This is the Nanking cherry tree in my garden.
Spring has definitely arrived in southern Alberta with summer-like temperatures this past week. In my garden, the Nanking cherries are blooming and the bumblebees are busy.
While thinking about a plot point, I was watching the bees in the blossoms and they reminded me of something Lawrence Block said in his WRITING THE NOVEL: From Plot to Print.
Block describes how he tried to learn the “right” way to write a novel. One source advised him to use three-by-five file cards and make a card for each character that would appear in the story. Each character card would include things like the character’s appearance, background and habits. Next were the scene cards. He was supposed to write a card for each scene in the book, detailing those events, what the weather was like and so on. The idea was that it was necessary to know everything the scene needed—and the whole book needed—before you actually sat down to write it.
Block (like many of us) was discouraged by this approach and gave up trying to write a book. But a few months later, he reports how he got up one morning and wrote a two-page outline of a novel.
A month after that, he sat down, and with his two-page outline, he began to type. He says:
“I felt a little guilty without a shoebox full of file cards, but like the bumblebee who goes on flying in happy ignorance of the immutable laws of physics, I persisted in my folly and wrote the book in a couple of weeks.”
He goes on to say that the other approach was not wrong, just wrong for him. And so we must each find our own method.
Are you a writer? Have you ever thought of preparing a shoebox full of scene cards? Do you have any bumblebees in your garden?
Nanking cherry blossoms from the barista
Yes I am a writer, and yes I try to have an outline and some character sketches before I start writing. The good thing about using a computer instead of 3×5 cards is that when I write a scene that changes the outline or a character, I can go back and change the original docs without a lot of messy erasures.
Hi Liv – I have used PowerPoint slides to try to organize scenes. I can’t do this ahead of time, but once I’ve written the scene, I can create its Slide.
Then using PowerPoint’s Slide Sorter function, I can see all the scenes I’ve created, and I can see the possibilities for rearranging some of them.
Suzanne, I have boxes of 3×5 cards and no completed story to go with them. It seems like after I’ve written out the cards, the story is done for me. Or if I try to write it out from the cards, all I want to do is change every single card. LOL
I love the flowers on your Nanking cherry tree. Gorgeous!
I like to have the major turning points clear in my head – especially the midpoint – before I begin. Although I’m a great believer in structure, I feel too much takes away the fun in writing.
Suzanne- your Power Point idea is pure BRILLIANCE! I’m so going to try it!!
Sheila – Since you have several novels out there, it seems you’ve found a method that works for You!
I’m hoping for a bumper crop of cherries this year. I want to make jam.
Hi Diana – I watch a lot of movies that use the 3 Act Structure so I think I have the “form” in my head somewhere. As I am writing, I don’t know where my novel’s turning points will be until I reach them…and I’m always excited when I realize I am at a turning point.
Liv – I got the PowerPoint idea from my friend Lorraine. She not only uses the Slides for “scenes” but also for photos of setting and characters.
I don’t always use PP for a novel, but when I do, it helps me to see the big picture. You can also colour code your scene cards for POV character.
In preparing for NaNo this past fall, I discovered how incredibly helpful an outline and detailed character sketches can be. Seems obvious, I know. Scrivener has also been a huge help. I love all of the ways it lets you structure and organize your WIP.
I like the PPT idea too — although I think you can do this in scrivener as well, where it’s all integrated. (You can write a summary of each scene, and then view as virtual notecards and rearrange as needed – and the whole scene shifts.)
I definitely need character sketches before starting, and I like to know the major turning points. I then seem to plan out blocks of 3-5 scenes, write them, then reassess and plan out the next 3-5 scenes, always headed towards the next TP.
Isn’t it funny how everyone does it differently. 🙂
Hi Tami & Ellen–
I use WriteWay Pro, which is similar to Scrivener, and I’ve found it helpful for seeing my outline grow as I write the book. I think it would be wonderful to be able to do that outline AHEAD OF TIME but my brain does not work that way.
Yes, many approaches. I think there are as many ways to write a novel as there are authors!