Finding the story

For me, one of the most difficult aspects of writing is finding the story. Finding ideas is no problem: everyone has ideas. How many times have you been told that by someone that he or she has a great idea for a book? But an idea alone does not make a story. It’s the next stage that I find difficult: taking that idea and developing it into a story that is new and exciting.

If writers are to be believed about what they say of their craft, there are two very different types of writers: ‘pantsers’ and  ‘plotters’. Plotters plan their way forward with detailed written outlines/synopsis, character sketches, scene lists and other devices; whereas pantsers write organically by the seat of their pants not knowing where the story is going to take them. However, I suspect the real truth is that most writers probably fall somewhere  between these two extremes. Let me take a step back and explain.

Most writers that  call themselves ‘pantsers’ do so because they don’t produce a written  outline or synopsis of their story before they commence writing, and because they feel that such an outline would constrain their creativity.  But that’s not to say that they don’t think deeply about their story lines and their characters  before they start writing, that they don’t have notes, research  and jottings about their story, or that they  don’t have some idea of the direction where they want the story  to go.  I suspect that most ‘pantsers’ probably have a very good idea about what they want to cover in the next few chapters that they are writing, but have probably only a feel for what will happen beyond that point.

This is a kind of headlights planning: where the immediate chapters ahead are clear in the writers head, but beyond the writer’s plan is at best a little sketchy. Some pantsers claim that when they start writing they have no idea of how the story will end. But I suspect, if they are honest with themselves,  they will have probably at least considered some of the options available for the ending. What they mean is that they have a passionate desire to remain flexible and creative throughout the writing process. They want to enjoy the same experience as their readers as the story unfolds.

However,  many writers that call themselves plotters, myself included,   may well map out a sketch of the story to begin with, but will not stick rigidly to it. For me, outlining/planning is a process that continues throughout the writing process and as you write new ideas and questions arise that need to be answered, and the  plot evolves.  There are also different degrees of plotting depending on the amount of detail the writer wants to go into.  A plot outline might be a simple list of bullet points of the main story events,  a collection of scene cards; or it could be a 3 or  even a 50-page written synopsis of the story. Plotters come in all shapes and sizes.

Personally, I would describe myself as a plotter, but I’ve never written  a  formal synopsis before commencing a project. I prefer to map out the main events of the story using scene cards with one or two lines of description for each scene. For my current project, I currently have approximately 47 scene cards (22 cards for the first Act, 20 for the second Act  and 5 for the third Act). This may seem a little unbalanced, but it’s because I have completed writing the first Act and I am part way through the second. As the story develops, I will continue to add more scene cards to Acts 2 and 3 as the level of detail becomes clearer.

The point I am trying to make is that plotting is a flexible process. Most of Act 1 of my current book went to plan, with only a modest degree of changes. But I am now a third way through  Act 2 and I am already making major revisions to scenes:  introducing new scenes, changing the timing of scenes and deleting or re-writing scenes. It is part of the process of finding out what works and what does not.

John Truby in The Anatomy of Story wrote that if you are not sure whether to write a scene or not you should write it. It’s the only way you will find out if the scene really works. He’s right. Whether you’re an ardent pantser or a plotter, finding the story is a creative process, and both plotters and pantsers need to experiment to find it.

10 Myths About Writers and Writing

This is a wonderful article about writing from Patti Moed. I just had to re-blog it.

Pilot Fish

In order to write creatively, we need to exercise our free-spirited and impulsive right brain.  It might take a while to “liberate” this side of the brain especially if we have worked in fields that are linear, concrete, and require rationale thought.  This is what happened to me many years ago when I switched from a career in teaching and publishing to full-time writing.   As I began my apprenticeship in the creative arts,  I had to dispel several myths about the writing process and writers.

"Incognito: The Hidden Self-Portrait" by Rachel Perry Welty, DeCordova Museum. “Lost in My Life (Price Tags) ” by Rachel Perry Welty, DeCordova Museum.

1.  Myth: Writers Are Strange.

There is an element of truth to this!  Writers (and other creative people) must be willing to look below the surface of everyday life and explore the world and relationships like a curious outsider.  This perspective sets us apart, but at the same time, it allows us…

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Publishing print-books and e-books using Scrivener

In a recent blog, ‘Indie Publishing on a Shoestring’, I wrote about how you can use Scrivener to create mobi, epub, and pdf files for publishing on Amazon,  Createspace, and other e-distributors, such as BookBaby, Smashwords, and Draft2Digital. The reason I wrote the blog was to convince new indie authors that it wasn’t that difficult to create these files using Scrivener and upload these files to the websites for publication. And that there was nothing to fear from technical aspects of creating these files. You don’t need to be a technical geek, or have a knowledge of hmtl to do so.

Scrivener is indeed an amazing piece of software, and it is difficult for me today to think how I could live without it. As a writer you might only use 10% of its functionality and it’s still a much better tool for writing novels than most other word processors on the market. And I have used quite a few, including Microsoft Word for most of my business career.

However, if you want to get the most out of Scrivener, you need to invest some time in learning about its capabilities. For example, formatting a pdf file for a print-book can be quite complex if you’re not familiar with  print-book design. You need to set different gutter and outer margins, force chapters to begin on a right side page, turn off printing headers and page numbering on pages with chapter starts, indent paragraphs (except the first paragraph of a chapter), turn off page numbering for the front matter content of the book  etc.

If you hunt around on the Internet you find out how to do this using Scrivener. Just google ‘Createspace and Scrivener’. The Scrivener Manual and various published Scrivener guides will also help. But it will take time.

Recently I bought e-book, “How to Format Your Novel for Kindle, Nook, the iBookstore, Smashwords, & CreateSpace in One Afternoon’ by Ed Ditto. I nearly didn’t. It has a rather naff self-made cover that almost put me off buying it (Sorry Ed, but it does). But the content  is brilliant. It’s a recipe for any author to publish their e-book and print-book. All they need is a copy of Scrivener to do it.  It is a step by step guide that takes you through the process. I only wish I had bought it months ago. Before I bought it I was familiar with about 85% of the content of the guide (having already gone through the publishing process myself). But it was still worth the buy just for the 15% that was new to me. If you are an author starting from scratch, and you have Scrivener, you will find this eBook amazing.

I would add that I have no connection to either Ed Ditto, or Literature & Latte, the software company that makes Scrivener.

Of course, Scrivener is not the only way to create mobi, epub and pdf files for publication. I just think it’s probably the most efficient. If you are wedded to Word then the alternatives would seem to be to convert your files using Jutoh, or Sigil (of which the latter requires a working knowledge of hmtl). Another recent product that has appeared on the Internet is KDPublishing Pro, which creates files for Amazon. Unfortunately I don’t have any direct experience of these products and can’t comment further. But feel free to comment on this blog if you are a big fan of these products.