Monday, November 14, 2011

Outlining: In color!

Over the past few months, I've written a bunch of different scenes from all over the timeline of my novel in an attempt to get to know my characters better. I've written from all different POVs, different emotional states, and really let go of the linear way of thinking about drafting a novel.

I grew a ton as a writer, and I know my characters so, so well.

But, at the end of the day, I still have to piece these things together into something that looks like a novel, right?

The thing is, I have a TON of fully formed scenes, ready to go ready to revise. I just need to figure out where they fit together, how they work together in that puzzle we writers call plot.

That's when I pulled out my secret weapon:

Sticky notes.
Yes, sticky notes, my new best friend.

I was explaining my plotting troubles to my VCFA advisor (as I do), and she sent me a few links to some blog posts about plotting novels with sticky notes. I was totally fascinated. The plot of this novel started on multi-colored index cards, all because I was too afraid I was going to forget the key points. I've never really been an outliner, and that really kicked me in the butt during my last WIP. This time around, I wanted a strategy. 

The index card thing worked out, then I started writing and sort of abandoned it. But now that I have actual scenes written with no idea where to put them, the sticky notes work wonders. They allow me to move ideas around, shaping the novel as I try out different configurations of plot and character arcs. And by grouping subplots by color (romantic subplot in pink, friendship subplot in yellow, etc.), I can make sure I'm paying adequate attention to each subplot.
It's working out great, so far. I feel organized. I feel inspired. I feel prepared to move on.

Here's what my whiteboard, covered in sticky notes, currently looks like:

I can haz crappy quality photo? (When it's further along, I'll post something, uhm..not from my camera phone.)

As you can see, I'm making some connections. The beginning is more formed than the end (some of the ones hanging off the bottom really go in that big, scary, open space in the middle...I just don't know in what order yet.) You might also notice that sometimes there's a green sticky note that has a pink sticker on it, or something like that. That's because that's one subplot that's partially tied to another. Sticky notes that are stacked on top of one another in a long train go together in a chapter. Eventually, I hope to have about 30 trains of sticky notes in different colors, denoting my well-rounded chapters.

If manual labor isn't your thing, there is a sticky note computer program that lets you do essentially the same thing, but without the hassle of writing or sticking (though isn't the sticking the most fun part?)

You tell me: How do you outline or plot out your novels?


  1. I LOVE sticky notes! I also use index cards for outlining and characters but sticky notes are such a great visual way to get my crazy thoughts in order!

  2. I am really interested in doing this. I've been thinking about it for a while, and given my emotional allergy to outlines, I think it might be right up my alley!

  3. I'm obsessed with sticky notes so this is perfect!


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