07 Apr

How I write a novel… revisited

One of the more popular items on my website is the article ‘how I write a novel.’ It was written in September of 2006. Plus, in my ‘Ask an question’ thread back from January/February this question was asked again. I was working my way down the questions and ran out of time to put this together to answer Christopher Weuve asking this question, as well as Ken McConnel.

So here is the answer, Chris, a month later!

Occasionally I get emails along the lines of ‘dude, you should totally check out X, it’s way better.’

Chances are I’ve tried and downloaded X (although I always welcome the comments, you never know…), but I’ve been pointing people towards my choice of writing tool for a year now, and it’s Scrivener. I’ve been playing with it since it was a beta.

I wrote Sly Mongoose on Scrivener, and I quite credit it with making the whole process a lot easier than normal, as I was able to keep all my various notes, outlines, and files together in one organic manner. It also, however, didn’t lock up my chapters in some strange format, they were saved as RTF, so I felt really comfortable about using Scrivener.

The initial stages of writing a novel are still the same as before.

We begin with this:

As I wrote, almost 2 years ago:

First off, I spend time lying upside down on the couch with a pillow over my head. This is called “˜plotting,’ although I understand that *sometimes* it can look like I’m actually napping.

Sometimes that does happen, but usually if the pillow is over the face that indicates plotting.

After that comes notes that I write on various scraps of paper:

This is the early stage of Sly Mongoose, scraps of various pieces of paper that I put the ideas down on.

As I wrote in ’06:

Some of those pieces of paper are actually stacked (there is order in there, I didn’t want to randomly shuffle them for you all) and are usually laid out across my desk, not on the floor. It’s about 100 pieces of paper.

Next up comes compression. I take these pieces of paper and write a 2-3 page synopsis to capture the idea of the book and try and sell it.

Once I have the go ahead the next stage rolls out. Writing the damn thing.

Not much has changed. Until we get to these next few paragraphs, where I’ll indicate the change using the ‘strikeout’ tag and inserting the new program I use:

I’m not much of an outliner, I’m what I call a “˜bucketer.’ I take all the pieces of paper and use a program called Omnioutliner Scrivener and retype all the bits of information into it. Sections are created like Setting, Characters, Thematic fun, Plot. All the writing gets dumped into a category.

I take the synopsis and paste that into the plot area of Omnioutliner into a top level area of Scrivener.

Then I split Omnioutliner’s Scrivener’s plot area into subsections by rough parts to help me figure out where the &*%^ to put the information.

By this time I have a very good idea of how the first 3-8 chapters will run, so I put in everything I can think about them into the first part subsection’s outline. I add a different color for each POV, and write a rough 1 line description of the chapter. Omnioutliner Scrivener will let me add another field that can collapse out from under it that contains detailed chapter notes if I want.

So then I start writing the first chapter. As ideas occur to me, I type them into Omnioutliner the appropriate areas of Scrivener.

For example if I write that someone picks up a gun to shoot someone later in the story, I’ll pause, click on that chapter in Omnioutliner and type “Y shoots X with found in chap. Z.”

So I have a rough outline, a place to slap ideas as they occur to me, and a nice balance between “˜by the headlights’ writing and the safety of an outline to keep me on track.

Some examples, using some screenshots of Sly Mongoose in progress, show you how I use the notes areas, the corkboard features, and the hierarchal sorting features to let Scrivener easily handle the complexity of a whole novel.



Also of note is the full screen feature, where I let it take over my entire screen with nothing but text. Text in any color and a background in any color. It allows one to focus. Pretty slick.

And that’s the mechanical side of things. There’s a lot more going on in terms of the specifics of the outline, chapters, the day to day mental tricks, and so on.