Category: Writing Tools

Contact Us Today for a
Free Consultation

You Can Do It Too: Real Writers & The Method

You’ve read Finish Your Book in Three Drafts.

You’ve attended a Book Architecture class at a conference.

But you’re still not sure how Book Architecture could really work for you.

Two writers – Joshua Hedges and Cathy Sikorski – share their experiences with the Book Architecture Method in this group chat and how they finished their books in three drafts.

How did you hear about Book Architecture?

CATHY: I first met Stuart at the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference. Those of us who go to writers’ conferences are always looking to improve our writing and are open to all kinds of ideas. I took his class on a whim and was very inspired by his view on structuring a book. I had finished my first book, and was searching for a publisher, but I was already thinking about my next book.

JOSHUA: I heard about Book Architecture at the Pennwriters conference in May. My first novel took a ridiculous amount of time. Thinking about it makes me feel like a storm cloud just rolled in. I’d work my normal nine-to-five and then write. The weekend would come and I’d write. I tossed first novel mid-way though twice. When I finally decided to keep a draft, I entered revision Hell. There was a point where I revised chapter two fifteen times. I revised so much that the story turned choppy. Eventually, the chapters lost that fresh, original feeling and I hated them. I needed to get faster and focused. I couldn’t write a good book if I hated the book before I finished it. That was what attracted me to the Book Architecture method – the tag line: “Write a book, revise a book, complete a book while you still love it.”

What caught your eye about Book Architecture? What did you like about it?

CATHY: My first book was in a diary format and I liked it that way because of the topic. The linear structure made sense. But my next book would be more chapter structured and I was floundering. So, honestly, I picked up and put down Book Architecture many times in the next year as I was ‘pantsing’ my next book. Since that was my choice anyway as an author, to just get things on the page, I was all about ‘pantsing’. I’ve never been an outliner. So you can imagine how I liked the beginning of Book Architecture.

JOSHUA: I was writing wrong. I know there isn’t one way to write, but I think you could say there are a lot of ways not to write. It took me something like 10 years to write my first novel. Rewriting dominated my writing time. I started to hate writing because I’d write a chapter and then pull it apart. Forever. Sometimes my rough drafts ended up being better than several drafts in because I’d change so much. One minor plot change and I’d go back and revise the whole novel. As writers, we spend most of our time revising, but we live for that creative time when we have a blank page and infinite possibilities. I needed more of that.
The Book Architecture method breaks it up. Three drafts, each with a purpose. I was strangling my creativity with the pressure of getting it right the first time. Breaking up my focus freed me to spend more time creating. What really got me moving was to just get my ideas down on paper. I wrote something like 60k words in around 10 weeks, while being a dad of an energetic three-year-old and having a full time job. I wrote between 500-1000 words per hour. For me that was ground breaking.

Can you describe the project you worked on using the Method?

CATHY: The project was my book Who Moved My Teeth?  This book is a compendium of humorous tales, and advice that I have gathered in my 25 years as a caregiver for 7 different family members in friends and my 30 years as an attorney working with families and elder clients.

JOSHUA: My current novel is a YA space opera about a super planet where there are strong racial divides between those that live on the continents and Polynesian-like island people. An invading Emperor attacks the planet for its natural resources and Toa, my main character’s father, a retired war hero, is called back to war. But when the battle is quickly lost, Toa must find it in herself to master a power locked inside her and save her captured father and her planet.

Were you skeptical about any part of the Method?

CATHY: Yes, I was skeptical. I wasn’t sure that I could buckle down to a structure model. I also wasn’t sure that Book Architecture was a working concept, it seemed disjointed and difficult. Which leads to the hardest part. The glaring hardest part was the cutting up of the manuscript. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around cutting it up, how to cut it up and get it back together or even where to begin in cutting it up. Once the pages were on the table and I began, it was more freeing than I thought, but I won’t pretend that it wasn’t hard or confusing during the process. I emailed Stuart at one point, and he was kind enough to guide me through the challenge of figuring out how to put it back together. And I will tell you, that because of this process, ultimately I changed really important parts of the puzzle to make the book make more sense.

JOSHUA: Stuart is clear that not every part of the method is for everyone. I took what parts made me more effective and used them. I feel like there are a wide range of options to pick from depending on your skill level. For example, applying scenes to a target is a little tough when you have a lot of different characters. That’s one reason that I opted to get more specific in draft three. I actually cut two character POVs from my novel in draft two which resulted in a good bit of changes. Good thing I didn’t just go back and start revising mid-draft, or I’d still be in the first draft.

