Tag Archives: structure

I knew what to do a year ago

SKILLS NOT USED GET RUSTY

I spent my working time today gathering everything I have in the way of text for the short story, a prequel to Pride’s Children, that I’m getting ready to publish on Amazon.

And panicking.

When I did the ebook formatting for PC: PURGATORY, I spent so much time tweaking Scrivener’s Compile function, to get everything to look just right, that I worried I’d never get the details out of my head.

And yet here, a bit over a year later, I can’t remember ANY of it.

Somehow, wisely, I left breadcrumbs for myself

Because it is something I send to people who request it (after they read my post on structure), I took the trouble to clean up the Novel With Parts template that I use, which is just Scrivener’s template of the same name, but with many areas prefilled or suggested.

And with the same Compile setup that I used to produce the novel’s epub file.

But it is not a short story template (reminder to self: produce one), and a 167K novel needs more parts and sections than a 1.5k short story.

But it has been extraordinarily difficult to remember why those parts were there, how I figured out the headers and footers and front and back matter, and making the decisions to delete what I don’t need.

I am nervous because I’ve never published a short story on Amazon

and it is very short.

Even with some fill-in bits, it is very short. Even if I tell people right up front that it’s short, I have this feeling of impostor syndrome.

And yet, there are no words I would add to it. It is the right length for what it tells, and a critical bit to understand Andrew. It took months to get right, to make spare, to give both a flavor of his mind and an account of an important happening which has changed him.

It’s free on Wattpad and on my blog, but some people haven’t read it here (please do so if you like). And I will have the temerity to set its price at 0.99, which, by coincidence, is the amount I’m charging today for the whole of Pride’s Children: PURGATORY.

Pricing messes with my mind. Since I also do it differently from many indies, I can’t follow easy guidelines. I want the story on Amazon for anyone who would like their own copy in a Kindle file with a cover. This authoring thing is weird.

I’ll figure it out. The next short story will be easier. It isn’t brain surgery. It’s just a little story.


Too Late: coming soon. If it hadn’t been for the shenanigans in Washington, I’d be finished.

Will I ever feel as if I know what I’m doing?

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There is always a new writing fear

A single red leaf on a concrete background. Words: Fear of failing. When you have something to lose. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtFEAR OF LOSING WHAT YOU HAVE IS PARALYZING

One of fear’s main jobs is keeping us safe: safe from falling, safe from making mistakes – from failing.

But, as many things, it is a more useful servant than it is a master.

I visited WriterUnboxed.com this morning, as I do most mornings, to get my brain in gear, give it time to focus, possibly preload it with something creative.

And I run smack into a blog post by Annie Neugebauer in which she talks about how to overcome the fear of making a mistake.

And not just any mistake, but the fear of falling flat on your face when taking a risk in your writing.

It is possible to miss the source of your fears

I left the following comment:

I have found that what scares you to write doesn’t often get the scary reaction – it’s more likely to be ignored, after all that courage it took to face the fear. In either case, though, you’re absolutely right: taking the dive feels good.

I’m doing that right now, diving into the fears I deliberately planted in the middle book of a trilogy – from the very beginning. I have spent years asking myself if I really had to go this route. The answer is that I do – there’s no way around it, and there’s never been a way around it.

If no one else in the world likes it or thinks it’s essential, oh well.

But now that a small number of readers have said they’re waiting for the second book, and the first one is slow, I just realized that I have been afraid of disappointing those readers! Who didn’t even exist when I started the first book.

What a concept: being able to disappoint readers.

Understand this first: the whole of what will be the Pride’s Children trilogy was meant to be, was planned out to be, a single book.

Due to my plotting with Dramatica, when the story got too long in the telling, the breakpoints to split it up were obvious (one of the great pleasures of plotting thusly), and it took very little to separate the pieces out into three volumes instead of one.

Writing Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD has not been automatic

I expected it to be easy; after all, I was just going to the next scene in a long list of scenes, and thought I would merely be doing what I always do: gather what I have assigned to the scene in Dramatica, Save the Cat, The Key…Power of Myth, The Fire in Fiction – my go-to books while writing; structure everything into a scene that ‘happens’ in time, instead of a collection of bullet points; become the character – and write.

And I’ve been baffled by how hard it’s been.

I even started a post (in draft) about how hard the first scene was to write (short version: a new kind of scene required some new thinking).

But it wasn’t until this morning, after Annie’s questions:

What scary drop have you been avoiding?

and

And are you willing to accept any bruises or ego dents that may come?

that I realize what was going on: a brand new kind of fear, one I’d been vaguely aware of, but hadn’t fully engaged with.

I may get reassurances on this one, of the “I’ll like anything you write” or “Whatever you’re planning can’t be that bad,” from my friends who really believe that, and have taken risks of their own.

Facing reality may not change it

But those reactions are promises made to a future which doesn’t exist yet. When making the comment – and encouraging writers to take the risks – readers and other writers don’t know what they’re endorsing: they are writing a blank check.

If I blithely accept the recommendation to keep going – it could still turn out to be something my readers hate.

All I can say at this point is that it is built into the story from the beginning, and if you liked PURGATORY, you have already bought into the foreshadowed premise, whether you know it yet or not.

