Scrivener: Best Writing Tool in the Author Utility Belt

Today we’re going to talk about a writing tool that changed the way I write (and maybe even my life):

SCRIVENER (!!!) Keep in mind when I talk about Scrivener, I’m only referring to how I use it to produce my novels. There are lots of other options – Non-Fiction, Scriptwriting, Poetry and Lyrics – but I am unfamiliar with those steps. I’m in no way an affiliate, either – strictly a fiction indie author who highly recommends this program to interested writers.

Now, for today’s lesson, I’m using screenshots I took of my second book, Witch Hearts, as well as a shot of the upcoming second Donovan Circus book. (No spoilers.) Keep in mind in mind these are notes for your own reference, so you can put in whatever information you want; readers aren’t going to see this show up in your published books.

Let’s start with my favorite part about the program: it gives me the ability to rearrange my chapters and scenes in seconds. Screen shot 2013-07-06 at 10.57.54 PM

The drag and drop is perfect for writers like me. I don’t write my chapters in order; in fact, I typically have the first and last few scenes done before anything else and then I have to connect the dots in the middle to figure out how they got from Point A to Point Z. When I wrote Gifted, I used Word, which is admittedly fine for anyone to write a book. Not a problem at all – but it’s a little inconvenient when I’m looking for a particular chapter or I’ve copied and pasted a scene in the wrong spot.

My next favorite thing in Scrivener: Creating Characters 

I love using the character sketches to keep track of my character quirks and personalities. Once again, Word is fine and I put pen to paper for many of my circus characters. Using the charts for Witch Hearts, however, I discovered the main points of who the character is and what makes them tick.

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I also love that you can add in photos for your own inspiration while you write. Creating the character behind the face is always fun for writers and Scrivener notes a few qualities that might get you jumpstarted. They cover the basics of course (name, relationship to protagonist, occupation, physical appearance), but you can also list background, external and internal conflicts, and of course you can add whatever else the character needs. (You can also write out settings sketches.)

The composition mode is also a win in my book – I tend to get easily distracted when writing. I have to cut myself off from the wifi when I settle in for a session or I’ll play on Facebook for 45 minutes. So when I can hit that button and make it go to a one-column, in your face document, my focus is better. Plus I still have a toolbar that pops up at the bottom to give me options on the best view. I’ll also add that there’s a fantastic feature to Show Project Targets that shows my word count and can also show word goals, if you make them (for example, I’m shooting for at least 80K words in the next circus book; by seeing my goals met or my halfway point, it gives me a better idea of how scenes fit together or if I can add on that conversation I deleted and can edit later).

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When it came time to put my first book together, I totally forgot about the standard stuff, like the dedication and copyright pages. Luckily, Scrivener has these ready to add which made the second round so much easier to compile. I also love the easy Search Document feature, plus how simple it was to upload the book cover for the ebook version. (And it’s just as simple working with paperback formatting, too.)

And then of course there’s the compile feature – here’s where the bang for your buck lies – you can control your page set up (margins, page sizes, etc.) as well as save your file as a .mobi (Kindle) or .epub (Sony/iPhone/Nook) file. So.much.time saved. You can also save as a PDF.

FYI, there’s also a terrific article at The Creative Penn for three top reasons Scrivener is your new friend. She’s got a great point about using Project Binders with your research and photos, but as I haven’t used that feature, you should let her explain it.

You can download a copy of Scrivener for Mac over at Literature & Latte. The program is also available for PCs and if you’re feeling hesitant about spending $40 on it, you can try out the free trial version. I’m pretty sure you get the idea, but I can’t recommend this program enough if you’re looking for a new tool. Word is fine, but I feel more organized, more in control, and more comfortable with Scrivener than I ever have with any other writing program. If you give it a try, I hope you do too!

Author Evolution: Confidence and Stronger Writing

Several times now I’ve gone back to look at my debut novel. Gifted, a Donovan Circus Novel will always hold a special place in my heart. It was my first title, my first self-published book, my first true attempt to really put my writing out there. And luckily, it’s been well-received by most readers (and even with the not-so-favored, I’ve learned a couple things from their reviews).

