Category Archives: Review

Non-sequential writing

This last weekend I finished a rough, rough draft of Book 2, my sequel to Renaissance Calling. It took a lot longer to finish than I expected, in part because I had to learn how to write a book in a  non-sequential fashion. Between the length of time Book 2 covers (a year as opposed to two and a half months) and the need to fit fourteen backer-created characters into the story, writing the story from start to finish wouldn’t work, unless I was willing to write out a 300,000 word monster of a rough draft. So I started jumping around, writing scenes as I had them and working from both ends towards the middle.

Like a pyramid being built without finishing the foundation.

It was interesting and frustrating, with a lot of false starts and dead ends, but ultimately it got me to the end of the rough draft and into revisions. As I move on with both this book and other projects, I want to take a moment and share with you some lessons about non-sequential writing I’ve taken from the experience.

Start at both ends and work to the middle

Starting at both ends and working towards the middle was the first thing I started doing. It made sense, since I knew how the story began and ended. Working from both directions, I can approach any problem I came across from either the front or the back. Sometimes I had to solve problems by writing the solution first, and building up to it.

Keep an eye out for lessons the protagonist needs to learn

By writing the end I gained a huge advantage; I figured out what the character needs to experience to have the impact I need her to have at the climax of the story. That helped me figure out what I needed to show the reader, versus what I could tell the reader. It’s a huge benefit to non-sequential writing to know what you don’t have to write.

Write scenes independently; don’t worry about flow

By flow, I mean the attention of the reader as they go from one chapter to another. I quickly stopped paying attention to flow for my rough draft. Scenes begin and end rather abruptly. Annoying, yes, but finishing the overall story was the main goal. Working on the flow is for the revision phase.

Don’t describe a secondary character when you first write him/her:

Jumping back and forth, I had no idea when this character or that character was going to be introduced. The first few times I wrote a character I included a description, but several times I later wrote them in an earlier scene. So I stopped writing descriptions. Instead, I’m saving the description until afterwards, then I’ll add them when I know where their first appearance is.

Keep a list of ‘Bits to Add’

Instead of jumping around to fix things every time they come up, I’ve been keeping a separate document where I write down the ideas I want to return to. The point is to get the side-thoughts out of the way without interrupting the work on whichever scene I’m focusing on at the time. There will be enough time to fix everything later.

 

I’ve already started applying these lessons to other projects. It’s really helpful to get things moving when something is getting stuck, or simply to just get words down and counted. One project in particular covers almost a decade of time, and already I’m making huge strides in it because of these lessons.

Have any thoughts or tips of you own? Feel free to let me know.

And as always, keep on writing.

yWriter

yWriter5

http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter5.html

When I write, I create a rich backstory for the world I’m writing in. And while I can remember many details of that world, I can’t remember them all. Trying to keep track of all those details has been a constant pain for me, especially as I replace computers, send documents from work to home, or even just forget where I put the file with all the information.

One day I ventured onto the Internet to look for a database program. I was hoping to find something that would allow me to create a Wikipedia type database, with links between files so I could move from one page to another. I did eventually find one, but first I found yWriter.

yWriter showed up as a writing program designed for writers. In the words of the website:

yWriter is a word processor which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes, helping you keep track of your work while leaving your mind free to create. It will not write your novel for you, suggest plot ideas or perform creative tasks of any kind. yWriter was designed by an author, not a salesman!

I downloaded it and gave it a try…and I am very glad I did.

Organization

yWriter most appeals to me because of the organization it applies to the writing project.  Before, I would write with either a single file for the whole project or each one file per chapter.  I wasn’t really happy with either one.  yWriter allows me to add chapters to a project, and add scenes to chapters.  The program keeps an automatic word count, and even tracks how many words I add in a given day.

For any scene and chapter I can add notes separate of the words in the actual document.  A writer can also keep track of a number of Details for the scene, including Type, Tags, Importance, and various Ratings (I don’t use these, personally, but they’re there to be used).

yWrite One
yWriter

What I really enjoy is the ability to turn scenes off, so that the program keeps them but they don’t apply to the book as a whole.  For example, I recently read a scene that started strong but petered out into a boring exchange.  I copied the scene and turned the first one off, so I can access it, but it doesn’t appear in my word count.  I deleted most of the copied scene and I can continue writing without losing the first attempt.

Databases

yWriter has three different databases: Characters, Locations and Items.

Adding an item is as easy as highlighting a word and right clicking.  Once it is added, I can add notes and pictures to the database without changing anything of the scenes.  I can get as detailed or as simple as I want.

This is a nice program to keep track of the little things when I add a new character, but it does have a problem.  The database will find every instance of the word and track it, even if it isn’t an instance that you want it to track.  For example, if I have a character named Mars, the program will highlight the first half of the word Marshall.

Spell Checking and Printing

No program is perfect, and yWriter’s flaws come towards the end of the process.

yWriter has a Spell Checker option, but it is not very good.  This would normally be a deal breaker, but the programmer managed to add a way to side step this.  You can export chapters to Microsoft Word and spell check your work there, then import back into yWriter (just be careful not to delete the coding that allows yWriter to import to the correct chapters and scenes).

The printing function is okay, but I’ve found it much more useful to import to Microsoft Word and fix the formatting before printing or changing to a PDF.  Part of this may stem from so much of my first project in yWriter being imported from Google Docs, Microsoft Word and Open Office.  I’m hoping this will improve over subsequent projects.

Conclusion

I have found yWriter to be a very useful program, both as a writing system and as a simple database for notes.  And that is fully admitting I don’t use everything this program has to offer.  I hope some of you go and try it out.

-Michael