National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, is right around the corner. Chances are, if you plan to participate this year, you’ve already started getting your materials together. But my question for you is, have you decided how you’re going to write your novel?
“Er, I’ll probably type it. How else would I do it?”
Okay, not exactly the answer to my question. Of course you’ll type it. But will you type it in Microsoft Word, Scrivener, or some other software? Do you plan to write it on your desktop or laptop? Or will you pull an E. L. James and type it on your phone while sitting by a pool (in November, mind you)?
Well, if you plan to type on Microsoft Word, a dedicated fiction app, or your window of great distraction (phone), I can’t help you. But if you plan to type it on Scrivener…
It’s my NaNoWriMo Basic Template, which I created last year for my work-in-progress Washed Up: A Pirate Adventure, and you can now download it directly from Drinking Café Latte at 1pm. In fact, you can check it out, along with some of my other templates, right here on my new writing template page. If you see anything else you like (and the list will be very small as of this writing), all you have to do is click the link, read the full description to make sure it’s right for you, then click the download (from Google Drive, if that matters).
Then after you try it out, come back to the description page and leave a comment letting me know what you think.
Hope it works out for you.
So without further ado, jump on over the new templates page and give it a try. And if you want, check out my other Scrivener template, Story Planning General (still a work-in-progress), if you like obsessive planning and complete from-scratch-to-published design work (read: insanity). It’s another way to bring your story from idea to “What Have I Done?” status.
Once again, if you want to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, check out my Scrivener template, NaNoWriMo Basic Template. It’s good stuff.
Remember the days when hunters would sit around a campfire inside a cave and tell each other ghost stories while waiting for the bears to leave camp? Yeah, me neither. But the good people at Campfire Technology haven’t forgotten. In fact, they’ve created not one, but two writing apps that can help recreate that lost storytelling moment, in a manner of speaking.
Okay, they’ve actually created one, Campfire Pro, then used it as a template to create the other, Campfire Blaze. But both apps, which are basically desktop and cloud versions of the same tool, can do a lot for your story planning. Probably more than most, actually.
And that’s why they’re worth a look.
But what can they do? How do they differ? Why are they worth it? I’ll highlight their key points below.
What They Do:
Both apps allow the user to create a vision board of attributes for:
What They Don’t Do:
Bring Order to Chaos*
*This is my snarky way of saying that the interface for both applications is quite messy and may require some handholding via their instruction manuals before diving in.
How They Differ:
Both apps do more or less the same things, but:
Campfire Pro is desktop only
Campfire Pro is legacy software, meaning it won’t receive new updates beyond bug fixes
Campfire Pro has a one-time charge of $50, plus $25 for the world-building pack should you want it (and you do)
Campfire Blaze adds a writing tool (so you can actually write your novel)
Campfire Blaze is module-based, meaning you only pay for what you’ll use
Campfire Blaze works in the cloud, so you can use it anywhere
Campfire Blaze has team and spectator modes for collabs
Campfire Blaze has a nice overview screen for progress reports
Campfire Blaze is subscription-based, with the option for a lifetime purchase (at the three-year price point)
I’m sure I’m leaving things out, but it’s worth taking a look at what each app has to offer. You can check them both out at Campfire Technology.
My Thoughts about Whether They’re Worth It:
I like what both apps bring to the table. Even though Campfire Pro is made strictly for story planning and world building, the amount of elements it allows you to customize or develop is practically unrivaled among all other writing apps, with its only worthy competitors being its successor, Campfire Blaze, and probably World Anvil, which I have not personally tried but hear is quite robust as a world builder.
Campfire Blaze takes everything that Campfire Pro can do and makes it better, especially the character and location builders. For example, Campfire Pro has four default categories for developing characters. You can add more, but it comes with four. Campfire Blaze comes with a complete flowchart of attributes, probably as many as a hundred, that you can select and populate, then answer inside of the resultant fields. It’s crazy in a good way. Most everything that Campfire Pro does competently, Campfire Blaze tries to improve on, especially in the user interface.
Except with timelines.
Timelines in Campfire Pro are tricky to navigate.
