Do writers know what they are doing? #writingcommunity #amwriting #plotting #plottwists

Yes, I admit this is a bit of a provocative statement, and sweeping, but I wanted to address an argument I was having with my Husband.

And why not use the internet? Nothing like airing your domestic disharmony in public!

This isn’t a new argument, we have been over it a few times and he’s just not seeing my point of view, even though it’s about writing and I’m a writer and he’s not! So I thought I would get the writing community to wade in on my end. Just in case there is any confusion here, I am a woman and it’s a given that I am always right ūüėČ Right?

To give some context for this, my husband is an extremely logical person…and I’m, ah, not. I mean I can be logical sometimes, but mostly I take leaps and jump from events to conclusions. I don’t want to get into the nuances of logic v emotion. But in short, I’m comfortable that there isn’t a ‘plan’ or even a ‘logical’ progression to the way a story plays out.

So what was this burning issue provoking domestic disharmony?

Well, it’s George R.R. Martin’s fault.

Specifically Hodor.

I’m really hoping most of you are at least familiar with GoT, but in case you are not…there is a character called ‘Hodor’ and all Hodor says for many seasons is ‘Hodor’, doesn’t matter what folks say to him, situation, stress levels or emotional state, all he says is ‘Hodor’. I think it is season five or six where we discover why this is.

My Husband: That is so amazing, George R.R Martin must have planned this from the start.

Me: I seriously doubt it.

Now, it’s quite possible he did plan it…I’m open to this option. Writers do plan stuff. I plan stuff, but it’s more of a fuzzy framework in which to play, and I change my mind as I go, and add bits, and I blatantly ignore said framework when a new, more interesting, idea pops up.

And I make connections to old seemingly insignificant details all the time.

It’s one of the reasons I think colorful, if somewhat inane details, are so important to a book, because they facilitate connections later down the track. I am always doing this, some minor detail I wrote right at the start will suddenly present itself as a plot twist. It’s part of the process and it’s the way writer’s brains work.

I’m sure someone has asked George R.R. Martin if Hodor was planned right from the start, and perhaps he was. My argument isn’t about whether or not Hodor would always ‘hold a door’ from the moment he arrived on the pages of that draft all those moons ago. But it is¬†possible that he wasn’t, and it is my firm opinion that writers do take strange quirks and details and repurpose them later.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Have you ever planned a major twist right from the very start?

Have you ever stumbled across a plot twist as you were writing, pulling in an early event or detail and repurposing it towards the end?

Happy reading and writing ūüôā

…and for those who want the answer to the burning did he / didn’t he question.

How Does Game of Thrones Author George R.R. Martin Really Feel About That Hodor Reveal?

A simple guide to planning a novel – Part 1

I am going to confess something right off‚ÄĒI hate planning. I hate it with a passion. I find it boring. So, if I want to plan¬†a novel I need to make it super easy, and when I say super easy, I mean idiot proof.

My¬†Simple¬†guide to planning a novel¬†will be a¬†series coming out every¬†Wednesday. Today we are looking at the tools needed, pre-work, and Stage 1 – Brainstorming. I¬†will be using¬†Star Wars to provide¬†plot point explanations, and these examples¬†will be obvious even for those who haven’t seen the movie. If you haven’t seen Star Wars (why haven’t you seen it?),¬†I will also be using examples from Toy Story.

My advice in using this guide is¬†not to over-think every stage. For example, if you don’t have a complete character profile you can move forward anyway. You do need some¬†of the character profile, though.

You will find that as you develop each stage you gain insights into previous stages and previous ideas. It’s okay to dive back and add extra details to any stage at any point. The more passes you make, and the more you progress, the greater detail you will see. And it doesn’t have to be perfect before you can start writing, I go for the 80/20 rule. If it’s mostly complete just jump on in and the last few missing pieces¬†will pop up¬†as you write.

Q: What are the planning stages?

A: Pre-work + 5 stages

We will follow the series of steps shown below. The Key plot points will take the most time and effort, but these are also the most important parts so it is worth investing this time. Today we are covering pre-work and brainstorming.

Planning a novel - Part 1

Q: How long does it take?

A: About a day

I have just planned my third book using this technique, which is based on a number of blog posts, articles, pod-casts, books, and planning guides I have read over the years, along with the experience gained in planning my first two books. It took me about a day in total excluding the pre-work and character profiles. Since it was the third book in a series I already had a good idea about what I wanted to achieve, and of course knew most of the characters. However, my original outline was still extremely sketchy, but with about 6 hours effort I had a great set of chapter summaries, was comfortable that I had not backed myself into any plot corners, and had all my key plot points covered.

Q: What tools do I need?

A: This is a generic planning approach and can use anything from a dedicated writing tool such as Scrivener, word, excel or good old pen and paper.

If you are using the manual approach then coloured pens and post-it notes can be a great help, but otherwise plain old paper and pen will do.

Now, without further ado, here is my Simple guide to planning a novel.

