“If plan A doesn’t work, remember that the alphabet has 25 other letters. Relax.”
A few of my fellow former inkies and writing buddies have been banding about our thoughts and organizing techniques when we go about writing a novel. It inspired me to write out an ABCs of sorts (with a few letters left for you to fill in). Different ways and tools I and other writers use to build up our stories, develop our characters, track events–in all essence prep and plan ahead, with the best of intentions. I have yet to meet a writer that does all of these things, but some are more fervent about pre-writing than others. You can these strategies when you get stuck or based on feedback you’ve received, wanting to improve certain areas of your work. Whatever the case, whenever you may use them, hope you find it helpful, dear readers and writers
Act it Out
Okay, bear with me. I know that not all of us are the acting type. I, for one, have the worst stage fright imaginable. And to think of sharing a story and physically trying to act it out. No. Though I must admit, I have been known to close my bedroom door and read lines, alternating voices, accents and tone of dialogue and narration. This is more what I was going for. I know that I personally do this to make sure my character is consistent. To figure out if he or she has a catch phrase or an action that is a habit and they do frequently. I also do this to check for the flow of dialogue and decide if it sounds believable or give the right vibe or information that I wanted it to get across. It can also prove helpful when trying to ensure your characters have a distinct voice our that points of view do not blur together.
Plot bunnies that is. What, am I suppose to head out to the store or use my lovable family pet as a catharsis? Not quite, though that might also be an interesting idea. Plot bunnies are little ideas or blimps of a story that come to mind and stick there. Much like real bunnies, they are all about spreading and reproducing, sometimes springing into a longer story idea, or a plethora of them. Some writers try their best to ignore their bunnies, others go with them, and still others offer them up for adoption. They can be just the thing to spur and idea or produce genius, as long as a reader can insure said bunny is not merely a distraction, but a great aid in their writing. It is different for each writer.
See our helpful links page for marvelous lists of questions that can be used to help you develop your characters. I’ve used those with some of my own characters. I know it is hard, but sometimes knowing your characters can really be helpful, especially if you jump points of view. Or seem to be in a love-hate relationship with a certain leading man or MC. What makes one character’s voice different from another’s? It is also helpful for third person writers who may need to juggle a few different characters and keep them straight. Perhaps, my favorite is the set of questions that analyze your character’s relationships with each other. In romance, I’ve joked as this being a sort of couples therapy, but it can just as effective for the other main characters. Maybe even some of those tertiary ones. I know I’ve figure out a bunch about my characters and my story, even found some people who serve no purpose to my plot and can get the literary ax, or can be beefed up and made more important. It is time-consuming, yes, but can prove very helpful.
I’m not artist, which is why I lurk on pinterest. But some people can benefit from mini cartoons or character sketches or setting sketches to help them eek out some description or capture thoughts bounding around in their heads.
Sometimes, as annoying or unsatisfying as it may be, one story might just need to be shelved for a while and another idea worked on. Everyone needs breaks. As much as I really want to finish a novel (any novel) I’ve learned that sometimes I just need a mental/writing break.
These are great if you just have a case of writer’s block, but can also promote scenes and snippets. Our Inksparks are great for this. You could also think of a scene, image, word, something having to do with your story. Then set a timer (or not) and just write, write whatever comes to your head about that thing, story related or not. I wrote a whole scene in AoS from a free write on the word “postcard”. (I know, right?)
Go with the Flow
Planning has its benefits. So does going with the flow. Don’t be afraid to do one or the other, or heck, even a little of both.
H= (your idea here)
iPod on Shuffle
Music is awesome. We all know this. It can help us write by getting us in a zen-like state, it can also inspire scenes or moments (and makes for great soundtracks if we ever have additional material at the end of our published books). I’ve written a whole story (DoL) based on inspiration from one song. It’s amazing the power of a good melody and lyrics.
One of my teacher friends thought up this idea and frequently uses it with her classes. I thought it could be just as effective for us, as future writers. Keep a jar, or box or some other container and fill it with pictures, quotes, prompts/questions (which there are websites full of) etc. Then, to help hone your craft or if you just aren’t feeling one of your novels but you still want to write you can blindly pull one out and have at it. Ta da.
