Chris Bailey, a very entertaining person and very entertaining writer who is in my writer's group, offers the following for how she writes and organizes her novel:
Wow. What a good question. It's one I'm not sure I have an answer to yet, but I'll reveal the secrets of my experience--or lack thereof.
First, because I have found that the organization of the novel CHANGES over the course of writing it--I write short little scenes with critical action in them, and give each one a file name that is descriptive enough that I may, with some luck, remember what it's about. They all go in a file with the name of the novel on it. So I start with 125 or more files of 1-5 pages.
That part done, I go through and try to order them, on cards or stickies on the white board or something. Then I realize what a mess I have. Then I try to write a synopsis. Then I realize how weak my plot is. Then I punch up the synopsis, and start writing new scenes that fit the new and improved plot. Then I slice and dice the existing scenes to try to build more tension. Then I read something for the Plots, and discover I've dumped too much info at once, and must slice and dice some more.
Then I start one big file with everything in the new order. I make more mistakes. I add descriptions and transitions. Then the story gets bogged down and boring, so I slice and dice some more. The long file is divided only by Act I, Act II, Act III. I go back to the synopsis, and realize half of Act I is backstory. I slice and dice some more. At some point, I hope to have a second draft. And how some people turn out 3-6 novels in a year is way beyond me. But I'd like to be on that treadmill, so I'm pushing ahead. I don't know what happens in the third draft yet, but maybe the computer runs out of memory. I think I'll make a new backup.
Then Chris added these thoughts:
I think what I'm going through is proof that you push forward and then muddle around, and that creating a story is a messy process. And remember that journalism lesson about burying the lead? I think it's also common to fiction--burying the dramatic beginning in a bunch of backstory.So--back to the story. I have to make every effort to hold back the characters from their willingness to dump everything they think into one scene.
Thanks, Chris! (Chris is my friend who wrote her novel, then started over in first person. It's getting better and better! And now I've used up 2/3 of my lifetime supply of exclamation points.)