Check-in: December 2015

Even though I grew up reading novels, all I’ve ever written in the past have been short stories. I rarely ever find these easy to write, but they do seem more manageable, like the baby step approach to writing. And although it’s frustrating at times, if the story doesn’t work out, it’s easy to put them aside and move onto something else without too much time wasted in between.

Earlier this year, I started writing a novel. I did try my hand at novel writing for a brief period in Graduate School, but it was just too autobiographical and didn’t really work. I did LOVE my first chapter, though. I might end up recycling a few of those characters and using them somewhere else.

This novel is something a little different. I do like the story. I don’t think it’s Pulitzer Prize material yet, but I do think someone would want to read it one day. Not to give too much away, the story is about a college-aged woman who decides to leave school to spend the summer with her grandfather. He is a pretty well-known artist who specializes in portraits and lives in a somewhat secluded home in Northwest Alabama. When she arrives, the girl, a fairly wounded person, crosses paths with another artist, a friend of her grandfather’s. This other artist, a younger guy, has worked with her grandfather in the past and decides to come back for another summer. No one else at the house knows that they have a shared history and through ensuing tension, the girl is forced to confront a lot of her old wounds and decide whether to grow or continue floundering.

I think any novel has a deep basis in one’s own experience, but most of the inspiration came from a movie I stumbled upon and loved, Renoir.

Renoir (2013) Directed by Gilles Bourdos

The French film has some mixed reviews, but I really enjoyed it. There was something about the color, the leisurely use of time, and the overall style of the picture that had me hooked. Right after I watched it the first time, I got out one of my notebooks and started brainstorming plots. I wrote down whatever came to mind and after a month or so, I started writing the novel.

Right now I have a little under 30,000 words. Not quite there, right?

One of my struggles has been figuring out how to write it. In theory, I thought it would be best to write each scene as it came to me, then organize it later. I ended up having around 15,000 words and a lot of subheadings saying things like 1. They meet by the fireplace, and 2. He asks her to sit for a portrait. These ended up being somewhat helpful, but by the end, I still didn’t have a complete, finished first draft.

In fact, at this point I have started writing a “third draft” that is still missing several necessary scenes.

So far, my writing process feels a lot like dumping words and ideas into a rock tumbler. Each time, the draft comes out a little more polished but it still hasn’t quite gotten to where it needs to be. Those rough edges are still there and I’m not sure what needs to go where.

In the process of writing, I have searched the internet for guides to plot-planning and have found a few resources:

Eight ways to outline a novel. I particularly liked The Skeletal Outline.

Mapping Out Your Story using the Subway/Roadmap technique. I was intrigued by this, but wasn’t able to find any software compatible with a Mac.

Subway Map technique outlining plot points of The Hunger Games

Creating a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps. I’m going to be honest here, I didn’t dig into this one at all, really. Now that I’m looking back it seems very helpful!

I don’t know about all of you, but ideally I would love to learn about some method of novel writing that is sort of visual and streamlined. Of course there can’t be a one size fits all approach to plot, but I’d really enjoy some kind of graphic organizer/guide to help me.

Hey, maybe I’ll invent one!

Have you all found any plot-planning techniques that made things easier for you while writing? How is your writing coming along?



4 thoughts on “Check-in: December 2015

  1. jeffj1111 says:

    Legal pad outlining, for now. Have not found a good flowchart/storyline Mac app yet. OmniGraffle is good but not cheap. There is an iOS app called Ideament (free); may be fine on iPad, is sorta small on iPhone. Some people like Evernote. Like I used to tell my online students in Academic Strategies, find whatever works and get to work.


    • Sarah Langcuster says:

      I have always loved a legal pad. Do you Roman Numeral it or do you have another system? I remember stumbling on the Snowflake Method a while back, but didn’t try it as you said, it wasn’t cheap. I will check out Ideament. Thank you, Jeff!

      Happy writing


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