It occurred to me the other day: back when I started writing in the early nineties, I wrote uber-lists.
One hundred types of weapon? Bowling ball, shoe lace, squash racket strung with razorwire…
Fifty types of vehicle? Skateboard, parasail, monster truck, snow-shoes made from the same racket, with an ugg-boot gaffered to the top…
These lists added novelty to my writes. A protagonist from the first story I ever typed (gothic font, pop-art a-plenty) rode a quad-bike. At seven years old I already knew.
Quad-bikes are awesome.
And so are lists.
Luckily, they fit perfectly with the way we take notes as authors. Hear me out: you have a broccoli-related brainwave while slugging back cocoa in your jimmy-jams, so you grab a notebook and jot that thought-nugget down. But where does it end up? Lost amid a thousand disparate ideas.
Will you see it again?
But what if you had lists? Tens of lists? Hundreds of lists? You go to your green veg list and there it is!
So from tonight, I start lists again. Only they’re grown-up lists: Character flaws. Interesting verbs. Fun phrases. Things people do.
I’m in good company. Robert Rodriguez, director, cinematographer, and writer of Planet Terror and Desperado, makes awesome films cheap. Rather than forty guys working CG and a scale Titanic re-construction, he wrote a list of the awesome stuff he already had access to. Cars, nuns, guns, zombie goo (chipotle sauce), and so on.
Can you think of a list you need to start writing? Or you know of one, like this list of 1000 awesome things? Let me know.
I haven’t written lists, but I have written plot lines often that felt like a list (a bucket list for the characters, in a way). If I were to write a list, it would be unusual character names I gathered from encyclopedias and plaques on walls. Do you find that you get to use most things in your list? Sometimes my listed items branch out and become a mind map of scenes.
Unusual character names is a good one. Or just lists of great characters? How many characters were born out of a love for Sherlock Holmes, or Merlin? (Harry Dresden was supposedly an amalgam of these two. Go figure)
Oh, and to answer your question: I haven’t really used lists until now, but it’s something I want to start doing. I have been using lots of internet research looking for specific things, and I noticed that lists often feature in that research (lists of Sikh weapons actually comes to mind, as did the abovementioned list of 1000 awesome things).
The problem for me with mind mapping out scenes is that it’s fantastically helpful to me at that moment when I write it, but I’ve soon forgotten, or changed a lot of it in my head. I will still continue to do these, but I want to start lists as a kind of long-term writing resource (since I figure I’ll be at this until I’m a grey prune)
List making and mind mapping are naturally iterative (in my opinion). Your process of writing ideas down and changing them promptly reminds me of the saying “your mind is supposed to be used for processing, not storage”. I think it doesn’t matter how many lists you make, as long as it helps the writing process along. That’s the big takeaway at the end of the tedium. : )
Cool idea! Maybe this’ll finally get me to organize my piles of storyscat.
Thanks! And yeah, that’s exactly what this is about. I have a huge backlog to organise…