Monday, April 03, 2006

Keeping track of the goings-on in my novel

I am not an outliner. I've said this before. But I want to tell you about a way I've found that helps me keep track of where I am in my novel that's been in progress for a while now.

Joseph Wambaugh gave me the idea. He lines the walls of his office with butcher paper and goes around the room writing down what goes on in his novel (I'm not sure he does this for nonfiction, though I could be wrong).

I no longer work in a room of my own, (which is fine with me--I don't miss it. Actually, the silence was distracting!) so I can't line my walls with butcher paper.

What I did was take one of those big rollers of newsprint that my son used to draw on--and occasionally still does--and I went through my book through chapter 17 or so, and sketched out each chapter and the major occurrences within that chapter. I use a device of photographs throughout the book and I wrote those in red, so I can keep track of where the photos are. I wrote down when characters enter the story. Things that are so easy to lose track of when you're writing a novel.

It's not exactly an outline because it comes after the point. But it helps me to keep track.

Other writers--Anne Lamott for one--use 3x5 cards (I believe she strings hers up on a clothesline in her office).

Organization of your material has got to be one of the most difficult things in writing a novel. How do you keep track? I'm all ears.


cardeia said...

I am not an outliner in my fiction either.

I tend to let it kind of develop from a basic plot idea, and really be organic. But when I need to keep track of details like character names, major characteristics of each, relationships, or major happenings of someone in my story etc, I do find myself organizing. In my physical life I am an OCD organizer, but in my writing? I'm a bit more rumpled.

My authoring software of choice is FrameMaker, which I use also in my day-to-day technical writing. This allows you to create books from multiple documents and provides a wonderful way to link documents together. I love the capabilities.

I keep an "ideas" document in these books that I jot down all the information I need to keep organized. When I need it I open it up in the "book". This is also where I cut and paste sections of a chapter that I do not want. I never throw out writing when working on a story. it all goes into my "ideas" document, and periodically I peruse it. Sometimes it spawns further ideas, sometimes it takes me in a new direction with a character. The scene may be better further long with tweaking, and its like a gold mine in there when I am stuck thinking of what I can do.

I also collect (digital) pictures apropos to my story, like vehicles or locations, houses etc. I put sticky notes with characters favorite sayings on the wall. Inspiration more than organizing, that.

But as for a hard outline, for my fiction, I find it restricts me, and I hate doing it. *grin*

Leslea said...

I am a Snowflaker. You are probably already familiar w/ Randy Ingermansun (butchered spelling)'s method, but just in case you aren't, it's not exactly an outline, it's more of a fractal. You start with a triangle and move the plot outward, outward, outward until it is a snowflake. Hrm, guess that is a visual thing, huh? ;)

Anyway, it worked for me in drafting my plot and making me realize my story was three novels (!!).

After I got the snowflake completed, I went back and did a timeline, which your butcher paper/newsprint idea reminds me of.

I'm moving in and out of time with this story (reincarnation, time travel, etc.), so it was important to me that I keep in mind when certain things happened, as certain characters will live and die full lifespans in the course of the three story tale.

Good stuff!!!!

Lauri said...

I use the Writers Blocks software. It's helped tremendously, you can color the blocks, shift them around, link them together. I also know people who coat their walls with sticky notes.