Software Review: yWriter? Because I said so.

An ePublisher encouraged me to resubmit my Shadow Cat manuscript after making some revisions. So I’m trying out this new program called yWriter to look for holes in the storyline. So far I LOVE it. It’s a little clunky as far as the interface goes, but it’s highly functional in terms of what a writer might need. It has a place to keep character profiles, locations, notes, and many more. It works like a database. Think MS Access, but easier to use and tailored for writers with predefined fields.

As far as finding holes, I love the notes feature. It’s so hard to keep track of potential problems just in my head, because I forget so easily. I’ve inputted several chapters, and I’ve already found a few glitches I need to fix, which is awesome. Not awesome that I have glitches, but awesome I’ve found them. In my MS, not the software program…duh. I’m confusing myself.

Anyway, another nice feature is the rating system which is on a scale of 1-10. I haven’t used it too much, but will as I read through the chapters. The categories are predefined, but changeable. I changed one default from humor to romance, but left the rest the same (relevance, tension, and quality). The idea of quality is nice, because I know I get burnt out when editing. And like I said, I’m forgetful. Rating the quality of the writing before I leave it will act as a warning sign for me.

The information exports to an RTF file, which I’m not fond of, as I prefer the flexibility of DOC files. One way I’ve gotten around that is to continue to use Word for the formatting and then just copy/paste the scenes into the program. However, ywriter also has an import feature. I tried it out, and it works. Just need to be sure that the RTF file is properly formatted for the program. I tend to hop into things, so I didn’t try it out until I’d already inputted a significant amount, and didn’t want to screw up what I’d already done by an exporting glitch.

Well, it has plenty of features I didn’t mention. Check out their website and see if yWriter is right for you. Why? Because I said so.

Back Story Gone Overboard

I haven’t blogged for a few days. I’m forcing myself to reedit Shadow Cat for the umpteenth time. But I’m finding some interesting things. One in particular is the need for back story. How much back story does a novel really need to keep it afloat? Not very much, I’m finding.

When I first started submitting to my critique group October 2009, I received comments asking if this is the best place to start the book. Another comments referred to driving the story forward.

I don’t know about other writers, but I put my heart into the background story. The characters come to life as I jot down each and every word which brought them into their situation. And I absolutely love the little bits. But does the reader need to know what my character did for the first 30 years of his life? Probably not.

So I’m stuck with trimming my baby. Breaks my heart to chip chapter after chapter from the front of the novel. YES! The front. Cause really, writers should start the story with the story, not the back story.

Now this may not work for everyone, but I’ll share how I find the start of my story. It’s really quite simple. Start reading from chapter 2. Is the story ruined? Can I make the entire novel flow by just adding a couple of details from the prior chapter throughout the rest of the novel? If I can, then I know I can trash the first chapter. <this is usually when I give a heartbroken sigh.> Onward! I rinse and repeat at chapter 3, and so on until voila! I hit the beginning of the book. The place where the action begins.

From there I can weave in the back story to fill in the blanks. But wait!!! Don’t go overboard with the back story. Only give the information the reader really needs to know to understand the novel. Word count is so important, don’t waste it on frivolous information. If he just came out of a rocky relationship, fine, mention it. But don’t give the nitty gritty details. And for Pete’s sake don’t rehash the whole thing in one spot, nor come back to it 50 times trying to drive the point home. By the way, who is Pete?

Anyway. Will I stop writing back story? Probably not. Why? Because it helps develop the character in my mind, and I think that’s important. I’ll just keep it to myself and bore the reader with all the dull details.

My Creation Process

My first novel, Shadow Cat just sort of came about. I got an idea for a character, which formed into a storyline, then blossomed into a full length novel. I just wrote until I got to the end, developing the story as it fell upon paper. And when I finished, I had one heck of a mess. 🙂 It took me longer to rewrite and edit the book than it took to get the words on paper in the first place. But eventually I refined and completed it.

Somewhere along the editing, I came across a great blog by Jordan McCollum The Hero (and Heroine)’s Journey–Hero’s Journey in romance.I found it to be an excellent method for starting and avoiding writer’s block. Now I have a few stories I’ve outlined using that process. It’s become a cataloging sort of system for me, so I don’t forget the great ideas I have floating in my head. So, that’s just the basic–the outline.

A few days ago, I sifted through Akiane‘s website (child prodigy) and came across videos of her painting. It reminded me of my own writing techniques and provided a visual representation of my process (not saying my writing compares to her artwork or anything like that). I start with something simple and add layer upon layer until it’s finished.

She sits before her blank canvas (empty doc file), and an image (story) appears before her. Pulling out her chalk she sketches (outlines) the rough details before they fade from her memory, setting the foundation for a beautiful piece of work. The groundwork laid, she grabs her palette and brush (thesaurus and dictionary) and smears a glob of paint (first line) on the fabric (document), spreading it until it forms a cheek (paragraph). Another splash of color around the eyes (new paragraph) adds dimensions, but it needs more… it needs to blend (flow). She smudges the two colors, blurring (creating a bridge between sentences) until she no longer has separate entities (paragraphs/chapter)–a cheek, an eye, a chin, but a complete face (chapter/story). The image (chapter/story) is not quite realistic,  the color (sentence) aren’t right. She tweaks (edits) it, adds more color. Beautiful. Pulling out her fine brush, she adds details (adjectives, power words) and replaces dull colors (inactive verbs) for brighter ones (active verbs) until she achieves the exact look and texture she wants.

She’s evolved her vague sketch (outline) to a finished painting (novel), a masterpiece. Or something like that.