will have a map that contains the information needed for readers to enjoy your book.
If your story takes place in the real world, use Google Maps, and print out a copy for your reference, or scan a map into your storyboard.
You need to know how the land looks to your characters, mountains, lakes, oceans, etc. You also need to know what lies to the north, south, east, and west. You should have some notion of where rivers and forests are relative to towns because those landmarks will be mentioned at some point.
Readers remember the smallest details and use them to visualize the world they are reading about. This is why you need some idea of distances and how long it takes to travel using the common mode of transportation.
Time can get a little mushy when we are winging it through a manuscript. A calendar gives us a realistic view of how long it takes to travel from point A to point B, or how much time it will take to complete a task.
It helps to know what season your events occur in, as foliage changes with the seasons and weather is a part of worldbuilding.
The map shows the terrain your story takes place on, and weather can affect the terrain. Your characters will interact with their environment in different ways, depending on the season and the weather.
Project management is a vital tool for the author. Maps and calendars are the author’s project management tools. They work together to help you visualize your story. They enable you to manage time and distance in a logical way that doesn’t intrude into the reader’s awareness.
And that is important.