Why use graph paper to write a novel?

As a rule, I don’t write my fiction by hand, and I’ve certainly never written it on graph paper. But recently, in the middle of a session working on my next novel, I went to the supply closet and grabbed my graphing pad. For the next couple of hours, I did my WIP “writing” with pencil and ruler. Why?

I write fiction by “sight”, meaning I have to see it as a mental movie before I can write it out. Several scenes in my new story have characters moving about a large house that I couldn’t quite envision. I had a clear picture of individual rooms, but those rooms’ relation to all the others in the house stayed a bit murky. I needed to draw the floor plan.

That may seem nitpicky, but it bugs me if I can’t picture locations when I read a book. I want to see the “movie” while I read the same way I do when writing. And if I, the writer, don’t visualize the scene clearly, it’s likely my readers won’t either.

I expect I’ll have to map out the grounds around this house too, for logic’s sake. Heck, I might even sketch the exterior of the house for inspiration. That probably won’t figure in the cover art though. I have a different vision for that.

Your turn: Do you use any unusual tools to aid your writing?

10 thoughts on “Why use graph paper to write a novel?

  1. Yes I use unusual tools to write. Unusual these days any way. I have a pen. Mind map for setting and maps for direction of story prose(I use boxes for key words of main ideas) and fill space between with story. Sketches should be useful to author and that helps pictures to form in mind of reader.

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  2. Very interesting post. A novel I just finished had an important scene in it involving the placement of two houses. To keep the story in place and make sure I pulled it off, I acutally drew both houses, with the land, etc. and taped it to my wall.

    I drew it from different angles, the insides of each house, trees – everything. I’m not an artist so it was more scribble than anything else.

    But it worked for me.

    -JB

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  3. Actually, it’s funny you post this. For one novel I wrote, I opened up Adobe Photoshop and used the pen feature to draw the MC’s apartment and university. At the time, it was easier for me to keep things straight visually if I had them drawn out, and since I was having difficulty remembering where building A was as opposed to building B… It also helped a lot when I went back to re-write.

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  4. Floorplans are just my style when I write. I also have spreadsheets to keep my timelines straight (including backstory and “off screen” action), to track minor characters so I don’t reuse their names, and to track the scenes for each book. It helps me focus on writing rather than wondering, “Now how old were Alex and her brother when…?” And the tools makes it much easier to revise after I let a book rest for a few months.

    Visualization and organization tools–gotta love ’em.

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    1. Hey, Shelly, thanks for taking the time to comment. 🙂 I’m a spreadsheet dunce, but I do compile timelines and characters sheets, including brief ones for the minor characters. And I, too, have to record birth dates for characters, so I can keep track of their ages when I “fast forward” or “rewind”.

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