Sunday, March 24, 2013

Writing Method #8: Mind-mapping

 Writing Method #8: Mind-mapping

     I first learned about the concept of mind-mapping when I was working on my second master's degree (this one in Education and Educational Administration) back a few years ago. I was surprised that such a good, unique concept had never been a part of my English education (BA or MA) because I think it is a fantastic fit for writers of both essays and fiction writing.  I don't know if I could tout it as the best method for a fledgling novel writing because it is a bit existential but I do think it is a great alternative for established writers compared to the Outline methods I've highlighted here in earlier posts (Outline, Draft in 30 Days plan, etc.)

     A Mind-map can be a fun thing to create and the visual impact of it can really bring a writer back into a story. The concept is to start off with a main topic and write it in the middle of the page, then draw a circle around it and from that circle draw several lines moving outward, as if you are drawing a sun.  Personally, one of the things I really like about the mind-map is that it employs, in fact it encourages, the use of multiple colors and even drawings to progress.  I think that anything that promotes fun as a part of the process is certainly worth a look. 

     Expanding then on the lines shooting out from the sun (described above) are the main topics or plot points.  Off of each of these are numerous sub-topics or sub-plot points.  Here is an example:

General Mind-map sample

      The best way to incorporate mind-mapping into novel (or short story) writing would be to use separate mind-maps for plot points and character interactions. In the past, I have successfully used mind-maps to straighten out family dynamics in mystery novels with convoluted character relationships.  Unlike the simplistic sample above, lines can double-back and intersect, creating a family tree of sorts for your characters. Such as:

Character Mind-map

     I have found that it is often easiest to draw up mind-maps on paper.  However, for those who prefer to keep everything on the computer, there are several software programs out there to help create mind-maps.

Computer generated mind-map
     Apart from the fun of drawing up mind-maps, these creative templates can be useful to writers of all genres and of all ages. I've used this concept successfully when teaching young children as well as teaching university students in college English classes. What do you think? Have you ever mind-mapped before?  Would you consider it in the future?


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Writing Method #7: 30 Day Draft

Writing Method #7: 30 Day Draft

     After chronicling the major writing methods out there (Linear, Snowflake, Kiser, Marshall Plan, Outlines, and Note-cards), I feel I covered most of them. But yesterday, I came across a book I bought back in 2005, called, "First Draft in 30 Days" by Karen S. Wiesner and I feel an examination of the subject fits in well in this series.  I won't go into as much detail in this blog as I did the others in the series because I don't want to infringe on the copyright of this author or her book, but I did want to address the notion of writing the entire first draft of a novel in 30 days.

     A friend and I were discussing procrastination and how long it takes to write a book sometimes when, as author, you take your time pushing out 1000 words a day, so when I first read the title of the book I envisioned that it was about actually writing the whole book in 30 days and the concept of writing an entire novel draft in just 30 days is something I find a bit mind-boggling. That is, after all, 2166 words a day to get 65,000 (a normal draft amount) done in 30 days. As someone who struggles to do 1000 a day (2000-3000 a day on a weekend), I think if I had to bang out 2166 or more every day after work, I would start to just write gibberish to make my word count. No, on second thought, it wouldn't be gibberish, but it wouldn't be stunning or moving the plot forward in any considerable way. So I was intrigued to see what Wiesner writes in "First Draft in 30 Days."

     Upon reading, I see that Wiesner doesn't advocate actually writing the book itself in 30 days, but writing the outline and character sketches in 30 days. That's a different concept than the title alluded to, for me, but I continued reading.  Wiesner starts out describing the goals she plans to visit. In a nutshell, it's:

1.)   Write the preliminary outline in 6 days;
2.)   Research the project in 7 days;
3.)   Write the story evolution in 2 days. Story evolution is described as outlining the main conflict and the story goals and completing character sketches;
4.)   Spend 9 days formatting the above outlines;
5.)   Spend 4 days evaluating the outlines;
6.)   Spend 2 days revising the outlines.

     In all, this pattern seems like a mix of general Outlining and the Snowflake or Marshall Plans.  I perceive a major limitation as being, as I've droned on about before, now that you've spend 30 days outlining the piece, you have 30 less days at your disposal to actually write it.  I do like that the outlining system Wiesner describes is more compact than others I've reviewed so that is a plus.

     One positive note that stood out to me from this book is the concept of brain-storming by creating mini-movies in the mind.  This resonated with me because all of my books and short stories (and proposed books and short stories) play out first in my mind like a movie, so I think this is a useful plot device. I also liked Wiesner's suggestions for overcoming writer's block.  She presents a series of 26 ideas, ten of which particularly appealed to me.  Two of them are to make a soundtrack for the current project and then to exercise or take a walk while listening to that soundtrack.  Interesting concept and I think it can help with creativity.  I, for one, hate to sit still for too long so moving about while listening to a "soundtrack" for the project in question seems like a fun, motivational concept.

