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?


Beth Caudill said...

I keep a notepad file for story ideas that I can write a sentence or two about.

sometimes I get a story and will write the first chapter (or three) down. I don't really do research until I'm serious about focusing on a story.

I don't keep a lot of paper ideas anywhere. I use mindmapping software to track of research, characters and plot points. I use FreeMind but there are other programs available.

Joanne Stewart said...

You are WAY more organized than I could ever hope to be. I have files on my harddrive. The starts of stories I hope to write one day. I started a name file as well. I let my mind play with the idea for a bit, and depending on how much it's bugging me, I write it down into its own document and save it in what I call my "stories" file. I'd lose paper. lol

Sandra Koehler said...

Thanks for your suggestions! I like the idea of FreeMind; I've not heard of it and will check it out! Alison/Sandy

Sarah Grimm said...

I have notebooks filled with story ideas. They're also filled with lots of scraps of paper, which is still my preferred method. (don't ask me why because I always lose some of them) ;) I need to get better organized.

Sandra Koehler said...

I like scraps too...Alison/Sandy

Vonnie Davis said...

I have a file I put articles in plus sheets of paper where I've written a blurb or gem of story idea. As I age, I'm less organized and more frantic about writing hours everyday before the mind starts to go (as if it was EVER there to begin with--**wink**). Great post.

Sandra Koehler said...

Thanks, Vonnie! Sandy/Alison