“Writing sketches” are a way to shape ideas in a short time with minimum effort. Use sketches to capture creative bursts and find the path to finish a story and create a polished final draft.
It can be a great exercise to write short pieces of fiction. These writing snippets can be written anywhere, anytime, and for any reasons. They can be compiled into something bigger or discarded if they lead to a dead end. They are all good for honing your writing skills.
But how do you pack more “story distance” into a quick bit of writing — maybe as small as a single paragraph?
Don’t write text, per se, but “sketch.”
Sometimes you need to work “above” the levels of text. For example, don’t write lines of dialogue in your first pass, just jot down who is talking and why to get through a scene.
Or you can go bigger. You could, in a very short sketch, write down the plot for a whole novel and craft the big picture.
The key point of a sketch is to find the whole of whatever unit of text you are mapping out, even if you don’t yet know all the details.
You could summarize a whole book — or a whole series of books — in a short sketch. This would be an example of covering maximum story distance.
You can pack a ton of story into a few words. In one sentence, you state the central idea of your book. Perhaps the concept for your book is to tell the story of a woman who saves the world by stopping a plot to burn down all the world’s libraries.
You might go on to sketch out the story and add information on the stops along the way on this journey. This kind of very broad statement might get you started: “She leaves Paris and finds herself in the countryside where she meets him.”
You might not know exactly who “she” is or have a “him” in mind, but now you start to think it through. You know this is a thriller, so you might have in mind that this is the first meeting of heroine and villain.
As you progress, your sketch might start to look like a book summary — for example, like this overview of War and Peace in a few choice words.
Add more detail and it will resemble a book analysis, like the kind found on literary analysis websites like SparkNotes or Schmoop. Your literary elements, character, plot, setting, theme, tone and mood are starting to fill in.
You can sketch right down to the smallest of passages — once, or many times — before you start to fill in all the words.
Any type of sketching is about focusing on substance and getting it just right before you extrapolate the details.
Placeholders for questions and instructions
It’s okay and natural not to have all the details of your masterpiece at once. You’ll be asking yourself lots of “what if?” questions as you sketch and think about design principles to which you want to adhere. This is where you get creative and strategic.
It makes sense, then, when you don’t have exact details, but know something needs to be in a future version of the sketch, to add in questions and instructions.
Questions and instructions can be big or small. They could deal with the tiniest details or the huge stuff like what to name your protagonist or how to end your book: “Should I end the book with the couple getting together or with her following her career?”
These placeholders are your “known unknowns.”
Build a sketch portfolio
If you like the idea of sketching, you can work this way at any size of story distance. You can work on details, from your concept to your book synopsis all the way down to filling in the details for every scene.
But you don’t have to have a book project in mind to use sketching to expand your horizons and put pen to paper. Use sketches to explore and stockpile ideas.
The more ideas you jot down, the more you tend to have. It’s like positive reinforcement, building your creative writing muscles through exercise.
You can draw verbal idea sketches anywhere, anytime. You might even start drawing real pictures, dividing your book into acts or chapters, putting summaries into the boxes as you go.
We’ve all heard about authors declaring that their breakout book came from an idea they drew up years before. You can stash your sketches away and return to them weeks, months, or years later. Who knows what you might discover?
When wrong is right
The best part about sketching is that sketches are quick and perfectly disposable. Did it take you 25 tries to finally slot all the puzzle pieces together? Super! You focused on the big concepts and now you are ready to fill in the details.
Sketches give you you the opportunity to look for the essence of a matter you are trying to capture in words and successfully convey to readers.
From idea to polished text
In a sketch, it’s all about blocking out content and structure – covering maximum story distance. In the future, you can fill in every individual step needed to get readers from start to stop.
When you do sketch, you can use “bracket” shorthand as placeholders for ideas and alternate from the abstract to the concrete, skipping over big chunks of text yet to be written while penning real text to draft long sketches quickly when you are hit by inspiration.
Sketches are a great way to shape ideas and make plans in a short time with minimum effort. Use sketches to capture all your creative bursts, find the path from start to finish in a story, and eventually fill in to create a polished final draft.
Using writing snippets to exercise your creative mind
Do You Keep A Short Fiction Journal?
The value of a great book synopsis
Story Editing: Create A Powerful Story
[Bracket] shorthand helps you draft with lightning speed