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Thursday, April 15

Get Your Story Straight

A commenter asked... (about my recent post on inserting scenes and info bits after the fact)
How do you hold it all in your head? Do you have certain techniques? Do you use the writing software that I hear helps organize somehow?

For me, I really do keep most of it in my head. I think because I do so much outlining and structural work before I write, the general story and "parts" stay with me a lot easier. And I have a brain that just naturally remembers plots and dialog. (I'm usually killer at movie trivia) I wish I could say, "I do this and that" and give you great tips, but it's just how my thought process works. However, I still forget stuff all the time, so I also keep notes on things I know I want to do.

I use my "scene and structure outline" file for that. This is my master notes file. It starts with my test query blurb, followed by a notes on what I need to remember for later or ideas I have for the overall story, then goes on to my chapter by chapter summary outline. In the case of The Shifter, I also have a section at the front called "What happened between books" where I summarize the time between books and what happens with Nya and the gang, just so I have some context when I start the next book. (They all follow pretty closely after each book, but there are some time gaps). This lets me think out the back story and get it straight in my head before I start writing so I'm not trying to sum up the missing time in my opening.

I update this file when my plot changes. It's not something I write once and then ignore, it's part of my working manuscript. I read a chapter summary before I start work on that chapter, check my notes and add them in where I think they might go. If ideas come to me as I'm checking the summary, I add those, kinda like doing a quick rough draft of the highlights before I start writing. I move stuff around when I discover that one scene took the whole chapter and not part of it like I first thought. My outline is very fluid and changes almost every day. I think this also helps me remember things better.

I've never used writing software. In theory, it sounds like it would be helpful to have something created to help writers, but I'd be a little worried that there would be a "set" way and that might try to force me to do what the software wants, not what I want. Or it would be so cool that I'd do stuff I didn't need because it was fun. Creating my own system lets me customize it to what I need. But if a software package does what you need and works for you, go for it. I might have to try one someday just to know more about them. I'm not the most organized person even though I love organizational gunk and want to be more organized.

And this is also probably why I can never remember what I had for breakfast or that I needed to stop and pick up dry cleaning.


  1. Who needs clean clothes anyway? I'd much rather have a finished novel.

  2. Your 'scene and structure outline' file sounds pretty organized. I've had something similar to that in the past, but I don't stick with it for too long. I agree with what you said about the writing software, though. I find that there's only one way to do something, which I don't like.

  3. I write copies (and messy) notes about chapters and plot stuff too. But it's funny, after revisions so much morphs that I'm wondering if I need a new system!

  4. I tend to keep track after I write. I figure out a scene, then write it. Repeat as needed. But I'm discovering the need for a 'character Bible' as I'm working on the 4th connected book. I kept telling myself I'd do it when I got the multi-book deal, but I'm still selling them one at a time.

  5. I love hearing another writer's creative process. I use an outline, too, and it constantly changes as I'm writing the story. Unlike you, though, changing my outline doesn't help me remember things better. Sometimes I confuse myself, haha! But I always get back on track. :)

    Oh, and I completely agree with Tara's comment above!

  6. This was a very helpful post. I hadn't thought of a "what happens between books" file. I'm looking forward to Blue Fire. I appreciate writers who put such serious consideration into continuity for their series.

  7. So much similar to my creative process. Glad to know I'm not the only one who scene and structure outline file :D

  8. The nice part about keeping your outline/blueprint up to date is that you can always look at it to see "what's happening" instead of trying to page through what you've already written.

    It also keeps the continuity -- it ensures that preggy lady in Act 1 has the baby (or doesn't have it for some reason) in the requisite 9 months vs 11 months.

    With keeping the outline/blueprint detail up to date, you can then create your synopsis; just edit a copy and make it narrative.

  9. Anonymous6:22 PM EDT

    Intense and organized! Thanks for sharing; I appreciate it. :)

  10. I met an author this past weekend who has an interesting plotting tool. I'm hoping i can get her to come talk about it with us!

  11. Anonymous1:50 PM EDT

    very nifty :)