Do you dream of writing a novel?
Want to FINALLY tell this story that has haunted you for months? Or bring to life all those characters that populate your imagination?
But because there is a “but”. Either you have trouble getting started, organizing all these abundant ideas, planning your plot. Either you are one of those who have scribbled fifty pages, but find themselves stuck.
In an old article, I told you about the automatic writing method I use to write my novels. A powerfully intuitive technique for structuring and writing a book WITHOUT an outline. Without any plan.
Yes, you read that right. I reveal this method to you here.
But, first, let me tell you where this technique came from and how I discovered it.
The day I learned to write
If you have had fun reading my presentation, you will know that I have struggled for a long time. Difficult to write.
Not for lack of inspiration or motivation. In fact, I could hardly channel my ideas.
I’ll even tell you a secret. I made very detailed plans for my plot, my characters, and my universe. I pushed the vice so far, convinced of the effectiveness of my approach. Thus, each protagonist was entitled to his own culinary tastes and his blood type (!).
After all, don’t you have to know your characters well to bring them to life?
Yes but no. The proof: overwhelmed by details and the desire to do well, my projects were at a standstill.
Until I discovered the world of automatic writing and, a little later, a book in English: How to Write a Novel with The Paperclip Method. Literal translation: How to write a novel with the paperclip method.
This book published by Michelle Richmond (a successful American author) became a reference for me because it puts words into the principles that I applied without even realizing it. These principles forever transformed my view of writing.
The principles of the trombone method
“I start by choosing an idea, fictional or not. I then try to figure out what makes this story entertaining or interesting. I especially wonder why I want to tell it.” Dustin Lance Black (American screenwriter)
You will find it hard to believe me. By reading interviews, I learned that some great artists use the technique that I am about to reveal to you.
So, they don’t necessarily put a name on this method. But, they apply its precepts.
Here is a very informative video where Dustin Lance Black, an Oscar-winning screenwriter, explains his writing process. He evokes, in particular, the moment when his ideas spring up.
For non-English speakers, here is a summary of the video.
After much research, Dustin Lance Black notes the moments of his story which, according to him, could give rise to strong, unsinkable scenes. Each of these potential scenes has the right to its own file, classified by a color code according to its interest (characterization, setting up of the universe…).
Then, the gentleman rearranges the cards on a large table in order to identify a plot structure. Dustin Lance Black keeps only the substantive marrow of the project (10% of the files). He continues their reorganization of the files until they complete their sequence. Finally, he finishes the first draft of his script, in one go (with little concern for the quality), since he will rework it at length later.
Until then, you don’t see where I’m going. Is not it? Come on, I’ll give you two clues: fragments and intuition. Everything will light up in the next few lines. Remember these two words.
How to write a novel WITHOUT a plan?
According to Ghostwriting LLC and Michelle Richmond (to whom we owe the trombone method), making plans harms the pleasure of discovery and reduces the range of possibilities. She even goes so far as to assert that planning is a writer’s worst enemy.
Here is one of his quotes that I recommend you read and re-read:
“A novel is a puzzle. Much like a puzzle, you start with a lot of small pieces. At first glance, it is difficult to discern their relationship to each other. But you are working on it. Try a piece here and there. When you find two pieces that naturally fit together, an image begins to form. The more parts you put together, the clearer the image becomes. “
Let’s explain the previous two clues. According to Michelle Richmond, “a novel is a puzzle”; it is therefore a set of fragments. “The more pieces you put together, the clearer the image becomes. » Translation: the author must reorganize these fragments to give them meaning through his intuition.
In the trombone method, the most important idea that emerges is that nothing is set in stone. The construction is done gradually in spurts, by trial and error. My example with the screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black illustrates this mindset.
The latter begins with a disparate set of ideas, of notes which he uses as a basis. Then he rearranges them until he is satisfied. He does not make a plan in the strict sense of the term: that is to say, by writing a synopsis linearly.
I’ll explain why this changes EVERYTHING.
Why should you adopt this method?
Michelle Richmond (the creator of the paperclip method) tells us in her eponymous book that when she was working on her second novel, The Foggy Year, she felt lost. She no longer knew where to turn.
She began to write small fragments, one to two pages each related to either a theme, a plot, a scene, a place, or a character.
“This is how the trombone method was born. You may be wondering if the paperclip is metaphorical. This is not the case. The paper clip method requires the use of real paper clips, not to mention a printer. I firmly believe that to shape a book you have to hold the fragments in your hand, not just move them around on a screen.
Eventually, you will have a lot of juicy elements. The first page of any stack of sheets has an indicator. In the case of my most recent novel, here are a few categories: “coffee”, “math”, “Graham Greene”, “South America”. Finally, all the batteries go to the floor of my dining room.
Rather than indefinitely fiddling with your brain writing a synopsis, the paperclip method allows you to jump right into writing and let your imagination run wild.
It’s your turn
For having tested and adopted the trombone technique, I can assure you of its effectiveness.
It will allow you to bypass the bottlenecks that authors often encounter during the planning phase. Indecision, lack of inspiration, the need to find the outcome of an event to move forward in the plot.
American novelist Edgar Lawrence Doctorow once said: “Writing is exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. “
It is only one step to start writing your novel. Start, that’s all. Don’t think about anything, neither the plot, nor the characters, nor the end. Not at the moment. All you need is a scene. A strong scene. Sit down and start writing this scene. Don’t worry about details or quality. Complete this piece of history.
The best ideas come when you least expect them: that is while writing. One scene begets the other, one description leads to the other, and so on. This is the domino effect.
Are you still stuck? Change your mind. Start another scene, another plot, another page. No matter the continuity.
Here is a summary of the process.
- Write scenes, bits of descriptions, in short, whatever comes to mind.
- Do you have a strong scene idea? Get started, without worrying too much about the details.
- Do you have any interesting ideas about your character’s past? Same answer.
- Once you have enough fragments, arrange them in piles thematically (characterization, plot, research, sub-text) and use paper clips to separate them.
- Scenes with specific characters may be entitled to their own stacks.
- Group notes that relate to the main theme of your novel or the same subplot.
- Finally, reread your piles of sheets and piece together your story, just like you would for a puzzle!
- In the end, you will have enough pages to spread out on your floor, on a table, or on a wall. It’s about placing the pages in a sort of visual grid so that the order becomes clear.
- Then you can start filling in the gaps, figuring out what’s missing, what’s overabundant, what’s shiny, and what’s lame.
The process becomes almost fun, intuitive. Is not it?
At first, the fragments do not seem to be linked together. But, by being patient and letting your subconscious work your way, you’ll find your way out with a book under your arm.
So, convinced by this method? Have you ever tested it?