However, I often find mistakes. I wish I’d written a section differently, added or subtracted things or words from certain scenes, or whatever. You get the idea. Authors often talk about how they’re so glad that their first books weren’t picked up by traditional authors because when they look back on them now, it’s embarrassing. Obviously, I feel differently. I was (and am) so proud of Gifted, so eager to put it out into the world and not a day goes by that I’m not proud of this achievement. I just can’t see myself in ten years frowning at the decision. And I can’t wait to dive back into the second title and hang out with my characters, meet new people, and introduce the next villain. GiftedCover

I started writing Gifted when I was 23. Between life events and plucking up the courage to self-publish after I got tired of waiting to hear back from potential agents/publishers, I was 27 when Gifted became a real book outside of my computer. Because it was my first novel (and partly because I thought I was only writing for me before it took on its own life form), I hadn’t really found my writing style yet. I’m not a beautiful, prosey writer. I’m not quite as succinct as Hemingway, though many of my friends usually say that’s a good thing. I am painfully uncomfortable about situations where I have to say what I write. When I tell them the genre or plot, I’ve always braced myself for an eye roll or that “Are you kidding?” look. Take for instance the Roanoke writers conference – when a new friend said she’d love to read my book I had in my bag, I apologized as I handed it to her, telling her it was “nothing like the other authors here at this thing.” For a moment, I hesitated about my freshman, self-published fantasy book in the midst of serious non-fiction and the classics-loving reading groups.

Then I remembered that I have readers, too. I have people who want to read Gifted’s sequel and the few who’ve read Witch Hearts saying they liked it even more than Gifted. I feel confident now in a way I didn’t before Gifted. My second title, Witch Hearts, is due out this spring. It’s a very different book from Gifted. It’s an adult title, a paranormal thriller mystery with some romance (okay, an urban fantasy but my definition is more accurate). It dives into some spooky territory I didn’t know my mind could create. My villain is a worst nightmare, the details creepier than before, and the tension, I feel, racketed up more than Gifted ever achieved. My writing, it seems, has grown in my experience with writing for magazines (I have word counts!). It has grown in my reading lots of other books and trying lots of different authors in the genres I love. (I can afford this because I buy $0.99-$4.99 indie books on my Kindle/app, by the way. Just sayin’.)

It seems to me, my friends, that we as writers will grow more each time we write down new words. The upside to your writer’s growth, especially in a series (at least I hope), is that the books – with sharp writing and well-developed characters – will only get better. I love Gifted with all my heart, but I know several mistakes to avoid and styles I’ll roll with this time. Because I’m now (slightly) more comfortable thanks to experience, support, and Scrivener, I hope I continue to grow and make my writing better. I want each book to be better than the last and for my readers to love every new word.

I mean, someone out there reads paranormal mystery thrillers with romance and murder (not at the same time). You guys are probably here for a good reason, right?

What Makes a Strong Female Character?

I’m getting ready to write a guest post for the wonderful Laura Howard and I’d LOVE your help. I want to know what makes a strong female character. While I’ll do my best not to bother including the book-with-sparkly-vamps-that-shall-not-be-named, I can’t guarantee it, but my focus is on what YOU, the readers, look for in a strong heroine.

For example, I think one of the reasons my main character from Gifted, Lucy, is strong because even though she doubts her abilities (despite everyone around her being impressed), she still does what she can to push herself. She doesn’t want to grow lazy or lose her talent, so she keeps at it, knowing she can’t depend on anyone but herself to get better. It’s not necessarily about being better than other Firestarters or proving her worth to others – more like she wants to grow as a gifted being, to do her very best even if it doesn’t make her the best. Does that make sense?

Another great example is, of course, Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series, but what is it about her that makes her a strong female character? Her intellect is sharp, sure, and she can do better magic than almost everyone else. But that’s something about her, I feel, that helps mold her into who she is. It’s who she grows into that makes her strong, her ability to stand up for what’s right, her passion to help others, the determination she has to help her friends. Anyone can be smart, but that doesn’t necessarily make them a great character.

I better save some characters and their quirks up my sleeve for the actual post, but what do you all think? I’d love to hear it in the comments so that I might include it in the post for Laura’s readers! (Plus, it helps give me great ideas on how to strengthen my own characters and make sure I’m giving you the best I got! See? It’s actually for purely selfish reasons.) It can be whatever you think makes a great female character. Name some examples of your favorites and why they rock!

Love Is (Not) All You Need…When It Comes to Characters

I love Love. Really, I do! I’m a happily married kid who secretly loves romantic comedies despite a predictably sappy ending. But when it comes to writing stories (and this might be a major moment), I disagree with the Beatles. Love is not all you need. Love at first sight? I have a hard time not rolling my eyes. The girls who sit at home by the phone (I’m dating myself–the girls who wait for their text messages or smartphones to light up?), I want to sit down and have a heart to heart with them. And damsels in distress? You can’t hear my sound effects, but my reaction is a little like this: Gross.

