Plotting with Scrivener

I have been using Scrivener for a couple of days now to work on my mystery novel set in an English village. Scrivener works for me because I am a visual learner and I tend to think diagramatically. I am all about images and mind maps. In the old days, I used to have stacks of index cards and post-it notes. Now, I have a corkboard and a lot of index cards on my screen. It works for me.

I started out with the basic plot of a story – young woman comes to visit her aunt and uncle in a

not so sleepy English village. I created the main village characters for a short story a few months ago, so I feel I know them and the village quite well. I also knew that having a newcomer visit would create some tension in the village. Something had to scrivener plot cardsThe plot of my novel on index cardshappen connected with the visit. Then I began thinking about this character. Why was she visiting the village? What was she running away from? How long was she planning staying? What was she going to do there?

I had some scribbled notes and the first 10,000 words written but I knew I had to pay close attention to the plot, especially the dramatic action. I spent a whole day filling out the onscreen index cards for the plot. Now, the great thing about Scrivener is that you can move the cards around. So, I shuffled cards, created new ones and deleted a few in the course of the day. By the time I was done I had 33 events happening in my novel. Some of these are big events and some small, but all contribute to the flow and to the story. The whole process was made easier by the software.

scrivener plot cards

The plot of my novel on index cards

I like to put a lot of information on the cards because the physical act of writing helps me think and plan better.

I went through a simlar process in creating the characters. I already had images of my main village characters in my head since I had created them for a short story. I need to populate the village with other characters, so I thought back to a village I used to visit when I lived in Essex. I added a few more images to my mental picture and adjusted street names a little but the end result is reasonably similar. I then thought about the different kinds of shops there were in the orginal village and the ones which would need to feature in my story. Bit by bit the village appeared. I think I could now draw the village on a piece of paper.

Working from the shops and the role they would play in village life I started outlining the characters and connecting them to the action. I created more character index cards. The characters began to come alive. I could then hear them talking and image what they dressed like. The next stage, when I have a few more hours spare, will be to really flesh out the information on the characters and the shops. This will be useful if, as I think I will, I write some more novels and stories based in the village.

I am writing the actual story in Pages on my iPad because it works for me. I did transfer it over into the Scrivener Manuscript but I didn’t like the layout. I use Calibre to convert to ePub or Mobi so I can keep on writing in Pages and then upload it onto my PC as a Word doc.

For the moment using both Scrivener and Pages is working for me, so I will keep at it. Having now done all the plotting and fleshing out of characters continuing to write the novel is much easier. When I am done I plan to go back to my Estonian cybercrime novel to see if plotting on Scrivener will help me to finish it up.





Working with Scrivener

Years ago I downloaded the book writing software Scrivener and had a play around with it then forgot about. Then, a few days ago, I came across it once again and decided to have another look at it.

I have been working on a mystery novel set in an English village and which involves two groups of people vying for control of the coffee selling business. Using a notepad, I created a cast of characters and sketched out of brief plot outline. Then I started writing. At the same time I was reading a book called The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery by Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick. This book reminded me of the techniques I used to use when writing dissertations and academic articles – using index cards to write up the different information and chapters then moving them around and adding (or subtracting) cards.

My notebook was showing serious limitations as I could not add pages or remove them easily. When I wanted to add new information that I had to scribble it somewhere. It was becoming messy. Then I needed to work out my plot lines. We have no stationery shop locally so I cannot buy index cards. Scrivener has come to my rescue.

Using the trial version I have now completely plotted my mystery novel, made short notes on the characters and worked out the scenery. The program allows the user to create cork boards and then pin cards on the board. Once the card is pinned then it can be written on. The cards can then be moved around to create the plotlines etc. It is possible to create several card sets e.g. for the crime, the events, the characters, the scenes, the scenery etc. All the cards are nicely displayed so you can see what they are. If you click on a card then they expand. Neat. I have been shuffling my cards around for hours.

Scrivener Character Cards

Scrivener Character cards on my screen

The same company makes another software called Scapple. This is an ideas program and allows you link information together. I was able to look at all my characters and then draw links between them. This has helped me to see how they all fit into the story and how they drive the story along.

scapple connections

Connecting characters in Scapple

I am hoping that the card and the connections techniques are going to help me finish writing the story.

Clean living cops

A couple of days ago I read an article in  by Steven Morris which quoted a chief constable as saying “crime writers should depict more detectives as clean-living and balanced rather than damaged and hard-drinking like the Inspector Rebus of Ian Rankin’s novels.” According to the journalist, the chief constable was complaining that the invented cops of series such as Morse and Rebus do not represent real cops or the team work which goes into solving the crime. There was a follow up article by Liz Willaims putting forward the view that you do not have to have a dysfunctional lead cop or even a cop who cannot get on with his/her sidekick to make an interesting story.

I think this is an interesting approach and one which bears thinking about. I have stopped watching several crime programmes on television simply because I am bored with the good cop/bad cop portrayal. The antagonistic relationship between the sleuth and his or her colleagues is, frankly, boring and does not reflect the reality of crime solving. The cops have to work together in order to pool their skills and knowledge otherwise the crime cannot be solved. If the cops do not have good working relationships with other professionals then there will be no relationship. Friction causes friction.

An example of this is the British TV series Dalziel and Pascoe. This involves two cops – Dalziel and his partner / sidekick Pascoe. The sidekick is a normal bloke who gets on with people and gets the job done. Dalziel, first of all, has problems with the strange pronunciation of his name and, then, gets shirty with everyone around him, including the witnesses. I watched around an hour of the problem a few days ago and then got bored by the constant shouting and arguing from Dalziel.

A much better portrayal of the cop relationship is Midsommer Murders. The show may have a high body count, equally as boring as the dysfunctional cop scenario, but at least the police personnel all work well together and do not shout at each other. In the end, they usually solve the case satisfactorily.

I am interested in this discussion both as a reader and a writer. I recently had a session with a literary agent who advised me to create fiction between the two main characters in my cop novel. I started doing this but quickly realised that it was not going to work plot-wise. The two sleuths do get on and, in fact, need to get on in order to solve the case. In the edit, they will become friends again.

As a reader, I am bored with dysfunctional cops. I want to read about the crime, the criminal, the problem solving and the scenery. I really don’t care that the sleuth has a drink problem and cannot keep a wife or girlfriend. Boring.

My hope is that other writers will take note and create some nicer cops.