Getting your thoughts organised for a book

Now where did I write that funny saying?

The hardest part of writing a book is not actually writing it. The hardest part is keeping track of who is six-foot two, who has grey hair and blue eyes, who is blonde with green eyes, and who is stocky and fond of their grub.

It is also difficult to remember who did what and when, and where did I write that great expression that I heard someone say the other day that would really work well in chapter two when character X is talking to character Y? And what was Y wearing again when she drove from the murder scene to the police station?

It’s hard keeping track of all the details! But hopefully the following suggestions will be helpful to you.

Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat has some great ideas for helping writers, specifically screen writers, get organised. But the book works well with book authors too. I began implementing his suggestions for my next book, Death and the Bereavement Group, and I have to say the writing process is going a lot smoother than before. What is Snyder’s magic I hear you ask? Well here’s what I have changed in how I organise my thoughts as I put a book together.

Dry erase board with raw plot and characters.

1. I start with a big dry erase board where I write down the very basics of plot and character details. This inevitably will have changes, but the very guts of the story start right here.

I write down funny sayings I want the characters to utter, specific tasks that I want them to do. But this is not organised; it is a mish mash of what could potentially happen in the book. I don’t hold myself to anything on here right now, they are just twists, turns and character traits and sayings that I really like.

Story board with index cards.

2. I use index cards and start mapping out the chapters of the book and pin them to a cork board. According to Snyder, using index cards allows you to move ideas around. Perhaps the discovery of the body should have happened in chapter 1 and not the prologue?

The four dividing lines on this cork board delineate where the action should happen in a script, but for my own purposes right now, they are lining up chapters. If chapters need to get moved around, just unpin it and move it.

Timeline on blank register tape

3. One of my biggest problems, and mind you I’ve got many, is consistency with timeline events when I write.

I use a strip of blank register tape (you can buy them in packs of 6 from Staples) and tape it to the bottom of the cork board. Here is where I write down, in chronological order, a list of important events that happen in the book. It is easier to keep track of the timeline this way.

Basic Plot; displaying sideways, blame it on the cyber gremlins.

4. Finally, on a big piece of cardboard I write down the story’s plot in as much detail as I can. Again it doesn’t have to stay this way, but in case I forget something later on, now is the time to record what I think is important to remain in the plot.

I also use a writer’s notebook ( I use a simple composition notebook) to eavesdrop on conversations and behaviors when I am out to dinner, shopping, or just sitting and observing people.

If you have difficulty remembering what characters should look like, I use pictures of actors to remind me; Judi Dench was my inspiration for Emily Pritkin in Outward Walls.

In a future post I will lay out in detail the suggestions by Snyder in Save the Cat. For now, these are the ones that I found helpful in getting my thoughts organised.


6 thoughts on “Getting your thoughts organised for a book

  1. Youknow, my friend and I have done many of these suggestions in our mind and kept notes in a book I still collect thoughts and phrases in cse we ever get back to that book we started. My friendhas written a couple books in the past, one a text book, so it doesn’t count as much, I guess but she knew more aobut organization in storytelling than I did. SOmehow, some of this wasinstinctual and I HAD to make notes becasue I couldn’t rememeber some things. Our characters were developed early, with characteristics of people we know, including ourselves. That helped a lot.

    Thanks, Loretto, for posting this. It hits home. xxx

  2. Thanks for the suggestions, Loretto. Of course all the ‘writing’ will be on the computer, but these organizational techniques allow easy access to all thoughts at once. Great ideas!


  3. Fascinating Post Loretto. This was the window into the writing process I’ve wanted to see. It’s also why I could never write novels like you. I’m too scatter brained. I’d forget my murderer was a lefty until I got to the trial and then I’d have to go back and rewrite everything. No way! I appreciate the hard work that goes into the stories we enjoy.
    Warmth and Peace

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