I’m in the process of writing my first novel. I’m a meticulous planner, so I’d bullet-pointed a large chunk of the plot before I began writing the story. As the characters and my ideas developed, I added to the bullet-pointed list.
From the beginning, I had a vision of the final scene. I knew roughly where I wanted the story to end, but I couldn’t see a way through the final act. For months, I’d been struggling. I’d made a few notes here and there, but as the story progressed, different ideas came and went.
I got to the end of my bullet-pointed list (which was 18 pages long by this point) and thought, Now what?
And I kept on thinking that, barely adding to the story for weeks.
Until I had a better idea. The plot points were all mixed up in different bullet-pointed lists on my laptop. I realised I needed to see them all side-by-side and organise them into some kind of order. I opened up a notebook, but I quickly realised no notebook would be big enough to contain all my ideas on a single page.
Instead, I pulled out a stack of sticky notes. I copied out all of the bullet points that had any relevance to the end of the plot. There were things I knew the main characters had to do to fulfil their goals. There were things I wanted to put in their way. I’d introduced some the minor characters near the beginning, and I knew I wanted them to return at the end. Some of the sticky notes were detailed, some of them were simply a character’s name with ‘returns’ next to it.
Once I was done, there were so many sticky notes, I had to find a blank wall large enough to contain them all, much to my husband’s amusement.
I stuck the sticky notes in rough chronological order. Originally, I had come up with two or three different ways for the characters to achieve their goal. I had stalled over which one to pick and which to discard. Sticking all of the ideas next to each other was the best thing I could do. I realised the characters could work towards one of the methods, and then I could cruelly block their way, so they had to find an alternative.
I also had a short list of characters I wanted to reappear. I could slip their names in with a particular plot point and explore how they contribute to that scenario.
In the end, there was little I had to throw away. All of the ideas I’d generated over the last year-or-so came together to make one complex ending that I hope will tie up most of the subplots in the story, leaving one particular question to be answered in a sequel.
I spent most of the day working on the plot – another five pages of bullet points. My daily word count is low (I’m aiming for 1000 a day over the summer), but now I have a clear path to the end, which is going to make the coming days much easier. Some of the bullet points are actually large chunks of story or extracts of dialogue that I will simply copy and paste into the correct position when needed.
My urge to write had started to stagnate, but those sticky notes have kindled a fire inside me.