If you don’t like it, remember it was a choice made with full realization that it is dangerous – and that I tried my darndest to make sure it was the best choice. The only choice I have is to write it as well as I can – and to be as accurate as I can be to the mind of the character I’m writing in.

I am trying to sneak it past the reader, which, paradoxically, may require mentioning it early, and then being almost too subtle.

You just gotta trust the writer

I remember being delighted by a comment in a review:

I honestly don’t know how to explain the grip this book had on me from the first. I couldn’t stop reading it, and I wanted it never to end. I’ve read other books that affected me this way, but the authors always hurt the spell by tossing a plot bomb in through the window. Ehrhardt may do that before the trilogy is over, I can’t see the future, but she doesn’t do it in this book.

That’s, of course, one of the readers I don’t want to disappoint, who were kind enough to say I knew how to finish a book.

Maybe, when it’s all finished, I will describe why it must be the way it is.

I hope it will gain more readers than it loses me. If not, I am still writing this trilogy for me.

As a reader, what do you do when the ending of a book doesn’t satisfy you?

As a writer, have you come to this place?

Comments are most welcome.


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to create ten images a month – for free. If I ever need more, I will be using them.

Also, thanks to Blasty for helping me try to remove unauthorized downloads of Pride’s Children from Google search results. They are looking for more free beta readers to help them finish figuring out their methods. They have removed over 2000 infringements already for me. I mind, because I don’t want my work enticing readers to phishing sites. If you want to read for free, ask for an electronic Review Copy and consider writing a review.

Is it a mistake to gut your readers emotionally?

ride of lifeOR IS IT YOUR JOB AS A WRITER?

To give them the biggest emotional journey you can, the most stress and pain they can take vicariously?

At least, it is your job to consider their feelings – and how you’re going to invoke them – if not as you write, then at least before you publish.

You owe your readers a thorough exploration of the questions raised by the story. If you present one action, and only one reaction, you’re preaching. Which is fine as long as you know what you’re doing, and some writers and readers are perfectly fine with that.

But not me.

Mountains, anyone?

Real-life choices are made with options. Fictional choices are made with a lot MORE options. Just because writers can. There is no budget needed when a writer says, “Overnight, a mountain had moved in front of her window.” A few black marks and it’s done. Less than a minute of writing time, and we have a new mountain, right where I say it is.

So there’s no excuse such as “it’s too expensive” or “where am I going to get a mountain?”

Since I write realistic fiction, I do have limits that I choose (and shouldn’t use dream sequences with new mountains very often). But the mountains of K’Tae, where Kary sets her SF novel (if you’ve read Pride’s Children, you know what I’m talking about; if not) were necessary for her plot on an inhospitable planet, and cost me practically nothing. Nice, eh?

Readers’ reactions to roller coasters, emotional

Leaving out those who like their fiction tame, and those who prefer a lot of physical action, gives me readers who want to know how the appearance on a single TV interview can make such a difference in the life of a woman who normally hides, due to a carefully managed illness, from any publicity. How much can she take? What does it do to her? How does she cope before, during, and after a roller coaster comes into her life?

Do we want her to get off? Do we care where the ride stops? Is it even a possible ride for her and the other people involved?

Readers deserve an author who takes into account their emotional journey, presents each relevant event as the only possible next event, has a sequence of emotions calculated to lead them through a scene, chapter, book in an inexorable progress (Noooo!) to the only possible end to the story, and then dumps them at the station wanting more.

Margaret Mitchell did that continuously through a very long Gone With the Wind, and left us at the end wanting the more which either she didn’t plan to write, or didn’t get the chance to. And which was so badly mishandled by the writer her estate hired to do the sequel that I won’t mention it – which disappointed many.

How to engineer a roller coaster:

Planning, planning, and more planning is how I do it.

My tools (the books I consult most frequently while setting the journey up) are:

  1. Writing the Blockbuster novel, in which Albert Zuckerman masterfully takes apart several important and well known scenes (from The Godfather, GWTW, and Ken Follett’s The Man from St. Petersburg) showing how it’s done.
  2. The Fire in Fiction, in which Donald Maass carefully shows how to create conflict in every element of a scene (from landscaping to literally nothing happening).
  3. Wired for Story, where Lisa Kron shows how to make a reader empathize with a character with a thorough understanding of how the human brain works, and how we feel.

I start a scene, for example, by asking myself what the character needs to go through emotionally for the scene to work for me.

Then I start working out whether some of the emotions cluster in groups. If so, a smooth transition from feeling to feeling within a group gets planned.

I ask myself where the scene starts, what the emotional changes in the character have to be, and where the character needs to end.

Once I have the character’s path and the actual events working to give a transition which makes some kind of sense, I work out how to get a reader to identify – and take the same journey. It has to be a believable journey. In real life, people go through circular emotional journeys, coming back again to the same thing, over and over, repeating themselves. If you do that in fiction, readers will notice.

You don’t get to take that trip in fiction because it’s boring. Once a character achieves insight over something, the reader expects him to remember that insight.

That’s because stories are the highlights of life, condensed, told as quickly as possible so that readers can get many vicarious lives. My kind of stories, anyway.

Relevance?

