Notes are an important part of world-building, but they can also be the tools of procrastination, and prevent a writer from getting the story to the page. How you take notes and organize really depends on your writing technique; are you a planner, making sure every detail in your story has been imagined and processed? Or are you someone who just goes with the wind? I tend to plan a lot, but I enjoy letting my character experience a journey shaped from sudden inspiration.
A hybrid of both methods is good for a few reasons. First and foremost, it helps sidestep the pitfall of too many notes and not enough writing. You want to always be writing something if possible. It also keeps things open and the possibilities of your story taking an unexpected turn organically as you are writing it. You can find some cool moments that even surprise you, the storyteller, by keeping the plot a bit open. Notes are a necessity if you are world-building, so you need to catalogue characters, places, and other things for quick review. It’s also important to take note of plotlines, character development, and general plans for the story’s progression and conclusion. So, depending on your style you may lean one way or the other. I try to stay even on both planning and pants-ing, just knowing they are both important.
If you are collaborating with other authors or illustrators, even editors, it’s good to have the essential notes you need to convey the ideas and plots you have in mind with out taking much time or thought.
I’ve developed a method that guides my new ideas, these are the notes I think are fun and can be a good way to get the creative juices flowing before starting a writing session. I refer to one of Steven King’s many quotes about writing, in which he tells writers not to bother taking notes on new ideas because a good idea it will stick with you until you have the urge to write it. I couldn’t agree more, wait until you know it’s a good idea that you want to tackle and spend the effort on. This is one way to avoid not writing it to the end (which happens from time to time) and abandoning your story. When my ideas make it to paper it gets my imagination going, it can be a great way to pump yourself up to get some writing done.
I don’t take notes until after I feel like an idea has been hounding me. Usually by the time I do write any notes, the idea is already fleshed out in my mind. First round of notes I get everything I know out onto paper (or screen). As I’m writing, the notes naturally refine and expand on what I had in mind, the unconscious ideas bubble up as I put it down. Once the idea is written out completely, I read back through it, cutting anything that I don’t think will be pertinent or work within the story. Then I can refine it all again, trying to simplify things so they’re clear ideas. These will be the notes that guide my writing, plot progression, peaking points, valley points, and a beginning, middle and end.
Before I start writing I compile notes for things that make it into the story, if it’s not in the story it doesn’t go into these catalogs. I separate my catalogs into Character, Places, Creatures, and Things. Having all these different steps and then refined notes and lists helps make it easier to communicate your ideas to anyone you are working with. If it’s a fully collaborative project, these notes are even more important, because clear communication is how you get it done successfully, avoiding the frustration with having to re-explain things, or for an artist to have to adjust or totally re-draw something. Be someone others like working with!
I hope this helps any budding creatives, feel free to ask questions or leave a comment!