The tools for writing short stories and novels are the instruments that make planning and writing your stories that much easier to manage and organise. They include everything from the old-fashioned pen and paper and notepad to a vast array of novel writing software available online to download.
Well-organised writers fair better with their writing than those who are somewhat disorganised, simply because their approach is controlled and ordered and they have all their resources to hand.
Every writer will have the basic tools of writing: Computer, word processor or an old-fashioned typewriter, the obligatory pen and paper, dictionary, a generous amount of creativity and a wild imagination. There are, however, other tools that a writer can utilise to help keep organised; especially as writing a novel has a tendency to generate lots of paper, and most of them are already at your disposal.
Novel Writing – Planning Tools
The basic thing for any writer planning a novel is the development of the story arc and the characters that inhabit that story, the construction of a story from the ground upward. You don’t have to plan every single thing or nuance that happens, because novels never go exactly according to plan, but getting some basics down gives you a guideline to follow and keeps a sense of management over your novel.
How a writer approaches novel planning is a personal, subjective thing, but there are plenty of useful tools to help us organise ourselves, things like Mind Maps, Timelines, Lists, Charts and Spreadsheets, databases and computer programs, all there to make our life easier.
These are so useful for brainstorming your initial ideas. They consist of bubble or wire diagrams used to represent ideas, tasks or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. They help a writer to visualise, structure, and sort ideas, themes, characters and plot points etc. These are great for simply generating and throwing out ideas.
All writers are creative creatures; they love nothing more than to free their imagination, and mind maps are a great way for exploring that imagination. (See below. Click on Change Zoom Level, bottom RH corner of your computer screen for closer look).
Timelines are a useful tool for anything that needs a chronological order. This could include events in your story or novel, such as potting high points and low points or the number of chapters and a brief description of them etc.
They work well as a visual aid because you get to see something that is in a progressive order and it makes it clearer to you how things could unfold over a certain amount of time. You don’t necessarily have to meticulously plot them on a computer; you can do it by hand on paper - whichever works best for you. (See example below).
The more artistic writers out there might like doing a basic storyboard of key scenes that sometimes pop into your head. I do this sometimes, by simply sketching out important scenes or character conflicts. It helps me visualise how I see it, because sometimes a big scene might play out in my mind rather like a movie and I want to follow the same “cinemagraphic” approach.
Another old-fashioned method that has proved eternally useful is the list. Not to be underestimated in their simplicity, lists are just as helpful as mind maps and timelines if this is your preferred method of bullet pointing ideas, events, characters, conflicts and so on.
You can make a list of practically anything when writing, and each writer has his or her own way of doing so. Some like a visual sheet of paper in front of them, so a handy A4 organiser/notebook is perfect for that, while others prefer to keep lists in a simple Word format on a computer for easy access. It’s up to you, but lists are so important to writers because they help us organise our ideas into a simple to follow analysis.
I tend to use many lists, so for example, a list of characters, a list of chapters, a list of possible points to research, a list of resources that I might need during the course of the project etc.
Charts & Spreadsheets
These tools are great for those writers who prefer to use simple charts to chart events chronologically, or to create interactive lists which they can regularly update and change. Using Excel is perfect for organising and keeping up with your writing. What you put in your chart, or how you use it, is entirely up to the writer, but some writers find this approach helpful.
Spreadsheets are good for creating a database of information in relation to your novel, especially when you start to amass lots of information. This may take the form of character lists, plot points, or it may be a database of the agents and publishers that you have sent your MSS to, so you can easily keep track of your submissions.
And the beauty of all these programs like is that you tailor them to fit how you work and what you want from them.
Notice boards/white boards
Some writers like to visualise things as they think out their ideas, and white boards are perfect for jotting down those flash ideas, notes, mini-mind maps or wire drawings, timelines etc. They are yet another useful tool to help writers organise how they work and retain information, plus they offer the information at-a-glance and they can be used over and over again.