Timelines in Campfire Blaze are ridiculous and the kinds of things the Codebreakers of WWII would’ve had trouble figuring out.
I don’t like it.
Not at all.
That’s my main gripe with either Campfire program, but especially with Campfire Blaze.
Now, it should be mentioned that Campfire Pro is a legacy program, so it won’t get any new additions or updates. Campfire Blaze is essentially its successor, so any new features that Campfire Anything gets, it’ll go to Blaze. So, if you’re interested in either program, you’ll probably want Blaze, but you’ll also want to preview the instructions to make sure you understand how to use it. As far as user learning curves go, Campfire Pro and Blaze sit below Scrivener, but stand above most everything else on the market. Neither one is particularly easy to use, and unless your imagination is wild, I can’t imagine you jumping in without feeling a little overwhelmed by their available options. But if you want a program that really goes above and beyond the norm, I don’t think you’d do wrong with either Pro or Blaze. The choice comes down to how much you’re willing to spend.
Note: Campfire’s selling point above other apps is its world-building features. If you’re in the market for a story development tool but just want one, you should really take a look at its world-building tools before committing to a purchase of any writing app. It may be the game-changer you’re looking for.
Note 2: Because Campfire Blaze is coming out of beta as of this writing, it will still have a few missing or unfinished features (including the research and writing modules). The open beta will be ongoing until the end of October, so there’s still time to check it out for free. If you buy Campfire Pro before Blaze officially launches in November, you’ll also get three months of Blaze free and one module of your choice permanently free (I’d go with the character designer personally). If you already own Campfire Pro, then you’ll get a free module for however many years you’ve had it (so, one module for 2020, two for 2019, and three for 2018).
Note 3: Campfire sometimes has affiliate deals with ProWritingAid and other writer resources for deep discounts. You just have to be subscribed their newsletters to get the offer. You should sign up for any newsletter you can in the indie writer space so you don’t miss anything.
Imagine this: You’re meeting the love of your life for the very first time today, but you don’t yet realize s(he) is the love of your life. At best, you’re hopeful that something good will come of this first date, so you prepare for the best case scenario. You put on your best clothes. You dress yourself in whatever accessories, confections, or other aids will help you make your best first impression. You prepare yourself to the best of your ability. You want this person to like you, so you want to make sure you don’t waste the opportunity to keep her/him coming back for a second round.
The art of the first impression is not just good for dating, but it’s also good for storytelling.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This episode will cover Les Edgerton’s educational opus on how to properly open your novel, Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go.
This book will talk everything openings, and this video will talk some things Hooked.
There’s an age-old question in the writing community: Are you a plotter or a pantser? When a random stranger approaches you at Walmart, carrying a garden rake and a bag of dog food, and he or she asks you this question, what do you say?
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This episode will cover Steven James’s excellent guide on how to pants your way to victory, Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules.
If you love writing but hate plotting, then check out this book, and check out this video based on this book.
When was the last time you sat down to write a novel and thought, Er, how do I do this again? Or, I guess the better question is, when was the last time you sat down to write a novel? But assuming that answer is something other than “never,” you may have discovered that writing a novel is hard, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. Today’s writing resource book, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, will tell you what you should be doing.
Specifically, it breaks down the structure of story, using the “six core competencies of successful writing.” In other words, it teaches you how to write a cohesive novel that publishers would buy and readers would read, assuming you understand and follow its guidelines.
It also emphasizes the differences between “plotting” and “pantsing.” If you’ve heard these terms and have no idea what they mean, then read the book, and watch the video I recorded about reading the book.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. Today we will be focusing on Anne Lamont’s ode to the writing life, in her masterpiece Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. If you have not read this book, be aware that you’re ignoring a classic of the genre. This book is almost as essential to the writer’s bookshelf as last week’s Stephen King’s On Writing, even though you may ask yourself why that’s true after you’ve finished reading it. Look, don’t question the classics! They’re important because important people say they are. I don’t know whom these important people are. They just are, okay? Things were different in the early ‘90s when it was originally released. Don’t second-guess it! Just watch the video here. Then check out your copy below. It’s a classic. You know that, right?
