Thursday, August 19, 2010

How to Draw-Out Writing a Novel and some Interesting Software.

There are novelists who write a detailed plot and stick to it come “hell or high water”.
Then there are those who discover the plot as they write.

Then there are those who fence sit.
I have to admit I am a fence sitter when it comes to outlining. I have done a version of the free form effort. I have also written reasonably detailed outlines.

For my soon to be published novel Veiled in Shadows, I started with no outline. In fact for the first few months I was “working” on it I wrote nothing down. That is right nothing, not a word on paper, or on a computer screen. I ran through the whole story in my head.

So how did I go about it? Well I relied on the fact that I (usually) have a good memory. In those months the novel was entirely a mental construct. I began with a central character (Katharina), of mixed German and British ancestry. My initial ideas focussed on Katharina being torn between loyalty to her British father and her German romantic interest (Ebi). I quickly decided how I wanted the story to end and built the plot from there.

Then I wrote a first draft from my memory of the story, then I shelved it because I got really busy in my day job.
Some time later (in fact years later) when I read that draft through I was disgusted at how badly written it was. Yet, I still really liked the characters and the themes of the book.

So that first draft effectively became my outline for an expanded (and hopefully better written) story. In the end I redrafted Shadows another three times before I was happy to share it with Beta-readers.

Fast forward to my WIP, Veiled in Storms. The germination of Storms began as I wrote what was to be a postscript for one of the secondary characters in Shadows. I quickly realised as I thought about it, that that postscript would form the kernel of another whole novel. Surprise, surprise, the postscript got cut from Shadows.

Unlike Veiled, I outlined Storms from the beginning in quite a detailed way. Perhaps because of this things proceeded much more quickly and I soon had half my first draft completed. Then of course the day job and life in general got in the way and I had a temporary hiatus on Storms.

Back in June I talked about going back to the WIP and reassessing it. In the end I decided that what I had written would become largely back story to the main action.
Realities of work, life and trying to finalise Shadows, have meant I have had almost zero time to spend on Storms. I have finally started reoutlining the plot. The story remains essentially the same but the focus has shifted from events to characters.

I hate outlining on paper as a general rule. I find it frustrating hand writing something, only to have to scratch it out and start again. Because of this I have usually developed outlines in rough on an Excel spreadsheet, with more detail in Word documents. A bit cumbersome, and hard to see the whole thing at once but it has worked for me.

For those who are interested I thought I would share a piece of software I have been trying out for my outlining. It is a program called yWriter. YWriter is designed by an Aussie novelist called Simon Haynes (he also happens to be a programmer). It is absolutely free from his website.

What I like about this software is it allows me to plan out the story as a series of scenes that I can shift around from chapter to chapter, or section to section, as I see fit.
It has database functions so you can search scenes or chapters by fields such as character, location, etc. I am so far finding it a useful tool for keeping track of characters and events as I shuffle them around to develop the new outline.

If I choose to I can then use the software as a word processer to basically write the story into the outline.
I imagine in the end I won’t use that feature, but that I will use it to finish forming my outline and then write the next draft in Word.

Now a couple of random photos:

An Australian Magpie.
These guys were named for their similar colouration to English Magpies. They have a beautiful warbling song. They also become terrors in spring, swooping down to drive people away from where they are nesting. I have shed blood more than once after a surprise magpie “bombing”. They were bombing me, I wasn’t illicitly blowing them up (as irritating as they can be).

Roadside hay and silo, Flowerdale Victoria.


Old Kitty said...

Ooooh interesting!!!! I love how you've worked out your writing method and gain inspirations organically! It's great that a postscript grew into a whole new novel!!

As I'm averse to all things excel - I'm a bit tentative about this programme but it's free and hey what have I got to loose by trying it out?!?! So thank you for that information!

Awww I love that aussie Magpie!! and it's got a beautiful song too (unlike the British ones that just squawk at you!! lovely though they are!). But I do like those creepy long shadows thrown across the road in the second pic!

take care

Palindrome said...

I handwrite everything first. So you would not like my method of madness at all. I don't really outline per say but I do write and write what I think, want, might happen. It doesn't always end up that way and sometimes new characters appear and old ones disappear. It's all fluid.

Carolyn V. said...

I'm a little bit outliner and a little bit write as I go. But that software sounds great! I'll have to check it out. Thanks!

Indigo said...

I've written three books by the seat of my pants. Of course the first two are still in 1st draft. The third is the one, I plan to take out into the world.

Like you my story stays constant in my head - upfront shadowing all else. Admittedly, I never know the ending until I get there. This latest one, I ended up changing what I thought the ending would be midstream.

In any case I don't necessarily see outlining in first drafts. Maybe the 2nd when the story is more prolific and substantial. (Hugs)Indigo

Jemi Fraser said...

I work in my head for a while as well. I usually get to know the characters a bit. The final scene comes first, then the first. Then I write :)

Anonymous said...

It's fascinating to learn how others work at their novels so thanks for sharing, Al. I'm all for planning, but things could change... The software sounds interesting and I'm going to give it a whirl.

That Magpie looks as if it's up to something. Our English hay bales are often covered in black or blue plastic - ugh! Nice to see aussie ones looking natural.

Theres just life said...

Really good information. It took me years to try blogging. Hopefully it wont take me as long to try to get my story out of my head and onto, screen.

Kathleen Jones said...

A really interesting post Al. I can't write a story unless I can run it like a video at the back of my mind, so I suppose like you that I write it in my head first!
Glad you're still working on it. When is Shadows out?

Al said...

Hi Jennifer,
In fact the postscript has since morphed into my WIP and rough a plot idea for two more books. When I go overboard I really go overboard!
yWriter different but simpler than Excel, if you can drive that at all you will have no problem with this software.

Hi Hannah,
I hate handwriting so you’re right on that level. I seem to get more serious about outlining as time goes by, but when it comes to it can all disappear as I write. So like you say it is all fluid.

Hi Carolyn,
Like me, a fence sitter huh? :-)

Hi Indigo,
Seat of the pants works for me too!
Unlike you I usually know the end from the beginning.
Good luck with taking number three out to the world.

Hi Jemi,
Knowing the characters is critical. The ending is really important to me as well getting it right then working towards it is usually my take as well.

Hi Christine,
It is fascinating how differently we all work. yWriter is worth a look.
Haha, he was ‘up to something’ we were having a picnic and he had the idea of helping himself.
Most of ours are left to dry out as hay, some are covered in plastic when they are wet to ferment into something called silage.

Hi Pamela Jo,
Pleased you found my post interesting. You’ll start when you’re ready.

Hi Kathleen,
I hoped people would find my wanderings interesting. I run it as a video too, although I now tend to plan at that point to flesh it out more.
Shadows will hopefully be available in two to four weeks (see my next post).

Lisa said...

YWriter sounds like a great tool. For all of my life I've been wanting to write a book. Maybe something like this will help me get my thoughts organized and moving forward.