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In other threads we have talked about the various software and tools used for plotting, characterisation, etc and books we have read that have helped members hone their writing skills.


What I am interested in discussing in this thread is how and when we use these tools during the writing process of a piece of work from the concept to the final draft.  Below I have outlined my own MOD.  It differs a bit from WIP to WIP, but overall it is what I do.


1. Idea - A4 sheet - write all scenes/plot points I have in the mind. This enables me to think more clearly and see if there are any connection points to arrange the scenes in sequence.


2. Use Characterisation Sheet to create any new characters for the story (if this is part of a series, it may be one or two). Update the story of the existing characters - this helps me to know where my characters are in their journey through the story. If I am writing a series I will also create a timeline of births and significant birthdays and ages of when the individuals books start and finish. This helps me keep track of their ages and marriages.


3. Use the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet  - plot out the key points in the story - this helps me to sort out the timeline, obligation scenes. I don't always complete the sheet as I usually get stuck somewhere.  I tend to come back to it after the next stage and complete.


4: Create a document in Word 'PLOTOUTLINE - This is where I write the story out, chapter by chapter, noting the POV and location. Initially, this is means transferring the Beat Sheet information and then adding to those pieces and adding in the rest of the plot.  This allows me to include the feelings of the characters alongside the action and bring the subplot(s) as well. It is usually about 10-15 pages long.


5. Start writing the 1st draft in word. Create a 'dump scenes' folder to put scenes I dump along the way when revising.


6. At this stage I am not using any software until after the 1st or 2nd draft. Then I go through the whole MS with ProWriteAid before I post any sections up here.


7. Revise and PWA again. 


8. Create Scene by Scene breakdown using Excel. 


9 BETA READERS/EDITORS - The human element.


10. I use the Excel Scene Breakdown to rework the plot or add in bits. (THis is where I am at present with HANNAH.)


11. Revise draft with edits.  I always number my drafts and put the old ones in a sub-folder for the work. 


12. PWA thoroughly. 


13. If I think the work is done I will then consider getting it copy edited and ready for submission - but at present that has only been done to Book 1 & 2 of the SPhinx Triology. Don't see the point of spending money on the others for now.


That's it.  I did use the free trial of Fictionary Storyteller to see if HANNAH's plot match their plotting grid (which it did) But it subscription is quite expensive and I not sure at this point I need it.


So, over to you guys. What works and why?


Edited by Shamrock
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In the beginning, I write each chapter of my story into a separate document, sharing them for critique pretty much as I write them.


When I’m fairly happy with the story, I share it with beta readers. Then, after a final, thorough edit using Scribens or a similar grammar/spell check site, I upload the entire document to Draft2Digital, to create PDF and mobi files.


Then I can share with reviewers, publish, or do whatever I want with it.

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I'm like SW in that I take an idea and just write it. However, I have discovered that inserting scenes later requires some reworking of other scenes. If I outlined ... but then, I don't seem to know where the story goes until it's in the process.

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Interesting. My process is still developing, but here's what I've done on my latest WiP (after three novels and two novellas).


1. I have a notebook of "what ifs," which is where I capture all my story ideas.


2. Take my "what if" through the Story Genius method, which involves fleshing out the characters, their motivations, their fears, and their big misbelief. I write "origin scenes" about the exact moment their misbelief took root, and other milestone moments it influenced their decisions. These all happened at a point in time before the actual story begins.


3. I take my character through the "Take Off Your Pants" method to figure out major plot points based on this character.

4. Develop the main genre-based story beats. I write romance, so there are certain things that have to happen. (At this point, I use Plottr).


5. Take my story beats and create a scene-by-scene outline, using the Story Genius method.


6. Make an even more detailed scene-by-scene outline. 😁


7. Write the first draft using dictation. I dictate into WordPad, and copy and paste into Scrivener. I write my first drafts very fast, at a rate of 2-3,000 words a day, because that helps me keep the entire story in my head, and I can sense whether it's flowing well.


8. Using the Story Grid, revise the first draft because I need to get the story structure and character arcs right.


9. Send the second draft to beta readers to check whether the story works at a structural level.


10. Compile the beta reader feedback and make changes based on the comments that resonate. At this stage, I also pay a lot of attention to voice, description, setting, and all-around sentence-level wordcraft.


11. Send this third draft to my editor.


12. Revise my final draft based on my editor's comments.


13. Read through, using Microsoft Word's read aloud feature. Hearing your story read in that robotic voice makes any errors stand out.


14. Format the manuscript for ebook and print, and send to my early reviewers.


15. Publish

Edited by EBraten
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4 hours ago, Shamrock said:

What I am interested in discussing in this thread is how and when we use these tools during the writing process of a piece of work from the concept to the final draft.

Everybody's system is going to be a little different because everybody's wired a little differently. This is a feature, not a bug. I'm endlessly fascinated by how differently people write. The big thing is we live in an era where we have more tools and training and community groups than ever before. We need them because we have more things clamoring for our time and attention than ever before.

You have a system you've developed over time. Looks solid, overall, and if it helps you write, that's the rubber-meets-the-road metric. Well done! 

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My method is a little different than it was six months ago, and radically different than it was six years ago.

