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Craft: Novel Notebook

Written by Vicki Hinze

On December 28, 2010

Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011

What is a novel notebook, and why do you, a creative genius need one?

A novel notebook is simply a binder in which you organize and store all the information pertinent to a single novel.

Why do you need one?

Because the more organized you are, the less time you spend searching for things you can remember where you put, and the more time you spend geniusing. In other words, the writer has more fun time and less frustration.

What goes into a novel notebook?

In short, everything pertinent to the novel under construction.

How do you structure a novel notebook?

You can structure your notebook in any manner that works for you. I structure mine as follows:

o A loose leaf binder (so you can add/move pages)
o Tabbed Indexes
o Labels

I start with a ½” binder so it doesn’t seem so empty, and I don’t feel so overwhelmed. Then when the novel progresses and that’s a tight fit, I move the contents to a 1″ binder. By the time the novel is done, depending upon the novel, I’ve graduated to a 2″ or even a 4″ binder—and on each progression, I celebrate. I can see my progress!

The tabbed indices mark the topic headings, so that it’s easy to locate whatever you’re after—no rifling through all the pages.

* Time Sheet
* Correspondence
* Time Line
* Idea
* Characters–Main
* Characters–Minor
* Synopsis
* Scene Sheets
* Notes
* Research
* Chapters

Time Sheet: Here I track the date, time invested, the focus of the investment, and progress each time I work on this specific novel.

Correspondence: Copies of all correspondence that I generate or receive regarding the novel is kept here.

Time Line: A brief annual overview of the characters’ histories and dates of important events in their lives; a story calendar, of sorts.

Idea: The first seed of the story is typed up and captured here. Perhaps only a couple pages, written, unedited, but containing the meat of the story theme.

Characters—Main: The heroine and heroine. Photos, character biographies, magazine cutouts or anything else of interest to these characters.

Characters—Minor: Secondary character photos, character biographies, magazine cutouts or anything of interest to these characters.

Synopsis: A detailed synopsis of the novel. My copy is more detailed than the one submitted, so the version submitted, I include here, as well.

Scene Sheets: A separate sheet for each scene in the novel that includes information pertinent to that scene. (i.e., the point-of-view character, date, time, and place of the scene. The scene purpose, goal, conflict and resolution.) I also keep photos of houses, floor plans, and interior rooms here—unless they become too cumbersome. Then I add a topic: Settings.

Notes: Jottings of anything that has relevance to the novel but isn’t, for example, a thread that needs to be run through the novel. Those go directly onto the scene sheets.

Research: Copies of specific research pertinent to any aspect of the novel are kept here, as is a list of references/sources used in compiling information. If I speak to a doctor, for example, his name, number, and a synopsis of the conversation will be found here.

Chapters: The actual novel, page-by-page, chapter-by-chapter. After the first draft is written, I revise and replace the first draft with the second one. The only novel draft that isn’t included here is the FINAL.

When the novel is done, I put the notebook contents into an envelope, label it, and reuse the binder for the next novel.

Putting together a notebook is work, yes, but it’s efficient work. Having constructed novels with and without the organizational aid of a notebook, I find I work a lot faster with one—with less frustration, and with more time spent creating and less time spent trying to recall eye colors, or where I read a tidbit I need and now can’t locate.

You can build your novel notebook in any way that works for you. The important thing is to structure it so that it is an aid that assists you in creating. For me, a notebook is an essential tool.


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