I’ve said before that I’m an extremely visual person, and this shows up in my writing process. Sometimes I can write actions and dialogue and even descriptions in a vacuum, but only up to a point. Eventually I’ll grind to a halt without something more substantial to anchor my mind.
I write best when I can picture the scene with an almost cinematic quality. When I’m struggling, it’s often because I haven’t achieved this visual clarity, and the answer is often to get out pens and paper to solidify the surroundings.
Alongside the text of the novel I accumulate a binder of maps and plans, from whole worlds, to countries, towns, and individual buildings. I blogged about this a few years ago. As well as helping overcome blocks, these sketches bring other benefits. Once I’ve committed details to paper I can be confident that future scenes in the same setting will be consistent. Fleshing out the plans beyond the obvious needs of the story also suggests incidental details to bring descriptions alive. The mood of a scene is best expressed through a choice handful of finely-observed specifics than through any volume of vague generalities.
The simple act of drawing a map is often enough to keep the writing flowing. On rare occasions I might capture more detailed setting descriptions when I want to establish a specific mood or feel, though it’s usually enough to just draw out the framework and my mind can fill in the details on the fly. I don’t generally worry about consistency at this level because a detailed description of a setting usually only pops up in one place, and I can easily refer back to the text for later consistency.
Mostly, these notes are only sketchy and partial, just enough to allow me to move on. But I’m also slowly transferring them into iDraw to publish on my website.