Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How to cheat when writing your novel

I bet that caught your attention. An easy way to write my novel?, you say, sign me up! Maybe, like me, you are skeptical when you see the ads claiming they'll help you ‘write that novel in four easy steps!” Any time I hear the words ‘easy’ and ‘writing’ in the same sentence my eyebrows draw together in confusion. Hunh?

For this blog I’ve dug deep (not that deep) to find potential ways of making the writing process if not easier, at least a bit more fun. Do these cheat methods work? Well, that’s for you to determine. If you have a little fun and they help get you writing, then I say the answer is yes.

Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for side-tracking you from your writing. Use these "tools" at your own risk!

Name Generator – For some people, they know their character name even before the character is fully formed in their mind. Others keep a notebook to record names they like. Some of us use maps or phone books to find a name that fits and there are always baby books. But if none of these options are working or you really just want a name for a random character in your story, try out a Name Generator. There are many out there (watch out for the ones designed for gamers as you’ll likely end up with a very unusual name—unless you write fantasy and then a dungeons and dragons site might be the right source for you). I like this one found on Brenda Coulter’s site (see bottom of the page):

Online Thesaurus – The thesaurus has long been a faithful writing companion. Can’t find the right word? Look up the wrong word and see what alternatives are provided. Now anywhere you have internet, you have a thesaurus. Check out my favourite online source: (I’m probably not telling you anything new here...)

Plot Generators – If you or your characters seem to be stuck in a rut or if you’ve been staring at a blank screen for two days, take a break and check out these random plot generators. Have fun with them. They might give you the great idea you are looking for.
- NielsonHayden: 
- Future Fiction: -
- A random story-line generator:
Last year Anita wrote a whole post on random generators. Click here to check it out:

Novel writing software – While some online ads boast they make writing a novel easy with their writing software, I am more than a bit skeptical about what the software actually does. Software programs like Kikaboo appear to offer a way to organize your novel (I think it is like electronic storyboarding but haven’t looked into it). While an Excel spreadsheet or pad of sticky notes can be very effective, it might be interesting to check this out:

Personality Quizes – Want a jump start on creating your character profile? Answer some questions based on how you think your character might act, think, or feel in certain situations and you will get a quick profile of your character’s personality. There are a number of resources available online but not all of them are free. Keirsey offers a preliminary test at no cost:

Feel free to share any secrets you use when you “cheat” in writing!


Joanne Brothwell said...

Great links, Anne. I've used the name generator before - super fun! I'm curious about the plot generator!

j.leigh.bailey said...

At a recent local RWA conference, author Cherry Adair raved about Linda Goodman's "Sun Signs"... give your character a birthday, looke up the astriological "personality" of that birthday. Then use those traits to guide the character's dicision making.

Anne Germaine said...

Hi Joanne! I tried out a fantasy-genre name generator and had a few laughs at the names that came out.

Anne Germaine said...

J.Leigh - Using your character's astrological personality is a fun idea!

Silver James said...

I had a writing program I liked, WriteItNow, but with a new computer and switch to LINUX as an operating system, the program no longer worked. I liked the timeline, character/relationship pages and links and the fact that all the characters were listed in a column next to the typing window for quick reference. If you like "hard copy" references, I can heartily recommend Jeannie Ruesch's WORK IN PROGRESS NOTEBOOK, available at Amazon. Jeannie is a published author and so dang organized I envy her! I make copies of the pages I want to use, hole punch the copies and keep them in a notebook. Not quite as easy as simply looking at the window I'm working in, but not a bad substitute.

Helena said...

You probably wrote this post just for me, after hearing me go on and on about my novel-writing angst! And I thank you for it, Anne. I need all the help I can get.

I can hardly wait to check out all the links you have provided (except I already made my list of six things to do today. Yay! But no time left for another item). I will include it in an upcoming list when I am devoting more time to those extra writing-related activities.

When I name my characters, I'm very conscious of their country of birth, and also the decade. I have spent a lot of time poring over Top 20 names (male and female) from each year in the 20th century!

Could be that some "cheating" actually qualifies as research?

Anne Germaine said...

Thanks for your tip Silver. Writeitnow sounds interesting--I need a better way to keep track of my characters.

Anne Germaine said...

Hi Helena - It would definately make me feel less guilty if we called it research!

Karyn Good said...

Very interesting links, Anne. I'm going to check out the personality quiz, pick a character, and see what comees up.

I'll be calling it research :)

Unknown said...

Thanks for the links. I'll be checking out the plot dealies to see if I can revive some shelved ideas.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Anne,
I'm always looking for ways to be more organized (because I'm so not organized). I like Silver's recommedation of the Work in Progress Notebook. I'm going to have to look into that one for sure.


Janet said...

Wouldn't it be great to have a cheat sheet for novel writing? Oh, well, hard work and determination...

Great post, Anne. I've seen most of these generators and have promised myself not to go clicking as I'm actually writing today. Maybe later :)

Anne Germaine said...

Thanks for all the comments. I should add SPELLCHECK to the list of cheats but make sure you have your spell check set correctly.

I'm sure everyone noticed 'sceptical'. I'm not sure what my spell check settings are but I fixed that word twice in my editing and still both times it came out with a "c" instead of a "k" in the post.


Janine said...

The software I love is the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. It truly makes the editing stage WAY easier.

It has a free version, so it's worth checking out.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

I'll throw into the mix one of my nerd favourites: the Dungeons and Dragons Online Alignment Test. Go through and answer the questions as your character, see where they fall on the alignment scale (Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic/Good, Neutral Evil) and how they might react to situations.

It can be both a glorious time waster and a good way of getting to know an unfamiliar character. Although probably less helpful for modern settings, in which fewer kings are assassinated.

Karyn Good said...

Janine, I tested out the AutoCrit Editing Wizard and I have to admit it was pretty cool! Thanks for the suggestion.

Anita Mae Draper said...

These aren't cheats, Anne, they're tools for your writer's toolkit. :)

Another one which is a free dowload - I have it but haven't taken the time to explore it yet - is Plotcraft.

Thanks for posting these.