I use white boards to jot down any quick ideas I might have, a list of upcoming anthologies, flash fiction submissions and competitions, as well as reminders for events or writing projects.
Why Powerpoint? How can this help? It depends how you use it, but it’s yet another useful organisational tool that might otherwise be overlooked. Not all people can get on with spreadsheets or timelines or other planning tools, so another way of planning your novel is by adding information to Powerpoint slides, for instance and including all the things you might need for your writing project, for instance a short synopsis, a detailed plot, a list of all the characters in your novel, complete with bios and backgrounds, the theme(s) and background to your novel, the possible subplot(s), a reminder list of things to include, like pace, emotion, tension, conflict, the five senses, the objectives and opposing obstacles in your character’s path and a list of research items etc.
This is so useful as a reference tool (and cuts down on all the bits of paper flying about) because you have everything there at a glance to help you with your novel. I use Powerpoint to detail everything I need on a writing project because I find it easy and handy to use.
(See the example below).
Novel Writing Software
There are plenty of software programs for the budding writer: Snowflake, Storybook and Writer’s Cafe are just some of them. These are a useful aid for new writers; lending advice and guidance while helping you formulate your novel. They won’t actually tell you how to become published. That’s down to you, but they will help you organise your novel.
Organisational Tools -
No writer should be without a notebook of some kind. They don’t have to be anything special, just a simple writing pad is apt. This is where ideas, scribbles, musings, observations and bits of scenes can be jotted down for use later and then incorporated into your novel.
Very often inspiration and ideas strike at inopportune moments, so a handy pad is great for scribbling something down before you forget it. Most writers will have umpteen notebooks or organisers lying around. It’s rather like a woman and her shoes...writers just have to have notebooks.
No writer is without files, whether they’re actual files or digital files. Each writer is different on their preference, but useful nonetheless for keeping bits of notes, research and ideas related to your project. I tend to use both actual files as well as digital files. When I’ve finished my project, I copy all the digital files onto a CD and pop it into a box file containing all my other documents relating to that project. That means I have a hard copy file of everything and a digital one, just in case of loss or damage or any other eventuality that might occur to your project.
I have a backup of my MS, notes, papers, research, electronic files, photos etc, in a box file on the shelf, so if something happened to my computer or my electronic files, I have something I can refer to and I know I won’t lose any valuable information because I have a hard copy of everything.
Memory Sticks/CD’s/external backup drives
Essential tools for every writer. Memory sticks and re-writable CD’s are lifesavers. There is nothing worse than spending hours and hours working diligently on your masterpiece, only for there to be a power cut...or your computer crashes...or a virus corrupts your files.
Every writer has experienced a mini breakdown after becoming victim of forgetfulness. Back up regularly. Whichever medium you prefer – whether memory sticks, re-writable CD’s or external memory drives, always make sure you back up any work, together with all the files on your computer.
This is a useful organisational tool in that it acts as your electronic filing cabinet by allowing you to run a host of projects by allowing you to gather, organise, search, file notes and screen clippings, thoughts, reference materials, research and other information. All your notes will be visible with easy to use, colour coded notebooks, sections, and pages. It’s a great organisational tool (and it saves on paper).
I use this for all my major writing projects, and as with other electronic files, your OneNote files can be backed up too.
Hopefully there is enough resources and ideas here to keep budding writers well organised and able to manage projects efficiently!
• Internet – every writer’s best friend when it comes to research.
• Library – Again, a visit to the library is just as useful for research.
• Artists’ & Writers’ Yearbook – Listings of agents and publishers in the UK and some in the US. (Non-UK writers should check their own equivalent resource publishers).
• Dictionaries/Thesaurus – No writer should be without either of these. There are plenty of online dictionaries, but a hard copy of the OED or similar is even better.
• Writing magazines and books – These are a great source of help, advice and support.
Next time: Part 1 How to plan a novel.