Keeping a Schedule of Events for your Novel

Following on from my previous post in which I said I would write more posts that fellow authors and aspiring authors might find useful, I decided to share my tips for keeping a Schedule of Events. Below is a sample of my Schedule of Events for the first few chapters of The Mark. For me this document is just as important as the manuscript itself as it helps me to quickly pinpoint exactly where I am up to in a novel without having to wade through pages and pages of text.

The ability to do this is particularly valuable if you have to spend long periods away from your work in progress (WIP), for example, if you go away on holiday or if you have other commitments which mean that you can’t always spend as much time on your WIP as you would like. For me, I can be writing one novel when my publishers come back with edits for the one that is currently in production. That means I might have to put my WIP to one side for a few weeks while I action the developmental edits so it’s useful to have a Schedule of Events when I eventually pick it up again.

Week Day/Time Chap Event
1 Ref jacket 1

 

 

 

7 pgs

Maddy is interviewing prostitutes in the Rose and Crown who are Crystal and some others. When the prostitutes become nervous of someone standing at the bar, Maddy packs up her things and goes.

 

Gilly the pimp is standing at the bar and he comes over to talk to Crystal, his girlfriend who is on the game. He spots Maddy walking away and asks Crystal what is going on. He starts to become curious about Maddy.

1 8pm

Finished with Rob 2 months prev

2

 

5 pgs

Maddy makes it home just in time before her ex-husband Andy brings her daughter Rebecca back. Maddy’s friend, Clare, rings and invites her to a night out. We find out a little about Maddy including her most recent eight month relationship with Rob.
1 Lunchtime 3

4 pgs

Crystal meets Gilly in the Rose and Crown and gives him her earnings. We see how badly he treats her. He tells her to go ahead with the meeting with the journalist.
1

 

 

1

4

 

 

4 pgs

Crystal’s 2nd meeting with Maddy, told from Crystal’s pov.

 

Gilly’s POV as he watches the meeting between Crystal and Maddy through the mirror at the back of the bar. He is becoming increasingly intrigued by Maddy. When she leaves the pub he follows behind her.

1 Late evening 5

5 pgs

Gilly follows Maddy home and then goes back to his seedy bedsit. We see the contrast and see him chasing the dragon.
2

 

 

2

A week later

 

 

Night after prev scene

6

 

 

6 pgs

Maddy goes on her night out with Clare. She meets a man called Aaron who is good looking, tall, slim and blonde.

 

Maddy gets a message from Aaron the following night asking her out and she texts him back saying she’d like to see him.

My Schedule of Events isn’t just useful for keeping track of where the plot is heading; it also serves several other purposes. You will notice that there is a Week column and a Day/Time column, and these help me to figure out my timeline for the novel. I’ve mentioned in a previous blog that timeline is something I often struggle with so these days I keep a note of anything time related as I’m writing the novel.

I also keep a note of anything that might affect the timescale and these are shown in red italics, for example, the fact that she was wearing a jacket rather than a coat in the first scene of chapter one, indicating that it is unlikely to be mid-winter.  By keeping a note of all these time-related details it has made it easier for me to work out the timeline for my novel although I must admit that I still find it the most challenging aspect of writing a novel. That’s probably also down to the fact that all of the books I have recently written form part of a trilogy or a series of books, which complicates matters more than if I was writing a standalone novel.

In the Event column I have detailed what happens in each chapter with a separate paragraph for each scene in the chapter. You will also notice under the Chapter column that I keep a note of how many pages constitute each chapter. This makes it easier when I’m producing a second draft or doing the edits as I might want to extend some scenes, shorten others and maybe switch some scenes around. By keeping a note of the page numbers I can make sure that the whole thing balances overall and that there isn’t too much different between chapter lengths unless this is deliberate, for example, if I want to add a particularly short but impactful chapter.

I hope these tips help you in organising your own WIP. You might think of a few items to add to the Schedule of Events. If so, I’d love to hear your ideas as they might help me too.

