I have read numerous articles on writing that start out with ten steps, three steps, eight things, etc….in other words, a nice neat list of items that will help you plot your next novel. I am not bashing those lists. Yet, for me, the most disorganized of writers –trying to remember those ten things plus those eight things or three – well, it just isn’t going to happen.
I need simple and easy. I need something as disorganized but inspiring and fun as…well, I want to be. It’s not because I am too forgetful or stupid to follow a list. Absolutely not (my teen may differ with that observation). I just don’t like rules and people telling me that this is the only or best way to reach your goal of success. Granted, for the most part, there are a few things you really must do as a writer or you’ll never actually be a writer. Like write every day as much as possible and focus on improving. But when people tell me I just have to spend ridiculous hours on facebook, twitter, or blogging. Hours that interfere with my writing process. I say – um, no. And when they tell me a certain method is the best way to achieve a marketable manuscript, I don’t believe it.
So, here’s a simple plotting tool that I absolutely love. It’s not really a tool, more like a bag or box of ideas to keep you moving. Try it and let me know what you think. If you currently carry a notebook (I use the notes on my Iphone and/or a paper pad) with you to jot down ideas as they pop into your head, this will work well for you because it just takes that one step further.
Grab a stack of sticky notes and a pen. Take those ideas you have and jot down a sentence or two on each note, then drop into a paper bag sorted by type (see below), envelope, box or other container. Every time you get a new idea, jot it down and add it to the stash. Concentrate on writing down new settings, new prompts or incidents that happen to your characters, character traits that you think would be fascinating. Don’t get detailed – do that when you start writing. Drop them in separate bags or stashes (labeled settings, situations, characters).
When you’re ready to write, grab notes from each and use those details to write the scene. It’s easy, quick, and works. As you weave these details into your story, you’ll then need to keep adding details as you go that develop the story along the same line.
For instance, I recently took a plane trip to a writing conference. On that plane, I had a nice conversation with a highly intelligent man that did forensic analysis. Smart, Accomplished, etc. but he had a nervous tick. I found that interesting. He apparently was very comfortable speaking in groups, but one on one in a crowded plane, he tended to blink or twitch as he talked. I put that in my box and intend to use it as I thought it rather charming.
On a family vacation, we decided to go “off-road” on our motorcycles several years ago. We left the paved road and took a documented dirt road that crossed through the mountains in South Dakota. The sun was dropping and shadows were deep as we rounded the corners on this single vehicle path. A truck flashed around the corner, didn’t see our lead biker and tipped the back fender. Fortunately no one was hurt. My husband, the driver was accomplished enough to steady the vehicle without losing control. This gave me an idea for my box of situations. I’ve changed it up quite a bit –but I’m using it.
Do I use real people and situations in my books? NO. And you shouldn’t either unless it’s non-fiction. I take real people and situations and cull out things that are interesting to make new characters and settings. The real ones are simply the impetus for the idea. And quite frankly, there’s often a little bit of me in each character. It’s not possible for me to get into the POV of each one without expressing emotions that I am familiar with.
I have to admit that these little “bags of tricks” will only take you so far. You still need to keep all the details straight and develop your plot and subplot fully. For that, I transfer the notes on each character to a list that I refer back to. Key points of the situations that will influence the story are either written down or committed to memory.
Since there are possibly as many styles of writing as there are writers, you have to choose what works best for you. Try this –if it works, use it. If not, there are a lot of other great methods available.