Mapping the Novel: A Whole-brained Approach

sitka center for art and ecology

So, today is Friday and usually often on Friday I do a round-up post called Five on Friday in which I tell what’s going on in my life. As I started to write that post today, I realized that most of it would be taken up with information about the workshop I’m going to teach in a couple of weeks.  So I decided just to devote the whole blog post to that instead. I think you’ll pick up a couple tips for planning a novel along the way.

The idea behind the workshop is that writing a novel is a back-and-forth process.  You must go back and forth between macro (the big picture, i.e., plot) and micro (the details that will bring your world to life), and left brain (structure, outlining) and right brain (creating characters out of thin air, free writing).  You can’t lean all to the right side or to the left–you’ve got to be conversant in each.

I tend to like to live on the right side of my brain. Creating characters? Creating worlds? You betcha! Forming them into a plot? Um, that’s a bit harder. Give me a prompt and a blank page on which to free write and I’ll have at it with gusto. But telling me to form my ideas into a logical, cohesive structure is way harder for me.  I’ve had to learn how to do those left-brained things in order to write novels. (And don’t tell anybody, but I sometimes enjoy it.)

(As a brief aside, I sometimes teach in Nashville with the wonderful Terry Price. For several years, we were co-directors of the Writer’s Loft, now called, for reasons inexplicable to me, Write, a certificate writing program I still teach at in Tennessee.  Terry used to tell people that, “Charlotte has a right brain and I have a left brain and together we make a whole brain.” And it was true!)

So, here’s what we’re going to cover in the three-day workshop. (I’m the kind of teacher that fiddles with content all the way up to the minute before we start, so there may be some tweaks in this.)

  • The Writing Process
  • Fundamentals of Fiction
  • Character
  • Structure
  • Story
  • Theme and Style
  • Setting

And the really fun part is that we’re going to let our right-brains run wild, making vision boards for our book, creating maps, and free writing to learn more about our worlds.  Then we’re going to get very serious and organize all our brilliance into usable format to actually write a novel–character dossiers, setting descriptions, and a workable plot, sketched out in loose outline form.  Students will leave the workshop ready to embark on writing the first draft of a novel. (But no matter where you are in the process, you’ll find information of use to you.)

All right, so getting this accomplished in three days is a tall order so maybe we won’t finish every single aspect of it, but people will leave with the tools they need to get ‘er done at home.  Sounds like fun? Want to join me? It’s June 8-11th, at the Sitka Center on the Oregon Coast.

I did promise that you would glean a tip or two if you read this blog post, so here goes:

  1. Take the time to do some prep work for your novel. Figure out characters and settings and at least a loose idea of the plot. The prepared writer’s mind is a productive writer’s mind.  Trust me on this–I’m facing a rewrite of the novel I wrote without any prep work done and it is a daunting task.
  2. Remember the writing process–prep, write a rough draft all the way through from start to finish, rewrite with big picture stuff in mind, rewrite again as many times as necessary, then revise (all the piddly stuff like grammar).
  3. Write your first draft fast. This is not the time to obsess over the small details. You want to get the story on the page. Don’t go back and fiddle with stuff because it may all change anyway. There’s no use in perfecting sentences if you’re not sure if the scene is going to survive.
  4. Believe you can do it. This is not just woo-woo crap, studies have shown that writers who visualize themselves in the act of writing are more successful at actually getting to the writing than those who don’t. (I wrote a blog post about this years ago and damn if I can find it.)
  5. Use the power of momentum.  In other words, write every day. Or at least open your file and look at it. Find a way to keep your story in your head so that your brain is composting ideas for you while you’re not at work.

If you have the time and inclination, I do hope you’ll join me.  But even if you can’t, I also hope you launch into writing a novel. It’s the best thing to do, ever.

Do you tend to be more left-brained or more right-brained? Please comment!

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