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?

Day two in the author’s house…

Let me start by saying I’m not planning to spend every day from now on recording the minutiae of writing a novel. I wanted to hold myself accountable through this blog and that’s the purpose of this post.

A week ago I posted my regimented writing plan. If I stick to that plan, I’m certain to complete at least one draft of 100,000 words in four weeks of writing. If I’m writing…

As I always do when I finish a contract, I wrote up a to do list. A list of all the things I’ve not had time for during the contract. There is always a conflict between what I want to do, what I need to do and what I feel I have to do.

On top of family and work related responsibilities, I spent a large part of Tuesday and Wednesday finishing off a final edit and format of the print edition of Fallen Warriors

Yesterday evening, after two days where I imagined I might plot out two novels – and managed only to begin that process, I put that dream on hold and started writing. This morning I continued writing, reasoning that I might need to explore the characters’ stories further before the overall plot of the book becomes clear.

I wasn’t up this morning as sharp as I wanted though and haven’t kept to my regimented plan. Today I’ve been working on preparing for a meet the author event I’m going to be part of in September. Tomorrow I may have to switch off my phone!

On the positive though, I went for a short run today, my first attempt at exercise in over a month. I wrote 2047 words in 225 minutes spread over the whole day. I’ve developed a new character, well, three of them actually for a story that may run across both sequels.

I’ve failed to meet my target word count, but there’s always tomorrow and each day I write is one day closer to realising my goal of publishing a sequel to Fallen Warriors!

Sharpening my axe

You’ve heard the story of ol’ Abe Lincoln who allegedly said that if you need to cut down a tree quickly, the first thing you should do is spend time sharpening your axe.

All being well, I’m planning to spend tomorrow (my first day of writing the sequel to Fallen Warriors) on the writers equivelant: plotting, gathering my notes, brainstorming, mindmapping and generally trying to set out a structure to guide me as I set out to write two novels in two months.

Maybe I’ll actually spend some time writing, but I’m sure that I’ll get more done over the next weeks if I’ve got a plan to follow than if I’m constantly struggling to work out how to connect everything together. I’ll let you know how it goes…

It’s all about the story

Fallen Warriors was a real learning experience for me. I intended the plot to go in one direction, but wasn’t totally sure how that would look. In the end, by allowing my characters to direct the story, I ended up pretty close to where I’d wanted to, but had followed them all through some unexpected journeys.

I now have a situation – as I set out to write the sequel – where none of my character journeys are complete, where each of them still has some internal demons to battle.

Unlike with Season One, I don’t yet have a definitive ending I’m heading for. Well, that might not be totally true…

I’ve been jotting down plot ideas for months and I need to revisit those. I think that at one point I did think I had an overall aim for both Season Two and Season Three, but it may have been quite vague.

I’m intending to start this writing journey by storyboarding the overall plot:

  • One main story arc to link all three books.
  • Two major story arcs for books two and three.
  • Minor story arcs for each character that may stretch over both books, or may end and then spark a new arc.

For this I’ll draw on resources like the Three Act Structure for Novelists (by Fiona Veitch Smith.)

I’m extremely nervous about tying it all together!

But, I know I can, because I’ve already done it once.

All of that sounds very analytical yet I believe people are enjoying Fallen Warriors because it is ultimately a story about real people, facing real struggles, and in the end, overcoming them… Or not!

I enjoy writing stories for much the same reasons people enjoy reading them. I get an emotional rush as I place my characters in situations that tear them apart, break them down and then give them hope. Over the summer it’s all going to be about the story!