Thursday, February 23, 2012

how i learned to treat my novel like a house

*have you read my campaign entry yet? if you haven't, you can find it here, along with all the links to like it if you choose. :)

man, i have got to get better about scheduling these things... anyway, i discovered something recently that's really helped me with my current wip. i don't remember who wrote the original post i saw (sad face), but i remember most of the information anyway. i'll put my own spin on it. :)

so the original poster talked about how it's easier to draft scenes when you build them from the ground up. she said she starts with a mini inspiration board, something with images or feelings or music or things the scene needs to accomplish. then she writes a bare bones version of the scene, which basically serves to plot out the action of the scene. "so-and-so did this, and then they said this, and this is what they saw." then she goes back in and embellishes more, putting in all that poetic language we all love so well. once that's complete, she goes back a third, or fourth, or even fifth time to make sure that all the necessary themes/foreshadowing/whatever-else-is-subtle are there. and i realized something.

writing a novel is like building a house.

you have to start with the foundation and the framework. you can't very well decide what color you're going to paint the living room if you don't have a wall in the first place. the first stage is like this. you're writing out the action, telling yourself what's happening and who moves where/says what, building your foundation and framing the walls.

then you go back to the house, and you put up the walls, and add windows and doors, maybe some built-in shelves or a hidden staircase (because i would totally do that if i were building a house). the second stage of scene-writing (according to this author) is like this. you're finding the descriptive phrases that best convey the mood of your story. you're adding smells and tastes and sensations, so that your reader is transported, and the house is starting to look pretty good.

you go back again, and this time you're painting the walls, and moving in the furniture, putting artwork up, throwing down the most gorgeous oriental rug in front of your couch. the scene is getting its emotional layers, or having the book's theme woven in, or foreshadowing some big event that's happening three chapters later. you stand back and admire your handiwork.

maybe you go back one more time, to move that funky lamp from the office to the family room, where it'll get a little more attention, or to straighten the duvet cover on the bed. you're tightening sentences, finding better word choices, rearranging events so that the scene flows more smoothly. by the end of it, you have something you want to show your friends, something you can be proud of.

i've been trying this method with my current wip, and i kid you not, it's really helping. i'm finding it easier to just sit down and write, because i know my first pass is just going to be the foundation. i can always go back and make it prettier later. i'm finally starting to get my writing groove back, and it feels wonderful! :)

found any neat tricks to help with your writing lately?


ps if you feel so inclined, give this a listen. it's a recent acquire, and it may end up on repeat for the foreseeable future... :P


  1. Hey, I've been doing this and didn't know it. Recently I started to write long hand which has basically turned into foundation writing. Then when I enter those words into the computer, it's then that I add all those special things that make it special. It's really working for me too.

    Love the song! Who is it and what is it called? I wants it.

    1. I might try the long-hand thing, actually. I've found it helps with my campaign challenges, so why not for my novel?

      The song is called "Cough Syrup" and it's by Young the Giant. Is it weird that I've started picking songs with you in mind? I heard it and knew you would love it! :)

  2. George Lucas recently described movie making as being like building a house. Filming is like gather the pieces and editing is like the building. He says he likes the building not the gathering.

  3. Hi J, just stopping in to say hi from the campaign. Like Ruth above, I too write the first draft in longhand. Oddly enough, I've found it's the only way to avoid "blank page" syndrome, but I realize it's an entirely personal choice. Awesome that you're finding your groove and getting back into writing.

  4. Great song. Interesting video, too.

    Funny, I got together with a crit partner last night and she was using the house analogy too. It works.

  5. Thanks for sharing that J! I do something similar to that only instead of plotting the scenes in so much detail, I keep a POV storyboard going, because I tend to misplace my "building materials" all the time! So my board is divided in half. One side is a white board, the other a cork board. On the white board, I keep a running tally of what's happening to who and what page I left them at. On the cork board, I tack up new inspiration for scenes as I go. It works great and has helped me to not have to thumb back through to where I left off with a certain character.
    So, I'm in your campaign group and I've tagged you on my blog! Stop by and visit and grab the questions I have for you! ~Theresa Sneed, author of No Angel and its forthcoming prequel, From Heaven to Earth


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