Here in the Washington metro area a lot of people work in politics and have a hand in making the laws and policies of the land. These folks have a saying that compares policies to sausages. Everyone loves a good sausage but no one wants to know how it’s made–meaning that it’s probably better if you don’t know all the political compromises, threats, blackmail and, yes, editing that goes into making a policy. I, however, am slowly transforming from a politico to a writer, and I thought I’d give you a glimpse of my novel sausage anyway. Uh…okay, let’s forget this analogy before it gets gross.
Anyway, this photo shows one wall of my home office. What you see taped up there are chapter summaries for my novel in progress. I started doing this after I hit a snarl in the plot action and couldn’t find my characters’ way from chapters 27 through 35. I knew what had to happen in those chapters, but I could not see exactly how the characters were going to get where they needed to be. Tinkering with it in my head was not working because I couldn’t manage all the subplots simultaneously. A breakthrough in chapter 29 was creating problems in chapter 27, and when I rewrote 27, I created problems in chapter 31, etc. I was getting so bogged down with plot that I was writing nonsense like “He stopped into Korvar’s kitchen on his way to the Council meeting to see if Master Avani had returned from the fort.” Bleh!
It was time to go to the wall.
I don’t use a formal outline, but I do believe in having the plot action very, very clear before I get too concerned about other elements–except characterization. Okay, yes, I have to be sure I know the characters pretty well before I start. But once I can set the character sketches aside and start actually drafting a book, the plot is the thing. It has to make sense. As a reader, nothing annoys me more than being tricked into caring about characters who are going no place and doing nothing. Let there be peaks, and valleys in the action, I say, but by golly, keep that story moving forward in a believable fashion. That’s my goal.
So, with this in mind, I printed out my chapter summaries, then chopped them up separately and taped them on the wall in order. This helps immensely. In addition to fixing obvious gaps and dead ends, I can see the patterns in the action for each of the characters and subplots.
Here you can see where I’ve scratched out notes or corrections on a chapter description. Soon, each slip of paper will be covered in black ink and yellow highlighter, and I’ll get through a full draft with these corrections. Then, I’ll edit the descriptions again in a Word file, reprint them and get on to the next draft, fixing problems all along the way.
I’m sure there are other ways and probably better ways to get through all of this, but this is how I do it right now. My kids shake their heads when they catch me staring at the wall and muttering to myself, but it helps.