This has been a bizarre few days. Found out my knee is damaged, one of the guys at work walked out and another put in their notice. Right now I am pulling double duty as janitor and stock. But mostly janitor since the bosses don’t like it when I do stock. I just like helping, though.
Anyway, that tidbit aside, I got into a recent conversation with some people in this writer’s group I am part of. I sort of initiated the conversation because I had mentioned how I don’t make notes for my stories. I just free write them with a basic plan that hardly gets followed.
The reactions were not as bad as I thought it would be and truth be told, when I was in school I was all about the notes. I always had a notebook and jotted down notes during lectures, during videos, and even when we had those quiet reading times. Though how good those notes were are debatable since I didn’t get the straight A report card. My grades were all over the place, from D’s to B’s and A’s to C’s. That was disappointing since the teachers pedalled the idea of notes equals great grades.
Over time my note taking habit took a dive to the point where I put everything in my head. Well, mostly everything. I jotted down the basics during team meetings so I wouldn’t get in trouble. Generally, I could remember what I wanted to remember and if I couldn’t remember what I wanted to remember I remembered where I needed to look to help me remember.
I found that the same strategy of keeping it all in the head did not work out so well for storytelling. At least for me. Maybe some people can have every detail of their story locked inside their head and they can pull what they need like a files from a filing cabinet. Which if that is the case, kudos. You got an awesome brain.
For the most part, I didn’t make a lot of notes for my writing because I treated it as a hobby and wasn’t expecting it to go anywhere. A little scribble here, a little scribble there, a mess for the first draft of Vigilance here, and so the cycle went. However, that was before I found other people who actually wrote seriously while enjoying it and wanted to go somewhere. They didn’t treat it like a chore or contract obligation (which apparently is how the Big Publishers treat writing). They wrote and independently published because they love writing and take it seriously enough to give the best experience to their readers. It actually was inspiring enough for me to get past the hobby phase.
There was one post where an independent showed pictures and captioned: “Got my notes ready for story X”.
And the pictures had an old notebook wide open with pens marks everywhere. Big circles, X’s, and notes in the margins. Seeing those made me realize that I really sucked at making notes for Vigilance and the three other stories I got planned. (Spoiler: They are three separate stories. No series)
I got the digital version of Vigilance and I print out the current chapter I am working on, edit it with a pen and retype it. But the nitty gritty details don’t have a place on paper, which, when I got to thinking about it, was a horrible error. This in turn led to my comment of no notes and the conversation about the importance of notes that followed.
I think we can all agree that stories are more than Character A goes to Point A. It is more than that basic plot chart we were shown in school.
Stories are a complex design with multiple conflicts that propel the story and I found that when I free wrote Vigilance with no notes and no direction the story did not end. I added plot points after plot points and characters after characters and went through a lot of time and digital paper to tie these plot points up while trying to end the main plot point. The lack of planning and notes to keep track of certain details made it a nightmare to read through everything to make sure it all tied up without plot holes. Only to find that I made more plot holes and a confusing mess because I was so focused on the big plot that the little plots didn’t get the closure they needed. It was terrible to think about!
Moving on from that, there are also rules to the societies, to the cultures, to the factions. There are meanings behind the names and locations and the motives behind the characters. Sure, I got them down in my head, but crap happens and when I started taking notes on my own story (nothing big, mind you) it actually got me thinking more about it beyond moving to the next plot point.
When I was having this notes conversation with these people, they pointed out how notes actually flesh out the story, but you don’t have to translate every detail of the notes into the story. It is not an academic essay where you have to include everything bluntly; you can leave bread crumbs and Easter Eggs that add a little bit more to your world without turning it into a pseudo-academic essay pretending to be a work of fiction.
I still got to make more notes about Vigilance (as well as work on more chapter edits. Really doozy these things are), but the more notes I write about it, the better I feel about making it a quality story.
So, in the spirit of TL;DR, notes are good. Make lots of notes.
Good day and God bless.