The more I write, the more I realise that visual guides help me avoid those days where I’m stuck with how on earth to move forward. Writing a novel can be daunting, especially the further into it you get. The way I cope is to create three things:
- A mood board of inspiration for character and place. Any pictures or words and phrases that help you get deeply into the feel of the story – just pin them on a large board.
- A strip of wallpaper lining paper charting loosely (in a few sentences), each chapter’s basic plot, sub plots, timeline, and sense of place. This allows you to ensure that you know where everything comes in the novel, that it’s all essential content that is working for you, and that you have a good sense of the narrative arc. I also have a list of major and minor characters on here, with a rough page number of where they first enter the story, and a list of landmarks.
- A notebook for keeping ideas, for writing scenes in when I’m not with my laptop, for doodling maps that assist with sense of place. In here I also put detailed descriptions of characters with an outline of where they are at the beginning and where I want them to get to by the end.
I’ve tried mapping out all the chapters in detail, but it just never works for me. I have to let the writing flow organically, and it often takes me away from precisely structured plans. I don’t create these tools all at the beginning, and then start work. They all erupt together – I usually crack into the writing at speed when the buzzing world in my head is fresh and exciting, then I get to doodling maps to ensure I know where people are going (I love movement in novels). The notebook is the most important tool at the beginning, to create characters with depth. I start to fill in the chart as I go, doing this more frequently as sub plots come in and it gets complicated. About half way in I create a mood board because that keeps the momentum going, and re-inspires me. When I get closer to the finish, the chart becomes invaluable because I can quickly locate bits that need changing, and it keeps all the links together in my mind.
These tools work for me, probably because I’m an extremely visual writer, but also because I can’t sit still at a desk. I have to fidget, and pace, and write in different places.
I expect everyone has different ways of keeping a novel together while it’s written, and I’d love to hear more ideas…