That’s where I’m at right now: writing the very first scene in Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD. In the midst of taking the reader expectations left at the end of PURGATORY into account, setting a new direction for the next level of exploration, making sure the reader gets dragged into Andrew’s head for the battle (yes, Book 2 starts with Andrew), making sure a few old questions get answered, and even more new questions get lodged in the reader’s consciousness, and planning that very long ride up from the station to the tip top of the track and then…?

Thing is, the starting point is partly determined by where Book 1 ended, and where I know Book 2 ends and Book 3 begins.

But I know it has to kick things up to a new level, so I get out my trusty software tools, and my slow brain, dump all the marketing and promotion stuff which has been bedeviling my existence, and start chuckling at what I’m planning to do.

Because the Roller Coaster Designer gets to take the ride over and over and over until it’s as good as she can make it.

Gentle Reader: do you like roller coasters?


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to make up to 10 free images per month. I’ve enjoyed using their easy tools – and every month they give me new choices. I will get a paid account as soon as I need more images – I’ve only explored the surface of what’s available.


I you like my prose, consider purchasing my fiction. It’s written by the same person.

I’m planning to put up a few short stories in a polished form as soon as I can create covers.

Structure is necessary and integral to fiction

without structureDO YOU WANT A TALE – OR A STORY?

I’m not only an extreme plotter, but I’m a structuralist.

I’m working on the first scene of Book 2. And making very, very sure that it works structurally, with the book, with the beginning, with the plot, and especially with the ending.

The brain craves storytelling, but it craves more than content, it craves analysis.

And analysis is structural. Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. My mother used to drive me crazy when she’d tell me about someone, and then, when I’d ask, ‘what happened?’ she would say, ‘I don’t know.’ or ‘that’s all I heard.’

She had illustrated a point, given me information, but wouldn’t give me a resolution I could hang onto.

She was telling me tales, and for those, the fact that it happened is enough.

Story is much more than that.

How is structure important?

Here’s an example from non-fiction:

Imagine I’m talking about the root causes of poverty, illiteracy, whatever, and you’ve come to hear me because I’m supposed to be an expert.

But I tell you about four contributing factors, and I do a short one, a VERY long one, and then another two short factors, briefly, because I’m running out of time.

What are you left with?

NOTHING you didn’t already know.

And it drives you crazy because I told a tale, took your time – and didn’t make a point.

Now, imagine I started with the smallest point, continued to the next shortest, then the next, and finished by spending my time telling you about one of the causes. Wouldn’t you expect that to be the most important cause I have to talk about? And wouldn’t you expect me to say something significant and important about it?

By giving it space and time, I have made it important – and the rest of my presentation had better support that.

Or I could start with the important point, spend time on it, and then tell you in quick succession other possibilities, followed by a quick conclusion. Wouldn’t you end up wondering WTF? Did I run out of time – or why did I not eliminate the easy ones first?

How does this work in fiction?

Storytelling is presenting information in such a way as to emphasize WHY you’re telling the story.

I expect you to reach a conclusion, tell it to me, support it, and teach me something I would otherwise have to figure out on my own.

Structure is intentional. If you need to tell a story in chronological order (a common requirement), you still have to choose which parts to tell, and how to make them fit a structure that will let the reader absorb it. Or you are getting in your own way, and are telling an anecdote.

So it is very important that I consider the structure I’m going to foist on the reader, from the very first scene. Or the reader will notice. And not like it.

That’s not what I promised.

Are you happy when you notice a story has no real structure?


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to make graphics for these posts – I use the free account, but they have far more capabilities if you get the paid one.


Remember, if you like a blogger’s prose, consider that the blogger’s fiction is written by the same person. Try it – you might like it.

I’m trying to get myself to put up some short stories; it’s on the To Do list.

Pride’s Children. On Amazon.

Drastic change in writer habits during final editing

PRIDE'S CHILDREN, Chapter 1, Scene 1 final editing changes.

PRIDE’S CHILDREN, Chapter 1, Scene 1 final editing changes.

DIY PROBLEMS OF THE FINAL EDIT BEFORE PUBLICATION: DAS INTERNET

I need my brain ON to edit.

That’s basically it.

I can’t edit with my regular brain (CFS brain fog galore) – too many tiny critical decisions to make. And every one of those edits/changes/corrections has to be RIGHT, because that’s what I mean by ‘FINAL EDIT.’

I’m not doing this again, unless one of my hardy beta readers or proofreaders points out that I’ve made another dum-dum. FACTUAL errors WILL be corrected. Stylistic ones NOT. This is it, folks, get your digs in now or forever hold your PIECE.

In Chapter 1, Scene 1, I made over 50 edits. None of them major (no plot or character changes), I am happy to say, but all of them necessary. That is a lot of decisions for someone decision-challenged at the best of times.

I’m writing this post as I go about the complete change in working patterns, and how it affects the writer, ME. In case it helps someone else, or merely for the entertainment value.

So, just block the internet and proceed in a nice quiet environment?

The hardest part right now is that I have to leave the internet unblocked: I’m fact checking, getting quotes right, and using my editing software (over and over and over after changes). My editing software is online. Sigh.

I need to be able to get to my blog and Wattpad to collect comments.

All those critical words left as I posted scenes I am now mining for gold: if something bothered ONE reader enough to mention it in the comments, you can be sure it bothered others – who didn’t take the time to notice, analyze, and write to me about it. Thanks, commenters! You rock.

