No, it’s not a form of enhanced interrogation, wherein the captors tie up a victim and read excerpts from editors’ slush piles. That practice was banned by the U.N.’s Commission on Human Rights in 2006, after Twilight was published.
I’m talking about that pre-planning phase of novel writing wherein we decide the how of our next novel, rather than the what.
Now that Miss Illusions is almost through the production phase—see Asymptote, below—it’s time to begin serious work on my next novel. Normally, I’m something of an “organic” (read “lazy”) writer in that I start with a fairly complete character chart, a vague concept of setting, and a rough (“nearly non-existent”) outline and go from there.
However, my next novel is a much more ambitious project: a big-scale aviation thriller in the John Nance or Tom Clancy sense. I decided “winging it” (yeah, pun intended) wouldn’t cut it for this project, so I started looking into software to help me scope out the thing.
I pretty much severed the Microsoft umbilical some years ago, and now I use the Linux operating system. I don’t have as many programs at my disposal, but at least I don’t have to reinstall my entire system if a program crashes. The downside is fewer options for things like writing software.
After checking out a few options (yWriter, Scrivener, etc.), I decided on Storybook. It’s cross-platform, so I can run it under Linux and Windows, and seems to do most of the key things I need. (Note: This isn’t really a review of the program, just a description of how and why to use it. Time, and future posts, will tell how well it works out.)
The central components of Storybook are “objects” such as Locations, Characters, Objects, and Scenes. Below is the Characters object, where you build those fascinating individuals that will be populating your novel. (Click to expand.)
As you can see, everything about my characters—name, age, occupation, physical description, etc.—is neatly stored in one, sortable location, so no more will my characters change from blue-eyed young Scandinavian men into Japanese sumo wrestlers between scenes, unless I mean for them to. You can add your own characteristics into the drop-down lists, so if you’re an author who likes to describe your hero’s earlobes and eyebrows (in other words, a Romance writer), you can add those to the list. You can also add Notes for anything additional, for example, why your character voted for Perot in ’96.
The Scenes object lets you build your scenes from the ground up, or sky down in my case. Checkboxes let you easily select in which Location it occurs, characters present, time and date, POV, etc. Also, you can add such notations as scene goals, conflicts, sounds, smells, and that fascinating location tidbit you found on Wikipedia but haven’t gotten around to verifying.
The Scene Manager lets you, well, manage your scenes: drag and drop them for ordering, putting them in the appropriate chapters, etc, although it doesn’t appear to let me number the scenes, except as they occur in the chapter. No more having characters leave a location before they arrive! (Unless you’re writing relativistic science-fiction or something. And if so, you have more problems than scene management.)
You can view your masterpiece in several different ways: Book view, Reader view, Chronological view. Below is the Chronological view, which, sadly, is as close as Storybook seems to come to a real timeline (my personal Holy Grail). If you’ve been foresighted enough to tag each of your scenes with a date and time, the Chrono view will show you each scene in order. Sort of. What it actually does is organize the scenes from each characters’ POV for each day. In other words, if the first scene in Zach’s POV occurs at 7:00 a.m. (being the early-rising go-getter he is) it will appear at the top of the list of his scenes for that day, right beside the first scene for Ana, even though the lazy B slept in until noon. So it works (kinda) as a timeline for each character during each day, but fails to show problems like, for example, Zach being saved by Ana before she dragged her lazy ass out of bed.
Which brings me to a new tool I’ve just started using: Google Calendar. <pause for collective “Huh??”>
Yeah. I’ve been looking for a decent timeline tool where I can, at a glance, see where my characters are and what they’re doing at any given time. As I was pondering my upcoming tasks on Google Calendar, I thought, “Hey, isn’t this kind of the same thing?” So I decided to give it a try with Day One of my new novel.
So far, it looks like it could be a really useful tool for building a timeline-oriented outline of your novel. (Did I qualify that enough?) You can give each character a different color, include info such as location, conflict, suspense points, whatever, and drag-and-drop the scenes to re-order your timeline. I decided to include both on-page scenes (designated by SCENE) and off-page happenings (–bracketed–).
Again, time will tell—or possibly laugh in my optimistic face.
So I’m sticking with Storybook for now, despite the lack of a real timeline feature. I’ve investigated only a few of the features it offers, and there’s a “Pro” (paid) version that offers even more. While I’m not far enough along to truly recommend (or not) the program, I will be. And you’ll be the first to know.
Until then, no NaNoWriMo for my new book. But once I’ve storyboarded it and have my up-front research and outlining in decent shape, maybe I will try to crank out the first draft in another 30 days. Of course, that’s assuming that after a few weeks of storyboarding, I haven’t volunteered to test new enhanced interrogation techniques, figuring it would be a more pleasurable, and productive, use of my time.