Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Orderly Chaos

Where do you keep your ideas? Whether our minor characters are based on people we meet, or our plots are ripped from the headlines, all writers need a way to store nuts for winter and retrieve them later. How do you organize yours? Could it be better?

by Dietrich

When fresh ideas for a new novel drift in while I’m engaged in a work in progress, I need to jot it down, or it will likely be gone. 

These sparks end up on handwritten scraps of paper, which tend to litter my desk until I find the time to transpose them into a slightly more organized computer file, waiting there until I can get to them. Sometimes what seemed like a great idea when I jotted it down ends up getting tossed out, leaving me asking, “What was I thinking?” 

As a rule, I don’t outline a story. I take these idea snippets, and I just start writing, seeing where it goes. New ideas spring from the initial ones, and I expand on them. It’s usually how I make my way through a first draft. 

For the next go-round, I expand on the first, and this is where anything that isn’t working gets revised or tossed out. Then I write a careful timeline, making sure the sequence of events makes sense.

For the first couple of novels, I kept unused ideas for future stories, packing them into a leftover file. I’ve never reached into it, finding there’s never a shortage of fresh ideas, so I abandoned it.

Admittedly, I don’t have an elaborate system for keeping story ideas, but I do keep careful character files. I detail physical descriptions, characteristics and backstories, individual strengths and flaws. And while most of the characters’ backstories never make it into the novel, all that info helps grow the characters and helps keep their motivation on course, making for more believable characters. 

Writing standalone stories makes it easy to get to know my characters and to keep them clear in my mind, at least until the story makes it through the editing process. After that they start to fade as I begin work on a new story. I guess if I were writing a series, the main characters would likely stay engrained in my mind, and their personal data would just get tweaked through a time progression, and the file would expand into a bible as I move from one story to the next in the series.

Depending on the work in progress, I sometimes shift between works in progress. When I complete a draft of one, I give it some space before returning to it. And I work through a draft of another story, incorporating the bits and pieces that I’ve collected for that one. When I get through that draft, I go back to the first story, working back and forth between the two stories. 

Could it be better? I try to stay open to better ways of keeping organized. So, I’ll be reading my fellow Minds posts this week, betting they’ll have some great tips to share.


Brenda Chapman said...

Thanks for sharing your process, Dietrich. Always fascinating to hear how other authors work!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Brenda. It is interesting to hear how other authors go about it.