One picture is worth a thousand drafts

You’ll see that these notes for a short story aren’t notes at all. Not in the usual sense:

As a first draft, recently I started making schematics of stories instead of writing pages of words that might or might not be changed later.

Using a schematic lets me think about the story without falling in love with or worrying about how it’s going to be written. It frees me from the words, structures, cadences the story will be communicated by, and lets me concentrate on the story itself.

You see a beginning at the left top, the story progression along the middle and the end at the top right. The piece of paper torn from a small spiral notebook shows the first ideas about the story captured in a sketch.

Those sixteen cartoons along the bottom represent possible endings, of which fifteen have been rejected. The ending I’m still considering is represented by the little car, which isn’t crossed out yet. There’s still room in the middle to add other possible endings or sketch some significant details.

The theme of the story is shown by that sequence starting with the word, “why.”

Doesn’t look like much to you, does it? But it doesn’t have to. Preverbal, I guess it’s called? This isn’t communication yet because it doesn’t have to be. This picture shows the state of the story in my mind. The communication–the writing–will come after the story has a form.

Once I get used to this new method for short stories, I’ll probably try it at novel length. Already that sounds like a great relief to me–not to be bogged down in all those words just to plan a story. And the words will be fresh since they’ll come later.

Do you think this technique might be useful to you?

Maybe we could start NaNoSkeMo–National Novel Sketching Month!

By S.J. Driscoll

9 thoughts on “One picture is worth a thousand drafts

  1. Pingback: Video – Put Down the Smartphone and Pick Up a Pencil – WSJ.com | SJ Driscoll

  2. shannon esposito (@soesposito)

    I think it’s great you’re finding your own way of dealing with the beginning of a creation. I’m just doing some research on “visual spatial learners” because I have a five year old that his brain works like this. It’s all about images, shapes and colors. Also, he has to have the full picture of something and then learn the steps to get there. His twin is exactly the opposite! You gotta do what works for you 🙂

  3. asraidevin

    That’s pretty awesome. I like looking at it and guessing what each picture might mean.
    Jenny Crusie does a similar idea she cuts pictures from magazines and does a college.
    I’m not a visual person like that. I think in letters. I also do well with audio.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. SJ Driscoll

      Thanks, Asrai. It’s so interesting, the way each person’s mind processes things differently.
      When I was a kid, I could think in words, but now I think in pictures. It can be confusing since I have to translate before speaking!

  4. Anthony V. Toscano

    I like your image-based exploration. Your comment, “It frees me from the words . . .,” strikes a chord for me, because I’m a non-stop, revision-as-I-go-addicted writer. This approach might help me discover my story before I try to polish what isn’t yet there. Thanks.

  5. mgmillerbooks

    Actually, that’s pretty clever. I used to cut up magazines for characters and settings, then put them on my wall. If I got stuck, I’d rearrange the pictures until I found a new connection I’d never considered before. Your method, though, would be easier, not to mention save a lot of magazines 😉

    1. SJ Driscoll

      Thanks!
      I tried cutting out pictures but got so involved in looking at them, I never got to the story. Maybe I’m too visually oriented.
      Since plotting is my nemesis, using stick figures makes it easier to concentrate on the flow of the story without getting hung up on characters or setting.

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