Cynicism toward yesteryear’s classics aside, it actually is a good book that you should read if you want to prepare yourself not only for the writing life but for the structured life.
Years ago when I started this blog and took my YouTube channel more seriously, I dreamed of presenting a limited book review series about the books writers might want to invest in, to further their craft, including, and especially, the books that I’ve read and learned from that still sit on my bookshelf. However, I’ve put this idea off to the side because I wasn’t sure if I should write book reviews for each title or simply create a Goodreads style list for my top favorites. In either case, I couldn’t see much benefit in doing these things for myself, or the budding writer, because if I reviewed every book, then I wouldn’t be spending that precious time writing my own book, and isn’t putting their lessons into practice the point of reading these books? On the other hand, simply populating a list of top recommended books doesn’t do much justice into why I recommend them.
At some point, I’d settled on a median where I could talk about them in an informal style, but instead of writing about them, I could speak into a camera about them. Of course, when I had that idea, I had no way of recording my face, just my voice, because I had no good camera, just an old digital Fuji from 2004 that ran on four AA batteries. If people wanted to hear just my voice, then I’d be better off with a podcast, and that would require having a better microphone. No idea was a good idea.
But, of course, the no good idea became something of a half-hopeful idea.
In 2019, I was forced to replace my old flip phone with an Android, and by doing so, I was now able to get my hands on a digital recording device that I could actually upload to YouTube. It was pretty nice. But there was still a problem present: I still had to hold the camera when I spoke into it. Hardly useful if I want to show viewers my book collection while I talk about it. Closer than I’d been, but still not what I needed to do it well.
Fast-forward to the present work-at-home world we live in, and I’ve been forced to buy a webcam and a nice backdrop, too. And a better microphone. With those things in place, I can now stand far enough from an anchored camera to speak and display books while I talk, which means I’ve run out of excuses for delaying this series, which, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve dreamed about doing for years.
The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources.
This series will contain 16 episodes a season, with each season focusing on a particular theme, and season one focusing on the writing life and story structure. The plan is to debut a new title every Friday at 10am EST on my YouTube channel until the end of the year, and then start up a new season sometime in the spring.
The way it’ll work is that I’ll tell viewers about “this week’s book,” why they should want it, and what to expect from it, or how it can help them if they read it. I’ll do so through loose, one-sided conversations with them. What I won’t do is talk about every detail or get into every point the book makes. The emphasis is that the book is one you should read if you care about improving your writing career, but if you want to get the most out of it, you’ll have to actually read it. I’ll also encourage viewers to post links to their blogs or Wattpad profiles if they want to share something they’ve written based on something they’ve learned. I’ll also post new articles simultaneously on this blog to announce which book we’ll be covering that day and embed a link to the video so anyone can check it out.
You can watch the seven-minute introduction to the series here.
And when you’re done with that, you can check out our first book of the series:
Yep, did you really think we’d start with anything else? Watch the video here.
Oh, and if you care about high quality videos, then you’ll have to wait until I can afford a better camera and a better studio setup for that. One way you can help expedite that process is to encourage at least 10,000 of your friends to buy copies of my e-books (the ones that actually cost something), which you can check out via the side panel. You do have 10,000 friends, right?
Writing a novel is no straightforward process, in spite of what the “experts” may say.
Okay, the experts, whoever they are, make no actual claim that writing a novel is straightforward, though the pantsers (like me) will argue that it comes pretty close, given that we start at the beginning and drive toward the ending, discovering as much as we can along the way (hardly straightforward, even though the momentum is almost always forward). In reality, of course, writing a novel takes planning, dedication, and follow-through, with a heavy dose of insanity—I mean organization—and reaching its proper ending will require seeing it at both the big picture level and the micro-scenic level. In short, writing a novel means you gotta have some foresight. There’s no way around that.
But I didn’t always have a problem with that.
