poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘methods

organizing writing files – ordering a manuscript of poems

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Last month I started a big project – to find and organize all the poems I have written during the last forty years. For a glimpse of my approach see here.


After four weeks of effort, I now have a file of poems I would like to assemble into a book. The title will be ‘niche’ and the book will include poems about the ecological spaces plants and animals (including humans) occupy.


niche \ ‘nich\ n (F, fr. MF, fr. nicher to nest, fr. (assumed) VL nidicare, from L nidus nest) 1 a : a recess in a wall, especially for a statue. b : something that resembles a niche. 2 a : a place, employment, or activity for which a person is best fitted. b : a habitat supplying the factors necessary for the existence of an organism or species. c : the ecological role of an organism in a community especially in regard to food consumption.

– Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 1979

~Scan_20200402 (2)

I have identified 66 poems for ‘niche,’ taking up about 110 pages. Although I could just toss the poems into the book in random order, I like to think about how I want the reader to encounter the poems. I organize the poems in the book following these steps.


1. List the ideas in the poems:

After I find all the poems to fit the ‘niche’ category, I arrange them roughly into a manuscript. Then I print the Table of Contents and write a list of ideas associated with each poem.  Examples for ‘niche’ include: needs, predation, reproduction, invasion of other spaces, seasons, nutrition, competition, and so on. I also start to get a feel for poems that do not fit.


Scan_20200402 (4)


2. Develop a progression of ideas:

Once I have identified these ideas, I decide how I want to group them and how I want them to progress for the reader. In the case of ‘niche,’  I want the poems to first define niche, then consider the strategies plants and animals use to stay in their niche, then explore the discomfort or danger created when a niche is occupied, consider the spaces I have occupied in my own life, consider the problems you have to overcome to occupy your own niche, and conclude with an idea of the ideal space. Then, I reorder the poems so they fit the progression of ideas.


3. Sort the poems roughly into groups:

Once I have decided on a progression of ideas, I put poems into sections to portray those ideas.  I choose the title for the section from a poem in the section. It is at this point that I decide which poems do not belong in the collection and remove them.  For ‘niche’ the following are the sections (for now):

occupation of space – needs of an organism for food, water, air, physical space, and so on.

strategy – ways plants and animals protect their niche and solidify their position

praying for rain – dangers and discomforts of occupying a niche

mapping the labyrinth – places I have occupied, a bit of memoir

not touching the land – ways a niche is changed when it is occupied

forgetting to move – getting comfortable in your own niche


4. Order and fine tune:

Now the fine-tuning. To create a readable book of poetry, I think poems should not only be consistent in theme, but also segue from one to the other. This may be as simple as grouping poems of one season together, or grouping poems about plant species. It also means allowing the language and rhythm to flow from one poem to another.

The intensive way to do this is to print all the poems and lay them out on a surface, ordering and reordering until they feel ‘right.’

I hate to waste the paper, and I like to have all materials within one view, so I use an abbreviated method.  I prepare pages showing just the section titles, the poem titles and a line about the poem. I cut these out so they can easily be moved around on a table. If I want to check detailed poem content structure, I have my i-pad near at hand.




The process is sometimes tedious. Taking a break helps since after a while the poems you know so well begin to blur in meaning and the relationships between poems become nebulous. However, like many editorial-type tasks, the end product is worth the effort.


All my best,

staying at home,





Written by jane tims

April 3, 2020 at 2:25 pm

Posted in writing

Tagged with , , , ,

writing a novel – character arcs

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Title: unknown

Working Title: ‘Crossing at a Walk’

Setting: a writers’ retreat – the renovated Landing Church, the hall and the rectory now used as a Learning Center, a Sleeping Hall and a home/base of operations for Sadie and Tom

Characters: main character Sadie, a writer; her husband Tom, a retired welder; people from the community; writers participating in the first weekend of the writers’ retreat

Plot: Sadie wants the first writers’ retreat to go smoothly, but the history of an old covered bridge keeps getting in the way


I have finished the first draft of my novel.  Still lots of holes to fill and editing to do.  But I am now certain of the basic story-line.


For the next while I will be spending some time with each of my characters.  I know a bit about them, because I have a character sketch and a drawing for each character.  Now I want to make sure each person has their own story arc.   I would like each character to grow in some way during the novel.



some of the characters in my novel


My first step is to print a copy of the draft ‘Table of Contents’ for my book.

On a separate page, I also list the events (or scenes) in each chapter and the characters involved in each event.

Then I use the initial of the character’s first name to show on the ‘Table of Contents’ where the character occurs in the story.  For example, my characters include Patricia and her brother Rob … marked P/R on the extreme right hand side of the ‘Table of Contents’.

Right away, I can see if a character falls off the radar.  I can also make certain the characters are distributed through the action so my reader doesn’t forget they exist.  For example, one of my main characters, Alexandra (marked A) doesn’t occur in four chapters … this may be OK but I want to think it through.




Once I have completed this step, I have a list of additions to make to the manuscript (written up and down along the bottom of the page).


I also write, in a simple sentence, the story arc of each character.  I write the arc in the format of: what the character wants, the obstacles he or she encounters, and the resolution.

Patricia (the rather sour-looking woman on the far left of my drawing above) wants to feel connected with her brother who left home and died years before – she reconnects with him by learning some of the details of his story.

Tom (below) retired from his career as a welder due to ill health.  He is surrounded by writers attending the writer’s retreat.  He is at loose ends and tries to find his purpose, discovering it embedded in his daily routine.

Matt (third from the left in the drawing above) is a theatre student who wants to attract a fellow writer.  In spite of repeated rebuffs, they find a common interest, the basis of a friendship.



Tom, Sadie’s husband, doesn’t always feel comfortable around writers.



I have learned from various courses that story arcs are often expressed as sub-plots.  The story arcs often occur in three ‘bumps’ in the action.  Although most of my characters occur several times in the book, this is a good minimum guide to follow for the significant events in their stories.


Back to work …


Copyright  2015  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

March 25, 2015 at 7:07 am

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