Monday, May 17, 2010


Okay, let's talk about writing. What I'm curious about is how do people keep track of complex plots. Do you use notes? Keep the whole thing in your mind?

I'm working on two YA novels at the moment; and I keep both in my mind, which isn't a problem yet, because I'm at the start of both, and don't have an outline of either.

I would like to have outlines. But these particular novels aren't taking a clear shape yet. I suppose I ought to settle down and write outlines, simply force myself to make up a plot.

I have worked both ways, sometimes knowing what a story is about when I start it, and sometimes having no idea. Just starting with a situation, an image or a line. Usually, at some point in a story, I figure out the direction and the ending.

But right now I have not a clue. When I do have a clue, I will probably still keep most of the story in my mind. I write down details -- the number of the days in a year on an alien planet, military ranks if I'm writing a military space opera, the number of moons a planet has, their sizes and colors, how they move in the sky...


Lisa said...

I mostly use my mind as my note repository. But since I started using the Scrivener program for Macs, I'm able to easily jot down thoughts that come to me while I'm writing. Often that's when I see deeper into the complications of the plot and tease out important implications. But just as often I have those a-ha moments just as I'm waking up. Then I try to play them out long enough that I'll remember then when I next open my lap top. (And of course, my writing group serves as a nice set of auxiliary minds).

btw: I think it's great that that particular poem is set in concrete on our city's sidewalks (and I love the images you've posted to the site.)

cheers from a former student of Lyda's

Paul Lamb said...

Aside from the occasional, intruding short story, I generally only work on one novel at a time, so I'm able to keep it all in my head, as you say. (I do keep a note file for the current novel.) Nonetheless, I am always making notes about other story ideas. I write them into files that reside on my hard drive, and I consult them when my interest turns that way.

By keeping the note files, I find that I can liberate my mind from the worry of keeping too much in my head. Knowing my notes are safely stored elsewhere I don't have to worry about forgetting them, and I can focus on the novel I'm working on.

jen@ywt said...

I used to keep most of my plot ideas in my head but then got a chronic illness that made that impossible. After a decade in the the dark, last year I finally came back to writing novels again, but I can't do it the same way so it's been like re-learning how to write.

The first thing I learned about the new order of things was that in order to preserve ideas long enough to work with them, I had to essentially draft 80% of the structure of a novel in notes first, everything from plots and big themes to smaller motifs and character sketches/backstory material. The next thing I learned was that this approach works so well for me that I should have been doing it all along, lol. I don't organize the whole of the notes, I just label them clearly, and then when I'm working on a particular section I cruise through the whole and pick all the pieces that apply to that section and put those into a small outline.

Jon said...

In my head, the ideas are usually a big jumble, so I keep a page to fill with notes and thoughts as they occur to me and the act of writing them down usually smoothes them out a little.

I don't know if I'd call it an outline, but it's usually broken up by chapters and written out in a kind of quick sketch short hand.

If I'm not at the computer, I just jot the idea down on any piece of paper I have and, at the end of the day, spill out a handful of little crumpled up notes and transcribe them over.

Kelly McCullough said...

Head is where I used to keep it all, but as the years have gone by and the space has gotten ever more cluttered I find that I need multiple types of outline, stuff files, and with the new books, glossaries and lines of succession.

Mari Adkins said...

I was an early adopter of Evernote. It's come in very handy for my note keeping / storage ~ and it's available on my phone or any internet-enabled computer I use.

Before this I had gods know how many Word docs flying around in various directories on my hard drive - hard to keep up with and if one got deleted, it was just gone forever.

I only work on one story at a time, but notes are a must.