Are there any novelists here? I need help.

I’ve been distracted for awhile by thousands of ideas, like little snapshots, that I’m sure would make an excellent plot for a novel if I could string them all together cohesively, but I don’t even know where to start.

How do you organize ideas like this into something a little more linear? About a thousand pages of unfinished novels have proven to me that I really don’t know what I’m doing, and that I’m screwing something fundamental up. So how do you get started? Do you write out a plot description in outline, first? Do you start on page “1” and just run? I’ve heard of a thousand techniques, from writing character bios, to flashcards, to tape recorders and “interview your character” exercises, but most of it just sounds silly to me, and I can’t get into any of it enough to give it an honest try.

I’m not even sure what I’m asking, really. If anyone can muddle through this post and get an idea of what I’m trying to ask, I’d appreciate it. The biggest problem is that I’m stuck, and I don’t even know what’s holding me.

I think the short answer is that it depends on you - whatever works best is best.

Some writers just start writing and never know where their characters will end up (Stephen King claims to do this) while others invariably have every plot turn in mind from the get-go. I tend to have a broad idea, then I write and flesh it out. Course, I’m not published yet (outside of short stories) so my advice may be worth zilch.

When I do pre-write, I find it useful to use a white board. Nowadays you can find one with an easel for a decent price. Mine is more or less the whiteboard from “House” season one. I generally write ideas/characters down on post-it notes, then stick the note on the board, and draw lines of varying colors connecting each note/character to another. The benefit is that you can always erase a line and redraw it somewhere else, and you can always re-stick a post-it without losing the information that it contains.

Best advice I can give is to just write. Even if it’s trash, you’ve written something, and that’s what editing and rewrites are for…can’t rewrite until you actually write. I’ve even been known to go off on a tangent completely unrelated to the story, only to come back and say “hmm, with a little work this’ll actually fit in nicely.”

Good luck!

If you’re looking for an organized way to approach your writing, try this.

I find it too organized, but I know several writers whe swear by it. One of them used it on a story he’d been working on for years, bits and pieces, and six months later he had a novel that sold.

(Just using the freebie explanation on that site, I don’t know anything about the commercial package the author now sells.)

I’d say that if you’re trying one way and it’s not working, try a different way. If you’re trying to write without an outline but can’t, try writing with an outline.

How I get started: write a great opening chapter. This is the engine that makes the novel work: you have to put some interesting characters in an intriguing situation that they have strong reasons to deal with.

I create characters by visualizing them and then having them talk. I learn from what they say and slowly develop them as characters. As I write, I flesh them out in my mind, but don’t try to add all I’ve thought of (for instance, one character is a lesbian, but it never came up in the novel, so I never mentioned it).

I don’t outline (once I write down the outline, I feel it constrains me), but I do keep important milestones in my head. Then I write until they reach those milestones. For instance, “these two characters need to meet.”

However, you do need to find your own way. The important thing is to understand what a story is and to try to write shorter works (especially from the various fragments you seem to have). Give the characters something they want, and show how they try to achieve it.

A writing group may help. You can always try

There are about a thousand ways to do this and many of them work. Here’s my thought: Come up with something that unifies everything you’ve written so far–or the majority, I guess–and hang everything on that.

One technique is, when someone asks you what the book is about, have a one-word answer. Figure out the one thing you’re trying to address, or the one reason you’re writing, or the one hot button. Not every writer does this consciously and not every writer could say, while writing the book, “Oh yeah. It’s about betrayal,” for instance. But most of them can identify the emotion when they’re done. Intense emotions can drive whole novels, even long ones.

I don’t use a whole outline (well I have, but I didn’t like doing it that way) but I do like having a controlling premise that sort of governs the action and gets the story started. The controlling premise for a mystery might read something like this: “A police detective addicted to prescription painkillers must collect enough evidence to convict a major drug kingpin before the kingpin marries the police chief’s daughter.” (Lame, but my fiction-brain isn’t working today.) What you put into the controlling premise is the PROTAGONIST along with a quick summary of what makes him/her different, the TASK the protag needs to fulfill, and the STAKES. So it could also be as simple as “An ad executive must find a suitable husband before her biological clock runs down forever.”

For me, it’s worth pounding this out for awhile, then putting it on a card and taping it up in various places around my office to keep me on track. After that it doesn’t matter what order I write scenes in, and I don’t write them in order. But this way I know they’ll all fit. (Actually, a lot of them don’t fit, I know that, and write them anyway. Maybe they’ll fit in the next project.)

I’m sure somebody has written a whole book on using a premise. There are a lot of how-to-write books out there. You could spend your life reading them.

I got a tremendous feeling of relief reading through that site. I’m pretty sure this is exactly what I needed, and I learned a bit about myself while I was thinking about it.

I’m not a “seat-of-the-pants” writer (a term which I didn’t even know existed!), but I’ve been acting like one. Writer’s block hits me like a hammer when I think about sitting down to write the next scene, having only the vaguest idea of what I want to happen over the entire rest of the novel.

Thanks for the link! I’m going to try it out, and I expect it’ll work really well for me.

Great! I hope it turns out to work well for you.