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?

My Favorite Great American Authors

With the US Independence Day coming up, I thought I would share with you my favorite authors which hail from the USA! This list includes authors of the classic Great American Novels that I love.

Ernest Hemingway

You can’t make a list of great American authors without including Hemingway. The only thing as interesting as his life is his fiction (seriously, the man went through a lot!). Many of his works are considered classics. My personal favorites include The Old Man and the Sea, “Hills Like White Elephants”, and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”.

Samuel Clemens a.k.a. Mark Twain

Samuel Clemens, using the pseudonym Mark Twain, is another iconic American author. He’s well-known for his wit and his ability to weave distinctly American themes into his work. Coincidentally enough, Ernest Hemingway, in The Green Hills of Africa, said of Mark Twain, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’m a bit torn on including F. Scott Fitzgerald on this list, through no fault of his own. Like many American students, I read The Great Gatsby in high school. I initially loved the book and found it very captivating. However (again, through no fault of the author or the novel) my English teacher hit us over the head with this book (metaphorically speaking), so now I’m a bit tired of it. That being said, if you happen to have never read it, I would highly recommend it!

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut is one of my all-time favorite authors. His stories are both ridiculous and insightful. If you like your societal satire with a healthy dose of whimsy and dark comedy, check out his books. I would specifically recommend The Sirens of Titan, Player Piano, Breakfast of Champions, and Slapstick.

Edgar Allan Poe

Rather than dark comedy, Edgar Allan Poe is known for his dark romanticism. Many are familiar with his poem “The Raven”. Other notable works include “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, and “The Masque of the Red Death”.

The Gaslight Frontier Wiki

Lately I’ve decided to get back to work filling up the wiki I created a while back for the Gaslight Frontier. What is a wiki, you ask? A wiki is a website on which users collaboratively add and modify content and structure directly from the web browser. The most well-known example is the website Wikipedia.

Pertaining to my wiki for the Gaslight Frontier, it’s a website where you can find information on the characters, places, objects, etc in the Gaslight Frontier world. If you join the wiki as a member, you can also add and modify content! (If you’ve already read Grigory’s Gadget, please feel free to add details as you see fit!)

I’m still working on adding all of the pages to cover everything that happened in Grigory’s Gadget. Currently, you can find pages for the main characters and some secondary characters, the main places and ships, and a few notable objects. Beware of spoilers if you haven’t read the book yet!

I would really love any feedback you have for my wiki, in terms of both design and content. I’m still learning the ins-and-outs of the Wikia platform, and would also love suggestions as to what details you want fleshed-out next!

Writing Desk Makeover: Part 2

Last week was so busy, I forgot to post my progress on my blog! Whoops! Well, the desk has since been completed! So, without further ado, here is the second part of the Writing Desk Makeover.

2017-05-16 19.00.06

The finished green pieces (that includes the pieces shown above, and also part of the main desk, which is pictured further down)! I decided to leave those at one coat. I like the look of the brush strokes. I sealed the paint with some spray-on polycrylic.

2017-05-15 21.16.25

After the priming was done! Then it was paint-paint-paint! (And reassemble at the end, of course)

2017-05-16 19.00.36

The back piece of the desk was painted green, and I started to paint the white parts! For the white parts, I used a latex enamel, rather than a regular paint, since enamel is much more durable. That way, the main surface that I’m working on won’t get scuffed up as easily. However, enamel is THICK. Like, really annoyingly thick. I took the above photo at a flattering angle that was obscured by some glare, but in person the brush strokes are VERY obvious. They aren’t cute and distressed-looking like on the green parts.

Much to my relief, we had a tiny paint roller lying around. That made the enamel application MUCH easier! I didn’t get the distressed look on the white parts as a result, but that’s a sacrifice I was willing to make in the name of saving myself time and frustration!

2017-05-17 21.40.52

Once I finished the base of the desk, I moved it into its new home in the basement.

2017-05-19 19.21.34

And now…the finished product! With flash:

2017-05-20 20.18.30

Without flash:

2017-05-20 20.18.40

Quite the transformation!

2017-05-08 20.54-vert

And here it is, all set-up!

2017-05-24 21.26.222017-05-24 21.26.34

Now about that “writing” thing…

Writing Desk Makeover: Part 1

For the past year, my desk has been hidden away in a basement, unused. My writing space therefore became the couch in the living room. Needless to say, my productivity went way down with the TV sitting right there in front of me.

