I’ve been dabbling in short stories since grade school. I was in an internet writing group for years where we wrote one week and critiqued the next.
The group was great. I learned how to write short stories, develop characters, how to add suspense and story arc. I learned what style worked and what did not. I enjoyed every minute of it. Several of the folks I met during those early days are now full-time professional writers. Real live novelists with publishers and cover art and book signing and all of that.
They write novels.
I tried several times to expand some of my short stories into novels. I have notebooks full of sketches and maps and character traits. I have tons of files with scenes from these yet to be novels cluttering up my hard drive. Some of them have been moved several times during computer upgrades they are so old.
Still no novel.
I stumbled upon a course called How to Think Sideways offered by Holly Lisle. There was one concept in that course that made the little light bulb come on for me.
The First Tool – How to Think Sideways
She talked about the math of writing a novel. Let’s say you are doing an epic fantasy. I really wanted to do my favorite science fiction character, but I didn’t want to kill that one by trying to write it as a novel just yet.
Let’s do the math
Your average epic fantasy is at least 120,000 words.
Each chapter should contain 3 scenes.
I decided a scene length of 1,800 words was just about right for me. That means three
scenes per chapter for just around 5,400 words per chapter.
That comes out to 22.2 chapters.
You can round up or down here if you want to. I decided to round down and figured I could always fluff things up later if I needed the word count.
Our target now is 22 chapters each with 3 scenes at around 1,800 words. That means 66
scenes if you are keeping up with the math.
Now How to Organize the Work
We have your usual beginning middle and end.
The beginning is meant to establish the characters and set up the world and location.
The middle where we develop the main struggle that explores the conflict and move the characters toward the inevitable climax.
The ending is the climax and resolution. (Where else would it go?)
The class had all sorts of nice techniques for organizing things, but I am a computer geek and I have to find a program that does this for me. If I take notes on paper and put them in binder, they will take away my geek card and where would I be then?
The Second Tool – Storybook
I found a program called StoryBook that organized everything for me. It lets you structure your locations, characters, parts chapters, threads, everything. Best of all it’s free. (Well I have the pro version because I want to output the charts and track who is where when and all that, but you don’t have to pay for that unless you find you need it.)
After the normal learning curve, I started to get comfortable with the program. It keeps track of everything but it’s not really that great of a word processor and for the life of me I can’t get it to output in a format I wanted so I used Open Office Writer.
That worked fine but soon I had a lot of little (1,800 word) files sitting in a folder and had to bring up a composite document to get a sense of the whole. Once I started to think about rearranging scenes or adding one here or there, my carefully designed scmene sort of fell apart.
The Third Tool – Scrivener
I got a trial copy of scrivener and cut and pasted the small files into it. To be honest, the eBook formatter was the big draw, but that’s for another post.
Now scrivener is not FREE. But it’s not overly expensive either. It’s less than I paid to have the copy shop print me a nice 580 page three-hole punched proof of my novel.
Again the learning curve, but now I can arrange scenes and move things around and quickly move about the totality of the manuscript. I bounce back and forth between the two programs. I just don’t see the power in Scrivener to organize and track the work that StoryBook has.
The Final Tool – How to Revise Your Novel
Strangely enough the last tool was not a “writing” tool. It was the How to Revise Your Novel course again by Holly Lisle. I took it while I was still writing. It was a little difficult since I could not do the exercises. (I didn’t have a completed manuscript in hand yet.) But it did teach me a lot of things that I should have known before I started writing.
Knowing how to revise my novel will make future writing and revising go much smoother. I can already feel it. Armed with all these tools, I completed my first novel. I am through with the first of several revision passes. While that is under way I started my second novel.
I have finally started writing the Dil Partlaw science fiction series I always wanted to write. This is the character that got the most positive reaction from the writing groups when I used her in short stories and one that was the most fun for me to write.
What’s Keeping You from Writing Your Novel?
You don’t have to take the courses or buy all the tools, but you can easily write your novel with this simple advice. It’s just a lot of scenes that all stitch together to make the big story. Anybody can write 1,800 words. All you have to do is repeat that process 65 or 70 times with the overarching theme in place and you are on your way.