“Hello, my name is Mike and I’m a dollar store addict.”
One of the things that I love in dollar stores, besides the cheap candy and chips is the stationary section, in particular the composition books and the index cards.
For my last novel, I tried plotting everything out onto multi-coloured index cards,splitting up things like plot, character, ideas, and questions onto different colours. It made things easier in some ways: I knew all the blue cards were about character and I could reference them faster if needed.
But I found that too quickly the cork board I bought at the local stationary supply store was full, then over-full, then crammed with cards everywhere and tacked together to the point where I was no longer writing, I was compiling.
I like knowing where I’m going in a story; too easily can I go off track when writing because I like to write to see where things are going, without really thinking about the plot.
My characters love to take on lives of their own and have conversation that are independent of what I want.
As much as I love this, I often find that I’ve written half a dozen pages about something that doesn’t really advance the plot.
So, as a bit of a wall against that, I try to know before I write a scene where I want to go with it and where I want it to fit into the next scene and the book as a whole.
As much as I want to get to know more about one of my characters, I think an equally important thing to consider is the fact that there has to be some sort of constraint on the amount of daisy-picking I allow myself to do.
There’s obviously going to HAVE to be times when you free-associate and let your sub-conscious work through things: some of the best character trait seem to fly out unbidden during conversations with other characters and that a great thing to have happen….If you are also writing the actual story as well.
And here’s where we get to what I think is the crux: You have to be writing a lot to justify lolly gagging or going off on tangents.
If you are spending all your time figuring out your characters’ motivation, background, favourite pizza toppings etc etc etc (I know there’s only supposed to be one ‘etc’) and not very much time APPLYING that knowledge to making the story happen, then you’re not serving your writing self well.
Not to get me wrong; I love world-building and having the kinds of deep characters that really seem like they are part of a rich and complex world.
It also helps tremendously to know a lot about a character, so that I can make plotting and character decisions from a place of familiarity and ‘logic’.
However, ultimately, everything we do in the service of creating a book must serve story and the best way to serve story is to tell it.