Making sense of chaos with Scrivener

I switched over to using Scrivener as a tool for writing and editing books a couple of years ago. It’s taken me a while to get familiar with the interface, but I stuck with it as it seems to be a much more suitable environment for editing complex stories than my previous favourite: Microsoft Word.

I took one of the Scrivener for beginners courses a while back and noted it should be capable of enabling you to keep track of which scenes contain characters and locations, but at the time, couldn’t get my head round how to actually do that.

I should have made more of an effort to learn how! Fallen Warriors has an element of complexity to rival a standard Tom Clancy. A dozen characters in multiple locations with events happening simultaneously. It was a struggle to keep track of what was going on.

I resorted to sticky notes, spreadsheets and elbox grease to get the novel completed, but was determined that I would suss out how to use some of the more advanced Scrivener features.

Tagging characters and locations in a scrivener scene

I’m indebted to Rog (@pigfender) for his post: Tracking characters with Scrivener keywords

It’s actually really easy to do and I’ve started tagging characters and locations in the scenes I’ve written for the Fallen Warriors sequel.

I won’t rehash the pigfender post here as Rog does a really good job of explaining it, but here’s some insight into how I’m actually following his instructions:

I needed to do two things to make this work, first add a tag for each character who appears in a scene and one for the location(s) in the scene to the Document notes section of the Inspector window:

And also create Project Keywords (from the Project menu) to match those tags exactly:

Now, if you’ve read Fallen Warriors then you might notice a couple of reveals in the pictures above… Shhhh (I’ve blanked out the working title as I’m still not fully sure if I will use it.)

The really cool bit is once you’ve got that all in place, to find all the scenes with a character or multiple characters in them, you can search and you get those scenes back… In order!

This is really helpful for me for so many reasons. One of my characters full name and title is: Detective Inspector Daniel Martin. But he is referred to as Danny, as DI Martin, as Daniel etc. By setting up the tags, I can search using one term and always find him.

Take a look at this clipping from my Scrivener Fallen Warriors manuscript

Now, I don’t want to give too much away from either book in case you’ve not read the first and certainly don’t want to give any plot away from the second, but I set up some keywords in my first manuscript and then did a search for “Emma_Present” – this is what was returned:

I reveal these events in the book description, so hopefully no spoilers there!

If you haven’t struggled to find characters in a long manuscript this maybe won’t be as exciting as I find it, but just getting those three results back is amazing for me. I spent hours each week for weeks just having to find where I’d written about a character. This is a game changer for me!

How do you make sense of the complexity in your books?

Why every author should fully review a proof copy of their book

Gah! That moment where you realise you forgot to do something really simple…

I’ve been reading through my first novel again – The Great Scottish Land Grab. I’m having a small print run done to finally allow me to sell to Scottish book shops and took the opportunity to make a few changes, the main one being updating my contact details.

When I published Land Grab, back in 2014, I thought it would be a good idea to buy the domain www.cafepolitics.net as Cafe Politics played such a huge role in the story and www.markandersonsmith.co.uk (and all variants) were taken, and www.thegreatscottishlandgrab.co.uk would have just been silly.

I’ve since decided on www.dragonlake.co.uk as my permanent web presence and wanted to update the new edition of Land Grab to use this website and my current email address. The Copyright page was done fine. I added in an author note asking people to sign up to my mailing list – all fine. Even the Call to Action at the end of the book was updated okay.

Everything bar the acknowledgements page which I foolishly didn’t even read before sending off the manuscript to the printer… Turns out the acknowledgements page contained a request to email me if the reader found any mistakes using the old email address… Gah!

I’m in two minds whether to just let it slide as I still own that domain, except, it just doesn’t sit right.

Maybe I’ll call the printer tomorrow and ask about just sending through a new manuscript and forgoing a new proof.

What would you do in this situation?

Proof Reading for Dummies

So here’s my dummies guide to proof reading…

Take a book, start at the beginning, read slowly until the end and make a note of every mistake you find.

Simples…

Except… It’s really, really difficult when it’s a book you’ve written!

At some point I’m going to have to start paying a professional to proof read my novels. Until then there is no other option but to rely on the kindness of friends who have an eye for punctuation and grammar and spelling; and also to pick up my own book… Again and again and again until I’ve read it so many times that it’s almost stopped being my story and just become words on a page.

Tell you what though, the advice to start at the back of your book and read each page in reverse order does help.

Also, getting a physical proof copy printed up makes a big difference. I noticed a space where it had no right to be, fifty pages in. I must have read that passage a dozen times on screen, but seeing it there on a physical page, it stood out like a… Well, like a space invader… Please don’t shoot me 😉

I’ve heard that reading your book out loud is also a good technique. I’m not quite there yet with that one, but for some passages it has been useful.

How do you ensure your book is as free as possible from those irritating typos?

How much can you write in a day?

How much can you write in a day? This is a question that I keep returning to as I plan to write the sequel to Fallen Warriors. I wrote the first draft of The Great Scottish Land Grab in a month, writing an average of 2,300 words a day for 22 days in November 2011. It took me two and a half hours each day to write that.

But, then I ended up ditching half of that novel – easily 25,000 words – as I rewrote and edited the final version.

In theory I know I can write 5,000 words a day, but what is the point if I then need to discard half of that?

Well, on the plus side, you never know exactly what will work until you try. It is sometimes only during the writing that the story becomes clear, that the characters start to live. We change as writers as we become more experienced. The fact is that both for Land Grab and Fallen Warriors, during the rewrite, I added new scenes and extended existing scenes, essentially writing a new first draft that was actually good enough to become the final draft.

The hope is that having set up the background in Fallen Warriors Season One, having a pre-existing backstory and characters, that writing the sequel will be less work.

I will have child care responsibilities during the summer so am planning to get up at Six each morning, write for five hours plus a one hour break, and then leave the writing for the rest of the day.

My plan is to write 1,000 words an hour.

I expect I will take a couple of weeks off during the nine weeks that make up July and August, so I will only have seven weeks available to write.

Five thousand times five days times seven weeks = 175000 words…

Okay, I’m actually planning to write first drafts of both novels, Season Two and Season Three this summer.

Is it achievable?

I won’t know until I try, but in theory it should be.

The real benefit though is that it allows me to ensure that both plots are consistent, that there is an overall story arc connecting the three seasons and gives me more flexibility to end Season Two at an appropriate stage that will hopefully satisfy readers and leave them hooked for Season Three.

Anyway, that’s my plan for writing the sequel to Fallen Warriors and an estimate of how many words I’m planning to write each day. How much can you write in a day?