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:



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

Writing for Web – Chapter 2: Sound Like You, Only Better – Part Two

We took a break last week, so thanks to everyone who commented and read my first movie review. Sometimes inspiration just hits you, and you have to run with it.

This week, let’s wrap up Chapter 2. The rest of this chapter is about organizing information for your audience. Many of us are aware that our attention spans are shorter, and the world moves much faster than it used to. We want information in chunklets, and we want to be able to scan without reading. Although, I’m a little sad that every precious word isn’t read, I get it. I do the same thing.

To practice what I’ve read, here are the most effective ways to write content for your audience:

  • Keep thoughts and sentences short for reader’s attention span.
  • Write a strong lead.
  • Avoid semicolons and multiple commas because they are hard to see on screen.
  • Use bullets and lists to organize info.

Felder focuses this week’s exercises on attention to detail and brevity. These assignments were especially challenging because it’s difficult to be detailed and brief. The one below was my favorite, and I used one of my favorite books – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – instead of an author. I admit, it’s pretty cool to work with Harry Potter.

The assignment:

Find a sentence by your favorite author. Every writer can improve. Take that sentence and revise it so it follows the best practices from the Web.

125 words – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This was pure imagination, however, as he had had no opportunity to tell Hermione what he had overheard. She had disappeared from Slughorn’s party before he returned to it, or so he had been informed be an irate McLaggen, and she had already gone to bed by the time he returned to the common room. As he and Ron had left for the Burrow early the next day, he had barely had time to wish her a happy Christmas and to tell her that he had some very important news when they got back from the holidays. He was not entirely sure that she had heard him though; Ron and Lavender had been saying a thoroughly nonverbal goodbye just behind him at the same time.

98 words – R. Petty, Writing for Web

Harry couldn’t find Hermoine to tell her what he had overheard. An irate McLaggen explained she left the party early, and she was in bed by the time Harry returned to the common room. The next day as he and Ron left for the Burrow, she rushed out so quickly he barely had time to wish her a Happy Christmas. He tried to explain that he needed to see her after the holidays, but he was not sure she heard him. Ron and Lavender had been saying a thoroughly nonverbal goodbye just behind him at the same time.

There are several differences in the above examples. I think Rowling’s is written well, however I learned she uses the word ‘had’ too much. I left the last sentence as is because I liked the way she words it. It could be shorter and more direct for Web, but it wouldn’t be as subtle or fun. I did get rid of the semicolon, so I followed one rule. As you can see, by writing for Web I managed to cut 27 words from the paragraph. I’m curious if it made a difference.

So, here’s my question for you: Did you read each word, or have you skimmed this entire post? What keeps your attention? Leave replies below!