Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

VNW’s comment on an earlier post got me to thinking about how I’m trying to utilize Scrivener’s features to help organize my novel manuscript. I thought I’d explore that a little bit.

Scrivener has many features, but four tools that I’ve been trying to use to help me organize and revise my work are Snapshots, the split screen, Comments, and Keywords.

Snapshots are useful because they make it very easy to access multiple drafts of a chapter (or scene) even when you move that chapter around or rename it. For example, I have a few chapters that are flashbacks and I’ve been puzzling about both the sequence in which these should be revealed to the reader and where they should fit into the overall structure of the narrative. So they’ve not only been edited to make them work more effectively as scenes, they been edited to fit more cleanly into the surrounding narrative AND they’ve been moved around. With Scrivener, once I save a Snapshot of a particular chapter draft, that Snapshot follows the chapter around wherever I move it and stays associated even if I rename that chapter. Very convenient for a larger project.

The Split Screen is a feature I typically use when I’m (a) adding large-scale notes for a chapter, (b) conducting a broad editorial overview, or (c) referencing a research document while writing a scene. Split Screen allows me to put the manuscript in the top window of Scrivener and the other doc I need to look at in the bottom screen. This is a simple feature but very convenient for this sort of work. I can associate a sub-document full of notes with any given chapter for ease of reference.

Here’s a screen capture showing both the split screen and the Snapshots for a chapter.

Here’s a chapter showing the split screen I use for the manuscript and any broad editorial commentary/notes, plus a look at the snapshots of various chapter drafts

As you can see, I’ve gone through a lot of drafts on this particular chapter. I have them all arranged by date and I can scroll separately through the text of an earlier draft in the little pink column at the bottom right of the screen. This is really handy when I want to pull some language out of an earlier draft and reinsert it into the current manuscript.

I don’t really like to write for extended periods using the Split Screen, as it gets busy for me when I’m trying to be creative. When I’m writing, I tend to use a feature of Scrivener called Compose that blacks out the whole screen and lets me see just a paragraph or so of text. Great for removing distractions (hard for me to capture using my screen capture tool!). However, Split Screen is useful for editing. In fact, having the different visual input to work with helps me distinguish my editorial role from my writer role, so I can switch hats with a bit more cognitive ease.

I also use the Comments feature a great deal. This isn’t that different from turning Comments on in Word, except that I find Scrivener’s implementation to be cleaner and easier to use. You highlight text, make a note in the Comment field that appears in the sidebar, and that’s it. Easy to delete Comments, easy to add them.

The Comments feature is straightforward but useful for specific text notes.

Finally, I am finding that Keywords are a useful tool for a long manuscript like this one. Using Keywords, I’m able to create a list of key categories such as Characters, Locations, Concepts, Factions, and so forth that appear in the book. Then I can add those keywords to any chapter or scene. Here’s what it might look like:

The main keyword list is in the middle, keywords associated with a specific chapter shown on the right, and the results of a search for a particular character keyword are in the column on the left.

In the example above, I searched for all instances of the keyword for a certain character. That character shows up a lot in the current outline, but that could change. In any case, I can click on the entries in the list on the left and see every place where that character appears in the manuscript. Great for keeping tabs on continuity issues. If I change the name of something in the master keyword list, all the tags I’ve added for that will change as well. (The manuscript text won’t change; if you change the name of a major character, you’ve got to do a search and replace.) It’s also handy if, like me, you inadvertently described a minor character the same way every time they first appeared in a scene. Easy to miss but kind of embarrassing when discovered.

I usually toss a couple keywords into a chapter or scene when I first create it, then go back and refine those during later drafts, perhaps when I’m feeling a bit blocked and still want to stay engaged with the story. In an early outline, this process brought to my attention the fact that I’d left a character out of a dozen chapters before dropping them back in for a dramatic scene without much foreshadowing.

I suppose you could use these tools to create a very detailed, well-organized outline before you begin writing. But I’ve learned that you can also employ them after the fact to help wrap your head around a manuscript that threatens to spiral out of control. I appreciate that Scrivener seems flexible enough to support both approaches.

Hope this helps to illustrate or clarify what I mean when I reference some of these tools in the blog posts.


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Status as of Day 28

Day 28 total: 5,096 words      Total: 83,650/~34,814 (in progress)

Wow, I had not realized how long it has been since my last update.

Much of the past week was spent dealing with real life issues. I replaced a broken garbage disposal, dealt the fallout from my son’s first fight at school, am working on getting my daughter transferred to a math/science magnet school after the semester has already started, and got sick (which I’m still recuperating from). Knock on wood, all of those things either went well or are in the process of being resolved. Today has been a total loss in terms of writing time, but I may be able to get some done in the evening.

