An Alternative to Outlining
This is the time of year when lots of writers are looking ahead to November and what is possibly one of the most masochistic things writers ever do to themselves: National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The objective of course with NaNoWriMo is to write an entire novel of 50,000 words over the course of a month. Although many writers like to jump in on November 1st with nothing more than a bare idea and a blank page, others choose to do prep work. If you're playing by the rules, you can't write any text of the novel prior to November 1st, but you can make notes, do outlines, write character sketches, and any other kinds of pre-writing that may (or may not!) help you hit the ground running and make that 50,000-word goal easier to achieve.
I am still considering whether or not to jump into the NaNoWriMo frenzy this year. I tried several years back and got to about 27,000 words, but I think I could do better now. While I try to make up my mind whether or not to commit, I'm sorting through story ideas that I have in reserve and considering how I would want to prep one. This morning, with this in mind, I came across a blog post from writer Amy Stewart, who has a great idea of how writers can adapt the concept of thumbnail sketches that artists use to create a painting to their own work. Basically, she writes out a brief sketch of what will happen in the next scene or chapter she's going to write, discussing what the scene or chapter needs to accomplish, and what she may know or not know about how it's going to play out. With that done, she's then ready to write the full piece based on the sketch she's written.
I like the adaptability of this idea, because you can go micro (sketching out one brief scene) or macro (sketching out a whole novel, basically a synopsis or treatment) with it. You can sketch out all the scenes or chapters in your book, or just the key ones that are particularly complicated or challenging. That avoids the problem I've run into with outlines--I can never finish them because I never know enough in advance to fill in all the holes. I also like that sketching out scenes in advance is a good way for me to remind myself to make sure I'm injecting enough conflict into the story and not letting things just coast along.
So now for the rest of October, I'll be playing around with written thumbnail sketches while I make up my mind whether to NaNoWriMo or not to NaNoWriMo.
Image credit: Terry Pittman
This is where I throw thoughts on the wall to see what sticks.
Like spaghetti, but with words.