If You Want to Write: Novel Organization

“Consistency is the horror of the world.”

– Brenda Ueland

This chapter ranks as one of my favorites in this book. It’s all about how to write a novel, which as many know is one of the hardest things you’ll ever attempt.

Ueland encourages writers to “write the novel first, and plan it afterward.” When I read this, I immediately thought that she was crazy. How would you keep up with the story, characters, conflict, etc. if you don’t plan it?

Then I thought about my own book and how I work on it. I write chapters at a time and plan to put it all together once it’s done. As I write, I don’t think about where it will fit or the chapter sequence; I just write. Ueland recommends this technique because it allows the writer to write freely without bogging down on the details. She says you must tell the story first.

outline exampleHowever, novel organization depends on the writer and the story. Some writers need everything laid out so they stay focused, while others can just write. My book lends itself to writing freely because there’s no story arch or developing characters, instead it’s mini stories. If your novel has these things, you may want to consider organizing as little or much as you want.

Here are some ways to organize your thoughts:

1. Outline. Do you remember the Roman numerals? Here, you may actually use all those outlining lessons! Start with your topic and work your way down the page. Events you want to include, new characters and conflicts. You can even write an outline for each chapter or major event, and piece them together in the order you want. You do not have to finish all the outlines either. It may feel less overwhelming to start with one or two and write off those at first.

2. Index cards. You can buy a stack of lined index cards and plan anything you want. Group the index cards with paperclips, or you can buy different colors to represent different things. I like to use legal pads or spiral notebooks too because I can’t always work on a computer and may want to jot down the basics.

3. The snowflake method. Until this post, I was unaware of this method, but it seems interesting. You start with a one-sentence main idea, then turn that into a paragraph summary. Then you flesh out characters and start writing the narrative. Check out Randy Ingermanson’s site for the full process.

Of course, Ueland would advise against any of these methods, but some people need guidance and organization in order to produce. I could not sit down with an idea and say, go! I wouldn’t get very far. Also, what works for one may not work for another, so I encourage you to find a method that appeals to you and get to work – even if it’s only 30 minutes a week.

Additional links I found during my research:

http://writersrelief.com/blog/category/organization-techniques-for-writers/

http://wordsharpeners.wordpress.com/2009/09/02/planning-outlining-and-organizing-your-novel-or-not/

And feel free to share your organization tips and processes below. Happy writing!

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