I’m happy to say it’s been POSSIBLE. Have you noticed a dearth of posts by regulars lately? Summer? I don’t remember from previous years, but it seems I have to surf harder to find anything acceptable to read, and then I dump it more easily because there ISN’T any, and get to work in spite of the distractions. So ‘surfing the internet’ isn’t the distraction it could be.

Reading and storing critiques (and I must admit, some of the lovely positive comments) is taking a fair amount of time. I might have done it as I posted, but then Pride’s Children would probably never have happened – you’re not supposed to put too much time into fixing minutiae as you write, or you get bogged down in far worse questions about native intelligence, ability, and the suitability of the WIP.

[I’m looking into Anti-Social, a little brother of Freedom which blocks only social sites – and any others you add to its list. Possibly I could add everything else I regularly surf – and see if that was good enough.]

Best ways to use editing software

I use AutoCrit, because, although it is online (I think they’re tinkering with it and making it better, though I’d rather have a standalone on my computer), it has the most and the easiest-to-use features for fiction I’ve found in all the software I tried.

Its best feature is a VERY light hand on suggestions – and those based more on a database of similar fiction. Some of the editing software out there thinks it’s an English teacher. And the grammar editors, such as the one included with Word, are painful. Especially for writers of fiction, but just painful.

Problem areas in my writing

My repeated sins are those of a tired or lazy brain: I find myself using the same words, often with different meanings, because a particular word, once used, leaves some kind of mental trace that gives it preference the next time I need a word. A halo, if you please.

Just in the image that starts this post, you see an example: the original has ‘quiet little book signing’ and ‘he lay so quiet.’ On the first page. Within paragraphs of each other. Eeek!

And in something that’s been up for years – nobody ever mentioned this! C’mon people, I ASKED for critique! I meant it!

But the almost-final version of that scene was written either before I purchased AutoCrit, or somewhere within my first months of having it, and didn’t go through the extensive vetting I do now (and am re-doing for every scene before I let them out to paying customers).

I guess you might say it’s a testament to my writing skills and beautiful storytelling that I got away with this – in a story that’s been read here and on Wattpad AT LEAST a hundred times all the way through.

BTW, that’s no excuse.

Other problems in my writing

I think I’ll keep the rest of them quiet for now; there are many, many are fixable, and I would rather seem like a polished writer than completely let you all down!

RELEVANCE to the final DIY product

The remainder of this post is about USING the editing software – but once I get into a working loop, I can usually forget most of the distractions of the net at least for a while, so it’s been worth it.

DO NOTE that you lose all your italics when you paste things into AC, which sometimes makes for oddities.

But it has also been a complete disruption of ‘the way I write.’

And useful to find out that, if I have to, I can.

I don’t like it; the freedom feels uncomfortably like lack of boundaries between the writing world and the real one.

And note that I don’t apply AC to writing until I’M finished with writing AND editing on my own. I don’t use AC to write; only for final revision – and then VERY thoroughly.

And afterward I let the computer read it to me – and I listen.

 So which AutoCrit features are my most useful ones?

All of them. I use every single one of the tabs at least part of the time. Oh, except for Pacing. I don’t get why that one picks certain paragraphs to flag.

I’m often quite surprised at what it turns up in a ‘finished’ scene.

AC’s little grammar lessons on each topic are a quick review of good practices. (Click on How do I use… link).

Other than that, here’s the list of features for subscribers, underlined (the free version lets you check 500 words max, and only gives you access to a couple of the features):

Pacing and Momentum:

The feature I use here is Sentence Variation. It shows you a bar graph of EVERY sentence in your text in order, and summarizes how many of each you have. I use it especially to check my LONG sentences – click on the bar, and they are highlighted in the text – to make sure they parse correctly into chunks and don’t FEEL long.

Dialogue:

Dialogue Tags – I use as few as possible, so it’s nice to have them flag the ‘saids,’ which I use mainly to keep groups scenes moving well. In group scenes, more creative dialogue tags may interfere with just keeping the reader clear as to who’s speaking, so ‘said’ is my go to. Otherwise, such as in the example above where I replaced

“You seemed startled,” said Elise Carter, her face a study in tact, “and then you went further into that head of yours.”

with

“You seemed alarmed.” Elise’s face was a study in tact. “Then you went further into that head of yours.”

To me, the second is more like Kary’s perception than the first, which sounds like a narrator, so I like the second one better. Plus why would she think of Elise’s last name? So I arranged for you to find out Elise’s last name a bit later in the scene in a more natural way, and one more edit DONE.

Adverbs in Dialogue – I rarely use ‘said quietly’ instead of ‘whispered’ unless there is a real distinction there, but often those adverb/weak verb combinations CAN be replaced with a single stronger verb, and it’s a good idea to check what on Earth your brain was thinking when you wrote the thing.

Strong writing:

I check Adverbs, Cliches, Redundancies, and Unnecessary filler words. Each is a quick judgement call. For some characters, the cliches are on purpose.

I mostly ignore Passive Voice and Showing vs. Telling, as I don’t do those things accidentally.

Word choice:

Initial Pronouns and Names and Sentence Starters are useful if you have a habit of clunky sentences, all starting with a name, pronoun, conjunction (And, But…), or ‘ing’ construction.

