It happens that writing does not work and you spend hours at your computer without a line done. On other days, the ideas flow and it is a great challenge to create at least some coherent outline as the abundance of novel ideas overwhelms. There is a good traditional writing practice to write down each of the ideas briefly in a simple notebook. However, you have definitely seen the result. What you eventually get is a pile of papers and notebooks with separate ideas and parts of the text everywhere on your writing table. So, how to make your writing guided and organize all of your brilliant ideas into a concise outline?
It may also happen that having the main central idea of the novel, you are still at a loss how to develop it and what to do next.
Those two situations seem to be different, but there is a perfect solution that fits both of them. Create the scene cards and resolve the problems you have with your ideas!
Let us say that an abundance of random ideas overwhelms you and you have the problem number 1. Try the scene card method and take paper scraps with ideas out of your file folder or notebooks. Then, when you get a package of three, four, or five cards, grab them and copy the ideas onto them. You will see that you have both broad and specific narrow ideas.
In case you have got novel ideas that are excessively long for your cards, give them specific names to represent the main idea and let the long version stay in the notebook. You will definitely use it later when you will be working on your novel scene. Temporarily, you can choose some brief name for your long idea. Write down each of the ideas on cards, even if they represent merely details at random instead of specific scenes to be used. For now, use no judgment. Just copy and paste those ideas on the cards.
Currently, you see no problem with the technique, don’t you? However, where should you take the cards if your novel has only one idea, which is not sufficiently developed? So, you have problem number 2. When you start working on your novel, you have an image in your mind. Now it is time to start asking questions. Write all possible answers to your questions on the scene cards. Later on, you will have a look at possible variants of the events and get a hint about how to develop your main idea. For instance, writing a story about a ghost, think about the people who could see him. Wonder why they can do what other people cannot. Make guess about possible emotions of the characters. Find a reason why the ghost can be attracted to a particular human being. Think how the love story can develop and what events are needed to write about it in a convincing and funny manner.
Continue collecting ideas for a novel. Yu may come to the conclusion that the bodies may contain ghosts, even being unaware about that. You may feel stuck again, it is normal to lack ideas at some stages of writing. Ask yourself what can be wrong in the story that it stopped developing. Consider possible variants of the issues with the bodies that make a union between a ghost and non-ghost impossible. Imagine the emotions of the people who have to give away their bodies to become ghosts. Asking and answering questions, you will get the increasing number of scene cards. You will be surprised how many brilliant ideas you may get if you are creative enough.
It is amazing how a series of answers to many, even stupid, questions can bring to a pile of scene cards, and them to a novel. Even if the ideas look excessively simple at first, consider them for a little while. Jot down the notes and keep asking questions. What is the possible setting for a story? Who can be affected by the events of the story? What time periodis it? What season is it? What are the desires and ambitions of the main character? What can he or she be afraid of? What can go wrong in the story?
You will soon have a lot of notes and a lot of cards to fill. Use the scene card method and you will find it much easier to work on your novel.
Chronological Order of the Novel
You have started with one or several cards, not count how many you have when you have asked a lot of questions. Having got about twenty cards,it is easy to spread them around and have a look at all of them simultaneously. Having collected about fifty or even more, you will not be able to work with all them at once. So, place them in piles following the chronological order. The first pile will contain the things and events from the beginning of the story. The second pile will have the events from the end of the story. The third pile will contain the events from the middle of the story. Even if you still hesitate how to structure a novel, you can place your cards in any pile for now. You can keep making rearrangements as long as the story looks logical and interesting for you.
Spread out all the cards on the table. Put the scene cards in some order. Make your guess as to what exactly works. Shift all the things around unless you like the way your story begins.
So, now you have arranged the ideas chronologically. Now, read all of them again and you will see that your perspective of the story has changed. No worries. We are only starting the journey. Your final product can be different from what you have now. What we do now is sorting the points of the plot.
You have started being confused. Please do not! Your cards will probably not read very logical now. They may seem to be irrelevant or silly. Do not panic. Keep generating new ideas and collecting the scene cards for your three piles.
How to Fill the Gaps
Consider the secrets of excellent storytelling and try to fill the existing gaps in your novel structure and outline. One of the characters has a problem to be solved. You have already specified the place and time for the events. You have decided which circumstances will prevent the main character from achieving his or her plans. And now help the readers like the story. What they need is a combination of three aspects: emotions, believability, and suspense.
Think about the eternal example of Romeo and Juliet. What scene cards could they have? Remember that the scenes from Shakespeare had the intimacy, suspense as the readers are waiting for the next events, as the motives of the characters are realistic.
It is a complicated thing to ensure that the storytelling is perfect. Nevertheless, at the stage of an outline, cover the most fundamental things: there should be no place for readers’ disbelief; you should make readers develop some emotions about the characters, and they should be interested in what will happen next.
Set-ups and Pay-offs in the Outline
Identify the gaps in the story outline with the method of set-ups and pay-offs. If you have a scene card in the pile about the story ending and it needs explanation, check if the previous card contains it. For instance, if a teacher at the end of the story causes a bomb explosion, make sure that some previous cards have an explanation where he could get the bomb from. You want to play a certain card, but it needs perfect setting up. You cannot just write a scene of explosion without any story about how this bomb could have appeared in the apartment of a modest teacher. Remember that no events from your story can cause disbelief. You would better erase the scene with the explosion if you cannot think about a trustworthy background story about the origin of a bomb.
If one of the scene cards from the pile about the story beginning requires following, make sure that another card from the pile about the ending has a pay-off. If one of the scenes is devoted to a girl who is taking a stray dog home, and that makes the readers feel touched with her kindness, make sure that the dog appears at least once in the following scenes. How is the dog now? Is the girl happy that she has done that? The pay-off should always be included. Every small detail should be justified in the novel, and all your novel ideas need to be interrelated; otherwise, it will be a pile of ideas, not a single text.
Chapter Breaks: How to Make Them Appropriate
Chapters can be done differently in the novels. Specific types of chapter breaks may have specific effects. Some authors make numerous short chapters, while others prefer having only two or three parts in the whole book. Some authors prefer having no chapters at all. Develop your own strategy of making the chapter breaks. Writing down your novel outline, think about the best method to divide your plot; however, if you are still not sure how to make the chapter division at this stage, it is normal to postpone making this decision. You can start with working on your first draft and then make the decision about chapter breaks when you revise the whole novel. However, the idea of the chapter break may sometimes stimulate the imagination; then, build up your outline on the basis of your scene cards with the chapter breaks.
Cliffhangers in Novel Writing
Physical and psychological cliffhangers in writing novels are excellent techniques. If your character feels that he can no longer live without a girl he has just met, but he finds out that she is married, and the readers do not know about any reactions of the characters as the chapter breaks here. Some huge decision or important turn of events is about to take place, but the outcome is postponed. It is a great idea to use a cliffhanger as a technique of closing the chapters.
Look at the scene cards you have and create several cliffhangers. Think how you can separate an important event and your characters’ reaction. For instance, your character gets into a car accident but he stays alive. It is understandable that the most effective separation will be between the accident and the news that he is alive. End the chapters with new details and an intriguing moment that will make the readers expect the continuation.
Your main task is to make the ending of the chapter so much interesting that the readers will not be able to put the book aside even late at night.
Outline: Effective Writing
Take a piece of paper and start copying the scene cards. Do not forget to leave two or three blank lines between the entries. Each chapter should have one page. Now read your outline and insert new ideas in the blank spaces. You will see that your imagination will provide more and more details to the story. Bubbling up in your mind, the ideas will be making your story longer. Supplement your story with the best extra ideas.