Friday, September 11, 2009

The Tools of the Trade...

Or hobby - I'm still trying to decide if I can call this thing I do that has yet to pay money. But does require money leaving my wallet by means of memberships and resources - check out Karyn's blog post this week on great 'how to' books. Obviously, I will be digging my way out of a hole when/if I get my writing published. Sorry, digression ends now.

As I set up my new office with a view - no more cold basements for this Chick - I'm gathering together all the things I need in order to write. Of course, this results in a look back at how I wrote Lady Bells. Back when I didn't have a clue about GMC (goal/motivation/conflict), POV (point of view), active versus passive voice, scene and sequence, plotters and pantsers, and all those other things you discover along the way. Ah, the good old days!!

Yellow legal paper - check. Yes, I wrote the entire first draft of Lady Bells on yellow legal paper. I didn't worry about editing. I didn't worry about spelling or grammatical errors. I just wrote. I found recently that when I get stuck in a manuscript I go back to writing on paper. And as I gear up to get back to this hobby/trade, I contemplate going back to that archaic from of writing. Hey, it worked for Andre Dubus - he wrote The House of Sand and Fog on paper in his car.

Sticky Notes - check. These came in very handy when I began to revise my first draft. I would read through the story and then when a thought flitted through my head, I would scribble it on a stick note and stick it into a separate notebook. Not the first draft, because then I wouldn't see it (especially if it was a note regarding research). After I went through the entire thing, I sorted my sticky notes in the notebook in categories such as research, plot inconsistencies, character flaws (no I never had my characters' eyes change color, but I did have issues with their speech patterns).

Calendar - check. No, not to keep track of how many days it's taking to write or revise the manuscript. I discovered early on in my revisions that time meant nothing in my first draft. Oh, Mena and Hugh would be having a picnic one-day and then the next they would be strolling through the village. The next day after that they would have a fight. Then the next day they would partake in a feast. Wow - too many events all crammed into three days. I used my computer to create a blank calendar and then filled in the events as they took place. This also allowed me to keep track of the weather because you really don't want to have too many sunny days in northern England - that just doesn't happen.

Large Recipe Cards - check. I found this tip on the web when I started to really look at the process of writing - or should I say revising. I used a card for each of my characters, both main and secondary. At the top would be the character's name. Then I filled it in with important information - her quirks, her favorite phrases, her fears, her desire. This gave me a place to really solidify my characters so that when I came to a place in my manuscript where I wasn't sure how they would react, the information on the cards told me. The first set of sticky notes helped me shore up exactly what I wanted or did not want for my characters and that information was expanded upon with the cards.

More sticky Notes - check. This time it was to get my chapters coordinated. I would list the main plot points in the chapter and then post them in order. I found this extremely helpful in keeping my mystery in line. And when I needed to check a fact (as in which character dropped a clue in which chapter), it was all right there on my notes.

Computer - check. I use the computer for most of my writing now. And having been away from the Internet for a month, I believe I've weaned myself off surfing and Solitaire (fingers crossed). But I think I'll go back to copying my first draft from yellow legal paper since I get caught up in the green and red squiggly lines (poor spelling and grammar). And the story gets ahead of me - to the point where I write myself into a corner and then throw up my hands in frustration (I mean, really, how am I supposed to get Mac out of a marriage proposal when I haven't even reached the climax?) Naturally, I'll still use it for research.

So, I'm ready to go. Well, maybe not quite yet. I've been toying with the idea of using a storyboard. Me, a pantser, using a storyboard! Wow. When I taught writing to my students (elementary), I used storyboards to assist them in learning how to plot. Now, if a teacher is trying to teach children how to plot out a story, it would stand to reason that the teacher should also be plotting out her stories. The storyboards I used were not elaborate. In fact, they were as simple as my blank calendar pages. Six squares on a 8 x 11 piece of paper (remember, we're talking grade 3 and 4 students). The beginning would take up a square. The last square would be reserved for the end, of course. That left four squares to advance the story. And it worked!

Between unpacking the last of the boxes, complaining about the fact that I have too much stuff, and filling up the calendar with social events, I'm reading up on storyboards. I'll let you know what I discover. It could possibly be the next tool in my writer's toolbox.

So, People of Blogland, have you used any of the above items in your daily writing? If you could add one thing to my list, what would it be and why? Does anyone out there use storyboards or have a good website to help me with my research?



Yunaleska said...

I do everything on my laptop, but here's what I normally have on it.

Open office writer - check.
A dictionary site open - check.
Twitter open for updates - check.
Previous chapter/chapter summary open - check.

Lu said...

