Structure, Writing Process

How do you choose which scenes to write?

It’s fun to come up with scenes – isn’t it? I don’t know how you feel about this statement but I would have vehemently started shaking my head if anybody had said this to me a few months ago. Working out what should happen in each scene and deciding which scenes to write and which scenes to cut from my outline used to be my kryptonite!

Luckily this changed recently when I discovered the story grid by Shawn Coyne (a tool for editing books that can also be used to help writers – provided they like to plan ahead). If this has piqued your interested, I have good news: Shawn lets you download the spreadsheet template for free from his website!

Whilst the template is really helpful for working out much of the plot and how it spreads across your scenes, including values, objectives, characters, the passing of time in your story (and much more), In my opinion there is a crucial bit missing – the why!

I found it really hard to populate a detailed template without having first understood what the function of each scene needs to be to make the story make sense (and keep things interesting). So, I made a little modification to the template as per the following excerpt which shows the first two scenes in my #NaNoWriMo 2020 story/ debut novel ‘Fearful Magic’ (yay! title-reveal!) as they currently appear on my #preptober story grid.

SCENEWORD COUNTSCENE PURPOSESTORY EVENT
1tbcIntroduce the protagonist and make the reader care for her.Elaine is going about her daily chores when she senses a bird being shot with an arrow. She goes outside to see the bird fall into the back garden of the house she calls home. Her ‘mother’ witnesses this event and flies into a wild panic. She urges Elaine to leave but Elaine refuses to go anywhere without an explanation. She goes to hide in the root cellar under the house when they hear a knock on the door.
2tbcConfirm the danger is real and demonstrate Elaine’s magic powers, showing she is not in control of these powers.The hunters arrive at the house, looking for their bird. They become suspicious when they discover multiple footprints in the snow and discover Elaine in the root cellar. They threaten Elaine’s ‘mother’ to force Elaine to disclose the whereabouts of a mage whom the hunters are after. Elaine unwittingly unleashes her deadly powers, then blacks out.

This way, I have an overview of the function of each scene, can see if the story events (or plot points) fulfil the scenes’ purpose and tweak (or cut) scenes if they don’t live up to their purpose.

I hope this little insight into my #preptober work has wet your appetite for this brand new fantasy story. I will be excited to share more about my writing process throughout November as I will be aiming to complete my first draft during #NaNoWriMo!

See ya next time πŸ˜‰

Let me know if you are also participating in #NaNoWriMo this year (and what your #preptober prep looks like) by leaving a reply in the comments below.

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Author Business, Writing Process

Is genre writing ‘selling out’?

As a lurker in the shadows, monitoring the online forums and social media discussions concerned with writing is a curious ping-pong-like experience. Not surprising in an area of interest which so heavily depends on the personal experiences of individuals trying to figure things out. Just about any claim made by any group of writers is almost instantly opposed by another.

However, there is one thing that most writers seem to readily agree on: ‘selling out’ is a bad, BAD thing. Real writers shouldn’t compromise quality for profit. Those who do (the hucksters) shall be ostracised from the writing community along with their questionable tactics.

I share this belief. Get-rich-quick? Not here, not with us! So, if writing to market and jumping on trends are outlawed practices…where does it leave genre? After all, writing within a genre and writing to market have their similarities. Both require the writer to pay attention to established conventions and craft a story that abides by them. Otherwise you might be risking some very upset readers.

Wherever you might stand on this, I have done my research and here’s my take: if any of us ever want a chance to get our books in front of readers, we need to be able to explain what we write about. Genre accomplishes just that. It defines/ classifies your work in a helpful way so your readers can find (and enjoy) your story. Mess this up and you might end up looking like a huckster after all – misleading your readers and failing to meet their expectations.

See ya next time πŸ˜‰

If you are struggling with genre writing, don’t really get why it matters, or have some other thoughts to share on this, leave a reply in the comments below.

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Writing Process

How do you get from an idea to a novel?

The writer’s brain is a curious place. Clutter everywhere! Bits and pieces of information float through the ‘air’, echoey voices of half-baked, faceless characters repeat hollow words in the darkness. Or maybe that’s just me…?

If you’re a writer who is living in less of a Sherlock Holmesian mind palace, I salute you! This is the type of post where I can really only describe how it works for me and you can totally ignore this and merrily walk through the well-groomed park of your own imagination. Enjoy!

My writing process doesn’t start with a scene, nor with a character. It often starts with a vivid, slow-moving mental image:

Snowflakes slowly drift by a window. A black bird (pierced by an arrow) falls from the sky. Here. That’s how my current #story began – as a passing thought. #amwriting

@wimpywriter

To go from this to a novel-length story is a BIG ask. This is where the plotting kicks in. I examine the image in my mind for weeks (and months) and start to spin out the story, characters, scenes, etc. from there by asking questions such as:

  • Why is the bird significant?
  • Who is watching the bird?
  • Why is the season (winter) significant?
  • Does it have to be snowing?

