As bipedal, thinking creatures, we seem to crave order. Predictability and patterns alleviate apprehension for most and help us get from point A to point B.
If you look at the natural world, it seems to yearn for the same organization and structure. A clear pecking order exists down the food chain; certain things have to happen for other things to happen next; the sun rises; the moon waxes and wanes.
But sometimes things happen, and nature is nothing but unpredictable. The roadrunner loses his mate and wanders for years in search of another. The anthill is destroyed by rain, creating chaos among the colony. Benign skies release thunderous cracks and snaps into the air, followed by a deluge of devastating rain. The owl looks for a new nest because human curiosity has forced it to a safer location.
For all of its predictability, nature is often chaotic and completely disorganized – but always, it seems, striving to achieve some sort of balance all over again. Just like us.
For Readers & Writers: Do you wonder how your favorite authors organize and plan their novels? Do they borrow from the orderly side of nature, or do they embrace the unpredictable, moody side?
Me? I fall somewhere in between, though those of you pantsers (fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writers) will look at the photos below and say, “Yeah, right, Melissa. You are a plotter, not a pantser.” But let me explain! I consider myself a bit of a hybrid – a plotser? A pantplot?
The giant whiteboard is my loose, “big picture” novel concept. When I start a WIP, it’s actually pretty sparse – with what I initially think will be my beginning, middle and end (I loosely follow Vogler’s Writer’s Journey to help me with a general framework so that I have ‘someplace’ to start). I fill in, then, with additional details as I get to know my characters and story better.
For the last third of my novel, I turned to color-coded index cards, because I had to find some way to organize the mishmash of already-written scenes that were inspired during character profile development and research of various topics.
Why colored cards? They allowed me to see, visually, what content was missing altogether and which scenes were repetitive. My random color assignment worked like this:
- Blue – medical scenes (my MC has a medical issue that plays heavily into the story)
- Green – nature/environmental scenes (big surprise … nature is a character in my WIP)
- Yellow – present scenes
- Purple – symbolic scenes/events that tie to theme
- White – backstory, character details, flashbacks, memories
With an eye-sweep of the dining room table, I could see if I had too many greens, not enough blues or way too many whites in the chapters of the last third of my novel.
Now, of course, since I’m big on my characters telling the story (not me), these stacks of cards with their one- to two-line scene descriptions have changed as I’ve continued writing, despite my best intentions. (Some stacks now have fewer cards, some have more, some have been reshuffled and rearranged).
Characters, it turns out, aren’t much different than nature. In some things, they are quite predictable in their behavior, and in others, not so much.
What about you? Do you embrace the predictability of nature, or its uncertainty? Are you an organized writer, or do you love the messy chaos of letting the characters take you where you want to go, with no restraints – i.e. colored index cards – to get in the way?