Thursday, September 4, 2014

My Favorite Planning Tools

I've spent a very long time figuring out how not to write a novel. Which means, along the way, I've figured out several ways to increase my odds of actually writing one. Here are my top six:

6. A Novel Idea

"A Novel Idea" is an app available for iPhones and iPads. It's one of the few reasons I hung on to my iPhone once I jumped ship for Androids (how I lived so long without Swype, I haven't a clue). It's very easy to use, lets you create multiple novels, lets you create crossover characters by attaching them to multiple novels, and it's very easy to manipulate. My Inked rewrites went from the poster board to this app to an Excel spreadsheet. It was easier to rearrange things on the app than on Excel, and I could plot on the go. Very useful thing. And the free version has everything you need, unless you want to switch between devices regularly, in which case the pro version will let you export.


You know those silly little bubble brainstorming maps you made in kindergarten through high school? Those were pretty cool, right? They let you figure out connections between things, and it was really easy to do. Problem was they work best on paper. It's not something you can really do with Word. But you can do it with this site, which is very user-friendly and allows you to manipulate your ideas to create connections between them. And you can't use up all the space in an area; you have an essentially unlimited amount of space in your "mind map" and can easily move the bubbles to make more room in a certain spot.

4. 101 Questions You Should Be Able To Answer About Your Character

Besides the character surveys I've already posted, this is my favorite by far. This questionnaire is in-depth, ranging from name and birthday to "describe yourself in three words". The questions are divided by topic, and they're all to be answered in your character's voice, which in case you haven't noticed is something I really like doing.

3. Complications Worksheet

Courtesy of one of my Camp NaNoWriMo cabin mates, the Complications Worksheet. It divides the book into four acts and presents questions regarding the beginning, middle, and end of each act. Answering these questions makes sure you can keep the tension level up in your story and that the middle doesn't sag.

2. The Three-Act, Eight-Sequence Structure

This was a freaking revelation for me. Talk all you want about the three-act structure; the division of each act into sequences makes it much easier to pace the novel. When I went to start structuring my Inked rewrites I took the manuscript and divided it into the sequences as I'd naturally written them. It was hugely helpful in showing me which sequences were too long, which too short, and which actually started or ended somewhere other than where I'd thought/planned for them to do.

1. The Structure Grid

I love index cards. I love that I can put totally blank index cards on a board and have it end up looking like a proper story structure. This is extremely useful for structuring, not least because it just looks pretty to have it all laid out. Having a structure so visible will let you see instantly where your sequences are too short or too long or where the tension level is too low or too high for a stretch at a time. I realized midway through plotting Inked that I'd introduced information in one scene that I'd accidentally used in a previous scene (oops!). Best of all, it was easy to fix that mistake. This is the only thing on this list that costs money to do, but it costs about $10 and most of that is the display board, which you get to use as many times as you want.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My Favorite Character Questions

Somewhere between one and two years ago, I asked my followers on Tumblr to send me character questions. I was extremely frustrated with the surveys I was finding; they were either too basic or too vague. So I gave my followers this scenario:

You've just met someone, and you have five questions to decide what kind of relationship, if any, you're going to pursue with them. What do you ask?

Here are my favorites, which are now the first things I ask of my characters:

  • Name five things you are and five things you are not.
  • What do you consider the strongest force in the universe and why?
  • If you were the protagonist in a hero’s tale, where would your adventure take you?
  • If you found a magic lamp with a genie inside, what would you spend your three wishes on?
  • If you were going to fly to Neverland with Peter Pan, what would your happy thought be?
  • What is your favorite book?
  • What is your favorite music?
  • What do you do for fun?
  • What is art?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Do you believe in gods?
  • Do you believe in you?
  • Greatest fear, hope, pride, and shame?

Today's question: What's your favorite character development tool?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The 30 Day Character Survey

I found this probably a couple years ago, but for the life of me I can't find the source. It seems to have been used and passed around plenty, but the original source seems to have been lost, and since it is a meme it might never have been known at all.

There are plenty of surveys in this 30-day vein, but they don't work so well for me, mainly because I already have those questions being asked by multiple different questionnaires. (Ask me how many questionnaires I've combined to make the one I use.) This one, however, I love, mostly because it's in the character's voice.

(Confession: I've never made it through all 30 days, but just reading the questions makes me think about my character.)

So here it is, my favorite 30-Day Character Survey:

01 – Introduce yourself, in great detail
02 – Your first love, in great detail
03 – Your parents, in great detail
04 – What you ate today, in great detail
05 – Your definition of love, in great detail
06 – Your day, in great detail
07 – Your best friend, in great detail
08 – A moment, in great detail
09 – Your beliefs, in great detail
10 – What you wore today, in great detail
11 – Your siblings, in great detail
12 – What’s in your bag, in great detail
13 – This week, in great detail
14 – What you wore today, in great detail
15 – Your dreams, in great detail
16 – Your first kiss, in great detail
17 – Your favorite memory, in great detail
18 – Your favorite birthday, in great detail
19 – Something you regret, in great detail
20 – This month, in great detail
21 – Another moment, in great detail
22 – Something that upsets you, in great detail
23 – Something that makes you feel better, in great detail
24 – Something that makes you cry, in great detail
25 – A first, in great detail
26 – Your fears, in great detail
27 – Your favorite place, in great detail
28 – Something that you miss, in great detail
29 – Your aspirations, in great detail
30 – One last moment, in great detail

Monday, September 1, 2014

RP vs Writing

My main Tumblr presence of late is in the roleplay community. No, not sexy roleplay (at least not for me); the best way I can say it is freeform collaborative storytelling. Each person picks a character and by putting your character with someone else's, you create all kinds of interesting things. I used to do this on LiveJournal and Dreamwidth, but Tumblr has an odd strength in that it's very difficult to change muses.

Tumblr, for those who don't know, is a blogging site sort of like if Twitter took away all its restrictions on character limit and post type. You follow people; you have a dash; you reply and reblog posts. But there's no significant word limit (it's upwards of a couple thousand words), and you can post either as text, chat, photo, link, video, audio, or quote. Also like Twitter, it's easy to change your URL/screen name, and because of the follow mechanism you can't easily reply to just anyone with just any muse (character). As a side effect, you're forced to focus on one muse at a time.

The difference between RP and writing is pretty significant, and cuts both ways. RP requires only that you understand one character, but it requires that you adapt that character to any situation. On LiveJournal, I too often got around this by picking the muse that had the reaction I wanted to write; on Tumblr, because it's difficult to change muses and reply to a conversation, I have to be able to handle one muse's reactions to anything that happens in a thread, or I can't reply.

RP is difficult in that respect, but again, you only have to have one muse's "voice" down pat. Writing, on the other hand, requires that you be able to juggle multiple characters' voices in one scene.

An RPer maintains a close-on third person POV in their head, watching for the most part through one person's eyes. A writer has to maintain an almost omniscient POV when writing, even if the only thing the reader will ever see is the POV of the narrator.

However, although writing requires significantly more investment in the characters, it's much more scripted. Even pantsers generally have some idea where they're going, or they know one scene they have to reach and write around it. Writers have the luxury of knowing (usually) where everyone will go and what they'll do ahead of time. Plotters like myself have this advantage far more than do pantsers, but pantsers have an advantage over RPers, who have no advance warning of what the other muse will do.

As such, sometimes I've had a muse both in a book and in RP. They require two very different skill sets, and allow me to go in-depth with the character at the same time that I build their world and their story. I know two people in my RP circle who do the same.

Today's question: When writing, how do you balance the limited viewpoint of your narrator with the omniscient viewpoint in your head? Or do you not have that viewpoint?