A Writer’s Notebook – part 2

As you begin constructing a new story, you will begin generating notes about the current story under construction. Call me old-fashion but these are handwritten or printed out and placed in a one-inch, 3-ring notebook for specific reasons. Digital copies should be made as a backup.

The first note should probably be a fairly long synopsis of the story from which an outline can be created. The kind of outline isn’t important. Whatever you are comfortable with and its effectiveness is. The synopsis and outline are the road maps you and your characters can follow from start to finish. However, like any cross-country journey, one seldom goes from A to Z in a straight line. You or your characters will discover unintended side trips to spice up the journey. Often, these divots in otherwise smooth traveling come to mind away from where you normally write. Cell phone or tablet to the rescue. Once back to your writing spot the idea can be incorporated or filed for future reference. Filled where?? Digitally AND in a 3-ring notebook.

Most likely, such notes are handwritten. But why in a physical notebook? When tucked away on a computer they are easily lost (where did I put that or what did I call that?) or worst of all, forgotten. A handwritten note is constantly in front of your eyes nagging for inclusion. I use whatever is handy – sticky notes, hotel notepads, 3×5 cards.

J.K. Rowlingwrote her initial ideasfor HarryPotteron a napkin. Others who have used napkins are Stephen King, Maryiln Monroe, and Ernest Hemingway. I heard that someone used toilet paper. Poor Edgar Poe. He used sealing wax to glue paper together to form a scroll upon which to write. Could have saved time and written more with a roll of toiletpaper.

Once made, a note can be pasted on a wall, a corkboard . . . or on a sheet of paper and placed in a notebook. I prefer this option. At one time I traveled researching story locals. Evenings were spent writing on a laptop, the current notebook at my elbow. Portability, convenience, and availability are reasons for this second, physical notebook. So, what goes into the thing?

  • Synopsis
  • Outline (whatever form you like to use)
  • Character description forms
  • Specific notes from the computerized “Characters” file
    • How a desired trait is manifest
    • How people speak in certain areas (slang)
    • A list of facial expressions
    • Voice descriptors
    • Physical descriptors
    • Drawings of how a room, building, neighborhood, community, country or universe is laid out
    • Timelines
  • Research notes
    • Clothing styles for area or period
    • Local mannerisms and speech
    • Geographical research
    • (If historical) Something about individuals / events
  • General writing notes from a computerized  file
    • Checklist of things that should appear in the storyline
  • Just about anything you want to quickly refer to while writing

Now, why on earth should a person go to all the trouble of hard copy notes when it can be on the computer?

Unless you are really, really good at categorizing material. For instance, let’s say you have a character who suffers from claustrophobia. Certain situations trigger reactions to some level. Instead of stopping to search through the computer, in a matter of seconds (literally) you have a fact sheet for reference. The problem is introduced in chapter 2. Several weeks or months later that person is placed in a situation to initiate an attack. Flip, flip, flip, here’s what will happen. Without barely halting, you have the necessary information and move on writing the scene which may or may not alter the scene you had in mind.

Let’s say you have action inside a house. A drawing lays out where rooms/objects are located. At any time in the story you can quickly refer to that drawing – Uncle Clyde left his bowler in what room in chapter four? Ah, yes, the kitchen pantry. You are consistent. There is nothing so annoying as to read that an action took place in a house two miles north of the city and six chapters later either the city or the house moved six miles south. In seconds, it is possible to do a quick reference check and get on with the scene.

This notebook is your flash reference to important details, especially the little things that help with consistency and writing technique. And one last thing – sequels. All the important details are laid out quick reference to give you a head start out of the shoot on the next installment.

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