A writer friend of mine, Paula C. Brown, asked how I go about writing notes for a novel. She wanted to know the method I use because she was having a little trouble getting focused.
This is a problem I run into myself when it comes to finding focus and generating ideas. I don’t have a secret recipe or magic key. Mostly I try and ignore it and hope the problem goes away.
This rarely works, as you might suspect. So I do try some of the same exercises each time. They usually do work. Or at least they work for me. Every writer goes about this game differently. I’m only going to relate what works for me.
When I start a story, or more specifically a novel, I make a brief outline. And by brief I mean brief. I hand write out quotes, bits of dialog, ideas, characterizations, and research notes on a yellow legal pad. I almost always kick-start this process by coming up with names for the characters. If I can give a character a name I can visualize him better and imagine what types of situations he might find himself in. The story outline will then unfold from that initial process.
One of the reasons I do minimal outlining is I like the freedom it gives me. I knew a writer who made extensive notes on 3×5 cards, even to the point of working out the genealogy of characters who would never appear in the story. This worked for him. That would never work for me. I would find it too restrictive.
I like having a general direction, but nothing more than that. I have a theme I start with on, and everything else, names, scenes, plot, spirals out from that.
So that’s how I do it. Nothing special as you can see. I have a beginning, middle, and ending, but it’s always sort of hazy and I am not above changing everything if I believe it will benefit the story.
I’m not locked into anything when I write a story. I always put my ego aside. I do what is best for the story.
I admit working this way might be viewed as difficult for some. There are writers who want a lot more structure before they begin. But I have structure. It’s a bit hazy, like I said, but it exists. I simply do not set down every little jot before I begin. I have a direction, but the journey I take to get to the end….that’s a process I prefer remains organic.
Even as I work deeper into the novel I keep writing down ideas and notes as they come to me, and as I do more research. I may change names, settings, ideas, but the one thing I almost never change is the original theme.
More than anything else the theme is the first “idea” that comes to me. Everything else spirals outward from that.