“I gotta keep my Capricorn mind straight,” said the planet of Saturn to the writer writing this post. Okay, so that first sentence had a weird third person shift–almost like a third person shift to a different third person gear, but the first third person perspective was oddly different from the latter, which was equally bizarre but uniquely awkward. See what I mean? I do need to keep this Capricorn mind straight. Saturn was right.
Everyone goes into their writing projects differently. No one does it the same so it can be hard to offer advice on how to start the process of writing on something as large as a novel. Many writers like writing blind. Meaning, they get the idea for the story and just start writing wherever the story begins in their mind and as they write the storyline will magically unfold. Well, not magically, but as you write then a sequence tends to come to mind so you follow the sequence. Then you revise and insert more elements to the story as they manifest along the way. That’s writing in the dark.
I do like writing in the dark for short stories. There seems to be an urgency to short stories that forces me to write it all down as fast as possible. People also call this the vomit method. I prefer to say writing in the dark. Regurgitation is not something I want to associate with my writing process. Or any of my process really.
But for the novel? Maybe you’ve come up with a good idea. You’ve been wanting to write it for years, maybe decades, and you’ve not yet come to start the process. Writing a novel in the dark is possible. Many writers have done so and like the method. But I can’t seem to do it.
Writing a novel has so many elements to it. Not only do you have the main plot, but you also have a series of subplots that can either mirror the main plot, highlight a trait of the main character, or be a complete escape from the main plot so as to break the tension or give the reader an opportunity to breath (while simultaneously showing a new side to the main character). All these subplots weave in and out of the main plot making for a beautifully constructed basket at the end.
If you want to make beautiful art, a beautiful basket, you have to be purposeful with the way you weave each strand (subplot) against the basket’s base (main plot). Because this process takes so much mental energy and careful planning, I like to outline my novels. Now I don’t use an essay style outline. That would kill my energy quick. I can see you now. You’re throwing your hands in the air and groaning, saying, “Oscar, I’m not going back to high school tactics to write a book.” And I couldn’t agree with you more.
Here’s what I do. I use One Note. If you haven’t used it then I’d give it a try, or you can use something similar. What One Note gives me are tools I can use to creatively engage with my writing. Not only can I free write in random boxes, and then move those boxes around, but I can also draw out graphs. Hand made line graphs, not the standard graphs made for reports. I need something that makes sense to the flow of my story. I use the drawing tool and I’ll draw zigzag lines leading up to the apex or crescendo of the story. Then I use text next to each peak and valley so as to mark what happens in the story. Typically, each peak and each valley represents a chapter.
So when you go into outlining it doesn’t have to be an English high school class all over again. You can get creative with it. But what I find? It helps me guide the story. I used this method with the novel I’m revising now, Uncle Called Him Spider, and I’ve started the outline of a new novel (which is why I’m writing this post). I’m about seven chapters deep into the outline of the new novel. I know the ending and I know the beginning, and I’m using the weaving method to create the middle. I actually enjoy this part of the process. It’s the planning part, which comes from my Capricorn mind.
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(Images Cited: The images above were borrowed from Wikimedia Commons, Flicr, and Pinterest)