In a recent blog post, I discussed the brainstorming process that John and I use to develop plot ideas for novels. Last night, John pointed out to me that I forgot to mention my favorite tool to assist in that process. No, it’s not a fancy software program designed to help authors organize their thoughts. I’ve heard good things about such programs, and I know that one of our Emerald Cove writers finds them helpful.
The method that John and I use is far more basic:
We have a white board on the wall (four feet by six feet in size) and a bunch of dry-erase markers in different colors. As we’re brainstorming, I jot down story ideas on the board. The words usually remain on the board for several days, while we add new things (often in a different color) or tweak the words that are already written. Before we erase the board, I take a picture of it (or several pictures, depending on the size and amount of the writing) to preserve the ideas for later.
How did we happen to have a 4 x 6 white board on the wall of our game room? I’m glad you asked.
Several years ago, one of our friends ran a table-top rpg (role-playing game) where we all played police detectives with minor superpowers. In each game episode, we used investigation and deductive reasoning to figure out the identity of the criminal. Then we would apprehend the criminal, usually relying on our superpowers (and lucky dice rolls).
Since everyone knows that all good police detectives (at least, the ones in television shows) use a “murder board” to help catch the criminals, John decided that we needed one too. He found a warehouse that sold second-hand office equipment, and suddenly we were the proud owners of a monstrous wall-hanging.
We eventually finished the detective campaign, so we no longer needed our murder board, but I found the white board was useful for other things, particularly writing. For some reason, words written in large letters on the board are more effective for my thought processes than tiny, typed words on a computer screen. In addition to brainstorming plotlines, I also use the board to outline upcoming chapters for a work-in-progress or to record clever snatches of dialogue for future scenes of the book. The board provides a great place for me to jot down all those fleeting story ideas before they fade away.
The moral of this story is NOT that every writer needs a huge board on the wall. Instead, you need to find a comfortable way to note story ideas as they come to you. Of course, your method must enable you to find those ideas later when you need them. I can’t think of the number of times (before we owned the white board) that I jotted down an idea on a scrap of paper, only to lose it and discover it again years later as I was cleaning out a box in the closet.