Pre-work

As with most things, you need to do a little pre-work before you leap into planning a book. The pre-work involves developing your story concept, along with a rough idea of what the story is about. A summary will do. Then we can move onto brainstorming our plot. Things to identify in the pre-work stage include:

  • What sort of¬†dramatic situation is your story about? You may be surprised to discover there are only so many types of plot.¬†Want some ideas, check out this great post with examples.¬†36 Plots and Mad Max
  • Who is your story about? When we get an idea for a story we usually have a character in mind for our protagonist, and we usually¬†have back story ideas about them too.
  • Who is your story antagonist, or antagonistic force? Whether it is a person, a force of nature, an animal, a disease or something else doesn’t matter, there just needs to be something or someone who provides the counterbalance to our protagonist and delivers¬†a source of conflict.
  • Our characters never live in a vacuum, so you also need an idea for the setting or location, and ideas for supporting characters as well.

Phew, that is quite a lot of pre-work! But, all of this will help you when you come to start the real planning and we begin to explore our character timelines.

Step 1 РCharacter timelines via brainstorming.

To explore character timelines, you need a¬†book start and the book end…even if you change these¬†as part of the planning and /or writing process. You have to start somewhere, and you have to put a boundary around your story.

This boundary will be used now when we explore our character timelines.

  1. First, list all the main characters, and all your supporting characters. If something other than a person is acting as an antagonist then list this as well.

2. For each write up a little bio. Here is a great list of questions you can use to explore your characters. How to create a character profile. You don’t necessarily need to fill in everything, especially for minor characters, but everything you do note down will increase your character depth.

3. Naming characters¬†in my humble opinion is a nightmare, and I change the names constantly! ¬†Some¬†people use a generic name¬†to start with such as¬†‘Best friend’, ‘guy in bar’, ‘Mr X’ and then let¬†the name pop up later. Personally I just get on with naming them and change them later if need be.¬†For more help see. Character names – decisions, decisions!

4. For each character¬†now¬†jot down any¬†and all plot points or events that happen to them in between your story start and your story end. The main character(s) are easiest so start with these first. Don’t worry if you think there may be gaps, it will all get filled in later. And you often find that bullet-pointing one character generates ideas against another, which is great!

Don’t worry about the order of the events. If you have a order¬†that’s a bonus and certainly use it, but otherwise just let the thoughts and ideas pour out.

Don’t allow any subconscious constraints to influence the brainstorming. Don’t worry if it will be an actual plot point or a sub-point. Your ideas here may become chapters, a few sentences or even multiple chapters, the most important part is simply to write them all down.

A simple guide to planning a novel part 2 РWord count and creating a framework 

A simple guide to planning a novel part 3 РThe beginning and the end

A simple guide to planning a novel part 4 РThe inciting incident

A simple guide to planning a novel part 5 РThe key events in a book

A simple guide to planning a novel part 6 – Filling in the chapter notes

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8 Reasons why Scrivener is my writing tool of choice #amwriting #writing #writingtools #Scrivener

I have been writing for a long time now, over twenty years in fact. When I first started, there wasn’t even the basics such as Microsoft Word. I was pretty excited when Word came out!

But in 2011 I moved from a Windows PC to an Apple Mac, and I have been using Scrivener ever since. It was originally only available on the Mac, but you can now get a windows version.

So, I have been using Scrivener for quite a while.  I can honestly say that I am more productive with Scrivener than I ever was with Word or those even worse writing applications that came before. And I thought I would share a few highlights as to why I love Scrivener so much.

  1. It lets you chop up your book. If you are anything like me, the order of chapters at the start is not the order at the end. I pull stuff about, chop it out, put it back, and generally hack the sequence within an inch of its life. Scrivener makes this easy. Chapters can be placed into folders,¬†and I can move them, or delete, and if need be… restore them.
  2. You can categorise chapters. I write in a number of character perspectives so I categorise (And further colour code) my chapters so it is easy to see which chapter is which character. But you might use this colour/ category for many purposes such as location or something else.
  3. Chapters have a status. The status allows you to set whether a chapter is Draft, Revised draft, To do, complete etc. Its configurable, so you can make your own status to suit you. If you are anything like me, some chapters are completed early and some I go back to many times. Using the status makes it easy to see what has been completed and what parts need more work.
  4. Compiling is easy. You can convert your scrivener project to just about any electronic format you can think of, i.e. mobi, epub, ibook, word, pdf, and a whole lot more. It takes seconds! Yes there is a little configuration to do, but the default compile is good for most purposes and it is only if you want to get fancy with font etc. that you need to play with the settings.
  5. It comes with standard novel templates so you can get the book title, chapter list, title pages, front and back matter, built into the compile.
  6. You can add icons to chapters. I mark my quarter points, which makes it easier to see the book breakdown.
  7. Target word counts. I love target word counts, they keep me motivated and moving forward. See Using Target word count.
  8. There is a notes and synopsis section for each chapter. If like me you sometimes hack sentences out but you are not sure you are ready to trash them, you can keep them in the notes section of that chapter so they are easy to see until you are confident you no longer need them. I also use the notes for jotting down comments about the chapter, or points I want to address. The synopsis field is great if you want to put a brief note of what the chapter is about during the planning stage.

I have skimmed the surface of what Scrivener does, and I am sure everyone has different features they swear by. It has been a great tool to use and I can’t imagine going back to Word now. I would love to hear about your writing tool, if you have tried Scrivener what you think, and if there is¬†any other writing software out there you would recommend.

And if I have tempted you to look into Scrivener, you can get it on a free 30 day trial.

Writing Software – changing technology