A Writer’s Tools

The Sunday Book Review of the New York Times has an essay titled “Get With The Program” on software tools that novelists use when creating an opus. Many of them award winners, the authors interviewed use all sorts of software from Excel spreadsheets to Microsoft Project to a complex outlining program like Mindjet MindManager.

Obviously these authors are doing something right, but I know myself and understand that I often use technology and research to procrastinate writing. Not too long ago my friend Tawny Weber was lamenting at how writing is difficult like exercise is:

Both are hard to get started, but tend to feel pretty good once I’m in”the zone”.

Both net killer results—if I just don’t give up

I have been known to use PowerPoint as a substitute for physical index cards, but I think I’ve narrowed my toolbox down to the following items:

    • GMC charts: This chart is based on Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict book.Take a look at the worksheet I created to outline my characters’ GMCs (Word, 60KB). I post them near my monitor so I can refer to them when needed. The worksheet is meant to be read both left-to-right and top-to-bottom and is grouped into an external and internal GMC. For example, External Primary Goal A relates directly to External Primary Motivation A and Primary Obstacle A. In other words, Fido wants the bone (primary goal A); he wants the bone because it’s yummy (primary motivation A); Sparky is his primary obstacle since he wants the bone too (primary obstacle A). I try to have multiple means, reasons and details to each section to layer the story.
    • Scene Outline: This is a bulleted list of scenes loosely grouped into chapters. This linear map enables me to get an idea of the pacing of a story. I can see where my chapters might be short and can quickly ascertain whether that was intentional or if a particular area needs further work.
    • General World-building Document: Because I write Science Fiction, I usually write up a 5-10 page overview document that outlines various important scientific details about the world I’ve created. If a particular topic requires more detail, then I write up a fact sheet that I can easily refer to later.
  • Story Framework: This is a visual story model I cooked up as a combination of my favorite how-to-write books. Check it out here.