Hello semi-loyal readerbase; how’s it going? Even though you haven’t all given me the ol’ follow over there to the right, I know you’re out there (I can see the page views). Yesterday I went over a few facts, experiences, and ideas I had about setting yourself up to write. You should now happily be able to avoid blank pages and writers block while settling down in your new noise canceling headsets—most excellent. Today I’ll be breaching upon the ways in which you can more easily keep track of and control the world in your novels. So sit back, relax, and enjoy.
So, you have a story and a place to write, and you’ve started to do so. Everything is going well, but you find that you need to keep coming back to the start to check facts, or names, or who loves whom. This task, while important to the integrity of the story, can be very, very time consuming. The simplest answer to “How do I keep track of EVERYTHING in my world?” is this, just write it down. That’s all there is to it. I literally have journals stacked upon journals filled with bits of plot, character personalities, book ideas, words, languages, the way worlds work, and how plot lines twist together over time. Scribbling ideas into a journal is infinitely easier than having to scour your text over and over trying to figure out what exactly you meant when you said that thing and where you wanted the story to go.
The idea of keeping journals segues very nicely into the question, “Where do I go from here?” Sometimes when you hit the end of a chapter, or even just a day of writing, you’ll run out of exactly what you want to say. Maybe you still have the idea that your characters need to do X thing, but you don’t know how to get them there in an interesting way. Yeah, sure, you could just say “and they walked in silence, neither looking at one another. The road was empty and wide, and nothing bothered to get in their way. In fact, it was so dull that they only stared straight ahead, never wanting to look to their left of their right, where it was even more boring.” Those sentences would theoretically get your characters to where they needed to go, but if the entire book went on like that, it would be pretty awful in the long run. When I have these moments, it’s time to return to the journal and the search for those iron ideas. You just need a tiny one to get going again, (idea not a journal—big journals are always the best). Hang around on your couch and paw through the pages, or maybe have a coffee and re-read the basic info you’d written down about who your characters are. You’ll figure it out if you put enough thought into it—often with much better results than just trying to get from point A to point B.
To carry the point a little further, I’m going to mention the way that I’ve found my stories grow organically. Organic growth of a story is an odd concept, but after writing the last paragraph, I feel prompted to write a little (or a lot, we’ll see) on the subject. I’ve written a good deal about how you need to know where you’re going, how you need to have a general idea, and a solid start, or things will get wonky in your books. I still stand by that, but I think I should make a point to say that I don’t really advocate the overuse of plot. I’ve spoken with people who have been “writing a novel,” for the past X number of years (without actually writing anything) and they always have these elaborate ideas worked out and spread over their walls with note cards. “This will happen, and then that, and then this, but more of that, and then some of these!” they tell me. The problem that I most often see with these folks is a lack of character within the very well thought out plot points. How do they know their characters will actually want to do what they have planned out? Maybe they thought someone would fail but were a bit more plucky than they’d given them credit for. When you create the people that fill your world, you’re creating a living, breathing artifact. They have their own whims, wills, wants, and desires—all of which, of course, is manifested through the experiences and words you give them. But, often, they get away from you a little bit and become their own person. I’ve had characters change so much from where I started, just because I experimented a little and they became something I liked a lot more, that I had to go back and touch up the start so it wasn’t such a radical transformation. The new person had taken plot points and completely circumnavigated them, going in strange new directions that before I’d gotten there, I had no idea we’d be following. The end result is a very naturally growing story where nothing feels forced. Every action that the characters make makes sense, and the more dominant personalities drive, or end, the conflicts. I had trouble with letting go of the total planned out, control mode when I first started writing and the chapters came out feeling forced and a little awkward. Relaxing a little bit lets everything happen on its own; it’s easier and will probably take you to crazy new places you never expected your book to go. Give it a try—it’s pretty cool.
This will be my last post on the subject of “how I write,” for some time, I believe. Unless something really cool comes up, the focus should be switching more to my book, and me, and what I’m working on. It’ll still be fun, I promise.