Then, about 2 weeks ago, I moved into a new place. The new place has a dry, partially-finished basement. I decided to take this opportunity to create a proper writing space. Step one: refinish my old, beat-up desk.

Here’s what I’m working with:

2017-05-08 20.54.05

Go Sabres!

This desk belonged to multiple members of my family before finally getting handed-down to me when I was in college. As you can see in the photo, it’s pretty beaten-up. The laminate coating of the particle board is worn or peeled away in many places, and there are some spots where the particle board itself has bubbled from water damage.

2017-05-09 20.16.57

The first step in fixing up the desk was to sand down the surfaces and patch the bubbles. I disassembled the hutch so I could tackle those pieces more easily.

2017-05-09 21.07.44

The bubbles were sanded down and filled in using a wood filler, then sanded down again.

2017-05-09 21.07.35.jpg

After sanding was done, I wiped the dust off with wet paper towels and started priming.

2017-05-10 22.10.36

I hit a bit of a snag while trying to take off the bottom shelf, so the underside of the desk wasn’t primed at the same time as everything else.

2017-05-10 22.10.23

Then I started painting some of my mint green accent pieces. When the desk is done, it will be off-white, with mint green accents in the shelves.

I’m debating whether or not I like the distressed look of a single coat of paint, or if I’ll clean it up with a second coat. I’m leaning toward the distressed look because 1) distressed furniture is very “in” right now, 2) distressed and old-looking furniture would be on-theme with a writing desk (especially one belonging to a steampunk writer!), and 3) it’s less work!

Stay tuned for a progress update next week!

Grigory’s Gadget Dream Cast

Every author dreams, at least a little bit, that their book will some day get adapted to the big screen. Here is my dream cast for a Grigory’s Gadget movie!

Cara Delevingne

Zoya Orlova played by Cara Delevigne

Just have to dye that hair purple 😉

Aimee carrero

Anya Filipova played by Aimee Carrero

Summer Bishil

Lilia Alkaeva played by Summer Bishil

Ansel Elgort

Demyan Volkov played by Ansel Elgort

Jessie T Usher

Nikolai Polzin played by Jessie T. Usher

Bryan Cranston

Captain Edward Sokoll played by Bryan Cranston

Nicholas Hoult

Alexi Sokoll played by Nicholas Hoult

Lucy Lawless

Captain Snezhana Krupina played by Lucy Lawless

Naveen Andrews

Pavel played by Naveen Andrews

Keke Palmer

Tonya played by Keke Palmer

Oscar Isaac

Yeremiy Robertov played by Oscar Isaac

Neil Patrick Harris

Gotfrid played by Neil Patrick Harris

Daniel Dae Kim

Adam played by Daniel Dae Kim

David OHara

Igor played by David O’Hara

Isaac Hempstead Wright

Pyotr played by Isaac Hempstead Wright

What do you think of this cast? Are there any actors/actresses you think would be better for different characters? Let me know!

General Status Update 4/7/17

I couldn’t think of a particularly specific topic to blog about this week, so this post will just be a general status update: what I’m working on, current goals, future projects, etc.

I’m trying to wrap up the first draft of Serafima’s Stone in the next month or two. I’m very close to finishing the primary story line, and then have to fill in some secondary plot points. I’m moving into a new house at the end of April, so my free time is a bit limited until then. However, I’ll be setting up a designated writing space (as opposed to my current writing space, aka sitting on the couch with the TV oh-so-temptingly sitting on the other side of the room…) in the new house, and am hoping this distraction-free space will help me focus and increase my productivity. The new house will also have a patio space, so maybe once the weather gets nice I’ll write outside.

In addition to working on Serafima’s Stone, several plot bunnies have been jumping around in my brain. While Serafima’s Stone is of course the highest priority, I have spent some time exploring these other plot bunnies. Follow the muse! Writing something is better than writing nothing, right? Even if it’s not what you meant to work on…

Oh, hai!I'z yer personal plot bunneh fur today!.png

Anyway, these other plot bunnies will form the foundation of novels I’ll work on more specifically once the Gaslight Frontier Series is completed. You can look forward to an urban fantasy novel, a post-apocalyptic/humorous novel, and an epic fantasy novel down the line.

Because I’m moving this month, I’m not officially taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo. If you are, though, I’d love to hear about your progress (or struggles!) in the comments!