Okay, so there I am with notes spread all over the place and I'm going to try to pull them all together to make them into something I can write. I'd like to say that I wave my hands and magically they all fall into place, but nothing is that easy. People who do not write novels have no idea how much effort it takes to write something worthwhile. Putting the words down is the easy part. In fact, if you are having trouble putting the words down, it might simply be that you don't know enough about your story to write it yet.
I have gathered all my notes. A large number of them will be on world building, especially if it's science fiction or fantasy. I want to know things about this place. What are we looking at? Why is it the way it is? What are the restrictions inherent in the world? For instance, if you have magic in your story, what are the limitations? There should be limitations or there is simply no story because anyone can have whatever they want. Your mythical gods can do anything they want? Then why don't they? Basically what you are doing is removing all the easy answers and finding ways to drive your characters -- whether they are ordinary people or mythical gods -- into a position where they have to do something interesting.
Interesting is a subjective word. Interesting for some people is a romance story and for others a horror tale. I am not interested in either of those as the main focus of my stories. I will often have some light romance. I might have a bit of horror, too. Mostly, however, I am interested in writing an adventure.
With that in mind, I start sorting all my notes into a few categories such as:
In the old days, I would be doing all of this on notecards and laying them out in piles so the cats could knock them on the floor and help me resort them into whole new stories. Now I use Scrivener. Yes, it means I have to type in any of the notes I've handwritten, but that's okay. It allows me to double check them, add and change things, and come up with more ideas.
In Scrivener, I simply set up folders for these three things and put new 'cards' in each one. They're easy to move, duplicate, delete, or whatever I need. Slowly the world and it's people start to take a more definite form.
And then it's time to move to the next step.
I start an outline. I didn't used to. Once I got the idea in my head, I'd simply leap in and see where it went. However, I discovered a couple things that some of you might consider, though I don't think outlines are for everyone.
First, it is far easier to correct a plot problem in an outline than it is in a finished first draft. It's also easier to add in events and their aftermath in the outline rather than trying to thread something through an already finished story.
Second, if you want multiple threads and a story with more depth, an outline can help you keep track of not only what is happening, but also where others are during major events. Sometimes that is very important when you need information to spread before other events can happen. A timeline is implicit in an outline since it covers the events as they unfold.
I know a lot of people lay out a three-act pattern of opening, middle, and end. I don't think of these three as distinct pieces, though. I prefer to work in a way so that from start to finish, the story flows from one problem to another. I do tend to think in chapters, though. Some people write their first drafts without chapters and put them in later. That works too, though be careful. I found one book (professionally published) where it appeared the author was told she needed to break the story up into chapters of about ten pages or so. So she did, and broke at some of the oddest points I've ever seen, like in the middle of conversations. Just normal, everyday conversations. Very odd.
Okay, back to those pesky notes. In Scrivener, under the World Building Folder, I'll do secondary ones like places, history, religion and myths, and any other categories that will help me define the story-world when I start writing.
The Events folder is something like a pre-outline. While I'm doing my notes, I will often come up with important story events that I want to cover. Some might be before the story starts and some might take place in areas far outside the immediate realm of your story. For instance, in a fantasy story, the attack of barbarians on the far side of a land that borders your own is still going to affect your story. People will hear about it, either right away through magic or much later through word-of-mouth. This can help create a sense of dread. How far will the barbarians go? Are the stories about them true? You can add a lot of tension to a story by listing things that happen off-camera, so to speak.
Some of the events will be things that will go into the outline. I might not know how I want my characters to interact with the events, but I know that something like the government building will explode. I note it here and start arranging these items in chronological order. They will include things that happen 'off camera' so that this becomes a time line. If it becomes a very complex timeline, I will pull up Aeon Timeline and work it out in that program.
Next week I'll discuss characters and finally outlines!