yWriter 5, and Why I Might Become an Outliner

Thorough outlining is not generally my thing.  My attitude is usually more like, “Well, this is a cool storyline, and I know where I want it to end up.  Here’s a couple cool things that could happen in the middle.  Let’s connect the dots!!!”  But.  It’s very hard to pace an entire novel with the by-the-seat-of-your-pants method.  It can be done (though probably not in a first draft, unless you’re the Mozart of novelists), if you’re willing to tear the entire thing apart and put it back together a bunch of times.  But.  I’d like to make it a little easier on myself for the second Underworld novel, especially since there will be multiple points of view involved.  It was hard enough keeping things on track with just Erica, let alone the crazy-ass hooligans who’ll show up in Book II!

So I’m using yWriter 5, a free program by Spacejock Software for novel outlining.  What, good ol’ pen and paper isn’t good enough anymore? you ask.  Index cards were good enough when your mother started HER second novel, you sneer.  But, dear reader, it was my mother who told me about the yWriter Project, so…dear reader, kindly shut yer gob.  (J/K, you know I love y’all!)  Point being, yWriter is pretty sweet.  It seemed a little complex and overly-detailed to me when I first started playing around with it, but now that I’m really trying to get this novel laid out, I’m seeing the usefulness of all of the program’s tools and reports.

Example 1:  You can rate each scene’s relevance to the main plot, as well as its humor and tension level.  Then you can look at a chart of all your scenes and see how the flow of your plot builds, the build-up and release of tension, and the ebb and flow of humor throughout the course of the novel.  If there’s no forward movement of the plot in the entire middle section of the book, you’ll see it visually right away.  If you have no tension in the first section of the book, you’ll see it in the chart.  And if the first half of the book is funny and the second half is pure tension and anguish, you’ll know you need to fix that before you plunge into full-on writing.  Example 2:  Characters, locations, & items.  Especially for a series, this is great.  You add characters to the file and then add them to whatever scenes they appear in (and which scenes are from their viewpoint).  Since your character descriptions, biographies, goals, alternate names, etc. (you can even load a photo or drawing into their  file) are clickable from the outline, it’s easy to keep everyone’s stories straight (no pun intended) and everyone’s hair/eye color in mind (don’t you hate when you mix them up?)  You can also put in specific locations and items, each in their own separate files within your project – again, helping you keep your details straight, or reminding you of settings that your characters might need to return to, avoid, etc.  Nifty!  You can also pull up a report to see how many scenes each character appears in, which is a great early-warning signal that somebody might be trying to hijack the book to be All About Them when it isn’t.

Of course, nothing ever goes as outlined – I know once I get started, a billion things will shift around and run off in different directions and go at a different pace than I wanted…but that’s the fun part!  I like writing best when my stories surprise me with being more awesome than I could ever have planned on purpose!

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