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Bringing your Ideas Together

Earlier this week we went over a few ways to find ideas for your Nanowrimo novel. With any luck you successfully used one of the brainstorming techniques I mentioned on Monday and came up with a few ideas or managed to flesh out an idea you already had.

Today I’d like to help you organize those ideas. While having a mind map or a right brain left brain list is great and either can be used as a basic guide, a linear list of ideas–or a few lists consisting of different categories of ideas–is sometimes more helpful. Personally, my mind maps tend to be horribly disorganized and messy, so I myself will be doing this exercise as soon as I finish writing this post.

First, you need to find a good place to put all these ideas. You can use a folder, a spiral notebook, a binder, and probably a couple things I’ve never heard of. The important thing is that you find something large enough to hold all your ideas and small enough to fit next to your computer in your workspace. I personally keep binders for all my novel length projects. I like binders because it’s easy to put in dividers and keep them organized, and because my binders are big enough that I don’t want to take them everywhere but small enough that I can take them places.

Once you’ve chosen your storage method, it’s time to sort through your ideas. Create categories for plot, world and character on separate pages. With any luck you’ll have had a few ideas about each of these while brainstorming. Create a simple list. For example, your character page might look something like this:

Characters

  • Young female MC–Potential names: Valtessa, Vamira, Kari.
  • Tribal chieftain, MC’s grandfather, needs a name
  • Young male MC–Potential names: Kormir, Thorin, Kaldon.

And so on and so forth. Make sure you put every idea you’ve decided to keep into one of these categories, and if you feel the need to create another category, feel free. Simply writing these ideas down into lists will probably give you more ideas–expand the lists as much as you can. The more you know about what you’re going to do with this novel, the easier it will be to write–or to decide how you want to change your approach.

If you’re going all out and creating an intensive plan and world, this is a great time to grab and label some dividers and to make sure your binder’s well stocked with both lined and blank paper. Graph paper is particularly good for anyone looking to create maps. If you’re going to keep it basic, I’d still suggest stocking it with paper in case you find quotes you’d like to include online or decide to take on dares–or make notes to yourself for when you decide to edit the monster. If you decide to edit the monster.

Where do you like to store your ideas?

Preparing to Edit a Novel

It’s that time of year again. All the mistletoe has rotted and half of everyone’s New Year resolutions have already been thrown out the window. That first draft of your Nano–or whatever other project you’ve been ignoring for the last several months–has been sitting in its corner quietly collecting dust for long enough.

It’s time to pull that tome out and edit. It will be painful, it might be bloody–though I suspect you’ll go through more ink than actual blood–but it’s necessary. Trust me, your novel will look better without all those tangents and ten page character descriptions. They are extra limbs just getting in the way–I mean, spiders have eight legs but if a human had eight arms that would just be awkward, right? Think of limbs as sub-plots and character descriptions and then decide whether your book should be a human or a spider and act accordingly.

Anyway. Before you go into your word file and start messing around, there are a few things you really should do. These steps should help get you organized so that when you get to the novel to start messing around, you know exactly what you need to do and you don’t get discouraged.

1. Print it out. You’ll do all your actual tinkering inside word, of course, because that’s where you wrote it and that’s where the file is, but you have to print it out. First off, you tend to–and I do it too, it’s okay–skim when you’re reading on a computer. Printing it out slows down the reading process, which means you catch more errors. There’s also something about that black font on that crisp white paper that makes errors stand out.

2. Read it and take notes. Don’t go back into your word file until you’ve read THE WHOLE THING and taken notes on it. Some people suggest to read it really quickly and only to note how you felt about it overall the first time. I’ve never been able to do that. I’m anal enough to proofread my math tests and published books. I can’t imagine NOT crossing out words and fixing typos. But really, if you’re in one of your first few edits, those little things aren’t important–I’m not going to stop you from writing them down, but focus on the story.

One thing I’ve done, just as a quick example, is to write chapter notes at the end of each chapter. I write these on the back of the page where the chapter ends, and these are my story notes. Those are the notes I look at when going to the next step.

3. Make a To-Do List. Your to-do list starts with world building. Do you have any new questions about your world? Will you have to develop the world further to get a feel for a new subplot? I decided in this draft of Moonshadow’s Guardian to make politics more important to the story, which means I need to build the family trees of the politicians. That’s just one example of a number of small world building things I’ll be doing before I start my next draft.

Your to-do list obviously also includes any new scenes or subplots you need to add, characters you’d like to develop, writing exercises you’d like to do to master PoV, and any scenes or subplots you need to delete. Basically, even if it’s a separate short story that’s another exploration of your world or characters, include it on the list because it will in some way make your next draft more awesome. If in doubt, put it on the list. You can always change your mind later.

4. Do some writing exercises. Even if you didn’t put it on your list, do some writing exercises. Stay in the world you’ve already been working on and write about something in it or someone. Pick a famous object from your world and describe it. Write about the first time someone meets your main character–from that other person’s point of view. Put yourself into the head space of your novel by working inside its world for a little while before you actually dive into editing. That way you won’t have to spend time getting back into the flow when you’re actually in your novel file. Of course, this is also when you do any exercises you put on your to-do list and any world building.

These steps will prepare you to edit that monster first draft. Editing can feel overwhelming, but taking the time to read through and make a list of everything you have to do will make it a little less terrifying. At least now you know not just where you’re going, but–if only vaguely–how you’re going to get there, too.

Next week I’m probably going to talk about something totally random while the guilt about not doing anything on my MG to-do list eats away at me, but sometime soon we’re going to talk about first chapters.

How do you prepare to edit?