Generic descriptions flags things like ‘very’ and ‘great.’ I use those mostly in sarcastic comments in direct internal monologue, ie the character talking to herself, or in dialogue to show a character’s speech patterns. But it IS useful to do a quick check to see if you really need ‘really’ in that sentence.

I don’t like the way Homonyms is executed. I get the impression they don’t want to show their actual list, or it is too long to show conveniently, but it shows ALL possible homonyms at the same time, with no way to just check the versions of ‘your’ – so I find it quite useless. There is no way I’m going to write ‘ewe’ when I mean ‘you,’ so having it flagged doesn’t help me at all.

Those I have problems with I do on my own with the Find function in Scrivener, and I’ve tried adding them to the Personal Words selection, but there is a problem there I’ve asked them to look into when a word has an apostrophe. So I know darn well there are ‘yours’ in there, and I can’t find them in AC. Otherwise, Personal Words can be useful – if you think you have a bad habit of overusing certain uncommon words (I have ‘autopilot’ in there), you can add it to your personal list, and AC will flag them for you. I seem to have broken this feature, so I’ve sent in a question about what to do, and haven’t gotten a response yet. The words I put in before I got cute and tried to add some of the homonyms I have trouble with (so I can see just them) still work.

Repetition:

Repeated Words, Repeated Uncommon Words, and Repeated phrases help you notice when you’ve used the same thing within a paragraph or two. Word frequency and Phrase frequency examine the whole text you inserted into the Editor, to give you a total count. Both are quite handy.

I use this one a lot, and examine what it highlights very carefully before I decide whether to leave a repeat or use a synonym – and then I have to rerun the analysis with the new text, because I have the habit of repeating a different word when I change a duplicate.

Sometimes editing repetition feels like chasing my tail, but IF I use it, I want it to be by choice, not accident – for a specific purpose, rather than because my brain is lazy or fogged. Another set of judgment calls, supported by a program which shows me what I actually did, rather than what I think I did.

Compare to fiction:

This last tab has two selections – Overused Words and Combination Report. The latter does Overused Words, Repeated Words and Phrases, and Personal Words in a clickable format so you can check all these things quickly in one place if you wish to.

But the main point is to compare YOUR work to a database consisting of: fiction (default), YA fiction, SFF, or Romance, and to show you how your choice of words stacks up to a wide variety of works in these categories. This is new – there used to be just fiction and non-fiction (I think – it seems to have disappeared, and I may be remembering incorrectly as I never used AC for non-fiction like blog posts).

All comments welcome – editing is a perennial.

Scrivener one-click ebook for busy writers

image of the first two pages of Pride's Children, Book 1, Chapter 1

PRIDE’S CHILDREN, BOOK ONE

SUCCESS! EBOOK IN 10 SECONDS AFTER EDITING CHANGES

The proof is in the pudding.

I have:

  • Chapter headings
  • Chapter titles
  • Epigraphs
  • Epigraph attributions
  • Scene descriptor (the point of view character)
  • Date/time/place stamp
  • Left justified first paragraphs
  • The first few words in capitals

Shown below, I also have:

  • the ability to set off text inserts WITHIN scenes (an email message, a scene from a movie, a different format to mark that the text is from an audience WATCHING the scene as a background).
PRIDE'S CHILDREN, Chapter 1, Scene 4

PRIDE’S CHILDREN, Chapter 1, Scene 4

This page shows a pov change within the chapter to a different character, the continuing date/time/place setting to orient the reader (previous scene was in California), and the audience reaction to the TV interview going on (indicated by a set-off italicized text line).

This ‘look’ for my chapters and scenes now happens automatically – which was my goal before editing.

This capability, which takes a bit of learning how to set it up (not hard) in Scrivener, gives me the one-click functionality I was looking for before heading into the final editing round. I can make a change to my source files, click Compile, and in about ten seconds have a completely ready ebook (.epub and .mobi) with NO hand-coding at all.

If I want to have that pesky right indent (so my block quotes are set off nicely on BOTH sides, I will have to go the one extra step I talked about, making a MINOR one or two line change to the CSS, and putting the .epub back together, then using KINDLEGEN or the Kindle Previewer to generate a .mobi from the .epub (really, really simple), I can take the extra time.

What does it take to set up?

The main benefit is that, while I have a LOT of special formatting in Pride’s Children, the changes to the source text were fairly minimal. Here is what my Scrivener Binder looks like:

SCRIVENER LAYOUT OF BINDER, PRIDE'S CHILDREN, BOOK 1

SCRIVENER LAYOUT OF BINDER, PRIDE’S CHILDREN, BOOK 1

The ONLY thing I ended up having to change in my original Binder was that each scene is now a folder with the text as a text file in the folder. This allows the Scene FOLDER to have the name of the pov character (which is what appears on the transitions to the next scene), and, within the folder, the date/time/place line.

It still looks pretty normal for a Binder for a novel.

How complicated is this to set up?

Most of all DO NO HARM was my motto. I didn’t want to do ANYTHING which might interfere with the ability of an ereader to flow text in the size and font chosen by the READER.