I do most of my writing on my laptop, but I too go to pen and paper to get over a hump. After writing about three chapters on a new WIP I spend some time developing my main characters, usually through a bio sheet, similar to your large recipe cards. when it comes time to revise, I print out a hard copy and go at it with a purple pen.

Have a great day everyone!

Silver James said...

Okay. I feel bad. I write like I cook -- organically. I'm going to make spaghetti sauce. I start with the main ingredients and simply toss in extras as needed for taste.

That said, I have a combination "white board"/bulletin board just to the right of my computer monitor. I use the write-on/wipe-off side to jot quick notes, or to keep track of chapter and page when I'm editing. The other side is filled with sticky notes thumbtacked so they don't get lost. Most of them are notes about research or other characters/projects that have occurred to me while working on the WIP.

And last, my Flip Dictionary is never far from my reach. It is the font of most knowledge when it comes to finding a word for something.

Glad to have you back, Janet, and after your write up about my appearance tomorrow, you've got me hyperventilating and hoping I can live up to the hype. :P

Helena said...

You have pretty well covered the basics, Janet. I have done most of what you describe in some form or other, except the storyboard which is beyond my experience (probably beyond my expertise as well). I don't do sticky notes, either, but it might be helpful at a later stage of editing. Purple ink might be just as good, Lu!

I found a detailed character profile questionnaire in a book I borrowed from the SRW library way back when. I think it was Kate Walker's book on writing romance. Suffice it to say, that would be useful IF I faithfully did a page for each character. Barely got started. I think your idea of cards is better.

I like the idea of a calendar of events to keep the action straight in my mind. I develop a chronololgy that places crucial dates in the lives of my characters in a tidy list format -- births, deaths, travel, etc. I use a perpetual calendar to get the days of the week right. A chronology is useful when you deal with years of events, sometimes in relation to actual historical events, and when you need to refer with consistency and accuracy to the ages and activities of several people over time. Nothing bugs me more than to figure out that in one chapter they are two years apart in age, and in another, all of a sudden, he is four years older than the heroine.

Do you use images of people, places, etc. for inspiration? I remember an exercise we did at an SRW retreat where we searched magazines for pictures of our heroes, heroines, the settings for our stories, and so on. Donna Alward always seems to find a picture of a real 'hunk' (he is sometimes an actor) for her hero when she's starting a new story. Of course, the male model for the cover of her book may not measure up to her initial choice, but I've heard her talk about how sometimes he turns out to be a perfect match, too.

I do almost everything, except pictures, on my laptop. I don't do much in longhand anymore. I will often have several files open on my computer, so I can quickly check on dates, characteristics, etc.

So glad you are no longer in a basement, Janet! That's the elusive part of the writing equation -- the proper ambiance of the writing corner.

Ban said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ban said...

Silver - you cook like I do !!! Who needs recipes ? Guess that's why I'm not fond of baking - you HAVE to follow the instructions and that's no fun ;)

When a story first starts to form I write as much as I can in a steno notepad. Character bios etc., random scenes, plot ideas ...
When I've got a good enough grasp on the story I transfer everything to my laptop and make an outline.
YES - I make calendars too but not so big on sticky notes and I don't use storyboards. I do have folder sleeves for characters though, which contain drawings, cut out photos of people, clothing, scenary etc.

So glad you're back Janet ;)

Karyn Good said...

Funny you should ask, Janet. I read blog post written by Vicki Hinze yesterday as I'm looking into the storyboard idea too. I don't have the link but if you go to the archives of her My Kitchen Table (or something very close to that)its called Plot Board: What Is It and Why One Is Useful to Writers.

I've got a start on one but it's going to take a while to rework the idea into something that works for me. There's got to be a way to be plotting-pantser. I just have to find it.

I've gone sticky note mad. Orange for general info, purple for heroine and green for hero. It's finally sunk into my head that I have to write every little thought that comes to me down on paper. Every one! Or it's lost forever. Only they're not exactly organized, more like stacked in a heap.

Great post, Janet.

Suse said...

Hi Janet, I don't use storyboards (at least not yet), so I can't help you there. I usually start any project on a yellow note pad. Once I've got a couple of pages, I'll then transfer it to the computer and continue on. I probably always have open and another brower with google to answer my never ending list of questions.

I also have a small white board where I've written the 5 senses on as a reminder for me to include descriptions that are not related only to sight and sound.

One other thing I would suggest to have on your desk is a timer. I think it is important to get up and stretch every once in awhile. Plus if I get into a game of Solitaire, I can limit my time there.

I'm so glad you're not in a basement anymore, and I'm sure I'm envious of your view.

Janet C. said...

Wow, you guys are way ahead of me today! Can I blame an early tide (must. walk. on. beach. every. day.) or the still too many boxes I have to yet unpack?

