Tools for Organizing Your Story

Are you a plotter or a pantser when you write?

If you’re unfamiliar with those terms, allow me to explain. A “plotter” is a writer who plans and outlines their story ahead of time. Conversely, a pantser writes “by the seat of their pants”, with no strict plan to begin with. They simply go where the story takes them.

It seems to me that most authors are somewhere in the middle, which is certainly true for me. When I was writing Grigory’s Gadget, I would say I was pretty much 50% plotter and 50% pantser. I’d set out a plan, run with it until I hit a road block, then step back and plan some more. It seemed to work pretty well for me…for book 1. Book 2 has become another story (well, both literally and figuratively!).

Due to the fact that I made the (frustrating) decision to set Book 2 at the same time as Book 1 (just following different characters), I have much less freedom. There are certain events, and even some characters, which cross over and therefore need to line up correctly with Book 1. That limits just how much pantsing I can get away with. It’s also forced me to become a lot more gung-ho about organizing my story.

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, organization is necessary! It just might come in later for a pantser, when you go in to revise and edit.

Organizational Tools for Plotters

Plotters love organization, so some of these tips and tools might be no-brainers. As plotters, we typically begin a story by outlining it. This can be hand-written in a notebook or on note cards, or created in word processing software. I personally tend to begin with a bulleted list of the plot points, beginning with the most important and vivid and then connecting those dots.

There are two other pieces of software that I’m a huge fan of as well: Scrivener and Aeon Timeline. Scrivener is like a word processor but with many more capabilities. For the purposes of outlining and planning, Scrivener has an Outline view and a Cork Board view where you can set up your story beats and scenes. These beats can then be made into scenes or chapters (or however else you want to organize your story; for Grigory’s Gadget and Serafima’s Stone, I created a folder for each day to help me keep track of the passage of time) which are organized as individual documents or folders. Documents can be placed inside folders, and everything can be moved around as you will it. (Did you write scenes X, Y, and Z, then decided that scene Z needs to come first? No problem, just drag and drop it!) You can also create documents and folders that are not a part of your manuscript, where you can save research, character summaries, etc. Scrivener’s software typically costs $40; however, if you participate or win National Novel Writing Month, Scrivener is often a sponsor offering discounts on their software.

Aeon Timeline is a visual timeline software. It allows you to essentially create Gantt charts of your story (or your writing time frame!). You can create dots and lines indicating plot points, which can be color-coded and given meta data such as the characters involved, the setting, and more. You can also connect events visually to indicate the one event is directly linked to the next. This software is especially handy if you have multiple characters who are not all in the same place at the same time, or who are traveling for an extended period. Aeon Timeline typically costs $50, but like Scrivener is often a sponsor of National Novel Writing Month, offering discounts to participants and winners. It also can sync with Scrivener!

Organizational Tools for Pantsers

A lot of the tips and tools mentioned above for plotters also apply to pantsers. The main difference is that pantsers normally use these tools after the first draft is complete. Organizing your first draft will help you find inconsistencies, plot holes, and plot seeds you totally forgot your planted (this happens to me all the time!).

This is the stage when I start using more of Scrivener’s capabilities. The first tool that comes in handy is Annotations. Annotations allow you to write notes in your text, the way you’d mark up a physical draft with a red pen. The other tool I use a lot is the ability to add meta data to a document. Specifically, I add keywords to my scenes to indicate which characters are involved, and any other handy keywords that may be useful to me. This is a big help to check the consistency and completeness of different characters’ storylines. I can simply do a keyword search and pull up every seen a specific character is in.

Those are my biggest tips for organizing your story. What tips and tools have worked for you in your writing?

Thought Exercise: Novel Writing Syllabus – Take 2

A while back, the CreateSpace blog posted an article describing an intriguing thought exercise. Here’s their summary of the exercise:

“Here’s the assignment. Imagine, if you will, that you are a teacher, and you’ve been asked to develop a syllabus for a class on how to be a successful novelist. You won’t just be teaching your students about writing, although that will be a part of it. You will be teaching them about rewriting, editing, branding, marketing, etc. Anything and everything you can think of that makes up the job of today’s novelist.

