Let me be honest. I had no clue what I was doing when I started May’s Camp NaNoWriMo. Sure, I knew I wanted to write a novel and had a general idea of what the story would be about. I had a rough outline of the plot and some guiding themes I wanted to encompass. Since I was writing a sci-fi novel, I wanted the world to feel real yet fantastic so I created a list of what I thought was possible and what I wanted to stay away from. But I really didn’t understand how to structure a novel. In many ways, I still don’t.
You see, my ideas of how to write a book date back to high school when I was writing short stories. In my mind, regardless of the countless books I’ve read that should tell me otherwise, chapters were self-contained. For me chapters weren't meant to be divided up into smaller pieces. The concept of scenes was foreign to me. I didn’t really know what a scene was or how it could help me be a better writer. Up to this point, all of my writing was short and focused, so my chapter concept made sense to me. I hadn’t yet embarked down the path of a large story with many interweaving plots that formed a cohesive story. Let’s say, I learned quickly that my outline wasn’t sufficient.
I should have know something was wrong with my thinking when I opened up Scrivener for the first time. Up to this point, I’d been using FocusWriter as my primary writing tool. If you are looking got a stream of conscious writing tool and an interface that gets out of your way, look no further. Although FocusWriter is great for blogging, I found it cumbersome when organizing larger efforts. In came Scrivener.
I’d heard of Scrivener before from following writing blogs and such, but it was the extended trial version for Camp NaNoWriMo that got me to download and try it out. It is a great little program. I highly recommend watching the tutorials before using it for the first time though. It is very powerful, and at times overwhelming, but the time spent learning it is worth it. Needless to say, I fought it. Remember my scene challenge? Yep, still didn’t make sense to me. I wanted to use chapters and didn’t understand why I would break things down any further. I even went so far as to redo the default template to do what I thought was right. Dumb. Like I know better than other authors.
About a week into writing I noticed that things weren’t feeling right. I realized I was doing it all wrong. My outline wasn’t cutting it and I really needed to expand my story. I paused my writing, let my mind percolate, and then started to organize around scenes. My chapters became smaller scenes that I kept small and focused. I started to organize those scenes into chapters, allowing action from different plot lines to converge. About halfway through the month, I decided to organize the chapters into parts to help me track the timing of major events. I now had some structure around my story and my writing started to flow, but I was still learning.
One of the nice thing about Scrivener is that you can arrange and rearrange things as much as you’d like. That meant that as I experimented and learned how to organize my novel, I didn’t lose what I’d already written. Be careful though. If you are like me, you can easily get lost in editing. I had a 50,000 word goal I was working towards and that time could have spent writing For me it ended up being time well spent. I was now managing my story instead of shaking myself in wrong . With structure around my story, I developed new story flows that I focused my writing on.
Another Scrivener feature that helped me manage my story's structure is the cork board. The cork board provides index cards, filled with the synopsis text, that I eventually used to plan out my story. When I started, I put my original outline into the chapter synopses. As I allowed my story to develop, I began adding more and more scenes, each one's synopsis filled with a small blurb about what was going on. I then arranged those scenes into chapters using the cork board. It was a very iterative process that will continue to evolve until I finish my novel.
For July’s Camp NaNoWriMo I have decided to start with a more traditional novel layout. Based on a my word count goals, I created 19 chapters each with 5 scenes. I don’t expect to end with those numbers, they are just place holders while I write. I’ve sketched out the basic story flow for these chapters which should help me settle down and focus on my writing. My goal at the moment is to finish with enough words on paper to make it to my 2nd revision. I’m still not sure I’m doing it right, but at least I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel this time around.