Yuna, glad to see you here today. I love the idea of having a chapter summary open when you're working on the laptop. I'm going to keep that in mind - maybe it will help control my sticky note obsession:)

Janet C. said...

Hey, Lu! I love the purple pen idea. I usually use a pencil, but notes to myself often get smudged or are too faint.

Isn't it amazing how many of us use pen and paper when we get stuck. Does the act of physically writing free our inner critic? Or do we slow down enough for the brain to think a few steps ahead of the game?

Janet C. said...

Don't worry, Silver, I've read the blog post and you more than live up to the hype.

I love the idea of a white board next to the computer. I'm going to keep that in mind as I organize my new writing space. I've used a bulletin board before, but most of the time the papers become a mess and I can never find what I'm looking for. I like having a place to jot down ideas and thoughts that's visible from my desk (as opposed to a notebook where I have to go searching).

Thanks, Silver. And I must get me a Flip Dictionary.

Janet C. said...

Thanks, Helena. I find the cards work well because I'm not forced into a box of someone else's thought process. I've looked at bio pages and various character sheets, but they're too rigid for me. The cards allow me all the space in the world for jotting down stuff about my characters.

I don't use any form of pictures or images for my characters. I know many people do (including ban and Silver), and I did try at one point to find a picture of Mac. I spent most of the day searching, found nothing that really meshed with the idea in my head, and realized I could have been writing a chapter or two with the time I'd wasted. But I'm more than happy to look at others' ideas of their characters. Head over to ban's blog - she's got a great picture of her character, Ryen, that I know she's been hunting for.

And let's hope that view doesn't take my focus away from my writing, eh?

Janet C. said...

If I had half your talent for drawing (not to mention you're fabulous writing), I, too, would have a folder for my characters with sketches. Really, people, you need to click on ban's name, then head over to her blog and look around. Her sketches are amazing. And her newfound image of Ryen is dreamy. I'd do the link, but I'm being called for Happy Hour.

I'd be interested in hearing about your outlines, ban. Are you using a standard form or one you created for yourself? I think outlines/storyboards might be the only way I can contain all this stuff in my head and focus me on the story at my fingertips. I'd love it if you'd share:)

Janet C. said...

I hear you, Karyn. I, too, need to write down everything or I'll forget it and then go mad trying to remember. I've been known to run around repeating a sentence or thought out loud until I find a piece of paper to write it down on :)

Let me know how you make out with storyboarding(and thanks for the tip - I'll head over there when I get some quiet time this week). I am a pantser, but like you I think there has to be some way to combine plotting (in a small scale) to my process. I'll let you know if I find any eureka sites.

Have you considered buying stock in 3M? With all the sticky notes we use, we could own the company :)

Janet C. said...

Another white board user. I'm definitely going to have to look into this.

And thank you, thank you, thank you for the timer suggestion. As I was reading your comment, I thought I could certainly use that to do timed writing - with a reward of something if I can keep at the task for the regulated time. I will not go back to Solitaire.

Excuse me while I go and repeat that mantra and open a few more boxes. Nice to see you here, Suse.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
I wish I had something to look at in my writing space aside from a wall. In bright Pineapple Yellow. Hey, it was my daughter's idea.

I don't use sticky notes, but maybe I should. I've got random pieces of paper all over my desk, which I try to wrestle into a folder or binder. I like your idea of large recipe cards for handy reference for character traits and perhaps physical attributes like height/weight, eye and hair colour.

I tend to resort to paper and pen when I'm plotting, and need to let my brain run free. I think there is something about the act of physically writing that frees the imagination in a way the keyboard just can't match.

So glad you're back, Janet. I haven't gotten around to setting up MSN again. Someday soon.


Janet C. said...

Hey, Jana! I so agree with you about the running of the imagination - paper and pen do free you and gives you the ability to just write. No spelling errors highlighted. No word counter to dash all excitement of writing for two hours. Just you, the story, and the paper.

I'll definitely need you to get back on MSN - we have stuff to talk about.

Molli said...

Hello. Congratulations on the view (yes, I'm jealous), and sometimes I'd like to go back to the days when I knew nothing about GMC, POV, etc. However, in the meantime I see that we share some of the same tools.

Something not yet mentioned that I have found useful from time to time is a small tape recorder (well, I think there are digital versions now, and even smaller so perhaps that's a good excuse to go shopping, hmm?). I have a habit of talking to things whenever I'm either emotional or puzzled (strange how gabbing on at inanimate objects can clarify things in my brain), and by telling "someone" my stories I've spotted plot holes and inconsistencies that I've previously missed. I've also found it handy for reading passages aloud then playing them back to hear if something I've written sounds right, and even for capturing thoughts on current or potential stories, characters, etc., when I'm out walking, like, you know, on the beach.