Nicholas Reicher

Writing Your Next Blockbuster Film or Novel


Genre seems to be one of those things that fiction authors rarely think about. “It’s a book. I wrote it.” But learning how to write screenplays has definitely given me a different view of this.

Successful movies often are blends of two or three genres – thriller/crime, crime/horror, action/comedy, etc. This rarely works well for writing a novel.

A novel must fit certain forms. For instance, in almost every genre, you must show that the protagonist is changed at the end of the book by the events of the novel – or its a failure. In mysteries, however, you CAN’T show the protagonist changed. Why? Everyone expects the protagonist to be the same character in the next novel. Really, the mystery genre was set in place with Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and Nero Wolfe. These established the genre’s form and rules. Hercule Poirot remained in book two right up until the last of the books Agatha Christie wrote essentially the same insufferable character – because that’s what the readers wanted.

In thrillers, often the antagonist remains a puppet in the hands of the secret government – This is why Star Wars is a combination of Thriller-sci fi-samurai-western. does that work for a novel? It’s difficult to pull that off in a novel because you’ve got to fit the forms and conventions of that genre of novel.

We get ideas for novels that are a flash in your mind. “That’s a good story. What if?” Sometimes its someone relating a story, and something they say unrelated to the story gives you that flash.

Once you have that, ask “what genre is this?” if it’s a genre for action, then you know, “Okay, I have to have the protagonist do some kind of spectacular thing.” If it’s a drama, there are two or three central characters that are dominant, and everything else is setting. If it’s a thriller, you’ve got to set up your paranoia.  Failing to conform to the forms of the genre will leave your reader (if you get any) disappointed and feeling cheated. and they’ll never, never buy another one of your books.

But before you get to that stage, you’ve got to get past the agent and the publisher. Your agent is going to tell you immediately, “it’s not going to get published.” And even if you convince them, they’ll do the worst thing possible and let it go to a publisher. The publisher wants a good book, If your book doesn’t fulfill the forms of that genre, they’re going to reject it, and it’s going to make them hesitate when they hear your name in the future.

You don’t want that.

Write the best book you can. And I know that’s your goal. But keep in mind that when you say, “It’s a….” people expect it to offer what they’d expect from a sci-fi novel, from a fantasy novel, from a thriller, a drama, a romance, a mystery.


Some overlap between genres is sometimes unavoidable. However, try to keep most of your novel within a single genre, so your agent knows how to pitch it, the publisher knows how to market it, and the stores know where to put it on the shelves.

Writer’s Digest Shop

Hopefully you all saw it! The Writer’s Digest shop had a huge sale a few days ago. I was able to get several of the seminars at a third of the price.

During December, it’s probably a good idea to check both the Writer’s Store and the Writer’s Digest Shop to see what’s on sale daily!

Premium Novelist Program Is Now Free- WriteWay 1.9

Yesterday, Gizmo’s announced that the premium Novel Writing program WriteWay was now free. Apparently, the authors of the program have decided to stop development on it, and have given a registration number on the website. Registration is now free – you have to give a email address, but that’s it.

Free Registration

To use WriteWay free, you will still need to register your downloaded Demo version.
After installing WriteWay, select “Register WriteWay” from the File menu.
When the “WriteWay Registration” form appears, fill-in your name and email address in the fields provided and then always use the following license number: 432D5-A965A-1717B-C5886.
Now just click the “Register WriteWay” button and start using WriteWay.

Install the program, and make sure the FIRST TIME you run it you right click on the icon and choose “run as administrator”. This allows it to save the registration number.

So, what’s the program like? It opens with a partial sample story in it (Cinderella). Just close that, and click “New”. This will create a new story. You’ll want to change the storage location to your Dropbox folder, and then just try calling it “New Story”. Your story actually can be “blah blah” for now while you learn to use the program.

The interface is dated, and has that look that a lot of programs like “Contour” and “Character Creator” have. I think this (and the fact I’d never heard of WriteWay before yesterday) could be why the product never really took off.

