Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf, you budding screenwriter you. Oh, wait, you’re not a screenwriter? Hmm. Too bad, because you can learn a lot from this week’s book, Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting. But even if you’re not a screenwriter (and if you’ve been following along this series for the last twelve weeks, my guess is that you’re either really bored on a Friday night, or you’re actually a novelist or aspiring novelist who’s desperate for information on how to do this thing right), you can get plenty out of this book because it covers all of the story essentials, but, and here’s the secret sauce, it comes from the voice of the guy who coaches the Oscar winners on how to write good stories.
Want to learn more? Watch my video, where I discuss its pros and cons, its merits and failures, its weight and cost, its . . . well, just watch the video for why I recommend it.
Don’t forget to like, subscribe, and do all the things that YouTubers tell you to do.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. Continuing on the theme of writing well-structured stories through the aid of plotting and/or pantsing methods, this week we turn to a different kind of method that challenges both plotting and pantsing: the Snowflake Method. In his books, How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method and How to Write a Dynamite Scene Using the Snowflake Method, Randy Ingermanson teaches readers how to write novels using his signature move, the Snowflake Method.
Want to learn more about the Snowflake Method and why it may help you if you squirm at the idea of plotting or pantsing? Read Randy Ingermanson’s books. Want to learn more about his books? Watch my video, in which I discuss them and set the record straight on whether you, too, should read them (and why getting copies of these books is better for your writing career than you may realize; hint: It may provide you access to something you’ll really want, for free!).
Don’t forget to discuss what you’ve learned from these books and this series in the comments below, and on the YouTube channel. Not sure if you’ve been doing that, but you should.
Once upon a time, a famous screenwriting guru wrote a book about saving cats. Sometime later, a young author decided to adapt his principles to write a new companion reference book about saving cats for novels. In this week’s episode of the Writer’s Bookshelf, we will be covering the novelist’s foray into feline salvation, Jessica Brody’s take on the 15 beats of genre fiction in Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need, based on Blake Snyder’s original Hollywood how-to guide, Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need.
Pro Tip: You’ll actually need at least six more books on writing novels because that’s how many episodes we have left this season, and you should watch all the videos I’ve recorded on the topic, including this video. But don’t let the people at Save the Cat! know I said that.
Years ago, a well-known author told me about a book that helped him develop his personal writer’s journey. That book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler, is this week’s focus in the ongoing saga known as the Writer’s Bookshelf.
What is it exactly? Well, in short, it’s the book that Vogler first wrote as a seven-page memo to Disney and later expanded into a short, twenty-something-page “Practical Guide,” as a means to reiterate Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” archetype as presented in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, so that Disney writers might write screenplays (and stories) that put the hero’s journey on display and the customer’s money in their hands. Because the model worked out so well, including for The Lion King, which the memo was written for, he expanded the memo and the Practical Guide again to this 500-page masterpiece that any writer can use to better his storytelling.
If you’re writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, then you probably should’ve started already. But if you’re still warming up to the idea, or if you just want to use November as a warm-up month and go for the main event in December (because why do you need a month to tell you what to do?), then you’ll probably want to start planning for it.
Unless you’re a discovery writer (or organic, or pantser, or whatever your label of choice—it’s all the same), which is perfectly fine, you may want a plotting tool to help you prepare.
Have you heard of Plottr yet? I’ve probably mentioned it on this blog already, but in case I haven’t, it works like this:
You “create a book” on a series page, give it a title, tagline, short synopsis, and series number (standalones get “1” as their number), and if you have cover art finished, you can attach it to a 3D mockup. Then you click on the book you want to work on and enter the construction zone (my term, not theirs).
Inside the construction zone, you can begin planning your book by creating a timeline, list of characters and places, and establishing keywords to mark important metadata.
Sounds simple and basic, right?
That’s kind of the point. It’s simple. But hardly basic.
Once you enter the timeline, you can create plots and subplots, establish chapters and scenes within those chapters, character arcs, etc., but you can also color code everything, insert characters and places inside the scene cards (while also describing them), and tag to your heart’s content.
And best of all, you can import premade templates from some of your favorite story structure devices, including the Hero’s Journey, Save the Cat!, and most recently, the Snowflake Method. In fact, you can also import your existing Snowflake Pro file directly into Plottr (as of October 23rd). So, if you’d rather use an established method over your own, you have plenty to choose from (at least a dozen different structure and beat types).
For creating characters, you can import a template or create (and save) your own. For places, you can do the same. For items…well, that part isn’t available yet, but Plottr is adding new features all the time, so I’d expect to see that available soon enough. You can actually see their active roadmap here, as well as post your own suggestions.
But since this is a review, I think it’s fair to list some of its problems:
It’s still a work-in-progress, so it’s missing some options that are sorely needed, including custom sorting inside of character and place menus, as well as the ability to update your existing template with new entries without having to create a new template (and forgetting which version number you’re saving to now). It doesn’t have features for tracking items, nor does it prepopulate with expected tags like “inciting incident” or “main character” or any of the elements that most writers would like to have available. And, well, it’s an outlining tool, not a writing tool, so you’ll still need another program to do the actual writing.
But it does have an interactive timeline with adjustable boxes, and that’s probably all you really need, especially if you’re coming from other story development software that maybe don’t have as good or intuitive of a timeline feature. It doesn’t track actual time, though, but I think it’s coming, maybe (check the roadmap to be sure). It also has an outline view that you can export to your preferred writing app, as long as it’s Microsoft Word or Scrivener, so you don’t have to worry about switching back and forth as you write.
And don’t forget to check out Plottr’s templates if you give it a try. The premade templates are there to increase its value and usefulness, and I highly recommend you look into them if you’re not sure how to start.
Finally, there is a 30-day trial available, and if you do commit to the purchase (and you should because it’s my favorite story developing app so far), it’s just $25 for the program and a year of free updates ($37 if you want Windows and Mac access). You’ll have to renew that fee after the first year to keep getting updates, but you’re not required to buy it a second time to keep using it. If you’re happy with its functionality by the end of your subscription period, you can keep using that version indefinitely.
So, there’s no reason not to give it a try, unless you’re really, really broke. And if that’s your situation, I hope it gets better soon.
Also, if you want a video demonstration of Plottr, you can check out its tutorials on Plottr’s website (recommended) or my review on my YouTube channel (also recommended).
Don’t forget to like, subscribe, and comment below if this article has helped you, entertained you, or kept you from starting your honey-do list.
P.S. I may be uploading some of my own character and place attributes templates here soon.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This episode will cover Lisa Cron’s second dive into the reader’s brain, Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere). Her first dive, Wired for Story, is probably also worth reading, but I haven’t read it, nor do I own it yet (as of this writing), so I cannot comment on it. But Story Genius, I can comment on plenty, and if you check out this video, you can see me commenting on it plenty.
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.