Tuesday Tip: Take Notes First

Tuesday tips is a category of posts here at Writerly Life promises to offer concrete tips for improving or kickstarting your writing. The tips that fall into this category are the sorts that you can do today or even right now.

When I’m starting to write a brand-new scene for either a story or a novel, I don’t usually fly blind into the storm. The end result of such a blind scene will be something that meanders and wanders; it will tack back and forth, or indulge in directionless description, or focus on a character that has no importance in the future. I need a flight plan, some destination in mind. That doesn’t mean I’m not open to improvisation or to new places that the scene might take me. But I have a direction.

Take a few notes first.

The way to strike a balance between obsessively mapping and flying into the Bermuda Triangle is to try taking a few sketched-out notes. In a special notebook that I reserve for scene notes (and not the scenes themselves), I write out a few key details of what needs to happen in that scene. I start with a central problem; then I may write a few notes about what needs to have happened by the end, such as a character storming out in a huff, or someone else discovering she’s being cheated on. Then I ask questions to myself in my notes about things that I haven’t worked out yet, such as: “Quest.: why is Sally so angry?” or “Quest.: why doesn’t he try to stop her?”. These sorts of questions will keep me on target in the scene, answering important questions and also bearing towards something. Every scene should have movement and vitality; without that needed bit of structure, your piece will sag in the middle, or feel random or directionless.

So take some notes before you start your scene, then put the notes down and write without looking back at them. Be open to new revelations and directions too. If a misty pacific island calls in the distance, don’t be afraid to head towards it. Just know where you need to go.

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