 Here’s the best part, you get to decide which section counts the most in your fictional class. You have 100% autonomy on this project because you aren’t required to show it to anyone. This is simply an assignment to suss out what you truly think makes a novelist.”

I tried this exercise once already, back in September as I was working through my beta reader comments on Grigory’s Gadget. Now that I’m nearing publication, I thought I would give it another go. Here’s my revised syllabus below:

Where to Start: 10%
Brainstorming, determining if you are a “plotter” or a “pantser”, writing prompts, getting words on paper

Where to end: 10%
Working through your plot, how to finish your novel, how to write a final scene

Rewriting: 5%
I hate my first draft, now what? Becoming objective with regard to your story, working with critique partners and beta readers

Editing the Big Things: 15%
Plot and character consistency, tone consistency, head-hopping, genre standards

Editing the Little Things: 10%
Sentence structure, grammar, spelling

Helpful Professionals: 20%
Agents, publishing houses, cover designers, professional editors…which should I use and how do I find the right one(s)?

Branding: 15%
How to build your author brand and start communicating with potential readers

Marketing: 15%
Discoverability, how to connect to readers and grow your audience

Total: 100%

What do you think? How would you make this syllabus different?

Formatting My Novel or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love MS Word

Just kidding, “love” isn’t the right word. “Tolerate” would be more accurate. “Begrudgingly accepted it as a part of my life” is better.

I’ve finished formatting my novel, Grigory’s Gadget. I can see why people sometimes hire a professional to do this – it’s definitely a P.I.T.A. But I’m pretty proficient in MS Word and decided to format my own novel. It worked out, it looks good. I haven’t submitted the file to CreateSpace or IngramSpark yet, so I can’t speak on that front. But despite the frustrations of Word, I think I made the right choice.

That being said, I thought I’d pass on some tips for anyone else planning to format their own novel:

  • Use the Styles function. If you’re not familiar with Styles, they’re on the Home (at least in the most recent versions of Word). The default Styles are called things like “Heading 1”, “Subtitle”, etc. You can also create your own styles, and/or modify the defaults. You’ll want to create a separate style for 1) body text, 2) chapter headings, 3) front/back matter, 4) titles and subtitles, 5) anything else you want to look different from other parts of your book. Styles are really convenient because if, say, you decide you want to use a different font for your chapter body, you can simply modify the style and it will apply throughout your manuscript (rather than having to select each section of text, which can lead to errors and is also extremely tedious).
  • Check your margins. You want at least 0.5″ on all four sides of the page, plus at least a 0.125″ gutter margin (this is the margin on the side of the page by the binding; it alternates between odd and even pages, starting on the left on page 1). You can do all of that in Page Setup. You’ll probably want larger margins, but you won’t know the specific margin size you want until you play around with it a bit. A good rule of thumb is that (also taking font and font size into account) you should have *approximately* 25-30 lines per page, with approximately 60 characters per line.
  • Make sure you have Front and Back Matter. Front Matter includes things like your Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication, Acknowledgements, etc (whatever is applicable). Back matter includes things like About the Author, a Call to Action (review my book please!), excerpts from the next book in the series, etc.
  • Make your book look pretty, but don’t go overboard. I added a couple fleurons to my text: one above the chapter headings, and one to signify scene breaks. They’re not huge and their aesthetic fits my book. My chapter headings also have a more stylistic font (though it is subject to change, pending what my cover looks like; you want the headings in your book to complement the font(s) on your cover). IMPORTANT NOTE: They are stylized but still readable. Your body font should be a simple serif font. I used Palatino Linotype for mine.
  • Final bit of advice: emulate the interior format of other books in your genre that you like. (Genre is important; sci-fi uses different fonts than fantasy or romance, etc.)

Good luck on your formatting journey!

E. A. Hennessy is Not Available at the Moment, Please Leave a Message After the Beep


I debated not posting on my blog this week. I didn’t want to break my blog schedule, though, so here I am.