From a writing perspective, I had three very good days, including yesterday, two average days, and two terrible days over the weekend where I wrote 1,000 words combined. I now have all or most of 15 chapters written, plus portions of another three chapters, with about 16 chapters to go. I’m adjusting the setting to fit the dramatic needs of the story in some places and creating a more detailed setting in others.

I had hoped to have more of the main manuscript complete by this point, but overall I’m satisfied with how this has gone. I’m learning by doing. The real key is going to be completing this work, and that’s going to take a few more months, most likely.

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Day 19 & 20 total: 3972 words      Total: 61,641/~21,000 (in progress)

Busy weekend as predicted. Saw the Avengers with the family yesterday, had a blast. On the writing front, finally wrapped up the major changes to the six chapters that comprise Act I, wrote the first chapter of the next Act, and am about halfway through the following chapter. Still maintaining a solid daily average, though the past five days have really bounced up and down.

Happy to be moving forward again. Kind of weird to be exploring brand new scenes instead of revising what’s already on the page. I hope that I can build some new momentum with these chapters. Have finally gotten my total words written to current manuscript ratio down under 3:1 at last. It would be nice to get that down to 2:1 or less. Looks like the manuscript might be headed for about 75,000 words total, but that’s subject to change as things develop.

On another note, this is the halfway point of my original time frame. I feel like things are going better than I anticipated they would at this stage. I’ve written more in these 20 days than I did in the previous year.

Edit: The paragraph below makes it sound a bit like this has been an easy transition to kick start my writing. It’s more accurate to say that I’m generally happy at the moment with the sacrifices that I’ve made to focus more on writing. I’d like to do some more volunteering at elementary school, but that’s been difficult to fit into the schedule. And I’m sure I’m losing some of the physical conditioning I built up in the past year. But though I’ve been tired as a result of the writing, I feel like my overall mood has also been more positive and that my family has benefited on the whole.

Most critically, I’ve been keeping up with my usual school duties plus extras like added music practices and new sports activities for the kids. I admit I haven’t volunteered as often as in years past, but that’s largely a side effect of having a child in junior high. I’m not working out quite as frequently, but I feel like I’m getting a lot out of my efforts–I set a personal best in a Crossfit Workout called the Cindy yesterday (22 rounds of 5 pullups, 10 pushups, and 15 squats in 19:32). There are definitely some areas I can improve upon, but I’ve got another 20 days or so for that. Then it will come down to trying to hold onto a solid hour of writing time each day and being productive with that.

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Day 18 total: 5,076 words      Total: 57,669/~17,500 (in progress)

I tell you, if I had just done one draft of every chapter without revising anything, I’d finish the whole novel in 30 days! Well, probably not, though it feels like it some days. And I’m pretty sure I’d end up with a manuscript I couldn’t bear to read through afterwards, because that has happened before with a shorter effort.

Anyway, yesterday I got a lot done by one set of metrics, not so much by another. Once again, I probably need to learn how to revise my chapters without rewriting things wholesale, but usually what happens is that I look at the earlier draft for a bit and a bunch of changes suggest themselves and by the time I get started moving bits around and reframing scenes and so on, it’s just easier to start writing from scratch.

Nearly done with all the revisions I wanted to do for Act I. Reworked one chapter that I had originally planned to skip and probably should have in the interest of forward progress, but it was one of those things where I was reviewing the narrative leading into the following chapter and I felt inspired by a few ideas.

Act I is probably going to come in at just under 15,000 words at this point; the higher total given above is my estimate of what I can salvage from chapters that got cut from Act I but have content that is likely to show up later in the newly reconfigured storyline.

Today promises to be quite full with family activities and household chores, so I’m not sure how much I’ll get done. At least I have an idea of how I want today’s scenes to go, so hopefully I can hit the ground running. Sunday, if all goes well, I’ll finally be charging into Act II. Then will come the real test of whether I’ve learned to write first and then revise or if I’m still stuck in these habits of going through three drafts of a story arc sequence (two-three chapters) before pressing on!

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Thought I’d mention some of the music that I enjoy listening to when I need to write a descriptive scene, have a peaceful background when I’m researching, or am writing in the evening and need to keep myself from getting too excitable. (I’m not an extreme morning person, but I am the type that falls asleep before 11 pm on non-game nights and is up by 6 am most days.)

Among my current favorites are the two albums featuring a collaboration between Brian Eno and Harold Budd:

The ethereal piano playing and ambient sound effects on these really evoke a contemplative mood. Makes me thing of beaches in autumn, forest streams, and so forth. I also love the track An Ending (Ascent) from Eno’s album Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (listen to it at the link). I always visualize myself floating in space above the surface of the Earth as I listen to this piece, with the blue oceans and white clouds below me and the stars and void behind.

