Tuesday, January 11, 2011

More Thoughts on Using Lists to Write

Interno-- Gigi Chessa -1895-1935I love making lists. I make lists of things to do, things to get at the store, and things I want to accomplish for the year.

And, as I mentioned in this post in September, I frequently use lists while writing, too. To recap that post, I’ve found that making lists can help me advance my plot when I don’t have much time (I can list all the ways I can think of…from zany to useful…to approach the next scene), or to make my setting come alive (a list of one particular setting, using each of the five senses to describe it), or to develop my character or my understanding of a character (top 5 things my character cares about, top 5 things that keeps my protagonist up at night.)

My writing friend Jemi Fraser of the Just Jemi blog posted recently on her frustration with her lack of writing time lately. She’s frequently getting only twenty minutes a day or fewer to work on her book.

The nice thing about lists is that you can keep a small notebook with you and even if you only have 5 minutes to write, you can make some short lists of things like your character’s traits, ways the character can grow during the course of the book, possible subplots, etc.

I’ve also found that making lists has made me a less-tentative writer. I used to obsess a little over my book’s beginning and ending. I would write several different options for the first chapter and the closing chapter of the book, then choose which I liked best.

When you make lists of your possibilities instead, I’ve found that somehow it puts my anxiety to rest—and I can more quickly explore the different options and see which is better.

You can also curb your desire to stop writing and research part of your book by listing the different things you need to look up. Not happy with a character name or the name of your fictitious town? You don’t have to fix it right then…just start a list called “names” and add to it when you come across them. You can always call a character A or B and fill the names in later.

Making lists also comes in handy when you have plot holes. My editor emailed me last week and pointed out a problem area with the third Memphis Barbeque book. Somehow I hadn’t noticed it during my revisions, but it was definitely something that needed to be fixed.

I made a list of all the different ways I could think of to work my way out of the mess. When I thought I’d come up with all of them, I kept on going and found some additional solutions. It was easy to come up with the strongest solution when I saw the possibilities together.

Are you a list-maker, too? Have you tried using lists to help write your story?