     In the end, I would count this method as a variation on the Outline method I covered earlier, but I think the writer's block suggestion are a fun section of this book to peruse and consider.  Have you read it?  Did it work for you?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Writing Method #6: Note Cards and Sticky Notes

Writing Method #6: Note Cards and Sticky Notes

     In the last entry in my series on writing methods, I discussed Outlining, which flowed well with my preferred Linear method.  I've never used note cards as a writing method in themselves. That is entirely because I have obsessive compulsive tendencies and my fear is that if I relied on note cards, I could lose them. In days gone by, note cards were the top writer's tool.  Before the advent of computers, note cards were a step above just keeping a simple writer's notebook, because unlike a notebook, they could be shifted and moved to rearrange scenes and there was always room to add new scenes just by shuffling a new card in.

     I know of a few authors who have branched out from note cards to sticky notes. In this variation on the note card method, authors write out scenes and plot points on sticky notes and then arrange them on a larger surface, such as a wall, table top, or poster board, in a manner I refer to as story boarding. Since the sticky notes are, well, sticky, they stay in place and don't shift or blow around like a regular note card and they can be repositioned at will.

     What should be written on each note card or sticky note? Most writers who favor these methods use a new card for each main scene or plot point, much as someone using the Outline Method (  ) would use a new line for each new point.

     1.  Start with a note card for each chapter idea;
     2.  Add in a new note card for each scene within the chapter;
     3.  Give each character his or her own note card, when introduced for the first time;
     4.  Flag pivotal plot points or surprises by adding a star or sticker to certain note cards.

     Since I'm always thinking of ways to organize things even further, I would suggest that someone interested in using note cards to plan a novel, consider keeping them in a slotted photo album (you know, one of those with the little sleeves, two or three to a page, for the insertion of photographs) where they are easy to see and easy to move around, but not as easy to misplace. 

     On a plus side, note cards are easy to carry, easy to organize, and easy to discard, if necessary. My issue with this method is the transitional nature of it. I don't like so many moving parts that I can so easily misplace. Technology has been so nice as to find a solution for that, however.  There are several types of software on the market that create virtual note card systems for writers. Scrivener is one I've used personally as a software and, while it has a note card feature, I didn't find it as interactive as I would have thought was ideal. Others out there that I have not tried include: Mindola's Supernotecard, Text Block Writer, and Writer's Block. There is a lot I can say about name originality here but I'll let that one go. There is also a lot more I can say about novel writing software pros and cons, but I will leave that for another post in another series.

     Do you use note cards or sticky notes?  How do they work for you?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Writing Method #5: Outlining

Writing Method #5: Outlining

     Now I have to admit that I am a huge fan of outlining. I've never outlined an entire novel but I have outlined just about everything else in life. Like everyone else out there, I first learned outlining in elementary school and, since I went to an awesome Catholic School (I loved it there), I learned the proper way to outline. Later in life (well, high school and college), I used to shudder when I'd see people crafting sloppy, incomplete outlines. I've now moved past that (thankfully) and can come to accept the benefits of outlining without it having to be perfect.  The correct pattern of an outline is to have at least two items in every category and at least two categories per section.  For example:


     There should be no A, if you don't plan to have a B, etc.  So how does this method of basic writing, an excellent model for essay writing, apply to writing a novel?  First off, it's a faster, cleaner way of putting your ideas on paper, but I'm sure most writers already know that.  So what's the real benefit?  It's a good model for seeing how the story flows, how the main scenes follow one another.  The thing I like best about it is the ability to move scenes up and down as the story ebbs and flows. It's also extremely easy to interject new scenes as you progress.

     This is a style most suitable for those writers who only want to put general thoughts on paper, not for those who desire a more all-consuming novel writing approach, such as the Snowflake ( or Marshall ( methods.

     How would a sample novel outline flow?  A sample would look like:

   I. Section One:  The Set-Up

        A. Chapter One: Lucy arrives in town to attend her sister's wedding

        B. Chapter Two: The problems between Lucy and Martha come to a head when the groom disappears

        C. Chapter Three: The police arrive; Lucy gets involved

        D. Chapter Four: Aunt Jenn goes missing; Lucy starts her own investigation

        E. Chapter Five: The police investigator suspects Lucy; Lucy finds a major clue.

     Once the above is accomplished, it's now easy to go back and flesh out the next layer of the story, such as:

       E. Chapter Five: The police investigator suspects Lucy; Lucy finds a major clue.
           1. Detective Smith walks into the kitchen and finds Lucy in the knife drawer;
           2. Lucy discovers a shard of red glass in the knife drawer after Smith leaves.

     You get the picture....

    My enthusiasm for outlining is tied, of course, to my preference for a more Linear style of novel writing (as I captured in #1 in my series: Outlining helps keep ideas together and allows for movement of the story ideas up and down.  However, as I wrote earlier, I never outlined an entire novel all the way through but I have used it successfully in short story writing.  Have you used outlining while writing a novel?  How did it work out for you?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Methods of Writing #4: Marshall Plan

 Methods of Writing #4: The Marshall Plan 

   In my last three posts, I've explored some writing methods such as Linear, Snowflake, and Kiser. Tonight, I wanted to take a few minutes to explore the well-known Marshall Plan.  I know many writers who swear by the Marshall Plan. I haven't used it myself.  As I said, I'm not a big fan of the formulaic methods but I have to admit that, on the surface, the Marshall has promise.

