Writers: Think Outside the Blank Page

Throughout the journey of writing my first book, I’ve found sketches, pictures and notecards, have helped when composing has fallen short. Just this week as I continue to fine-tune my story—completed many months ago except for revision checks that continue to this day—I made two new sketches: How my main character has grown and How the theme is shown. But I get ahead of myself. Through much trial and error, I finally have found a process that works for me, saves time, and gives me confidence that I’ve covered all the bases.

Keep Track of the Basics in a Three-Ring Binder
  • Notes: I make notes all the time on many different kinds of paper, some on small scraps by nightlight in the wee hours of the morning. These notes are stapled, taped and punched into a binder section.
  • Drafts: The latest draft is punched in after the note section so when I edit, I can make sure I’ve covered the ideas on the notes, so that they can then be discarded. When the draft has too many marks, I make a new copy. Note: I go back and forth between editing on the computer and editing on paper.
  • Basic information: On blank green sheets of paper, I have stapled and taped index cards that contain basic information that informs my story. This information includes, but is not limited to:
             List of characters and their descriptions: Including magazine photos and impressions of people I know who have helped form the characters.
            Statements: The theme, story problem, concept sentence – story description in as few words as possible, and my favorite: a longer version of what my story is about. This latter version helps me know what to say to people when they say What is your book about? I used to get tongue-tied trying to explain.
           Story arcs: The main story arc, an arc for each character, an arc for each important story element, such as in this story, a key, a cloud, and a deed. This is important. A dog named Star, who is important to the story, disappeared for about 35 pages. I went in and found places to add him that didn’t feel contrived, but made his presence consistent.

            Lists: Animals that appear in the story; clues and red herrings; scenes, to make sure the scenes were placed properly and also to delete any scenes that didn’t add to the story--the scene list also helped me rearrange some parts of the action that fit better; subplots; items to research for accuracy. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but research is so important. 

Recently, I discovered that I had my character wishing on Sirius, the Dog Star, during the summer in Virginia. Oops, Sirius can only be seen in the Northern Hemisphere during the winter; during the summer Sirius is only visible in the Southern Hemisphere. Did you know the colors of hard hats depict certain jobs? How small buildings vs large buildings are demolished?

Work Out the Plot on Post-it Paper

Plotting began with long, single-spaced outlines which became defunct as soon as I started writing. Next I tried an outline-sketch, which worked better. The sketch was a mere skeleton that propped up the story. Still, the writing invariably changed the outline-sketch beyond recognition. 

Finally, I settled on writing plot-points on post-it paper and sticking the post-its on a large poster. Not only does this method work for me, but I love the process, so important, for our writing needs to be fun and joyful, not tedious. This method has many pluses.
  • Your ideas don't have to be in order. They can simply be jotted down and stuck on your poster board, to be arranged in order when you're ready.
  • Deleting is easy--throw unnecessary post-its away.
  • Adding is easy--stick additions where they fit best.
  • There is lots of room for contemplation--This is a fun part. You can stare at your creation as long as you like. Then it seems like magic: your hand reaches for your pencil and off you go, creating and having a ball.
  • Arranging and rearranging--Oh boy, my favorite part! That's when your story comes alive and your ideas flow, making your story better and better.
  • When you're done, it's time to write!
Work Out Character Growth and Theme on Blank Paper
Recently, I decided to chart how my character grew throughout the story. I wanted to make sure I'd shown a gradual change.
  • Start with a list: The handwritten list of my main character's growth took up three lined sheets of paper. 
  •  Chart the list on blank paper: I split the paper in half. On one side I briefly listed how my character began: as a little girl. On the other side I jotted down how I showed this: she jumped up and down in her seat as her grandpa races his car up and down hills. This briefer list continued to the Turning Point, when her old ways changed to a bolder, more self-confident girl who, at the end, made new friends, solved the mystery, and is ready to go home and get to know her new baby brother.
The same process was used to show the theme. There are, no doubt, more elements that can be tracked in this way, elements which need to be mentioned consistently and accurately. One-of-these-dayz, though, I must stop editing and offer up my book for publication!

Clipart courtesy of: PD4PIC Clipart; laoblogger.com/paper-drawing-clipart.html#

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Recently, she has completed her first book, a mystery/ghost story for children 7-11 years old, and is hard at work on Book Two in the series.  Follow Linda at www.lindawilsonauthor.com.


Terry Whalin said...


Thank you for this article. I have used a notebook to capture ideas in the past and appreciated this reminder. Ideas for writers can be fleeting if we don't capture them and then take action.

Straight Talk From the Editor

Karen Cioffi said...

LOL I think all us writers make notes on whatever paper happens to be near us at the moment an idea breaks through. I've used napkins, scrapes of paper, and even Notes on my iPhone.

Great reminder and tips on how to get past that blank page.

Linda Wilson said...

Thanks,Terry. Yes, my story ideas I'm afraid are still jammed into notebooks. The challenge for writing this book was getting organized, I think, and finding a way to capture the ideas for the book and then figuring out a process that works for me. I hope this process helps others find theirs.

Linda Wilson said...

LOL, your comment makes me laugh. Maybe one day our scribbled ideas will be sold at auction for six figures! What did I hear the other day: a cup that Elvis drank from sold at auction for thousands? I think that's right!

Karen Cioffi said...

If that ever happened, I hope I'm still around to see it! LOL

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