What was the greatest improvement in your writing, using the BA Method?

JOSHUA: Speed. I knew I had to write faster, but I didn’t want my writing to suck. I can’t sell what’s in my head unless it’s readable. I’ve seen the benefits of my improved speed in my short story writing. I just finished a 7k word short story that might be published in an anthology and it only took about fifteen hours start to finish. Oh, and I enjoyed it.
I also have more focus on theme. I feel like that’s worth mentioning because we often get tied up in what our characters are thinking and feeling, but it’s the reader that needs to think and feel. The gift readers take with them when your book is on the shelf is the theme. They might remember characters or a few good scenes, but the theme is the bit of knowledge a reader can incorporate in what they think and believe. The theme is what gives writers the power to change the world. The Book Architecture Method talks a lot about focusing on the theme of your book, and I feel like it’s something I’ll be learning my whole writing career.

What do you like best about BA?

CATHY: I really liked that there actually could be a method. I think writers struggle with a beginning, middle and end to the writing process. Book Architecture helped me realize that yes, I could finish this. Even putting three drafts on the process made a light at the end of the tunnel.

JOSHUA: Stuart’s voice is pretty laid back, almost like you’re having a dinner conversation. Don’t get me wrong, you have to pay attention but his little jokes in his books keep things light enough to digest the material. I will have to read these books and implement them a few times to really absorb all that applies to my writing style.

How did using the Method help you succeed with your project?

CATHY: For me, the biggest improvement was probably putting pieces together so that they made sense and flowed from chapter to chapter. I’m not organized as a rule, so I looked at Book Architecture as a way to make my work look and feel and be understood as a cohesive whole. I don’t know that my writing is better…hahahaha….(cause writers are their own worst enemies) but I do think Book Architecture and Stuart’s generous help made my book better!

JOSHUA: With my current novel, after 10 weeks, I have ideas on paper that I can mold into a good book. Writers work so hard and we’re rejected so often. The pages of my novels aren’t words, they’re my Saturdays that I missed with my kid or the dates I skipped with my wife. It’s time out of my life for words I can share. Seeing my time used effectively makes that sacrifice not so bad and motivates me to move forward and keep writing.

josh_profile-jpg

Joshua Hedges is a debut YA writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. He’s currently seeking publication for a YA dark fantasy novel and writing a space opera. Some of his short stories are web-published here and here.

 

 

cathy-sikorski-jpg

Cathy Sikorski is a practicing attorney in dealing in Elder Law, and has been a significant caregiver for the past 25 years. She has engaged in many speaking engagements, radio programs, and podcasts to promote humor in caregiving with her first book, released by HumorOutcasts Press, Showering with Nana: Confessions of a Serial (killer) Caregiver. In November of 2016, Corner Office Books released Cathy’s second book Who Moved My Teeth? a practical and legal guide for adults and caregivers. Cathy is a contributing author for HumorOutcasts.com. She has been featured on the Huffington Post. She can also been seen on the West Chester Story Slam YouTube channel. Cathy has a blog, “You just have to Laugh..where Caregiving is Comedy” at www.cathysikorski.com

Begin at the beginning: what in media res really means

I have been making an unofficial list of the “world’s most commonly used writing axioms,” and I’m pretty sure in media res needs to be on there. In media res means “in the middle of things.”

board-1709203_1920

What is in media res?

Writers are advised to start their stories with an action that will capture the reader’s attention. This action should be compelling—it cannot waste too many precious words on exposition, or setting the scene. This action should inspire curiosity. 

So far, so good. In the last twenty years, however, in media res has taken on a much narrower definition. Now it means something like: Choose a scene from the middle of your narrative (when approached in a chronological sense), then spend the next chunk of the story leading up to it again until the reader can figure out just exactly what the first scene meant after all.

Really?

In media res was originally used as a tool for selection. It helped Greek playwrights figure out where to begin their narrative. Presenting a scene first indicates its importance to the whole, just as deciding which scene will come last indicates the dramatist’s moral intent through the fate of the characters.

dominoes-21252_1920

But the dramatist did not go back and fill in the details of what happened previously. They assumed that the audience would already have this information (which battle had been fought, who had been the victor, what situation these characters found themselves in, etc.).

