Monday, 28 March 2016

Scenes from a novel

It would be nice to be able to say that the reason I haven’t written anything on this blog for the best part of a year was that I’ve been too busy writing a novel. Nice, but not strictly true. As I’ve doubtless written before, it’s more a case of life getting in the way – work mainly.

But more recently, I have been working on a novel (my fourth, in case anyone’s counting), one that I started way back in 2010, and that I’m determined to finish this year. Finish a first draft, I mean – let’s not go crazy.

The reason I’ve been able to pick up where I left off after a prolonged period when I did no work at all on the novel is the software I’m using to write it. It’s called StoryMill, and I can highly recommend it. (And no, I’m not receiving any enticement to endorse it.)

I wrote my first three novels using basic word-processing software (Word, mainly), but when I started this one, I did some research to see if a package designed for writers might suit my way of working. StoryMill fits well with my methodical mindset, with the capacity to create, sort and label characters, chapters and scenes.

It’s this last feature that I’ve found most useful. I’ve always thought of my plots in terms of a succession of key scenes, linked together with whatever is needed for the flow of the story – exposition, interior monologue, narrative links and so on. With StoryMill, I started by creating the scenes I knew I wanted to include, playing around with the order and then piecing them together to create chapters. Each scene includes a ‘Notes’ tab and a ‘Text’ tab, so it’s easy to leave reminders for yourself of what you intended the scene to consist of.

As of today, my menu includes 42 scenes, of which I’ve written 31 and assigned 26 to chapters. This feels as if speeds up my progress; there will be chapters where I can simply slot in pre-written scenes and add any necessary linking text.

The real beauty of this, for me, is that it mitigates against writer’s block. If I reach a point in the narrative where I’m not sure how to proceed, I simply skip ahead and write a scene from further on where I do have a clear idea of what I want to achieve. To kickstart my writing in the past couple of months, I’ve taken a sub-plot and followed it through to its conclusion; I’ll decide as I go along where the scenes that make up this sub-plot fit in the bigger narrative.

None of this would be impossible using ordinary word-processing software, of course, but it would be more cumbersome, requiring much annotation and cutting and pasting of text. StoryMill simplifies the process, and I find it very satisfying to use.

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