Monday, June 6, 2011
Keeping Track of your Plot Ideas
It started out as a few scraps of paper, hastily scrawled and sometimes barely legible, then grew into a bunch of tattered newspaper clippings thrown into a shoebox or a bulging manila folder. I had no idea what any of it meant. I had forgotten why I put the things there or when. Sometimes I even forgot where I put the shoebox. I ignored the problem for a while, telling myself I'd deal with it later. But then it started to make me nervous and feel out of control, especially for an organizational freak like me, someone with an obsessive, compulsive need to know where everything is at every given moment. To lose something as important as an idea for a book or a character, drove me crazy. The next time I needed a new plot idea, what was I going to do?
So I finally began to organize my ideas with a vengeance. I bought brightly-colored three-ring binders and pasted all the newspaper articles in it, organized by topic. (World War II has always been a favorite--missing people, missing treasures--I've always wanted to write a romantic suspense novel set in that time period). Then I took all the little snibbles of paper and pasted them down in a separate section, once again, organized by topic, the best ideas toward the front. Whenever a character name popped into my head (which happens often), I consolidated all of the names in one place, along with a list of distinguishing characteristics. I made a separate piece of paper for names of places I'd dreamed up, restaurants, cities and towns, the whole imaginary gambit. And tab dividers also helped, along with the color-coded binders.
For the plots that I'd developed beyond a line or two, I took another binder and put the detailed chapter by chapter outline in it, along with a personality sketch on each character, and all the research I'd done to date, including the location where the book would be set and the history, character occupations, etc. These binders got very thick, but they certainly restored my sense of calm. Plus, I put them in an easily recognizable place, on top of or inside a bookshelf, rather than hiding them away in a desk drawer or filing cabinet. Everything was right at my fingertips and I could relax. But what about new ideas, now that the binders were finished? I left blank space in the front and back of each one, for any new kernels of story ideas or people that might pop up.
P.S. Paperless world, be damned. I still print out a hard copy of everything I write or research. Too many computer crashes or freezes convinced me this was the safest method.
So what are your suggestions? How do you keep track of all of those marvelous plot ideas that you dream up? You've got to find a safe place to stash them or they'll be gone forever.
For those of you that have tried to leave comments in previous weeks and couldn't, I apologize for the problem with Blogger. I hope the situation has been rectified.
Thought for the Day: …"we are as good as anyone else, with as much to say as the next person. The only thing that stands in our way is not saying it."--Maeve Binchy
Next week: Write about what you enjoy or write what you think will sell?