I am NOT using anything near Scrivener’s full available complexity. Scrivener includes group files (with separate formatting options) in the list of objects in the binder with their own levels, and which can each have separate formatting applied to the Title and Text.

I am including NO images or image placeholders in my ebooks – I am a bit leery of ebooks meant to be viewed easily on what is now hundreds of ‘devices’ from iPhone screens to an app on your desktop. I’m sure it can be done, but I don’t want, for the sake of a cute Chapter heading GIF, to have to evaluate the .epub on all kinds of devices. Not at this point.

Maybe later, if I get better at this.

And certainly for the POD from the accompanying, easy to set up pdf Compile in Scrivener – because with a pdf you can see exactly what you are sending to the printer.

What Scrivener Compile settings do you need to learn about?

  • The settings on the Contents tab
  • Separators between files and folders
  • The settings on the Formatting tab

For the basics, that’s all I used.

What changes were necessary to the source files?

Originally, I had each folder labeled something like ‘Chapter 1’ for the chapter folders, and ‘Scene 1.4’ for the scene text files.

Now I use them a bit differently, and I did all this by experimenting with the ability to take each container (folder, file, or file group) and choose different formatting for its title and its contents (text). The CHAPTER folder now has the TITLE of the chapter as its title, and the SCENE folder now has the NAME of the POV character as its TITLE.

The basic easy trick for headers

So, every time you need a different kind of formatting for a line or lines, make sure that it is the only kind of text in its container.

For each item, you choose to include its title and/or its text – in the Contents tab. So you can choose only the title if all you need is title formatting.

The easy trick for complicated formatting WITHIN the text

Here, if you want to do what I do, and include bits of song lyrics (with different formatting), for example, you need to learn TWO Scrivener features:

  • Formatting menu/Formatting/Preserve formatting
  • Formatting menu/Text/Tabs and indents…

I highly recommend reading the manual until you know exactly how these features interact with each other and with the formatting coming from the Formatting tab.

The trick is that you can set up formatting for the special pieces WITHIN your source file, and pass it through to the final ebook by EXCLUDING it from the normal formatting for that level.

CAUTION: With ebooks, be careful not to try to control the font and fontsize within these pieces, unless you’re willing to make sure the ereaders won’t have a problem with text in a different font from the one selected by the reader. It can be done, obviously, because ereaders usually have at least one serif and on sans serif font withing their available fonts. But handling embedded fonts, and pieces NOT using the automatic font choices is WAY beyond the scope of this post – you’re in for some serious HTML and CSS and font embedding if you want to try to control appearances that closely. Like electric controls on cars, the more things you want to control with electricity, the more little electric motors and control systems you have to potentially go wrong.

 An example of formatting within the scene

See the Scene 4 image above. As I mentioned before, I wanted to be able to indicate that the audience watching the TV interview was reacting to what was being said, but the host and guest would not necessarily react or converse with that audience.

I chose to select the audience reaction bit, italicize it, and prevent the scene formatting from being applied to it. Once I had the formatting the way I wanted it (an extra .25 left indent, italics), I created a Preset so I could do it more easily to the rest of the pieces with the same formatting.

This is how it looks withing my source text:

Scene 4 embedded text with Preserve formatting applied.

Scene 4 embedded text with Preserve formatting applied.

The blue box with the dashed outline shows you exactly which text pieces has Preserve formatting applied, as you normally don’t want to do ANY formatting withing the source text – because this inhibits the main Scrivener ability – to let the writer get the text out anywhichway – and then format it to look pretty in the Compile step.

Note that I also have Invisibles turned on, so you can see where the spaces and returns are – a handy feature.

 Happy formatting

I’m stopping here because the only people interested are those who can see the advantages of having such easy access to formatting your own ebook, and probably already have Scrivener, and these people will want to do their own version.

This was meant to be a taste for us DIY types – it isn’t hard to do what I did, it looks good (and can be made fancier by a LOT if you like), and there was even more information about sources in the previous post. A nod to Ed Ditto, his website, and book again, because it made me aware that it COULD be fast and easy, so I dug into the controls.

And my hat’s off to Scrivener – the whole ability to create an ebook after I set it up with ONE CLICK is built into their amazing program.

 

The fractal nature of plotting a novel

This is a ‘crazy way Alicia writes’ post – be forewarned.

I just came in from a wonderful bike ride (I can’t walk, but I can ride reasonably well), with all kinds of questions floating around in my mind about the nature of the future – mine – which one set of people are pretty convinced will require taking my back apart and ‘stabilizing’ it – with no promises of anything, just the possibility of ‘preventing further deterioration,’ and I am not in a good mood about it.

Having written it all out – you don’t want to read it, not yet – and decided how to use the fury to write a particularly useful little piece in the current chapter (I’m revising Chapter 16, and looking at 16-20 – the end of Book 1 of Pride’s Children – as a unit), and having found myself some options in a yoga book I already had, I had to get out in the Spring air.

But Hamilton Square is gorgeous in the spring – pink and white and yellow and deep magenta everywhere, the dogwoods and cherry trees are littering the streets with their pink and white confetti, and I am musing about the internal structure of writing that attempts to resonate (or so I tell myself) to think of more important things.

[Mathematical weirdness begins

Humans are subconsciously aware of the fractal nature of reality, and, when they look at stories, see the same nature.

