Thursday 5 January 2012

My Writing Bookcase

I got a bookcase for my writing stuff last year. It fits nicely behind a door upstairs and it's crammed with the following:
·         Scrapbooks filled with pictures taken from magazines - to get to know characters
·         Newspaper and magazine cuttings - interesting articles which could inspire stories or articles relevant to my book (eg. Obituaries are useful for WW2 research)
·         Novels which inspire me: Anne Tyler and Louis de Bernières for beautiful language, David Mitchell for structure in 'Cloud Atlas', Jane Austen, E.M.Forster etc...
·         'How to' books and reference books such as Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2012, Dictionary and Thesaurus
·         Research notes and printouts from the internet
·         Books read for research - travel writing from Italy, non-fiction books about Italy, books about WW2 in Italy and in the U.K., novels set in Italy (Anthony Capella), novels set in the U.S. about Italian-Americans (Adriana Trigiani)
·         Novels read to see which market my novel fits into.
·         Photographs of Siena
·         Guidebooks and maps of Siena, Venice and New York City
·         A CD of the opera Tosca by Puccini used for researching a scene
·         Exercise books and small notebooks filled with random ideas.
·         A4 exercise books filled with scene plans and first drafts of scenes written in cafés
·         Notes from writing classes and conferences
·         and much more...
I've collected all of this over the past few years, using the information to help complete my novel and to research submitting to agents.
I thought I'd write a series of blog posts about things from my writing bookcase. This week I'm going to write about using a scrapbook to get to know characters.
When I made a scrapbook for the characters in 'The Grandson', they came to life and I need to make one for Book 2. Pictures of scenes, clothes, objects and even words can be used to help make a character real.
Here are a few cut-outs from my scrapbook:
Jessica is the heroine
A picture of a farmhouse kitchen - Jessica's home in Yorkshire
Clothes and accessories which Jessica would wear/carry
A picture of diamond earrings - Jessica is accused of stealing her boss, Isabella's diamond earrings in Act 2. Jessica finds out who really took them when she goes to see the opera, Tosca in a Tuscan hilltown with Alessandro.
Gabriella is the hero, Alessandro's girlfriend-on hold - an antagonist.
The word 'married' - her goal is to marry Alessandro
Pictures of scales, a running machine and trainers - she exercises a lot
Pictures of a pushchair, a highchair and a babygrow - she gets pregnant
Photo of  a Mustang - she borrows her father's car, it breaks down and she asks old schoolfriend, Frank to repair it at the garage where he works. She has a fling with Frank which impacts the main plot.
Harriet is Jessica's confidante.
Picture of houses in London - She is the opposite of Jessica, being from South Kensington in London. She is from the South of the U.K. and is wealthy.
Picture of china cups with tea - Harriet would insist on a cup of tea being made with the milk being added last.
Running machine - Harriet goes running every day and is very slim.

I'd be interested to know if you've used a scrapbook in the same way or if you have any other comments.


  1. Hi Anita
    For Truth Or Dare? I kept a timeline, drew up plans of the characters houses and kept notes about the likes and dislikes of each person.
    For story two, working title, Follow Me, I wanted to give my characters expensive cars. I searched the internet and found pictures of suitable cars, printed them off and put them in my notebook. I then needed to find a designer handbag, so I did the same. Yesterday, I used Google Earth to find a Georgian townhouse in London. It was brilliant. I have pictures of the rooms, a floorplan and I had a virtual tour around Spitalsfield. I know exactly where my chracters live and what is available to them.
    This is definitely something I will be doing for future stories - it's fun building up a profile.
    I have a notebook with reference pictures and my virtual scrapbook under my Favourites icon.
    Laura x

  2. What great ideas - real and virtual scrapbooks. How very artistic & techie of you. I wonder if I could find/afford a designer to do one for me...? haha My profiles have always been boringly linear and prosy. I tend to keep the 'picture' of my hero/heroine, in my head, as I've never found one online or in a mag... that really matches my imagination. Too picky? Probably!

  3. You are so organised Anita.I never knew so much work went into a book,all that planning. Looking forward to reading your books.

  4. A scrap book is an excellent idea, and you're so organised. I tend to hoard whole newspapers or pages in an untidy heap which then gets thrown away in one of my rare tidying up moments because I've forgotten why I kept them. I take photographs of ideas sometimes, but again, never file them properly. On the other hand, one of my mood photos made a perfect Kindle Cover.

    Happy New Year.

  5. Hi,

    Good for you.

    The neatness issue would and did always let me down. Though I did love browsing and or hunting for some remembered snippet but it often took hours. I always had such a mess when collating and keeping valuable info back in my younger days. Now I thank the Lord for advanced technology: all my research is on a pen-stick and CD for backup. Filed of course under appropriate file names. ;


  6. Wow! You're clearly a planner - and a good one. I don't plan anything, I just write what comes into my head which I can picture very clearly. Sometimes though, if I'm using a real area, I've had to check on google whether trains go there and I sent an e-mail to Aviemore library to ask a specific question which they very kindly and helpfully replied to in detail so I did print that out but that's really more research I guess. Seeing people's bookcases is interesting - one of mine is my background picture for my website, twitter etc and people have commented on some of the books I've got!
    Emily x

  7. I always plan my novels quite thoroughly, but have never used a scrapbook to develop characters. I think it's a great idea. I've been freelancing for the last two years and am just about to go back to being an employee. I'm really looking forward to it, but I want some new ideas to galvanise the writing side of my life so I don't lose focus whilst I get to grips with my new day-job. Might just pop out to buy a scrap book next week! Thanks for sharing. C x

  8. What a lovely idea, Anita. It's always interesting to see how other writers bring their stories and characters together. I am not organized at all. I do have a stripy notebook filled with ideas but there are papers scattered everywhere. Looking at your special bookcase makes me want to steal a little corner of the house, just for me. I have used pictures as prompts and love the idea of a scrapbook. Good luck with your writing. X

  9. I'm actually using Pinterest as an online scrapbooky kind of thing. While I don't have a board for each character, it wouldn't be hard to set up, and I am using one board to "dress" my characters for an Ugly Holiday sweater party. I do use a physical vision board to help coalesce my personal goals.

  10. Using a scrapbook is a great idea. I build up a written profile of my main characters and choose an actor that would play the character if there was ever a film of the novel(it's nice to dream). John C Reilly is the actor I selected to help me visualise the main character in my WIP but I'm going to try the scrapbook idea to flesh out more details. Thanks Anita!

  11. Wow! I love your scrapbook idea! I too have a bookcase but it's so crammed full of things, I've given up even using it now.

  12. The pictures from the magazines etc are never quite what I imagine about the characters, so i don't use them. I make written portfolios, and I might have a certain actor or a role from a movie in my head.

  13. Love the idea of a special bookcase for all your characters stuff. I've seen writers do character maps on big sheets of paper.

    All the best with your writing!

  14. I love those scrapbook pages.

    I have a different notebook for each book and make notes for each character. I stick pictures, just the odd one or two, on the shed wall of either a place, someone's face, or in the case of my most recent book some ivy.

  15. Thank you for all your comments. Making a scrapbook is also another way of procrastinating of course!

  16. I've never used a scrapbook like this, but I know people who swear by it.