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Useful Books for Authors

Taking a look at my recent blog posts, I have noticed that most of them relate to my own books. It’s been such a busy time that I’ve neglected to produce the type of blog posts that I used to write. I therefore decided to write a post that other authors and aspiring authors will hopefully find useful. However, if you would like to receive an update regarding my books, you are welcome to subscribe to my mailing list at:  http://eepurl.com/CP6YP and I will send you a copy of my latest newsletter giving details of all my forthcoming new releases in digital and print as well as a price reduction on one of my existing books.

I’ve mentioned the Writers Bureau a few times previously, and I would certainly recommend their course to anybody thinking about writing as a career or as a way to earn extra income. But what if you want to become a writer without committing to a lengthy writing course? That’s when books aimed at writers can be useful. As well as studying with the Writers Bureau I have read several books for writers, which I still refer to either as ongoing reference books or to brush up on techniques. Here are a few I have found useful:

How to Write your First Novel by Sophie King

Sophie King has produced an excellent book here and, although it’s aimed at someone writing their first novel, it’s a good guide for any author. I re-read it to recap on a lot of the techniques I learnt on my writing course. Some of the topics it covers include: finding ideas, voice, plotting, creating characters, viewpoint dialogue, setting, show don’t tell etc. etc.

Writing a Novel and Getting Published by Nigel Watts

This is another good guide covering many of the topics in the previous book. However, the writing style is not as straightforward as that in the Sophie King book. I also found that not all of the chapters appealed to me, especially the one about the Eight-Point Arc as I find this type of novel writing too formulaic. It includes a useful chapter on marketing at the end of the book.

Creating Suspense in Fiction by John Paxton Sheriff

This is a really useful book, which takes you through the various ways in which you can create suspense in your novel including creating atmosphere, building suspense through the prologue and first chapter, foreshadowing, hooks, cliff-hangers, time-limits and much more. I’ve actually begun reading this for a second time, hence the bookmark. When you are immersed in a novel, it can be easy to forget about creating suspense so it’s always useful to have a recap.

Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran

I read a Kindle version of this book at the start of my independent publishing journey and found it invaluable. It is relatively straightforward to publish online these days and this book provides a starting point to get your book out there. The author has also followed it up with two further books about how to market your book once you have published. It was through reading one of David Gaughran’s books that I learnt how to run a successful promotion on Amazon which, in turn, led to me being spotting by my publisher.

Roget’s Thesaurus (or any good thesaurus)

I remember being told by my English lit teacher back in my sixth form days that Roget’s Thesaurus was the best thesaurus available and a must for anyone studying A level English lit. I therefore invested in a copy and have had one ever since.

This thesaurus should be read in a particular way i.e. by looking up the word in the back and then following the numbered alternative, which best matches the word. For example, ‘enchanted’ is listed with four alternatives, all of which are adjectives: pleased, enamoured, bewitched and magical. If you are using the word to mean enamoured, for example, then you will find number 887 next to the word ‘enamoured’. In the front part of the book you would then go to the number 887 rather than page 887. There you will find a huge list of words that relate to the word ‘enamoured’.

I don’t use Roget’s all the time as I often want just a quick fix alternative word which I can find by either using MS Word or my other thesaurus by Collins. However, there are times when only Roget’s will do and it will often throw up ideas that you haven’t even considered. For anyone who loves words and their use and meanings, I would strongly recommend a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus.

Fowler’s Modern English Usage

I often use Fowler’s when I’m writing and want to check my grammar. It’s an excellent quick reference guide to grammar and invaluable to any writer.

I am sure that there are many more useful books on the market for aspiring or existing novelists but the above are just a few that I have personally found helpful.

 

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Organising a Book’s Timeline

As I’m coming to the end of writing my eighth book I’m reminded again of the author task that I find the most difficult of all – the dreaded timeline. It seems that no matter how many books I write, I still haven’t mastered an easy way to deal with the timeline issue.

So, what does it involve?

