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Groundwork Doodles

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

If a picture says a thousand words, than a doodle says about a hundred.


Doodling helps me think.


Often when I'm trying to crack a story, my abstract mind wants to get involved. In the early stages, before the story takes form, before the words arrive, the telling works itself out via the doodle.


By no stretch of the imagination am I a brilliant sketcher. But I sketch nonetheless.


I have a tendency to fixate on a single aspect of writing - overusing one tool (say, action) while leaving the others (say, contrast, misdirection, all five senses) in the toolbox untouched - for extended periods while in the throes of writing or editing.


So I've compiled a series of specific doodles onto a single page in my artbook.


These are singular visuals that remind me of other writing aspects that I may be neglecting.


Here's the first row of pencil scratchings. I call these ones my Groundwork Doodles:

Groundwork Doodles
  • Action - Instead of leading with layers of backstory or thought-driven narrative, start with action. Get the characters doing something. Get moving.

  • Immediacy - Give the action a visceral urgency. The reader will find the story much more accessible if the action being introduced is happening "right now" within the story continuum.

  • Story goals - Beyond the immediate chapter's goals, this is to ensure that the overarching story-level goals are being addressed / moved forward / complemented by this scene.

  • Establish the Five Ws before graduating into The H. Those Five Ws are:

  • Who - Make sure the POV is clear, as well as the identiy of the "chapter champion". Readers want to know from the outset who they need to be cheering for.

  • Where - Readers get irked when they're not sure where in space the action is taking place.

  • When - Like its spatial counterpart "Where," readers feel more involved when they understand the temporal placement, the "When," of the action.

  • (Why) - In parentheses because it should only rarely be overtly stated. Great craft will have the reasons for the action / character decisions interwoven among all the other story elements.

  • What - Vital for the reader to know the object of the scene, the goal, the thing that is wanted. This is the "chapter question," the problem or promise that compels characters to engage in conflict - conflict with themselves, conflict with each other, or conflict with the wider world.

By the way, I mentioned a moment ago "The H". Well, that's the How. How does the character accomplish (or not) their scene goal?


That's often the bulk of the chapter. The tension, the suspense, the foreshadowing, the pleasure of the narrative. When it has been set up by appropriate groundwork, then the reader is free to enjoy the ride.


  • How will she overcome her fear and walk onto that stage with her guitar?

  • How will he convince her not to look in the closet?

  • How will they stop the raging forest fire from reaching the village?


That artbook page has 7 rows of similar, inter-related doodles. Some of those rows have only three related items. Others boast double that.


Raising the stakes, thwarted expectations and the three levels of conflict. Metaphor, simile and other associations. Misdirection, traps and poisoned pawns. Shape, size and colour. Utilize all the senses. Change, growth and broken promises.


What the doodles say to the mind's eye can help the writer's brain find just the right words.


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