By the Wind Grieved

By the Wind Grieved
“O lost, And by the wind grieved, Ghost, Come back again.” Thomas Wolfe

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Writing a Novel Line by Line or Scene by Scene

A year and a half ago, I primed myself for my memoir project by reading a number of books on writing. Now, with the way opening up for my own writing project, I find myself reflecting on the process.

While having gained some useful insights from those books, in hindsight, I think I still approached the writing of my client's story the way I had approached other kinds of writing, such as the thesis for my Masters degree or the annual reports required in my position as a academic program director. I did my research, took copious notes, and then outlined the whole shebang, adding to it as I gathered more details and color-coding sections to align with characters or places or time periods.

Then, about the time I began writing the first draft, I invested in the writing app Scrivener, which I recommended here in October and which encourages the building of scenes within a "binder." Around the same time, I discovered writer and master teacher Mary Carroll Moore, whom I also wrote about in a post on structuring the memoir in June of 2013. Her "storyboarding" method intrigued me, and seemed a technique very compatible with Scrivener.

Eventually, scrolling down (or flipping through) my print outline, trying to find particular details when I wanted them among the color-coded chunks became tedious. I started combining my methods, moving chunks of outline into Scrivener. Finally, though checking now and again for a detail in the outline, I ended up abandoning my linear map and composing directly into Scrivener from the notes I had taken during interviews with my client.

Throughout this trial and error process, I picked up some valuable tools from Kathy Papajohn, author of the dystopian thriller Maligned, senior editor at Martin Sisters Press, and good friend. Kathy turned me on to a great resource from the February 2014 issue of Writer's Digest: an article in the WORKBOOK section called "Outlining and Story Mapping." I found that the kind of hybrid outlining/scene-sketching method described here was, in fact, what I had been gravitating to for several months. (The first point on crafting a premise was extremely helpful as well.)

Finally, having committed to serious study of these various methods with the intent to write a novel (or memoir of my own) this year, I was especially thrilled this week when I visited Charli Mills's Carrot Ranch site and saw her long and very well articulated post on Writing a Novel Scene by Scene. Here Charli gives readers a detailed accounting of her own experience ditching the outline and using Mary Carroll Moore's storyboarding method. She also offers great tips on how use an existing outline as a basis for building scenes, provides three different scenarios, and does a nice pitch for the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge. I am using her post as a guide right now, and highly recommend it.

What about your writing efforts? What techniques do you use to organize your writing? Which ones lend themselves to different kinds of writing? If you have used any of these tools, which ones have worked best for you? Would love your input. Thanks for visiting!


  1. Thanks Anonymous. I expect you may be the writer I know who does use long and detailed outlines. It would be good to hear a defense of the traditional method!

  2. Sadly my finger slipped and I deleted the following comment from "geofflepard" at Wordpress, so copying and pasting it here from the new comment notification email...
    Hi Jeanne. I too have read Charli's with interest. I write fiction, so far, not memoire. I'm of a school, maybe of one, who finds any sort of detailed forward planning awkward. I become bored easily if I don't just write and have suffered, when constrained, because I also find my characters take over and render planning pretty near useless. I do spend a lot of thinking (though not writing) time working out what my characters are like and I do have an idea of where the plot I going and where it will end but really that about it.
    I would be the first to say I would love to be able to plot things out more because, believe me, I have to do some massive and drastic editing to do - fortunately I enjoy a good edit. It may be that that is where Scrivener would come into its own. Others have suggested it to me and I really ought to invest in it (Charli made me promise...).
    Really interesting post (as you'll gather from the length of this response).

  3. I read your comment with interest "geofflepard" and could relate with your disinclination to plan. I have long allowed a tendency toward spontaneity waylay progress on any number of projects. Considering how you work, which is, by the way, probably a great thing when it comes to creativity, I think you would really like Scrivener. It will allow you to scribble madly away and organize it all later, much more easily that you can do in a traditional word processing app. And yes, it is good for editing too. It chunks everything into much more manageable chunks. Thanks again for commenting. I hope you see this!

  4. I can echo all of this advice. I am beginning to realise I have no one preferred way of working and switch between all sorts of method depending on mood and subject matter - trouble is it can then end up all over the place so I am also following Charli's posts as I need some structure, but like you Geoff, can find detailed planning takes over from creativity. Geoff, you may be more like Stephen King in your approach and if you haven't read it do get "On Writing" - It is a joy to read for many reasons.

    1. Interesting insight Lisa on operating according to mood and task at hand. And I agree with your recommendation about Stephen King. It is one of my favorite writing books too! Thanks for commenting.