Each time I write a book I draw up a timeline relating to each chapter and scene in the book. It’s important to have a timeline so that you can ensure that everything fits in sequentially. This can avoid situations where, for example, someone gives birth to a full term baby when they have only been pregnant for five months. There are many other howlers that can occur because of the lack of a timeline but I won’t list them all here.

Why is it so difficult?

My problem is that I always produce my timeline at the end of writing a book. This is because I don’t want anything to spoil the continuity while I am writing. I therefore have to do a search of all mentions to weeks, days, months, seasons etc. Other things to watch out for are the clothes that someone is wearing, whether it’s sunny etc. as this can be indicative of the season. I then add the timeline to my list of chapters from the book, indicating if a particular scene came before or after another and, if so, what the time span was between each.

I know this is a long-winded way of doing things and it also means I often have to switch things around to make sure I’m not contradicting myself. Fortunately, I didn’t have to make too many changes in this latest book but I have had previous books where I’ve had to make a lot of changes to make sure everything fits in sequentially.

What’s the solution?

The answer I think is to keep a note of the timeline from the outset so that I can make any necessary changes as I go along. I keep a document, which I call a ‘Sequence of Events’ for each novel anyway. It’s basically just a list of chapters and scenes, which gives a brief description of what happens in each so that I can easily recap each time I return to my work and take a quick overview of how the plot is progressing. I also review my previous days’ work every time I return to my desk. I therefore think it wouldn’t be too much trouble to add an extra column for the date/time in my Sequence of Events and fill it in each time I review my work.

If anybody has any other ideas of how to approach the timeline issue I would love to hear them. Please feel free to post your comments below.

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The Best Writing Advice Ever

There is one piece of writing advice that I have come across many times. The first time was during my writing course and I have since read a lot of blog posts and Internet articles giving that same advice, which is to ‘Show Don’t Tell’. I have found that piece of advice invaluable although I also find sometimes that I forget to heed it. When I do forget, I can often see that it makes a big difference to the standard of my work.  So, what exactly does it mean and how do you achieve it?

I think the best way to explain is by example. A simple example is to look at the way in which young children write stories. If a young child was writing a story about a girl going to the park, he might say:

‘The girl went into the park which had some grass where boys were playing football. There were lots of trees and a playground with swings, a roundabout and a slide. The girl enjoyed herself on the playground.’

Placing the Reader at the Scene

If you wanted to show instead of telling you would in effect be placing the reader at the park. The best way to do this is to try to get inside the girl’s head. Think about what it felt like being in the park. Was it a warm day or a cold day? Were the other children friendly? Did she feel nervous about playing among them or excited at the prospect of making new friends? What could she hear? Were the birds singing in the trees, was there laughter from the other children or perhaps squeals of excitement?

A good way to get inside your character’s head is to use the five senses i.e. think about what she could see, hear, touch, feel and taste. I have written about this topic before at: Writing Using the Five Senses.

It is also good to give the girl a name so that the reader can identify with her more easily. A name in itself can help to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. For example, the name Mabel would paint a different picture than the name Karen, which would also paint a different picture than the name Jessica. For Mabel I would imagine an elderly lady, for Karen a middle-aged woman and for Jessica a young woman or girl.  Try an Internet search for popular baby names in the year in which your fictitious character was born.

Exposition

Exposition is used to give background information and it does have its use. However, if you overuse it you can find that you are telling the tale instead of showing what is happening. Many writers do this without realising it, myself included, and a good editor can be helpful in spotting the overuse of exposition.

If you want to give some background information but don’t want to use too much exposition, you could try conveying it in another way, for example, through speech. If you are going to use this technique though, it’s best to ensure that the speech still flows naturally and doesn’t sound contrived.

Thanks for reading and I hope you have found this blog post useful.

Using Images to Create Atmosphere

During the writing of my current book and the previous one, Danger by Association, I have found a technique that is useful in creating the atmosphere for a particular scene in a novel. I therefore thought I would share it. Here’s an example of how it works in practice:

If you are writing about an abandoned building, for example, type ‘abandoned building’ in Google images and you should be able to view a good selection on your screen. Next, select an image that you feel captures the scene you want to create. If one image alone doesn’t work for you, perhaps you could try combining two different images. Take a note of what you can see e.g. mouldy bricks, peeling wallpaper etc.

