Before I write a single word, I draw circles. Circles for faces, eyes, and wild hand movements—enough circles to make a person. The drawings and little notes I make before I actually start writing help give me focus and inspire me to delve deeper into the characters.

Below are pages from my sketchbook for the novel I’m working on, The Otherworld Backpacker’s Guide.

The Plot


The Otherworld Backpacker’s Guide is about two college students who plan a trip around Europe, but accidentally end up in a magical world and mistaken for the writers of a travel guide. Francesca (Chess) Durand and Kay Song are the two main characters. I’m having a lot of fun putting two people together who either work really well with each other, or don’t really fit but need to learn something necessary from one another.

On the left is a messy diagram of the hero’s journey, with the original title for the book (which I scrapped because of its similarity to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). On the opposite page are a few character sketches. Clockwise, left to right, are Vero, Zeil, and Chess.

Thoughts and Outlines


Here are drawings of Zeil, Neveya, and Cantor, members of the Morae (kinda, sorta the bad guys). Beneath them are some thoughts and inspiration. On the facing page are vague outlines for the first four chapters of the book, and more notes on some other antagonists and their motivations.

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Relationships and Storylines


The half-finished diagram on the left note relationships and motivations of the characters. I mostly wanted to figure out how certain characters related to the agencies they work for, as well as how they affect the main characters.

On the right is what I consider an outline, but it’s more of a focus page. Chess and Kay have their own storylines in progress, and while they are united by some motivations, they are also fundamentally different in a lot of ways. I wanted visuals that I could refer back to while I’m writing to remind myself of theme and character.


Lastly, some not completely terrible drawings of Rosia, Kay, and Chess.