Another favorite of mine is Gustavo Santaolalla’s Ronroco. Excellent acoustic guitar compositions. You can hear the track Gaucho here. Santaolla also composes music for films. This music makes me think of the southern New Mexico landscape where I grew up.

From a very different part of the world, I’d like to mention an odd collection of folk songs by Scandanavia women that has a lot of tracks that serve as a great, moody background for writing certain scenes. It’s called Wizard Women of the North. My favorite song on this album has got to be “Heiemo og Nykkjen (Heiemo and the Water Sprite),” but I can’t find a version of it online sung by the same artist (Kirsten Bråten Berg). Here’s a sample of the album’s sound, the song “Vallåtar från Gammelboning (Herding Calls from Gammelboning, Sweden)” attributed to Susanne Rosenberg on the album.  {Not sure why the YouTube video creator calls this Witches Calls; maybe they know what’s actually being said.}

Finally, though the movie was more visual treat than engrossing story, I find Daft Punk’s soundtrack to the movie Tron to make for a good background when writing scenes that require a sense of grandeur or expansiveness. I particularly enjoy Finale. (I also like to throw a few of these songs into the background when running games in my irregularly scheduled sci-fi RPG campaign.)

Looking up, that seems like an odd gathering of songs, but I’m sure something like Pandora would identify the underlying musical DNA that makes this music appealing to me. Maybe later I’ll refer to some more reflective albums or else list some of the music I like to listen to when I’m working out or getting jazzed up to write scenes with a lot of energy. (That list is heavy on the hard rock and techno genres.)

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Day 17 Recap

Day 17 total: 1265 words      Total: 52,593/? (in progress)

Got a late start yesterday, no real excuses other than being afraid to confront the pages, which I sublimated into a mix of useful map-making mixed with cartographic procrastination. But it ended up all right. I went back through Chapter 1 and have almost whipped it into the kind of writing that I want. At the risk of jinxing myself, here’s the opening:

Fire rained down from the sky, setting canvas and flesh ablaze. Burning men and Goblins leapt from the rails and the rigging, falling like shooting stars into the sea, only to find that the water’s kiss would not extinguish the alchemical flames that ate their flesh.
Rone swam down, illuminated by the fires raging on the waves above him, pursuing the outline of a sinking wooden chest. He swam until the water grew murky and the chest was lost from sight, until the blood roared in his ears and he thought his lungs would burst.
In the fading light writhed a dark silhouette, a cloud of curious ink that paced his descent like a shadow.

D. Sims, Illyria’s Shadow*

Now, based upon reflection and advice from friends and family (and even from blogger vnw), I think the best thing to do is finish Chapter 1,  jump ahead to the last chapter of Act I, revise part of it with an eye toward facilitating the transition to the next section, and then move forward to Act II, leaving behind notes on what I might correct within those intervening chapters. I think the key for me was feeling as though I could polish the prose and evoke something of the sensations and mood that I wanted to create. But, as wiser people than me have noted, that’s for the revision stage.

Thought I’d mention a few more books and other resources that I’ve enjoyed referencing as I try to polish up aspects of the setting and give it more depth:

My tastes are nothing if not eclectic when it comes to history and sources. 🙂

Well, time to get to work.

*kind of a working title

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Three-day total: 10,265 words      Total: 51,328*/? (see below)

Well, I haven’t posted for a while because I’ve hit a block and been unable to work around it with much success so far. Not a block in terms of getting words down, because I’ve been averaging over 3,000 words a day.

The problem is the number to the right hand side of that slash up above. My net total is actually decreasing because I keep reworking the first Act of the novel. I wrote three versions of the Act I ending, gateway chapter called for in my original outline before I realized that I just can’t make it work without hand-waving too much in the way of common sense. So I scrambled frantically to replot on Monday and then start revising/rewriting chapters to fit.

I’m now on target for six chapters in Act I instead of nine, and though the chapters have gotten a little longer, it’s still looking like perhaps 15,000 words total instead of 20,000.

I also got into a bit of a funk because I just don’t feel like my current writing does a good enough job of transporting the reader to another time and place, which is a key function of a fantasy story. This failing is partly due to the fact that I haven’t focused as much on thinking through all the little details of the setting for this effort, choosing instead to focus on character and story.

So right now I’m bummed. I can still say that this process has been useful because it is forcing me to write and work on story with an intensity I haven’t approached in many years, if ever. But I am less convinced each day that I’m producing a real novel manuscript. This inability to let go of flawed beginnings and sustain my personal faith in a novel through to the finish has dogged me before and I am afraid that I’m going to let myself down again.

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