Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A fascinating look at the mechanics of writing a novel

Gary Corby writes delightful and fun mysteries set "in the mean streets of Classical Athens."  When you read his work you are transported back in time by prose that looks effortless.

That kind of work doesn't just flow off the pen.  Well, actually it does.  Then he has to go back and revise and polish to make it look effortless.   Here's one of the tools he uses to SHOW rather than tell (ha!)

These kinds of graphs are amazingly useful.  I've created more than a few myself when novels I've been reading seemed out of whack.  When you can see an imbalance in character's page time it makes it easier to know who gets chopped, or beefed up. It can also show you if the climax to the novel is in the wrong place, or (heaven forfend) missing altogether.

If you're revising your novel, this kind of graph might give you some very interesting insights.


Margaret Yang said...

Awesome. I make a similar chart but mine is done at the outline stage.

Alyson Greene said...

Wow, I think you need to save a copy so whenever you have someone whine about being rejected, you can just show them the spread sheet and say "you're not working hard enough."

Laura Campbell said...

I'm about to get into the revision stage of my mystery novel. This is definitely something I'm going to try out to help me through the daunting process. Thanks!

Charlie Pulsipher said...

But, I'm leaving the hotel industry to get away from spreadsheets. Oh well. There is no escape.
Funny Stuff I Write And Draw

Marybk said...

Fascinating approach. Shared it with my online writer's group. I might just give it a try.

Gilbert J. Avila said...

I'm old-fashioned--I still like to use index cards on the wall and colored strings linking things.

A Funny Daddy. said...

I use pencil, paper, scissors, eraser, and UML.

I faced this problem when writing my FRAN series. Halfway through FRAN One, I realised it was difficult to keep track of the story’s time line and the ideas I was conceiving. So I adapted a methodology I use in my day (aka pay) job.

Get long roll of paper (e.g. back of wallpaper) or stick several sheets together.

Mark off wide vertical columns for each chapter.

Top of each column: title and summary of chapter. Add word count as you complete chapters; helps balance book.

Down each column write brief sentences of what happens, and their order. Introduce characters, scenes, etc in columns. Add notes to columns as you develop ideas.

Horizontal lines between columns link actions, themes, ideas and helps visualise their duration.

Eraser removes mistakes :-), scissors to cut columns to rearrange them, if necessary.

The second and third FRAN’s have been sketched out in this manner, and it really focuses the mind.

You can do this on a computer (which I do at work), but hey ho, I do prefer the tactile feel of pencil and paper. Those familiar with UML will see I have used nothing more than swim lanes, activity and sequence diagrams. Bet you never thought UML could be used for story writing. :-) :-)

Amy said...

Hi Janet! I'm so glad you posted this link. I've been having trouble revising my novel and Gary's system will definitely help me. Thanks!

Kristin Laughtin said...

Wow. I needed this for my last novel, especially since it was the first story I wrote with a very large cast of characters. I thought they'd all be balanced in terms of appearances and involvement, but once I started writing, ended up with a lot of awkward moments where a character didn't show up for ages or where they weren't doing enough to justify their existence. When I go to rewrite it, creating a chart like this will be my first step!