Does that make any sense? The simplest comparison is the ‘beginning, middle, end’ nature of every piece of writing. We’ve all had the ‘Huh?’ reaction to the ending of a piece of writing that just stops rather than resolves (non-fiction, newspaper articles in particular, does this intentionally), and the annoyance of a confusing beginning that makes the reader have to work too hard to figure out where she is and what’s going on, with the confusion surrounding a muddled middle that meanders.

Dramatica is fractal by design. The choice of ratio has been 1:4, and this structure gives rise to all the complications you could possibly hope for. It is possible to see more complexity in the degree of your fractal (1:6 or 1:8), less likely to see everything as black and white (1:2 – a yes/no option for every choice), or splitting things into 3 at each level, but it would be possible.

Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat shows a four-part structure, too (he uses three Acts, but his second Act is twice the length of the first or third Acts); when he lays his ‘beats’ out on a corkboard, he uses four lines, the middle two of which correspond to Act 2. He divides his 40 ‘scenes’ into roughly four groups of 10.

Just as going from 1D to 2D to 3D to 4D in mathematics raises the level of complexity (for those who don’t have differential calculus in their backgrounds: be happy – and skip this part), there comes a point where the basic difficulty has been illustrated, and the number of dimensions makes obvious how the equations are going to go from now on. For me, this happened between levels 2D (two variables) and 3D (three – duh!), because the addition of that 3rd variable resulted not just in another variable to deal with, but complicated cross terms between different possibilities: for 2D (x,y), the only possible cross term was xy. But for 3D, cross terms were not just xyz, but xyx, or xzy, or other combinations of three of the variables, and it was NOT obvious how to create the next level of complexity in how the variables affected each other – regardless of how many times my math textbooks left the 3D version as ‘an obvious extension of the text for the student.’ Lousy texts, lousy teachers, lousy methods – because it was easier for them to leave the longer equations out. They were extremely difficult to figure out for a novice, and I spent wasted hours at it. Going from 3D to higher dimensions – and yes, the dimensions go to infinity, though most calculi go no further than maybe 20 or so additional dimensions – WAS more obvious.

I’m seeing that effect now, as I revise the design of the end of Book 1. There is a mathematical felicity to the design that I hadn’t even realized I was building in. There must be some ‘story structure’ in my brain, because Book 1 is 20 chapters, and the last ‘Act’ is Chapters 16-20, but I’m pretty sure I was NOT being deliberately mathematical when I laid out the plot, figuring out what happened in the story that took it where it went.

The fractal nature is evident at each level: chapters have scenes, scenes have beats, beats have paragraphs, paragraphs have sentences…

And the beats are like mini-stories, with an introduction, setup, conflict in the middle, and some kind of resolution at the end, with ends to sentences, paragraphs, beats, scenes, chapters, Acts, and the individual Books, each calculated for effect – as are their beginnings.

So at each level, I get to tell a story, and assume that the levels above and below will take care of themselves – because that’s the way they are set up.

Where is the ‘writing’ part? The Art?

The variability comes in the writing. Beats are never rote or formula – each takes however long it takes in time to write and space on the ‘page.’ Some stories can be told with four words, others need a lot more.

But in a similar way as the coastline on a map shows the same variation in its inlets and promontories as you go closer and closer – or farther out into space – stories have an inherent graininess – mine, anyway – that I find somehow satisfying. The pieces interlock and fill a level, the levels have the same ‘feel’ to them – but on a different scale.

And I’m finding a deep satisfaction in re-visiting the levels prior to doing the actual writing/revising, a feeling of ‘Yes!’ – this has to happen HERE, and that has its place THERE.

I may be the nuttiest writer on the planet – and I shake my head sometimes at the complexity that my mind insists on building into everything I tackle – but I’m having fun again, after the low spot where I wondered if this whole process is worth the enormous amount of time and energy it consumes.

Mathematical weirdness ends]

Go out there and enjoy Spring if it is happening where you are. I love the States, but I grew up in Mexico City, and there really aren’t any seasons there (okay, two: dry and rainy, with a bit of cold around the Christmas holidays so you can wear your woolies to the Posadas when you sing in the street and carry the statues of Mary and Joseph).

My natural tendency with nice days is to think, ‘Okay – the weather is now the way it is supposed to be always, and it will be there tomorrow and forever after,’ which is not true, and conflicts violently with the known fact about New Jersey’s weather: if you don’t like the weather, wait two hours – it will change. Hard to outgrow your childhood imprinting. So I ‘forget’ to go out and enjoy the pretty – and it becomes something else, and I missed it. And the next day rains. Or is muggy. Or freezes.

Don’t imitate my bad habits. Go, ride, walk, breathe.

What are you doing to celebrate the beauty of the Spring?

Writing a scene spine for an emotional journey using cognitive behavior therapy principles

Readers look for patterns – writers have to provide them. If I give you a list of action, dialogue, thoughts of the pov character, and emotions, my job isn’t half-way done: and you will understandably say it makes no sense.

Somewhere in the course of polishing each scene, I come to the place where the spine for THIS scene, the framework or structure that will create/add/strengthen the pattern for the reader, needs to go from implicit to explicit FOR THE WRITER. For ME.

