Writing Issues: Projects, Outlines and Notes

This is a bit scary to write. I’m not new to blogging or (necessarily) writing, but I’m sort of new to blogging about writing, especially about writing a novel, which I’m also new to. Am I inadvertently giving away some behind-the-curtain stuff here? Should I only be talking about my work and how I’m doing it once I’m done?

Stuff it. I’m holding my nose and going into the deep end.

If you’ve been keeping an eye on my front page, you’ll probably have noticed that my DBTC calendar tracking my 1,000 Words per Day goal has taken a hit again. After building a seven-day chain up, I broke it on Saturday the 26th and only restarted it with this article.

I have been doing writing-related work in the meantime, mainly trying to build an outline for my first Slamdance novel. That’s part of the reason why I broke the chain. I’ve been writing bits and pieces of scenes in the week before, but I don’t have a plan for where they’ll fit – or even if they’ll fit at all into the final novel. That’s why I want to put an outline together before I get stuck into writing; I can figure out the ending and the characters and actions I’ll need to get the story there. The outline I prepared for The Second War of the Worlds was a huge help in getting the rough draft written, and I’d really like to have one for Slamdance.

The problem is, The Second War of the Worlds had an easy conflict – the Martians invade again – and I knew how I wanted to resolve it. Slamdance, as it turns out, is a trickier beast. I have an overall arc in mind and I know how it will end but I feel as though the arc is going to take at least a couple of books to play out. In the meantime I need other challenges to confront Slamdance and his friends with. That was where I hit the wall. I didn’t have any idea of a main conflict as obvious or clear cut as the one for my NaNoWriMo book.

I reckoned that a resource on creating an outline would likely address the problem of coming up with a conflict, so I did a little Googling and found a web page for a technique called the Snowflake Method. I read it over and liked how it seemed to work, then tried it – but I’m yet to get past Stage 2. I kept trying to work up a specific threat or challenge for Slamdance to tackle and the results of my two tilts at Stage 1 just didn’t cut it; the first one summed the whole broader arc up and I’d have to cram a lot of stuff up into one book to finish it, while the second was more dark in tone than I want and required an investigation plot which I’m not keen on writing.

I talked with Vickie on Thursday night about what sort of enemy I should give Slamdance and spelled out some of my ideas. She wanted to know why I was going so dark with my ideas when I had a perfectly good core of a story with just Slamdance and his friends. I replied that I couldn’t just have a story with an eight-foot cyborg warrior pal-ing around with a Westie mechanic and a blogger in a junkyard.

Vickie asked me, “Why not?”

Blink.

Yesterday lunchtime, during another brainstorming session, I went back to step one of the Snowflake Method: Come up with a fifteen-word-or-less single sentence summary of the novel. Part of me worries now that it’s too high concept, but at the time it was the first summary I honestly felt good about. I even giggled a bit. (Writing a cool idea – as good as exercise for endorphins.) I found it had everything I really wanted out of Slamdance since I wrote the first stories over a decade ago. While Slamdance’s story isn’t going to be all happy – he has those pesky Wolverine blades and although he hates using them it’s my job to keep giving him good reasons to – I still want to throw in all those silly moments that run through my head when I think of him and his friends.

The next step is to take that single sentence and inflate it into a paragraph summary, and I’ll get to that this weekend (between trips out, mowing the lawn and other general house and yard work). In the meantime, though, I thought I’d make an appeal for advice.

One thing I’ve always tried to do is carry a notebook around with me so I can scribble down ideas as they come to me, whether they’re a concept for a scene or a chunk of dialogue. My main problem is processing that notebook; transcribing my notes so that I can get to them easily. I have a few Word documents, but they’re not really all that good for tracking individual ideas; I might as well build a warehouse and fill it with lots of crates stamped only with a general category.

Do any of you know of a program or other method with which I can organise these little idea nuggets? A physical card file doesn’t exactly work, because a single “nugget” could be filed in multiple places, like each of the characters speaking, the subject matter, the context. I keep thinking of some way of tagging each nugget with multiple tags which I can easily search. Do you use or know of anything that does this?

Now to the last topic I wanted to address in this blog post. As I mentioned both above and in my last Sunday Diary Scan, I wound up breaking a seven day writing chain on Saturday, March 26th. As I explained, I did so because I wanted to leave off writing Slamdance Book 1 until I had an outline ready to go. That’s a situation I don’t want to wind up in again, though, where if one project stalls in terms of writing output I don’t have any others to keep my hands busy (no laughing up the back).

I need to get at least two other projects on the way; I’d like to nominate the blog as one of them, but I’m a little hesitant to do so; I’m not sure what material other than the Sunday Diary Scans and Music Mondays (of which I’ve only done one so far) I can use as grist for the blogging mill. Do I open up more of my work on Slamdance in the name of blogging “my journey as a novice novelist”?

Therefore, I need one or two more – maybe “works” is the wrong word – lines, that’ll do, lines of fiction work that I can do when Slamdance gets a bit much or I suddenly (gasp!) finish the first draft. Thankfully, I have some resources that I can turn to, like the book The Naming of the World that Vickie encouraged me to buy last year and the weekly writing prompts that the lads of the Writing Excuses podcast end their weekly shows with. I think I just need to master the practice of quickly turning a prompt into a short outline that I can use to write a story.
Heck, I just have to do something with the most recent one, which was – where is it again? Ah:

Write an action sequence that you can appropriately title “Flaming Slapfight.”

Now, are you suddenly minding Bridget Jones and the Edge of Reason or is it just me?

  • Marcus

    Dude, I use Evernote on my I-devices which has good tagging & search plus syncs across them all.

  • salidar

    Hey Rob.
    I wanted to share a link with you. I don’t know if you have read any of Brandon Sanderson’s work, but I like reading his website because he blogs about his writing. I thought you might like it.
    http://www.brandonsanderson.com/index.php

  • IMAGinES

    Evernote, eh, Marcus? I’ll give it a whirl!

  • IMAGinES

    Salidar, I’ve got The Way of Kings but haven’t started reading it yet. I’ve certainly heard of Brandon, though; I subscribe to Writing Excuses, the weekly podcast he does with Dan Wells and Howard Tayler. Thanks for the link to his site; I’ll go take a look!