I’m SO busy this week working on Grigory’s Gadget. I have my time booked with my cover artist at Deranged Doctor Design for mid/late January, which means I need to have a final page count (so they can use the proper spine width) by then. That means I need to finish my copy edits, proofread, and format the interior by *approximately* January 15th. (There is actually nothing approximate about this date. Once I set a deadline for myself I meet it, goddamnit! I’m a tad “Type A”)

Did I mention I also have a full time job?

In order to manage my time and give my editing the attention it needs, I’ve dedicated every “free” moment of my day to my novel. I set daily goals for myself to finish copy editing by Saturday (about 2 chapters per day) and haven’t had to stay up too late to meet them. I’d call that success.

While I finish up my novel, now is a GREAT time to sign up for my newsletter! Subscribers will be the first to see the cover art and map for Grigory’s Gadget (I should have these by the end of January/beginning of February). Don’t worry, I won’t spam you. I only send emails when I actually have news or special offers. CLICK HERE to sign up!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

2016 is going to be an exciting year for me – my debut novel, Grigory’s Gadget, is going to be published this year! In March, to be exact. Here’s a breakdown of what’s ahead:

  • By mid-January, I’ll have my manuscript edited and proofread, then formatted for paperback and eBook
  • Starting in mid-January, I’ll be working with Deranged Doctor Design to create my cover
  • Throughout February, I’ll be proofing copies of Grigory’s Gadget, and will start sending out advanced review copies (ARCs). If you have a blog/youtube/other platform on which you review novels, feel free to reach out to me to get an ARC!
  • Grigory’s Gadget will be published (barring any unforeseen issues) on March 12, 2016!
  • I’ll be organizing a launch party with the wonderful owners of Mermaid & Weasel in Buffalo, NY. Keep an eye out for details on that!

Once again, Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas, and Happy Birthday to Me!

Merry Christmas! Today also happens to be my birthday!

This post will be short and sweet, with a quick update on Grigory’s Gadget:

Last week, I received my copy edits from the editors at  Writership. My sentiments about this are summed up well by this quote from one of my favorite authors, Gail Carriger:

Meanwhile, I get Book 1 fixes from editor. I had been led to believe I might cry, so it is a nice surprise to find I can cope with equanimity. Of course, most of the edits were ones I knew I should do, but didn’t want to because I’m lazy. Mark my words; a good editor ALWAYS catches you out.


So, moving forward, I will be spending all of my time curled up in a cozy corner of my apartment, sipping either tea, coffee, or hot chocolate (as I see fit), editing away. I need to have my text and interior formatting complete by mid-January (so the designers at Deranged Doctor Design can create the cover!), so I will be a busy bee for the next couple weeks!

I hope you all enjoy the holidays, and if you’re in the Northeastern US like I am, enjoy this beautifully mild weather!

Music and the Muse

This is a topic that comes up a lot in writing circles, and there are no right (or wrong) answers: What music do you listen to while you write?

There’s a range of possibilities here, from classical to hard rock to good-old-fashioned silence. My own answer to this question ranges pretty widely too. Different types of music inspire me in different ways, and at different points in the process.

When I’m brainstorming/daydreaming/etc. about my story, there’s a huge variety of music that inspires me. Dramatic scenes, more often than not, are inspired by movie soundtracks, especially ones by Hans Zimmer. Character development and character-relationship development is often inspired by the music I listen to day-to-day, namely alternative rock.

When I’m in the throws of writing (not revising or editing) I tend to find that silence works best. It allows me to get lost in my mind as I write, to better connect to the characters and the scene.

When I’m editing and revising, I go back to movie soundtracks and other instrumental music. I find it keeps me focused and inspired.

Here’s the music I listened to during the process of writing and revising Grigory’s Gadget:

  • All of the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtracks
  • The Sherlock Holmes (the ones with Robert Downey, Jr.) soundtracks
  • The”Jazz Goes Steampunk! Electro Swing Invasion” album
  • “Steampunk Fantasy Rock” by Ian Cecil Scott
  • the “My Head Is An Animal” album by Of Monsters and Men
  • Lots of songs by my favorite band, Guster, especially their newest album Evermotion
  • “Hero” by Family of the Year inspired a particular plot change (sorry, no spoilers!)

So there’s my take on music and writing!