Where in media res goes wrong

By contrast, today’s writer who begins in media res starts us off with a lone, out-of-sequence scene. Then what can amount to half the book is told in essence as a flashback. Readers can find this disconcerting because, basically, we forget about the scene that started everything off. We may harbor a mild curiosity as to why that scene has been given such special placement and when it might recur.

chart-line-148256_1280

Selecting the right scene to begin with

I would argue for two ways out of this current dilemma.

If you are going to begin with a scene from the middle of the narrative, why not continue to utilize the narrative possibilities of flashbacks and multiple concurrent timelines to ensure that your first scene does not look like an ugly duckling?

Perhaps a simpler solution to the in media res dilemma, once you have begun in the “thick of it,” don’t backtrack. If your first scene engenders interest, if it implies a world where there is something at stake and immediately transports the reader into a situation with dramatic tension, why not just continue from there?

Scrivener & The Book Architecture Method

Please welcome Book Architecture’s guest blogger and award-winning author  – Ray Daniel!

Stuart Horwitz’s Book Architecture trilogy, Blueprint your Bestseller, Book Architecture, and Finish Your Book in Three Drafts, delivers a powerful framework for writing a novel.

Scrivener, the software package from the company Literature and Latte, is a powerful software tool that combines word processing with outlining, research storing, and task management to create a single novel-creating platform.

One would think that there would be powerful synergies between a novel-writing software tool, Scrivener, and a novel-writing creation tool, Book Architecture, and one would be correct.

This blog shows one way to use Scrivener to manage the Book Architecture process.

Since it’s easier to work from example, I’ll be using my third Tucker Novel, Child Not Found, and parts of my fourth Tucker Novel, Hacked as examples of a novel built using Book Architecture and written in Scrivener.

The Binder

The binder is the perfect place to begin, because it organizes all the information about your project into a single place. The binder for Child Not Found looks like this:

image1

 

image2The first thing to notice is that my binder contains the three drafts Stuart outlines in Finish Your Book in Three Drafts. The messy draft, method draft, and polished draft each have their own folders. I didn’t actually write three drafts of the novel. I generated the material for the novel in the messy draft, and then duplicated the messy draft to create the initial version of the method draft:

 

Here we see the first place where Scrivener intersects with the Book Architecture method: draft management. Rather than have separate word processing documents for each draft – or even worse, one document that keeps changing – we have a place to store each of our drafts so we can refer to back to previous drafts as we move forward.

As we see here, we copy the messy draft to create the method draft. But where did the messy draft come from? It came from Blueprint Your Bestseller’s Action Step #0.

Step #0: Generate Material

Generating material is the first step in the Book Architecture method. There are many ways to generate material and Blueprint Your Bestseller discusses several of them. One of the most basic ways to generate material is to start at the beginning and simply write the book into a word processor. This results in a long document containing your entire novel.

Organizing Material into Scenes

If you’ve generated material, and need to bring it into Scrivener, you can import and organize your novel into scenes. Blueprint Your Bestseller encourages writers to cut up their scenes as Action Step #5. I suggest, for reasons that we’ll see, that Scrivener users do this as Step #1.

Scrivener makes it easy to cut your scenes. You import your book into Scrivener (perhaps with copy and paste) and then use the Split at Selection command to split the document into two documents:

image3

You place your cursor between two scenes and use the right mouse button to split the scene at the selection. This gives you two scenes that you can name. You keep working your way down your document until you’ve “cut up” all your scenes.

Generating Material in Scenes

image4

While Scrivener makes it easy to split a novel into scenes, I recommend a different approach: generating material scene by scene. That is, you create a separate document for each scene and allow Scrivener to compile it all into a book. You can set Scrivener to compile your scenes however you like.

My books have one scene per chapter, so the compilation process is simple. But you can use folders to combine several scenes into a chapter and several chapters into parts.

Generating material scene by scene in Scrivener has the obvious advantage that you don’t need to split your manuscript into scenes later on. It has additional advantages in that it is satisfying to finish a scene and move on to the next one, and that you can use icons in the binder to add orienting material to your manuscript such as acts, beats, sequences, and days. For example here are the scenes that make up my most recent Tucker book, Hacked.

 

Analyzing Your Scenes

The first five steps of Blueprint Your Bestseller help you analyze your scenes:

  • Step #1 Brainstorm Your Scenes—Make a list of your scenes from memory.
  • Step #2 Your Good Scenes—Highlight the good scenes, those that are done for now.
  • Step #3 Your Bad Scenes—Highlight the bad scenes, ones that need work.
  • Step #4 Your Forgotten Scenes—Note the ones that skipped your mind.
  • Step #5 Cut Up Your . . . we already did this.