K= (your idea here)
I have an overtly OCD tendency to make lists. All. The. Time. Why not harness this and use it to help shape your story or characters. Select headings and keep a notebook/note cards of lists that revolve around your work in progress. Maybe even color-code to differentiate topics or stories (I know, I have a problem). These headings could really be anything. You could list a bunch of things that relate to a main character or setting, others could be more abstract like words that you want people to think of when they hear your book, images you might want to include in a future cover or conjure in a pitch. It can also work to help you brainstorm synonyms or description words while writing.
I’m an English teacher, this had to go up. My fellow teachers might throw me out of the cool kid club (yes, there really is one). Some people think this is just like outlining or webs, and they’d be right. Kind of. Some people do better with webs and bubbles than cards, it helps them streamline and visualize progression. It can also be just as helpful to organize character traits or brainstorm what a world may be like. To each their own, but this can sometimes be less intimidating that the traditional storyboard.
I don’t know about all of you, but I get ideas when I’m asleep, at night or spacing out in class, or when I take a nap. For this reason I travel with a little journal at all times. It sounds simple, but is quite useful, as much fun as being an insomniac is. I know I’m guilty of waking up in the middle of the night, or early morning, and writing a whole chapter or scene that wouldn’t get out of my head.
Outline or Storyboard
This is the traditional outline or storyboarding. There are several different ways this can be done. Some put scenes or notes on cards and rearrange them or order them. Others look at chapters and write out mini summaries, some more detailed that others. The idea is to get this done before you write too much. But I know some people who like to take this up after some chapters are written or as a tool when they get stuck. Some pin cards onto a board, others sit on their floor and hopefully (and sometimes hopelessly) rearrange and bite the cap of their pen.
ex. Here is my board for Art of Spontaneity. On it are: images that remind me of the characters or setting, images might capture a certain mood or scene, quotes that stand out and make me wish I had thought of them or illustrate a pervading theme. More often that not these are images that inspire me to write and love this story (who doesn’t need a little bit of that, every now and then?).
One of the simplest things to help push a story along is to either read over your plot points and ask questions or give your story to someone you trust and have them mull things over. I know (as those I have critiqued or provided feedback for are aware) I ask tons of questions, most of them are rhetorical, but could be answered. They are often what was going through my head while I was reading, or in some cases rereading. They help me consider these big things and more:
- loose ends to make sure get tied up (how did Luke meet his roommates? How do they have money to live where they do?)
- spur scenes (you mentioned him driving her home and meeting her parents, do we ever get to see that? Find out about it?)
- rethink characters (if Brody is a womanizer how would he act? Does this make sense? Would he be a native southerner with a drawl or transplanted?)
The outside perspective is often especially helpful because as authors we know our story and our characters, but what we are hoping for might not be as clear to the average reader.
I know, I know, most people say you need to scribble a draft, get it all out, not go back and rewrite and edit every so often. I get this theory, it makes loads of sense. It is just SO hard for me to follow. Sometimes rereading reminds me of where a story was going, allows me to be consistent, or on a terrible, unmotivated day, with a particularly good chapter, reminds me that I love writing, that I can be good and want to keep going.
This allows for easy transportation and the movement of scenes. Perhaps on a larger bulletin board or poster. This can be a lot like storyboarding, but more mobile or organized. There can also be a section for general notes or connections you don’t want to forget or add in that may not have an official scene or home yet.
This is especially helpful if your story does time jumps, you facilitate flashbacks or tell the story from multiple points of view. This helps you visually see when thing happen, realize how much the characters know, compare this to what the reader knows and generally organize scenes. It could also be helpful in plotting out a back story.
Use What You Know
Rove bookstores. Libraries. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. By all means don’t copy a plot, but read what you like, read what you write. Get inspired. Pick up on common tropes or cover elements. Redo clichés. Make sure your story is not already out there (as unintentional as it may be). Then write like there is no tomorrow. (Cue inspirational music)
V= (your idea here)
This is an inkie thing I’m not fully in on, I was never a part of that cool warring group. But from what I understand it is much like a free-write, but with partner motivation. As in you war with each other to write more words and on the spot eek out more of your plot. It kind of forces you to write and helps you share with others. I’ve only participated once or twice, but I found it quite helpful.
X= (your idea here)
Y= (your idea here)
Zoom, Zap, Zoing
Yes, worse comes to worst just shout out onomatopoeias. It will be sure to inspire you! (kidding, if anyone thinks of something better to put here let me know).