Now, I’m still a pretty new author. My first novel, Ladyfish, was published by Bold Strokes Books last year and the second one, Clean Slate, due to join it in September. My third, Nightingale, is currently with my poor editor. Bless her. Number four is…in progress. So like I said, still pretty new. But even just across these few works I can see the difference and the development, and I think there are a number of reasons for this.
One is Vic—my poor editor—who has worked with me to help me develop the craft of writing. She’s helped me to see the errors in my work, and how to avoid making them again. It truly is amazing what a sledgehammer over the head can do. Lol. Just kidding.
But another part of the development has been finding a way for me to utilise some of the tools she gave me and building around them a working process that helps me to organise my thoughts and ideas for each book. For example one of the tools she gave me was a diagram of a story arc. A fairly simple idea depicting the general arc of a story. Something which we innately know, see in every story we read, yet when you’re caught up in the middle of writing—it sometimes gets away from you. So seeing it solidified it in my head and while I was writing Clean Slate I found myself constantly referring to it. At one point I printed it out and stuck I on the wall over my desk and started scribbling notes over it to remind myself of important parts of the story.
Well, my little brain really seemed to benefit from this. So, when I was developing the idea for Nightingale—which is pretty complicated with concurrent timelines and stuff—I took this a step further. I took this little picture I have of this story and character arc and I got it printed up into a poster to put up on my wall permanently. I also decided that I didn’t want to be scribbling all over this one…so I got myself a selection of different coloured post-it notes. Each post-it note then got a brief synopsis of each chapter in the book. Because this one was a bit complicated I used a different colour to differentiate each time line.
Okay, I’m starting to confuse myself here a little bit, so here’s a picture of what I’m talking about.
I also make myself character cards with all the relevant information pertaining to each major character and others that have fair sized roles in the book. I also make them for important research notes and anything else I might need to keep a track of. With Nightingale there was a plethora of Islamic terms and explanations that were pretty difficult for me to keep track of, so I had a card with all of them on. At the end of the process it was really interesting to see just how many of these little cards I’d filled with information that’s now in this book. I was even shocked to discover that I remembered some of it!
It looks a little bit complicated I suppose, but I found that being able to see all this rather than just having it cluttered in my head meant I could follow the scenes in a really easy progression. It also made it easy for me to see the development of the story line, the characters, anything that was missing, and to picture the book all the way through no matter where I was in the actual writing part of the story.
It worked so well for me that it is something I’ve already started to do for my next novel, Swordfish, even though I know I won’t be able to do any of the actual writing for it until September. If I’m lucky!
This one doesn’t have a difficult time line to it—instead I have five point of view characters to keep track of.
So this is how it starts.
Getting ideas of stories to write really isn’t something I struggle with. I can get them from conversations, listening to the radio, reading something…anything. For me it’s keeping them organised and flowing from start to finish. To not drop any of those threads that weave into the fabric of the story…this system helps me keep track of it all.
It’s an ever evolving process, and I’m sure it will change as I learn more. But I’m curious…do you have a system or process to help you organise your writing? If so, what is it?