It’s my opinion that characters should progress in a natural way when writing. When writers introduce characters, we usually know how they’ll interact with each other. We know all about the love interest (regardless of how big a role they play) and expect a certain amount of emotions to come into play. It’s up to us to show the relationship develop, to make the reader believe, no matter what the storyline, that this protagonist and love interest want/need/should be together. We want readers to fall in love with our characters, with their history and future, to take concern when problems arise, and to cheer when a protagonist succeeds. When it comes to writing love, however, we have to make the reader absolutely cheer for them.

I knew my protagonist would have love interests. It helps create interest, round out other characters with their reactions, and hopefully make you like the story that much more. My thing was that I really didn’t want it to be the focus of the story; I wanted people to cheer for Lucy and whatever love interest she had, but more importantly, I wanted readers to cheer for LUCY. I want people to see her as strong and independent. She’s okay being by herself because it’s been that way the last half of her life. She stands up for herself, tries to protect others, and has no patience for knights in shining armor. That was my own personal rule: Lucy can find love, but it won’t become her everything. It would enrich her life (or drive her nuts), but it wouldn’t define her. (I plan to do a post on female protagonists being all “I am Woman, hear me roar” soon, too.)

My other problem is that I want love to be believable. I found when writing a magical circus that I wanted to stick to some rules and logic should applied to all of them to better help readers catch up to an already established world (also another post on that later). I’ve never believed in love at first sight and I made Lucy very practical. She’s 23, trying to establish a place for herself. That means that boys, while a nice bonus, are not all that matter to her when what she really wants is to be a part of the Donovan family. Writing her with one love interest was almost easy to me, because I knew their relationship so well. I’ve noticed other readers are rooting for them, because they can believe in it, yet they understand that it wouldn’t become Lucy’s entire world under any circumstances. What can I say? Girl’s got priorities.

Time counted for my rules, too. If each book is one city they visit (as is my hope), then I had to stretch out my time. I needed to keep a schedule of days for their show, because I didn’t want everything happening within three or four days; I wanted to show that the circus is in town for a while and in doing so, give Lucy time to fall for a boy or two in a realistic way (3 weeks might not be long either, but it’s better than insta-love in 3 days). By having my main character constantly think things through (thinking it’s nuts to fall in love instantly), realize her biggest priorities (clearing her name of murder), and stay focused to who she is (she wants nothing more than to be a great Firestarter), I feel I’ve kept her pretty real. At least I’d want to be friends with her because she’d try to come up with a plan if in trouble or at least not ditch me when a cute boy’s around.

M. Leighton and Courtney Cole both are great examples of terrific love stories. I love the main characters, their relationships with their favorite men, and the outcomes of their situations. The thing was with their stories, however, is that the characters already  knew their loves, had a history with them in particular ways. I think it could be easier to write love that’s, say, developed over the years through friendship (a best friend’s older brother), as opposed to strangers who just met twenty minutes ago. Lucy meets all these people for the first time and while she’s very attracted to a boy or two, she’s realistic enough to put herself first (think of it as career-oriented).

Teens are a little harder, as I’m finding out in my YA piece, because my main character Nova is also logical. That is, her circumstances have made her that way. After she loses someone close to her, she pushes her old self away (her old self being an energetic, normal, boy crazy teenage girl), and her priorities simply change (justice/vengeance). Boys are still super cute of course and she’d enjoy a makeout session, but her thoughts are otherwise occupied with finding a killer. However, with her being a teenager, and trying to move on with her life, I’m finally giving her a love interest that is wonderful for Nova, but doesn’t hold her back from her…evening activities. I want people to root for her, to come back from a dark time in her life and find light and love that’ll keep her on an even keel.

My point is, I think writers should tread carefully when writing in love and relationships. It’s one thing for one-night stands or whatever. I’m talking about “can’t live without you, would kill anyone who hurt you” kind of love and if you ask me (and several other readers I know), we don’t want to see insta-love. We want to see an organic relationship develop, even if it’s under extreme circumstances. No matter who saves my life, I won’t fall in love with them the next day; teens might feel “insta-love,” but it still needs to be explained well in order for the reader to believe it–and support it.