I’ve talked about such spines: dialogue, chronology, and action all serve as anchors for the writing, a way to provide unity for the mass of contents of all kind that I have decided needs to go in there somewhere. An emotional journey is the spine I need for the scene I’m writing Continue reading

Action anchors: one writer’s way around the dreaded infodump

The Writing Problem Defined: Backstory and Infodumps

I’m revising (okay, completely re-drafting) a scene (12.1) that started with Kary driving down the road, and then backtracked to all the things she’s done for two days (ie, into backstory). The scene crashed.

It started as a short thought about what had just happened. But then, because it had been a while since the character had had a scene in her pov, the backstory got longer and longer – all of it necessary, because this is also the last scene where some of this backstory can go before it is needed in the story.

And by the time it was all in, I had the dreaded infodump: a two-page block of musings and internal monologue that read like a summary of the past month’s soap opera. Eek! Continue reading

The art, science, and necessity of epigraphs in novels

Epigraphs are curious little pieces of text. Almost like roses made out of frosting, they feel decorative – and somewhat frivolous.

My dictionary on the Mac offers two recognized meanings:

an inscription on a building, statue, or coin.

short quotation or saying at the beginning of a book or chapter, intended to suggest its theme

In a novel, epigraphs are used in several places:

at the beginning of the book, a part, or a chapter

as a chapter title Continue reading

Writing the triangle story: bending Dramatica to the writer’s will

I seem to be attracted to writing triangles. My work-in-progress, Pride’s Children, is an adult love triangle. A play I wrote, Tangled Webs, is another triangle story, this time about a young woman who finds out she’s adopted – and is the bone of contention between her two mothers.

I am fascinated by triangle stories: Agnes of God, by John Pielmeier, tells the story of a young nun who has an unexpected child – and the fight over her soul between the Mother Superior of her convent and the court-ordered psychiatrist who must try to figure out how the baby ended up dead. Eleemosynary, a play by Lee Blessing, tells the story of three generations of women in a family.

A proper triangle has two-person interactions between each pairing. The interest comes from the rotating interaction between three characters – if a story is merely that a guy is interested in two different women, and picks one over the other, it isn’t what I call a proper triangle: the women MUST interact separately of their interaction with the man, for it to pique my interest.

So what makes a proper triangle story? Continue reading

Using Scrivener to store structure – Scene template, Part 8

Update 10/25/13: If you would like a blank Scrivener file with all this structure stuff already in it, drop me an email address to abehrhardt [at] gmail. I tried really hard to upload it – but WordPress won’t let me, and Dropbox won’t let me make a file public. I have it all ready and will just attach it to a reply email. No obligation whatsoever. Use or modify to suit yourself.

*****

This is the final Scene Template post, and I will discuss where I currently store all the template’s structure bits in my Scrivener file. Scrivener is incredibly versatile – there are places to store anything you can think of. If you’re not a writer using Scrivener who is a plotter, it will all be gobbledegook – with screenshots – and I recommend you skip the whole thing.

If, like me, your current system is getting overwhelming, jump right in. I wish I’d been able to get a copy of someone else’s complete system BEFORE I made the transition, so I wouldn’t have to re-invent the wheel.

There are advantages to having the template on a single page and filling it in as a single file, but, for me, that entailed either burying the structure in the same file as the text (using Word’s Hidden text feature) – or maintaining a second, parallel set of files, and updating that simultaneously. Needless to say, the ‘simultaneous’ part of the updating was often out of date.

And for ebook publishing (my eventual aim), having a Word file laden with buried hidden text would have ended up a complete disaster. Continue reading

Story as mosaic: using Dramatica as nucleation sites for the individual tiles

ennucleation/nucleation* sites

I don’t see a lot of people talking on the self-publishing forums about using Dramatica to plot their novels. I do.

As I’m re-writing/revising/editing/re-visioning my novel-in-progress, I’m returning to the Dramatica text boxes I blithely filled in (encoded) years ago with the ideas that came from the story-as-it-was, and deepening my understanding of each of these items, as the scenes I assigned the ‘apps’ – the Dramatica appreciations (elements) – to come up for review. Continue reading

Using the concept of the Critical Path when writing fiction

Engineers and managers are all familiar with the concept of the Critical Path in a chart of the workflow on a project: it is the set of things which have to be done in a particular order and sequence to get to the end of the project, and for which there is no possible alternative.

For example, you can’t put up the walls of a house until the foundation and the floor over it is in (don’t get creative on me – the effort to build the walls first, and then create a foundation etc. – familiar to those tasked with moving an old house – is the exception which proves (TESTS) the rule). Continue reading

For writers who are plotters, the answer to What Goes Where may be Dramatica

[ETA 11/27/15: Want to see if you like the results of plotting with Dramatica for structure? Pride’s Children: Purgatory, Book One of the trilogy represented by the whole storyform,  is now available at Amazon – see sidebar.]

Kate Paulk, over at MadGeniusClub, postulates the question today, What goes where? She is a pantser (writes ‘by the seat of her pants’), but wants to know, “So, plotters, where the heck is the secret decoder ring to doing this at a conscious level? This pantser would really like to know.”

MY answer depends on how willing you are to have scaffolding in place when you write, and how much you know about what must go into each scene before you try to figure out who does/says/thinks what when. Continue reading