Alright, this is something a little bit different, specifically aimed at creative writers rather than gamers. (Don’t worry, I’ll be doing a post on this technique for people running games instead of writing books.)
Nano is coming. For thousands of you out there, there’s less than a month left before you’re going to give it your all to type a novel in November. (This stuff can help you any time of the year, of course and for any book.)
Recently, I came across the idea of bullet journaling. The site’s kinda pretentious, and frankly, this is all stuff I’ve done most of my life, but between the main site, pintrest and some other sites there’s plenty on encouragement to use these techniques to do things your own way. Anyway, the basic idea is that you’re using bullet points and list making, index them, and categorised some stuff to keep track of your life/diet/whatever. What I didn’t see was anyone suggesting how to use this stuff with writing. Which is silly, because lists and check boxes and lists seem a natural extension of the planner’s very nature. (If you’re a pantser, this stuff can still be useful, you just list AFTER you’ve written to keep things clear instead of before as I might.)
Anyway. Take a fresh journal like this one here.
Indexes are cool, you number each page, it makes it easier to refer back to. For now, and to get started, you want pages for scenes, stat logs for the whole novel, character logs, location logs, and story ideas.
Scenes: For this project, I have my scenes plotted out. (I used something like the snowflake method.) When I need to unpack and flesh out a scene before I can write it, I drop it into one of these logs and just sketch out things I want to try writing.
Stat Log: This is an overview. The size of the novel I’m shooting for, how many scenes I plotted out, and how how big those scenes should be. (I have words per day too, because why not?)
Character Logs: I keep track of characters either I have planned, or characters as they popped up in a writing session.
Location logs: Same as the character logs, but with places.
Story ideas: A title, and idea, or whatever.
Having a goal and seeing it there in ink is cool. I’ll add major milestones as I hit them, good quotes, doodles. Things to make this page feel special. (See the header’s all fancy? That makes it cool to come back to. Doodling helps. I’m sure there’s a science reason why too.)
I’ve seen about a million ‘character profiles’ and ‘character sheets’ both as a writer and a gamer. Many writer character profiles boast hundreds of questions to ‘really get to know your character.’ To me, that puts you in danger of over writing and over planning. It can give you a lot of ‘I look in the mirror at my brown eyes’ details, but might miss or distract from the stuff you really need to put your character into a scene. So here’s what I’m suggestion, write less. You’ll sift down to what works for you, but here’s what I’m using.
For Major Characters
Name: Duh. A tag line/occupation/easy identifier. If you’re tracking a few story lines, you might color code this or indicate that here in the tag line. (‘Into a werewolf’ helps remind me of that main story line for Diana, for example.)
She/He/They Want: This is that thing that keeps pushing them forward. The thing they don’t have or are determined to keep at all costs. This is the thing that the character would chase even if they weren’t involved in your storylines.
She/He/They Fear(s): Duh. This is not like ‘spiders’ but a fear that might propel the character to make bad choices. “I’m a rational person, and rationally know I should NEVER go into business with this guy, but my fear of spiders is so crippling that I will make this deal because spiders.” Only, you want something a little more sensible than that. What makes your character make bad choices?
She/He/They Loves: This could go either way, it might motivate the character to greater goodness, it might drive them to make bad choices too, depending on how self destructive their love is. “I will honour mom at all costs” could probably go pretty good. “I don’t care what he dun, I’ll love him for all time and will get him out of prison” is less so. Again, this is about conflict how that might complicate the character’s choices and decisions.
In His/Her Pocket: This is a little touchy-feely. I personally really like to ground my character traits in something physical item. You could do this the other way too, by deciding what’s in the pocket first, and define what it means as you’re writing later. (Are you a pantser who wants to track what you’re doing after? This technique is fun at keep your words flowing without limiting your flow.) You could skip this and replace it with a physical mannerism, a vocal quirk, or whatever you need to come back to over and over as you write. Ideally though, you’re keeping this very very short. If you need to expand on a character, give her her own bullet point page and unpack her. If you do give her her own page to unpack, make sure you add that page number here in the log.
For Lesser Characters
You might only need a name, a motivation, and a fear.
You could also use this stuff for groups or organisation to keep track of a groups general motivations instead of specific people. What does the cheerleader team really want? What frightens Conglomco Inc.?
Here I’m on my second page of unpacking planned scenes. To help me keep track of where other pages of scenes are, I note the last page I wrote down scenes are, and the next page scenes will be (once I need one.) This is called threading, that way I can go from one to the next. When I have multiple pages of character logs or location logs, I’ll do the same thing. This is a bullet journal thing I liked.
Location logs help me keep track of places I go back to as I’m writing. Basically, if you find your characters show up at a place twice, I throw it in the log when I’m finished writing. (Reusing locations is a good idea. It adds realism to your setting, saves you word count on descriptions. Verisimilitude or something.) Again, I keep these short and useful to me. I don’t write out the whole description of the place because… I mean. I want to practice my long hand, but not THAT much! This is just to kick start your brain, not to bog you down.
Name: Duh. A tag line just like with character logs.
Resonance: what’s the feeling this place is supposed to evoke? The BEST way to do this, by the way, is to decided on the places light motif, the theme song that would play every time characters are at that location if this were an opera instead of a novel. (Or to lesser extent, a tv show.) But moods and feels also work.
Scenes: This is not a list of scenes you’re using the place. Rather, this is more a hint to you of what kinds of scenes you should drop into that location when you want specific things to happen. So. for example, any scene where I want characters to break down what they’ve scene or to segue between powerful experiences, I’m going to drop that scene in Sara’s apartment unless I have a good reason not to. If you’re doing loose outlining like I do, it’ll help you decide where to ground a place.
Alright. So my journal is going to be a multi project journal, so keeping track of other stories I want to right makes sense. However, even if you intent to make this a one project book, you still want this page. Because here’s a thing that happens, you’re writing your story/novel and a million other story ideas jump into your head. You’re like ‘omg let me write this other thing and this thing and this thing and’ … if you give into that impulse, you’ll never ever finish anything. So instead, just write it down. Jot down a title or the core idea or a tag line. Anything. Just get it down on paper and let it go. You can ALWAYS come back later and pick it up. If you leave it to bake, it’ll get better or you’ll figure it wasn’t that great to begin with. I promise. Plus, pages full of story ideas are always nice (and satisfying) to have laying around as you’re flipping through your journal. It makes you feel more ‘legit’ if you have story ideas baking at all times. Trust me on that.
So that’s it. Bullets to journal your novel. Give it a try, take pictures, have a good time with it. This is meant to be fun even as it helps you organise and keep your writing going. Ganbatte!