I start answering these questions in my (very rough) story notes and move through my writing process from there.

See ya next time πŸ˜‰

If you’re intrigued by my method, have something similar (or even better) to share, or think this is just overkill, leave a reply in the comments below.

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Plot, Structure, Writing Process

Write scenes – not chapters!

Before you bite my head off for the contentious title of this post – let me explain. There is actually a really important distinction between a scene and a chapter which I only recently understood and it changed my outlook on writing.

A scene is a sequence of story actions taken by characters within your story. A chapter is a collection of scenes. How many scenes go into a chapter is mostly an arbitrary decision by the writer/ editor/ publisher.

If you bear this in mind, it becomes easy to see why writing in chapters might cause problems for a writer. How can you divvy up scenes into chapters when you haven’t written those scenes first and don’t know how many words are in each of them? Chapters are there for the reader. But for a writer, scenes are your friends.

Following this logic, I am committed to writing all of my stories in scenes and it’s working wonders for coming up with the right sequence of events as it becomes easy to see where there might be gaps in the plot.

See ya next time πŸ˜‰

If you are also a fan of writing in scenes rather than chapters or if writing in chapters works better for you, leave a reply in the comments below.

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Writing Process

How do you start a novel (in notes)?

So, here we get into debate territory. Popular opinion rules that there are many ways to start a novel. And that’s absolutely true. The following are only a few examples of the different options available:

1. You could start at the beginning, end, or middle of your story (if you already have a rough idea) note down key events and work out what setting, characters, etc. you need later.

2. You could start with a character profile (not even necessarily the protagonist) and then work the story/ setting out from there.

3. You could decide just to write random scenes and discover the story, setting, characters, etc. as you write.

I have tried all of these approaches (and a few others) and none of them have worked for me. The only method that has so far proven successful is a brainstorm of notes where I don’t need to worry about any of the above options.

Try it: start a document and note down whatever comes into your head – be it character traits, descriptions, a part of a scene, a short speech, notes about the world/ setting, or anything else you can possibly imagine. You might be surprised how much of the word-vomit will later jog your brain about pretty much any aspect of your novel. Even a picture can work!

See ya next time. πŸ˜‰

If you have tested any of these (or the many other) methods to write a novel, share your experience in the comments. We are all learning!

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Structure

Can you write a story without a map?

Definitely! There is nothing more satisfying than writing out into the blue with inspiration dictating the way as you go. Unfortunately this doesn’t work for me. It just seems to lead me to more unfinished drafts as I eventually end up writing myself into a corner with no plausible way out.

So back to plotting it is. For this, my first ever full-length novel, I am using the story grid (a tool that was originally developed for editing books) by Shawn Coyne as an outlining device. Look out or new posts to find out how I adapt this for my own purposes – one step at a time.

See ya next time! πŸ˜‰

If you you can appreciate the joys (and horrors) of being a plotter (…or a pantser), consider leaving a comment blow.

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Writing Process

Do you need a writing process?

As a child, I knew how to build things. With a little help from my friends, I built castles out of sand, Lego and wooden blocks. I baked mud cakes in all shapes and sizes. I drove and repaired miniature race cars and didn’t let anybody tell me that I was doing things wrong. My imagination was the limit and my imagination was boundless.

I don’t remember when I lost that ability to decide on an approach and follow through (regardless of criticism) but I know it was recent. All of a sudden, the opinion of others seems to matter and the buffet of possibility exudes a rotten smell. I have spent the better part of 5 years trying to write a complete novel. Without success. All because I struggle to make decisions about what to write and how to write it. I have started (and stopped) more projects than I care to remember.

Today, I finally see a way forward: a process! With the right, repeatable process, I am sure I can write a complete novel. So, regardless of criticism, I am officially deciding this process will see me through to the end of my writing adventure and help me make decisions. No backsies!

See ya next time! πŸ˜‰

If you struggle with decision making as much as I do, or have developed your own writing process, consider leaving a comment below.

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Worthless Waffle

How do fiction writers write?

With great difficulty… if the most wildly celebrated (and prolific) authors out there are to be believed. So what chance do I have?

As life has recently turned into an Edward Hopper painting (thanks to the current global pandemic)…the best chance in the world! Finally an excuse to stay in and work. No visits, no holidays, no distractions. Just me, a load of blank pages, and a whirlwind of ideas going through my head. Can you tell I am trying to motivate myself…and maybe one or two of you out there?

Welcome to the first steps of my writing adventure from vague idea to self-published novel – a one stop shop to fully understanding how I write! Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of it documented in weekly posts (Monday, Wednesday, Friday). All my learnings, winnings, and failings – uncut!

See ya next time! πŸ˜‰

If you are also currently writing your first novel, consider leaving a comment below. I would love to know how you’re getting on!

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