You can do all this with Scrivener’s Label feature. Each scene has a programmable Label field which you can see in the Inspector on the right side of the window:

image5

You can program the label with the words Good, Bad, Forgotten, and even Putrid (If you want to go beyond Book Architecture’s recommendations.)

image6

 

When you edit the labels you can add colors by clicking on the colored dot next to each label.

Now that you have colors on each of your labels you can use them to examine your scenes.

image8

To color code your scenes, select:

View -> Use Label Color In -> Binder.

Hmm. Lots of green. Not so bad.

 

Working with Series

Action steps #6-#10 from Blueprint Your Bestseller all relate to finding the series in your story and attaching them to scenes. Then you look for key scenes where several series intersect, find the theme of the book, and consciously choose how to present the series in terms of frequency and rhythm.

The Scrivener keyword feature is perfect for managing series in Scrivener.

Creating a List of Series

The first thing we do is create a list of series using keywords. We see the project keywords using the Project -> Show Project Keywords pulldown menu. This gives us a list of keywords and we use it to capture our series:

image9

The little plus-sign icon in the lower left allows you to add series. You can double click on the colored squares on the right to give each series its own color. You are now ready to add your series to your scenes.

Adding Series to a Scene

Each scene should deliver at least one iteration of a series. At this point we go through all our scenes and add series to them. The easiest way to do this is to drag the series (keywords) from the Keywords window above into the scene title in the binder window:

image10

You can see the list of series associated with a given scene using the Keyword panel in the inspector:

image11

Once you have all the series associated with the scenes you can easily see how your book handles the series.

Searching for Series

The easiest way to analyze your series is to ask the question “Which of my scenes relate to a given series?” For example, let’s examine the places where the series “secrets” came up in Child Not Found’s messy draft.

First we tell Scrivener that we want to search for keywords:image12

Next we do the search and look at the binder:

image13

We see that we have ten scenes that deal with secrets.

Series on the Corkboard

Scrivener lets you view a collection of scenes as index cards on a corkboard. You can add colors from your series by selecting the View -> Corkboard Options -> Show Keyword Colors menu item. This view helps you find key scenes:

image14

The card display button in the lower right hand corner lets you control the number of series colors that appear on each card.

Series in the Outliner

You can also view sets of scenes in the outliner and view their series (keywords) using the outliner’s column selector like this:

image15

You access the column selector by using the right mouse button on the column title area at the top of the list. (By the way, Scrivener does not require numbers on the keywords. I added the numbers myself as part of my process for sorting analyzing scenes.)

Using Scrivener for the Rest of the Process

At this point Scrivener has helped us cut up our scenes, label them as good, bad, or forgotten, and assign series to them. At this point we can proceed using typical Scrivener features.

Finding the Theme

Blueprint Your Bestseller action steps #7-11 have to do with finding your theme. You’ve named your series in the keywords, but the other steps of describing the series, listing the series sentences, and “finding your one thing”, are best done in a spare document in the Story Notes section in the binder.

Drawing the Target

There is no “Draw the Target” function in Scrivener. You can do this with a big poster board and post it notes. Software tool geek that I am, I use Literature and Latte’s tool Scapple to create my target. Once you’ve completed your target exercise you can store the result in Scrivener’s Story Notes section either by taking a picture of it or (if using Scapple) dragging and dropping it.

Ordering Your Scenes

Stuart Horwitz says that a novel is 99 scenes arranged in the correct order. Now that you’ve fully analyzed your novel with help from Scrivener, you duplicate your messy draft to create a method draft and then rearrange and rewrite the scenes. You’ve now got 99 (or whatever number) scenes in the correct order. So you duplicate your method draft to create a polished draft and you’re all set.

ray-daniel-8x8

Ray Daniel is the award-winning author of Boston-based crime fiction and is the author of the Tucker Mysteries. His short stories “Give Me a Dollar” won a 2014 Derringer Award for short fiction and “Driving Miss Rachel” was chosen as a 2013 distinguished short story by Otto Penzler, editor of The Best American Mystery Stories 2013. CHILD NOT FOUND is the third novel in the Tucker Mysteries. For more information, visit him online at raydanielmystery.com and follow him on twitter @raydanielmystry.