    To go off on a tangent for a second, I love anything that feels like homework so I do like the fact that there is a workbook to go along with the instruction book.  I know, I know, how weird is that?  So the idea that there is a workbook is intriguing to me. However, I still feel that if I spend time filling in the workbook, I would be taking that time away from the actual writing of my book.

     There are 16 parts in all to the Marshall Plan. Step 1 is to decide what the is right novel for you to write. I agree that is important.  Personally, I think prospective authors need to pick the type of book that flows organically from their perspective and isn't just a case of "what's hot right now and what can I mimic?"

      Steps 2, 3, 4, and 5 cover shaping story ideas, creating the protagonist, writing the supporting characters, and formulating beginnings. There is a lot of good in building a strong foundation in these areas for new authors. After an author starts to get comfortable with the writing process, knowledge of how to master these areas should become common practice.

     As the Marshall Plan progresses, middle steps in the process cover story line progressions (Step 6) and learning how to surprise the reader and keep the interest flowing (Step 7).  It moves on in a natural flow to Step 8 which covers how to write effective endings.

     In all, the above Steps 1-8 cover the writing of the first draft of your book. Steps 9, 10, and 11 cover revising the draft and working on dialogue and action, among other writing topics.  It all leads to Step 12 which discusses creating the final draft. Steps 13 and 14 cover the editing process.

     The Marshall Plan moves towards an ending with Step 15 on writing proposals now that your book is finished. The final chapter (Step 16) covers how to approach editors and agents.

     After reviewing the Marshall Plan, my opinion is that it's an excellent plan for a first-time writer but I don't know if it has the same merits for a second book or a writer with a lot of experience.  I'd be willing to hear what others think.  Have you used the Marshall Plan?  Did you find the workbook helpful?  What do you think?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Methods of Writing: #3 Kiser

Methods of Writing: #3 Kiser

     While investigating different writing styles for my on-going blog series, I came across the Kiser Method.  This method allows writers to complete an entire manuscript in approximately nine months.  It's more of a hybrid of the truly methodical Snowflake Method I discussed last time and my Linear Style I discussed in the entry before that. It's also a good fit for people who like to be told what days to be creative and when not to be.

     The Kiser Method breaks writing into month-long chunks but it considers each month to have 25-days. That's more of a Venus month than an Earth month but it does allow the writer to take off three to six days a month (depending on if it's February or March, etc.)  Breaks are always good but planning to turn off creativity on certain days is an odd premise to me.  Sure, I don't write every, single day like I am supposed to but I also don't pre-plan my no-creativity periods in advance either.

     One thing to bear in mind about the Kiser Method is that the originator's goal for this plan is to turn out a 100,000-150,000 word novel in nine months.  The truth of the matter is that unless you are already a known commodity, good luck in selling an over 100,000 word novel out of the gate.  The going word rate for first and second novels right now are more in the 50,000 to 70,000 word ballpark. The good thing about the Kiser Method, in light of this, is that if it works for you, you may bang out your entire first draft in well less than nine months.

The Kiser Method has six main steps:

1.) Spend the first month planning out your novel. Use this time to decide on characters and location, outline, plan key scenes, and map as you see fit. Make sure you create a useable outline.  (Although it doesn't say it, I assume you decide on the story idea before sitting down to step one.  Depending on how many hours a day you put into this and how detailed your pre-scene work, character development, and location/setting planning is, you will be spending as much as 25-50 hours in month one just planning. );

2.) Month two is the first month you actually write.  Everything in month one was just mapping and out-lining. The plan here is to write 500 words a day for 25 days. That will produce 12,500 words in month one.  Then take five days off to read and edit the above product;

3.)  Spend months three, four, and five building on your original 12,500 words from month two.  The goal here is to know write 900 words a day for 25 days on, then take five days off.  Then write 900 words a day for 25 days on with another five days off. Repeat for a third month in a row. The plan is that at the end of month five, you should have 80,000 words;

4.)  Spend month six trying to knock out 1200 words a day for the last 25 days. You should end up with approximately 110,000 words;

5.)  Spend months seven, eight, and nine editing the above manuscript at a rate of seven pages a day.  You are allowed during this part of the process to add or delete words to streamline the manuscript into a finished product. It is still important in this process to stay true to your original outline from step #1 above. At the end of the ninth month, the manuscript should be complete;

6.) Spend months ten, eleven, and twelve resting before starting the process all over again on another novel.

     This all sounds very interesting and it has a great structure, but I am at a loss on the planned breaks in creativity. This,in my opinion, is too close to taking the art out of writing. I like the dedication of the specific word counts for each day because I actually love structure like that but making myself not write for five day blocks at a time at the end of every month and then taking a full three months off a year is just too much down-time for me when it's the whole process of writing and creation that I love so much.

     How about you?  Have you tried the Kiser Method?  How do you feel about the built-in down times?