For years, I would just open a document in Microsoft Word, crank out a chapter in a day or two (or sometimes a week if I let it get too large), and move on to the next one, making sure to save it in a folder dedicated to the novel. Once I’d finish the last chapter (usually six weeks to a year later, depending on the novel), I’d read what I have, take notes on what I like and what I don’t, and then move on to the next revision. Then somewhere along the line I’d decide that something doesn’t work, at which point I’d start adding, moving, or removing scenes, relabeling my documents to something better reflective of its current state, and make such an atrocious mess of my work that nothing would make sense anymore, yet I’d somehow bring it back together, and then I’d shelve it for a few years until somebody would ask me if I’ve written anything lately, to which I’d say no, then go back and see if I actually like that old novel that I blew up in the rewrites now, because, hey, somebody reminded me that I should really finish what I started because, hey, I’m not exactly starting on anything new. At that point, I’d take note of the scenes I like, try to rethink the ones I don’t, and then shelve the thing yet again for another few years because now I have no idea where to begin fixing it.
(Okay, I’m referring specifically to my first thriller, Panhandler Underground, which I wrote in 2005 but put on the shelf until a time I could make sense of the main character’s profession. Fortunately, I’ve ordered my copy of the Occupation Thesaurus, out now, and should receive it in the mail soon, so maybe I can finally sort this dude out and get his story back on its proper track.)
Nowadays, I find that organizing a novel is as difficult as writing it, especially when I go back and try to repair the damage I’ve already done to an existing novel, so coming up with a plan to make sense of it all is necessary. But merely going back through all of my Microsoft Word documents and trying to remember where everything is supposed to go is madness when my memory is so bad that I often read a story I like, check the author to see if he’s got anything else I might enjoy, and discover my own name on the front cover. (Okay, this doesn’t happen with my published titles, but it definitely happens with old stories I find in my documents folder. The fact that my name is on it is the only proof I have that I wrote it because I don’t remember a thing about it.) Because this is no way to work, I’ve decided it’s time to implement a new system for organization.
This is where I’ve decided to integrate multiple resources into my writing workflow, each one dedicated to a particular function within the writing process, and each one designed to keep me on track.
For the record, I just put together a video about this, which you can watch for more information, but the short version is this:
If I’m writing a novel from scratch or nuking a story that no longer works in favor of starting over, then I’ll want to begin conceptualizing with the Snowflake Method and using the software dedicated to the Snowflake Method, Snowflake Pro, to accomplish this goal. This will allow me to develop the idea and move it through all ten steps toward a fully-fledged outline.
Next, I’ll want to develop the flowchart and additional character and/or scene details (like setting or items) that Snowflake Pro doesn’t visualize for an alternative way to see the story from a bird’s eye view. I can use Plottr or Campfire Pro (or Plot Factory or some other story planning software) to create the visual map, as well as fill in the additional details that Snowflake Pro doesn’t cover. If I use actual maps (created with Campaign Cartographer 3+, for example), then I’ll want to use a program like Campfire Pro to tie my maps to their descriptions. Using these programs, I can create the world and backstory I need to understand my characters and their motivations better, as well as to keep track of the nitpicky items in their lives that I’ll want to remember and quickly access at some point.
Once I have a clue what the story is about, then I can start writing my scenes in Microsoft Word. Or, if I’m revising an existing story, I can write whichever scenes are still missing.
Note: If I’m revising a novel, which is my case for The Computer Nerd, I probably won’t use the first two development steps unless I need to go for a complete rewrite, which is currently my case for The Fallen Footwear. The exception would be if I wanted to create an outline or summary or synopsis of an existing novel for verification of its integrity or for various marketing purposes. I would also map an existing novel if I know I’m going to write a sequel, as having a snapshot of the previous story would be immensely helpful in developing a new chapter for its characters, because, you know, my memory sucks.
Once I’ve written my scenes, I can move them into Scrivener, where I can then write notecard summaries and provide status labels to help me determine whether the scene is in its proper location and achieving its proper goal. From the notecard view, I can make a more informed judgment about whether the existing work is, in fact, working.
So, that’s the current workflow I’m using to either write or revise my novels. Are you a writer? What’s your workflow? Let me know in the comments below.