I mentioned last week that Scrivener has templates for characters and settings to help you keep track of details.

Selecting a projectWhen you set up your project you choose the kind of project it will be. In this image I selected Fiction, and i have the choice of Scrivener setting up a n0vel, a novel with parts, or a short story. When I select novel, Scrivener sets up the basic format for manuscript and paperback layouts, as well as the front matter (title pages, cover, copyright). It even sets up a folder for Novel Projectresearch, where you can keep notes, references, and other material you will need as you go along. In the second image, I show the chapters and a few scenes and how to set up the work area. Here, I used the structure of the chapter/scene in the layout to create my basic outline. Each scene has a brief description of what would happen at that point.

At the bottom of the column on the left, there are templates for the character sketch and setting sketch. These are basic sketches and designed to give you a place to keep details of character and setting. Since my first two novels are not historical, I didn’t need Charactersextensive setting sketches. For the second novel, I used a lot of online resources, maps and building plans for the Washington, DC, locations.

Character, though, was something I spent more time developing. The sketch Scrivener provided was a great start to fleshing out my characters. I’ve since figured out a more dynamic method of character development, but I still use the sketches in Scrivener to keep track of details. That’s important as you go from one book to another and carry forward characters.

SettingAs mentioned, I didn’t make extensive use of the setting sketch. However, it is a good outline to keep handy if you’re working in a specific, rich, and detailed setting, or more than one setting. I spent more time on Google, Google Maps, satellite images, and other resources and would make my description before moving on. In Sudden Mission, that worked best because I didn’t intend for the characters to return to those sites later. Not practical filling out a dozen or more setting sketches for one time use.

However, in Nasty Leftovers, I did have my characters spend a lot of time in Washington, DC. I probably should have used setting sketches. They could have helped clear up some confusion in the editing process. Still, the imagery of an empty, toxic, DC was not hard to describe.

In book number 3 of this series, I’m pretty much laying waste to North Carolina. I just need to remember which bridges we’re blowing up. Also, in this series, I created this community vaguely on the east side of Raleigh, NC. I’m purposely trying to keep it vague and unidentifiable. I’m not sure why, but if I’m cornered, I’ll probably come up with something.

Keep writing.




On Writing: Starting a Novel

Originally posted in www.rapier57.com, July 2013.

I am no Stephen King, but I’m settling into a pattern for how I approach writing. The last National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo 2012) helped me organize my approach and set goals. The important thing is to get the story written and not stop until you are done. Then, you can go back, rewrite, edit, correct, add, delete–whatever is necessary to polish and prepare the story for others.

The starting point, though, is tough. I try to do the same thing with short stories that I do with a novel. I try to come up with a sentence or paragraph that names the main character and the situation. The novel for NaNoWriMo started out with a paragraph like this:

“Something went jiggy with reality and God chose Paul to fix it. An enigmatic coyote seemed linked to strange events, and a strange man appears periodically to prod Paul along. Trolls, samurai, extraterrestrials and creeping black fog are just some of the things Paul must face and deal with on a 2,000 mile trek to save a world he’s not sure is worth the effort.”

I had no idea how I would cram all that into a novel with a 14-year-old as the protagonist. But, I did it. Now, this first paragraph didn’t completely or accurately describe the whole novel, since things I did not expect happened along the way.

You’ve probably heard or read authors who say that once they get started, the characters kind of take over the writing. Well, yeah, that kind of sums up what happened. The main character, Paul, because of who he was and what he had to do, determined how some things went. My main role was to type like a madman and keep asking, “what happens next?” when each scene or segment closed. Keep in mind this is a Christian, young adult novel, and it doesn’t focus on conversion, but mission (not a common theme in Christian fiction).

I set up a proposal, summary and sample chapters and am submitting it around now. Again, the work and lessons from NaNoWriMo helped me here, because I have a well planned and executed work and it makes the marketing much easier. If you’re an editor or agent reading this, drop me a note if interested.

I’m starting a new novel with the following blurb:

“Rob is a gladiator in a virtual reality game and must fight to the death whoever he meets there. In the VR, your wounds heal quickly or with the help of an elixir. But, if you die in the VR, you die in real life. He is 14 and has known no other life.”