While looking at the image, and thinking about the atmosphere, don’t forget to use the five senses. So rather than just describing what you can see think about how the building would feel. Is it cold inside? Can you hear the wind rustling through the eves? What does it smell of – damp? mustiness?

Once you have typed up your notes you will have a good idea of the atmosphere you want to create. Next, put your character at the scene. How does he or she feel about the abandoned building? Why are they there? Have they gone to meet someone? Are they frightened? Are they distressed? Use powerful verbs to describe your character’s actions as they enter the building.

Here’s an example of part of a scene I created in Danger by Association using this technique:

pngmedium-cartoon-building-575811

A few more seconds and they were all inside. Rita scanned the room as her eyes adjusted to the gloom. Their makeshift entrance led into a classroom. The place had an eerie feel to it and Rita shuddered.

There were no longer any desks or chairs, but in the half-light she could see cupboards lining one of the walls. The doors of one cupboard were hanging off, its contents spilling out onto the dusty classroom floor. She was surprised the cupboards still contained old books and papers; this seemed to emphasise the state of abandon.

They crept through the classroom and into a long corridor. Here a strong smell of urine assailed them. The ceiling was high with small skylights. This meant that there was more light here than in the classroom, but in the gloom of night it cast strange shadows on the walls, which unnerved Rita.

In the distance she could hear weird noises; a tapping, and a faint gushing sound, perhaps from running water. She also thought she heard the murmur of voices but it was difficult to tell.

Hopefully by following this technique you will write scenes that capture the atmosphere you are aiming for.

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Why Thinking Time is Important for Authors

Recently, while writing my third novel, I reached a bit of a standstill. I was following the outline that I had written but it felt a little like painting by numbers, and I didn’t have the enthusiasm that I had for A Gangster’s Grip. In fact, because of this situation I had put off writing for a few days.

With my first two books I was so enthusiastic that the ideas were spilling out of me. I would wake up with an idea for a scene later on in the book or it would form while I was out at the shops or taking a shower. However, with my third novel things were different. 18,000 words in and this still wasn’t happening. To complicate matters, I needed to do some primary research but I didn’t want it to halt my flow while I was waiting for the answers.

What if

Thinking TimeIn my search for inspiration I started reading a James Patterson novel and going over some of the notes from my writing course, but it still wasn’t happening. So, I put the books to one side, lay down on my bed, shut my eyes and thought about the plot so far.

What had happened up to now? What direction was the novel heading in? How could I inject some suspense and excitement on the way to reaching my final destination (as I already had the ending worked out)? How could I write my way around the scenes requiring research while I awaited answers to my research questions?

N.B. You’ll note that I refer to ‘scenes’ rather than ‘chapters’ because I like to think of ‘scenes’ while I am writing. This helps me to visualise what is taking place. I haven’t yet allocated chapters but I will come to that later. With my first two books I divided them into chapters as I went along but then found that I had to make some alterations at the end, so I’m trying a slightly different approach this time.

Whilst lying on my bed I went over the scenes I had already written in my mind. Then I started thinking about the scenes that were to follow. I decided to write the next scene based on assumptions but highlight it so that I could easily make changes once I had received the answers to my research questions. Once I had decided how to go forward with that scene, I found that the rest fell into place, and ideas started to form for subsequent scenes. I picked up my small notepad and within a half hour I had several pages of notes.

 

Notepad

That half hour or so was worth so much more than hours spent at a computer keyboard willing the ideas to come. It’s great to be able to sit at the computer and hammer away on the keys when you already have a few pages of notes to guide you along. The notes should keep me going for a few more thousand words but if I come unstuck again, I’ll try employing the same tactic.

I’d love to hear from other authors regarding this topic. Have you ever come across a similar problem and, if so, how have you tackled it?

