Friday, June 11, 2010

Project Notebooks: How I Do It

I presented to the LUW Absolutely Write chapter and also THE Teen Writers Conference on the subject of Project Notebooks. The adult group generated a lot more discussion, probably because they are at a phase in their writing where it makes sense to be thinking about organizing a novel. The teen presentation went fairly quickly and gave me ideas for how to tweak it in the future for younger audiences.

ANYWAY. I thought it might be helpful for other writers to see what I've found that works for me. I've taken bits and pieces from suggestions here and there for over 10 years and have finally come up with a system that works for me. Maybe there are portions of it that will work for you, too.

First of all, choose a notebook, whether it be something already bound, a three-ring binder, or make your own, as I often do. This is your bible for the duration of the project. Every little thought, photo, scene, bits of dialogue- EVERYTHING goes into this one place. (A note to the tech savvy- this is also easily done on the computer- I tend to like the brain-to-hand process of brainstorming, so I do it the old fashioned way.)

I then divide the notebook into 7 sections:

1. General Outline
2. ICAs
3. Brainstorm
4. Next Time Notes
5. Chapter Summaries
6. Running Edit
7. Research

I'm going to discuss one or two items a day, otherwise this post would be a mile long and I'd probably lose interest in it halfway.

First of all, the General Outline. Now, I should admit that I am not an outliner. I know pretty much where I want the story to go, and I know where it's going to start, but much beyond that, I tend to be clueless. So I make a short list of the things that I do know, and then add to it as I go along. My outline is much more complete at the end of the project than it was at the beginning. :-) It may seem pointless for me to have one at all, but keeping one and filling it in as I go helps me keep the project as a whole in perspective.

The second thing I do is something I call "ICAs" or Individual Character Analysis. Each character has at least one page, front and back, where I write down not only the character's physical characteristics, but information about their family of origin (the family they were a kid in). I also add stuff like tidbits about the character's motivation, likes and dislikes, hobbies, strengths and weaknesses, most prized possession(s), worst fears, hopes for their future, etc. I know of writers who also use photographs they find in magazines, etc, and these pages are a good place to tape those in for inspiration.

I'll post my thoughts on Brainstorming next time. :-)