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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Writing Update Special - Reflections On My Process (Including Scrivener)

Back in April of this year, I wrote two articles about my plotting process (Planning A Novel - Ryann's Brother and Writing Update 4/21/13). Now I've finished writing my latest manuscript, I thought it would be a good idea to write a reflective post on what worked. You never know, it may even be something that help someone!

As many of you are aware, I use Scrivener to help me write my novels. I love Scrivener! Before its advent, I used Microsoft Word and, although Word produced pretty documents, it was difficult to keep thoughts and structure together once I got beyond about 30,000 words. I'm not going to write all about Scrivener here, as I've done that before, but if you're interested, you can read my experiences, hints, and tips HERE.

Anyway, back to the plot! (And an apt word that is, too.) One of the major things I did differently this time around was to use a timeline for my novel. After having set down my 200 or so plot points, I created a timeline of the novel that listed what/where each major character was doing at a particular point in time. I created it in Excel, with the first column detailing the months, and the first row detailing the names of the characters. Then I filled it like a grid (see sample below).

I'd read it would help in keeping me on track with my storyline and also minimize plot / story breaks. And guess what? It worked. It worked so well, I opened it up on many occasions as I was writing. I could quickly check when things had happened, who was where, and also I could move pieces around as necessary. Combined with Scrivener's ability to move plot points wherever I wanted, the timeline became a wonderful tool. So much so, in fact, that it even changed the way I use Scrivener.

Previously, I had color-coded all plot points in Scrivener to show who was the major POV character in the scene, and also to show where it took place. I didn't need to do that any more. The timeline served that function, allowing me to write more quickly. So, addition of timeline: Huge win!

There are a few other things I love about Scrivener that I use time and time again. Let me go over a few of them.

I use Character Sheets for all my major characters. This enables me to bring up a picture and description of any character, alongside (split screen) whatever scene I'm writing, whenever I want. I can then refer to this, and make modifications, if I want, on the fly. Also, I can add character traits, notes, etc. about the character so that the Character Sheet becomes a complete reference. I can also include the names of minor, but associated, characters to the major Character Sheets. So far, for Ryann's Brother, I have 16 major characters I am keeping track of - too much to try and remember. I also keep a Character Relationship diagram. This details who is married to who, who the children are, which cousin is really the child of x, etc. Books always have complex relationships and this chart helps me remember what is what.

Then there are the places and things. I keep references sheets on religion, history, animals, magics, etc. They all need to be referenced from time to time. And finally I keep reference sheets on places (with pictures).

Scrivener, to me, is a writing environment. It's a thousand things more than a word processor. Now that I use it on a daily basis, I couldn't imagine ever going back to Word. So, you ask, don't you ever use Word any more? Yes - I do. For formatting the final output. That's it!

Ryann's Brother is the thirteenth book I've written. At long last, I'm beginning to get a process together that really works for me. It takes time, and what works for me may not work for you. But, after 864,000 published (including Ryann's Brother) words, I think I can speak with a little bit of experience. Planning things out in advance will give you every chance of becoming successful, and the early word on my totally rough draft of Ryann's Brother is that this is my best book to date!

PS. Many people ask me how I turn books out so quickly (on track for writing 5 novels this year). Quite simply - I don't! If I didn't have a day job, I could turn them out in weeks! But I do believe the secret to successful writing, is good planning. Planning allows me to write at around 1300-1500 words an hour. Most Indie Authors consider 500-1000 words a day as a success. I have had the occasional day when I've been able to devote most of it to writing, and I've turned out 6000-7000 words. Now that's what I call a good day!

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