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Writing Using the Five Senses

As I have returned to fiction writing after a long break I have decided to brush up on some of the skills I learnt on my writing course many years ago. I have therefore recently been reading a book called ‘Teach Yourself Writing a Novel’ by Nigel Watts. Whilst reading chapter 9, ‘Setting the Scene’, part of this chapter reminded me of something I covered on my writing course. This relates to utilising all of the senses when describing a scene from a character’s viewpoint because this helps the reader to picture the scene i.e. don’t just describe a scene or character visually but also describe how it sounds, smells etc. Perhaps you could be describing a mangy room where the odour is so bad you can almost taste it, for example.

EarOn this blog I have previously described how when I was writing my first novel I became really engrossed and felt almost as though I was the protagonist and was experiencing everything that she was going through. Perhaps part of the reason for that was because I was utilising the five senses. With my second novel I haven’t felt that same attachment up to now and I know that I need to recapture that feeling before I return to it. Hence I am revisiting some of the techniques that I learnt previously.

Another example of utilising the five senses would be if the protagonist was to enter the scene of a burning building. By using the five senses you would not only describe the visual impact but also the sound of the flames, the feel of the heat, the smell of burning flesh or the choking effects of the smoke. Obviously it isn’t always necessary to use all five of the senses but by using a few of them you can add dimensions to your scene. Because this helps readers to imagine the scene, it fits in with that old writing adage of ‘don’t tell, show’.

I was pleased to find an example in my debut novel where I’d taken on board some of the advice I’d picked up in trying to set the scene. In this particular scene the protagonist has just been subjected to a vicious verbal attack in the canteen where she works, as she is one of the suspects in a murder inquiry.

Mouth

Julie’s first reaction was to flee from the room as quickly as possible, but Norma’s words kept echoing inside her head, and she told herself, “If I run, everyone will think I’m guilty.” She knew that she had to see it through. “I’m going to eat this bloody pie if it kills me,” she told herself. “I’ve got to try to act as normally as possible; I mustn’t let them get to me.”

Consuming the meal was a struggle. Julie had never before realised that eating could take such an infinite length of time. Her muscles were tense and she found it a tremendous effort to eat each mouthful. Her throat was so constricted that she felt as though she would choke each time she tried to consume the bland pie. Occasionally, she raised her head and glanced around the room just to let people see that she wasn’t about to bow her head in shame.

 NoseShe could sense eyes watching her, but each time she raised her head, they quickly diverted their gaze. This caused her to become even more self-conscious. She felt as though her every movement was being noted; the shaking of her hands, the way she struggled to swallow – her face becoming more flushed with each agonising gulp, the way she shuffled uncomfortably on her chair.

A piece of pie then became lodged in her throat and she lifted her drink so that she could attempt to swill it down. Unfortunately, the cup slipped from her shaking hand. She quickly grasped at it and managed to steady the cup on the table, but not before some of the contents had spilt onto her food.

As she replaced the cup, Julie heard somebody clear their throat and a couple of people coughed, as though indicating a break in the tension. She couldn’t face going to the canteen staff for a cloth to wipe up the mess, so Handshe searched her bag for a tissue. Julie only succeeded in clearing up part of the drink with her tissue, so she had to face eating the rest of her meal with her plate swamped by liquid.

She had managed to swallow the lump of Shepherd’s pie whilst her mind had been drawn to other things, and this had encouraged her to quickly devour a few more forkfuls. However, she was still only two thirds through the pie, and was beginning to struggle to swallow it once more. She knew that she mustn’t leave any on her plate, as this might suggest that she had rushed away, unable to face people any longer.

When Julie eventually reached the point where a marginally acceptable amount was left on her plate, she arranged her cutlery so that it concealed the biggest lumps of food. She then stood up and pulled back her chair as calmly as she could, in defiance of her rapidly beating heart and clammy hands. Julie then walked slowly and deliberately from the canteen with her head held high.

Eye

Please feel free to share your thoughts about using the five senses in your writing, by adding your comments below.

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