I outlined the first few chapters and I’ll be starting the first scene soon. This will also be a Christian, young adult novel. I seem to have found an inner voice in the 14-year-old. It will focus on conversion and redemption, but I still do not know just how that is going to happen. I think Rob (Robin Smith) will lead that charge. This is one of the more complete character sketches I’ve ever done. So, I have a feeling the character will drive the story.

I’m taking the lessons learned from NaNoWriMo and applying them. I probably won’t get this done in a month, as with the last one. I am planning to set a schedule and daily word count goal so I get it done. My tools are helping. I use NeO (by d-light) for outlining, Scapple (by Literature and Latte) for brainstorming, and Scrivener (again Literature and Latte)  for doing the writing.

Goalsetting is not too difficult. Consider your typing speed. I can type about 70 words per minute. That is about 4,200 words per hour. Okay, the reality is that I’d be lucky to get 4,200 words of decent writing in a day, much less an hour. But, if I set a realistic goal of 2,000 words per day, and block out time to write, I can complete a 60,000 word rough draft in 30 days of writing. I do have a life, wife and grandkids, so I’ll give myself until the end of August to complete the first draft. I may beat that self-set goal and that is fine. We’ll see how it goes.

So (with apologies to William Shakespeare), once more into the breach!


What I learned from NaNoWriMo

(Originally posted at www.rapier57.com, Jan. 2013. This is proper to repost, as NaNoWriMo is coming again in November, 2013.)

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is something I knew about for some time, but just didn’t have the time or motivation to do. This year, I jumped in with both feet.

As a former print journalist, I knew I could produce the copy to meet the 50,000 word goal in 30 days. I break it down like this. I can type about 60 to 75 words a minute. Optimally, I could generate at least 3,600 words in an hour. I need to produce about 1,660 words per day to meet the 50,000 word goal. If I blocked out three hours to work on the novel each day and produced about 2,000 to 2,400 words of decent quality content, I would easily reach the goal.

The question: Could I produce something worth reading in a month?

So, what did I learn from NaNoWriMo?

1. Success requires some planning.

Outline, or not, get some idea of what you are going to write. Do some character sketches. Set some scenes and locales. Break the project into chapters and scenes. A novel is a huge project. Break it into small, bite-sized chunks and attack it one piece at a time. Do some research on the subjects or topics you will use. Gather the tools you’ll need to verify setting, scene, locale, whatever, when required.

I use Scrivener as my writing environment. It helps me keep a plan (by chapter and scene) in place, provides tools for scene and character descriptions, and has other useful writing tools. I also kept a copy of John Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey handy to keep myself on track regarding the character and story arch. And, I had a decent story idea.

I charged ahead on November 1.

2. You can write a decent novel in 30 days.

I charged ahead and didn’t worry about the grammar, mechanics and stuff like that–well, too much, anyway. I’m an obsessive self-editor. I still made my daily goals almost every day, and then some. I could take a couple days off for family and holidays, and still finish the novel two days early. It came to just over 50,000 words, but enough to get the NaNoWriMo winner certificate.

I kept my wife away from the work until I was done. This drove her crazy, but she was my first reader when I finished. She had it read in two days and loved it, to my surprise. She did make notes and copy edits throughout. After she read it, I spent a few days making corrections and did a little rewrite of some places and the ending. At that point, I sent it off to another writer friend for a critical read.

My writer friend quickly read it and sent the marked up copy back with glowing comments. I’m now going through another edit cycle to clean up the passive voice and smooth out some rough spots in the story.

3. Be methodical.

Do the writing. Take a break. Do the editing. Take a break. Get some feedback, do some rewrite. Take a break.

During the breaks, do some research on potential publishers, editors, or agents. Put together a marketing plan.

Do a re-read, edits, rewrites as needed. Or, have another skilled writer/editor (highly recommended) give it a read and take the edits, corrections and rewrite suggestions to heart. If you have to pay for it, this is the time to do it.

Pick three or four publishers, editors or agents to contact about your novel. Read submission guidelines and requirements and prepare your query letter and the chapters (sometimes just the first 50 pages) you will submit.

When you get the work back from your editor, do the rewriting, revisions and changes. Finalize the document and stop messing with it. Submit it to your first publisher or agent.

4. Move on to the next project.

Don’t stop writing. Start a new project. If you think you can do it, use the NaNoWriMo model and set your goal to complete it in a month or two months. Just set a goal. Goto 1.

I’m going to try to follow my own advice here and keep going, keep writing. This has been an interesting experience and I now know I can complete a novel.

Keep writing.