  • I start by defining my Content Genre (to give me my Conventions and Obligatory Scenes)
  •  create a single page Foolscap (in Excel) to chart my overall course and nail my main plot beats for the first third of the novel
  • keeping genre conventions in mind, I craft my Inciting Incident and try to nail the first chapter with special attention to the first page and the first paragraph
  • when writing new chapters, I use a crib sheet I created in Notion to define the 5 elements which should be in every chapter using the following general order:
    • start by defining the value shift: How is this scene going to shift? How will it change the trajectory of the Global Value?
    • skip forward to the Climax: What action is your character going to take in the scene? I find this is the easiest Commandment to start with.
    • I back up one step to the Crisis Question: once I know what the character is going to do I ask what is the cost of that action? What are alternative courses of action that they could have taken? These components form the Crisis tradeoff.
    • I back up one step more and figure out the Progressive Complication Turning Point: The Turning Point gives rise to the Crisis question. What event will make the choices in the Crisis plausible? I make sure that 1) the Turning Point is directly related to the Crisis, and 2) it makes all of the possible choices reasonable ones (thus ensuring it’s a real choice).
    • I jump all the way to the end and the Resolution: How does this chain of TP, Cr, Cl work out? What consequences are there for the tradeoffs the character made?
    • Finally, I jump all the way to the beginning and write out the Inciting Incident: Don’t overthink this at the scene level. It can be simple – just a situation that brings the characters together and kicks things off. 
  • and then, after all this prep, the miracle occurs. Every time.

This is what my Notion template looks like after I've figured it out.

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1. First, the idea comes to me. I daydream and maybe write down a note somewhere.

2. I wait a decade or two for the idea to marinate. (NOT an exagerration!)

3. I create a project in IndexCard on my ipad.

4. I brainstorm a loose plot on a card.

5. I identify some ideas that need research. Like how to refine crude into gasoline for my dragon novel, or about the timeline for the Apollo mission for my troll novel.

6. I add cards to a research stack in IndexCard.

7. I add random plot and character ideas in an unstructured way to more cards.

8. When I have a critical mass of plot ideas, I drag and drop plot cards into a sequence.

9. I get the 3-act, 4-act or hero's journey structure out and make a card for the plot points of the most relevant structure.

10. I slot each story plot idea into its place in the structure.

11. I identify plot points from the structure that are missing or have too few ideas.

12. I create a stack for characters. 

13. I add cards for characters as I discover a need for them.

14. I also create cards for teams of characters, giving the team leadership structure, history and other stuff. This could be the villains, heroes, or some other important group.

15. I begin to think about theme and symbolism and make cards about how to embody them.

16. I create a stack for setting. If a real place, I take or obtain photos, maps, etc.

17. Each important setting is described and details identified that can make the plot interesting. Settings are like characters. They need to come alive, like a haunted house.

18. I iterate on character development, research, setting, and theme, adding cards to their places.

19. If I need one, I make a Bibliography stack. Every source gets added, in case I need to cite it.

20. If I haven't already, I create a timeline stack.

21. I add time notes to the main outline.

22. I create a doc in iPad Pages.

23. I begin writing.

24. After every chapter, I edit the previous one a little.

25. Research and character dev continue. New ideas added into the structure.

26. Endings are complex. I do a deep dive into the ending and create a special plan for it. Every subplot will need to be resolved in a controlled fashion.

27. At midpoint I read it all and rethink the ending. My best ending ideas come to me at the half to two-thirds point. I like to export to PDF and do my frequent proofreading in iPad Books. 

28. Finish first draft.

29. Refine chapter endings and beginnings to heighten suspense and artistry. Divide chapters that are too long.

30. Reflect on the first chapter. Is the inciting incident right? Did I start the story too soon or too late? Add, drop or rearrange the first few chapters.

31. If the story is too short (almost never happens!), do I need more subplots? Weave one in if so. 

32. Shortening passes. This can take months. I am wordy. I make a spreasheet with shortening goals for each chapter and track my progress.

33. Sharpen theme, symbolism and foreshadowing.

34. Balance. Find places with too much or too little dialog and adjust. Find plot points that have too much or too little space devoted to them and adjust.

35. Twists. Can I add more plot twists? Add them.

36. Write a synopsis as I prepare to look for agent or publisher. If I can't write a short, compelling and informative synopsis, my story has not been sharpened enough. Sharpen some more.

37. Aggressively look for agent, pub. Spend one to two weeks on the first few query or cover letters, until I get some good ones.

38. Get no or silence from them all.

39. Self publish on Amazon.


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I left out a few things. One tool I have used is to make an Excel table with the chapters or scenes going along one axis and the characters along the other. This is my character appearance chart. By looking at it, I can see if a character is not getting enough time in the story. Maybe I started a subplot and failed to develop it.


This chart comes in handy if I need to weave in a new subplot. It will guide me to where I need to add new scenes or add characters to existing scenes.

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7 hours ago, Nicola said:

Dito. The characters know what they want and how to get me to write it down. 


Absolutely Nichola.  Once I hit the page, the planning is only a guide.  I have been known to ditch enter plotlines.


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