I’ve always wondered how novelists come up their books. Do they just start writing with a hunch and let the inspiration flow, taking them where it will? That seemed unlikely, given what I know about writing as a daily job, with inspiration playing only a minor role. (Or better put, inspiration flowing from consistent daily toil.)
Each writer is different. Each follows a different path.
But I was cheered to see this outline that Joseph Heller came up with (presented in OpenCulture.com, a wonderful website, which I support financially).
It’s a chronology of events he describes in Catch-22 and it helped him keep track of the story he intended to tell in wildly non-chronological order.
(Full disclosure: I started to read the novel years ago and couldn’t finish it.)
I tried something like this with Dreamland – putting pieces of paper up on a mirror in my garage office, each representing a different chapter, which readers of the book will know are mostly 2-6 pages in length.
At one point my wife walked into the garage, saw this blizzard of paper taped to the mirror, and left thinking I’d lost my mind. But the papers helped visualize where the book was going and track the different storylines I was telling. It helped also when it came time to rearrange the order some of the chapters came in. I’d just untape a chapter and move it somewhere else on the mirror. At one point I had six rows, each with 5-7 chapters per row.
Apparently other writers find this visualizing necessary first before telling a story.
“Every great novel—or at least every finished novel—needs a plan.”
I think it’s true in nonfiction as well.