I do like how the program forces you to plan things. I DON’T like how it tries to get you to name every scene and chapter by default when making them. I like to set up my novel format first, and THEN name my chapters. Having to click the “New Chapter” button and then click a “Cancel” button to create a chapter is annoying. Literally, this means I’m clicking “Cancel” 60 times as I populate my novel with chapters and scenes. I’m sure this is something that can be changed in the preferences, but I’ve only had the program for a day, and this is my first time really trying the program.

What I do like is the WriteWay structure makes you plan. I’m slowly reverting to being a pant’ser, and that’s not a good thing – if you want your book to be written quickly. Pant’sing does nothing more than give you writer’s block when you’ve got nothing.

The program opens with wanting you to define what your novel is. If you want to leave it blank, you can just click apply, and then go to “Properties” later to add more.

Genres. The software comes with “Other” as the default. Go ahead and write in the name of the genre yourself – it allows you to add “Thriller”, “Mystery”, “Flightless Arctic Water Fowl”, whatever you’re writing. And it saves those choices.

Set up your program with 8 chapters in Act 1, 14 chapters in Act 2, and 8 chapters in Act 3. Add one scene per chapter. Adding scenes and chapters is actually a little faster here than Scrivener – but that “Cancel” step with having to name chapters and scenes is a definite annoyance. Again, it’s probably something you can turn off in the preferences. All you have to do to add a chapter is to select the act you want to add the chapters to, and hit the “Chapter” button. I like to name chapters and scenes later.

To add scenes., select the chapter, and click the “scene” button.

Synopsis. Under the file menu, there’s an option to write a full synopsis for the book. Yes, your eyes just glazed over, but your agent is going to ask for a synopsis of your book, and the publisher will too. You should write two synopsizes, a one-age and a three page.

Storyboard. Yes, WriteWay has a corkboard view. Click the Storyboard button. There’s a lot of sub context menus by right clicking. To get back to the default view, click “Composition”.

Font Matter and Back Matter. You can add default pages by clicking on “Front matter” and click the “Page” button. It’s then a matter of clicking on each of the page types, choosing “add”, and then going over a couple of columns and choosing “front matter” or “Back matter”. You can also add user pages. WriteWay allows you to drag pages back and forth.

Once all this is done, NOW you can select your scenes and chapters, right click, and change scene and chapter names. At the bottom of the scene page, you can add synopsis for each scene. It’s kind of like YWriter in that respect.

One very good feature in it, is that you can set a project word count, start and completion date (hint – choose a completion date that gives you the coveted 1,667 per day word count! If you start today, your completion date is Feb. 3!)

And yes, WriteWay has a full screen mode!

There’s a good drop down Character Generation section. And a research section as well. These features pull it slightly ahead of YWriter for a lot of these functions. The first thing you DO need to learn is that for all of the subsections, to get back to the main screen is the Composition button.

Future Book Ideas. Believe it or not, this is something you can set up and keep track of in WriteWay. What you enter in here is kept in the WriteWay folder, not in your project folder – so that every idea you come up with is available in EVERY project! For Mysteries, you can list them as “poisoning-jealousy-rejected suitor/heiress victim”, etc. I can plan out an entire series of mysteries this way! Thrillers can be “introduction to the Organization/man finds smart watch in 1961/hunted by assassins” or whatever. I’ve got good ideas for my Thrillers, so I’m trying to keep those under wraps! This alone is a good way to keep track. Try to add projected dates for them. Have a “Writing Admin day” where you plan these out. I’d make folders myself instead of pages, and you can write your synopsis for them in separate pages. The way WriteWay is currently set up is that you’d write loglines for each one, and you’d store them all in the “Fiction stories” page.

Drawback. There’s no way to make notes to yourself in chapters or scenes.  If you’re used to making comments to yourself in Scrivener for scenes, then you’re going to feel stifled and crippled! The workaround is to do it in the scene plot at the bottom of the page, and then just clip that part out or strikethrough once it’s done.

I’m going to try writing a complete novel in it, so that I can write a much more in depth feature for beginning writers. sometime in February or March. I hope! Stay tuned.


I’ve literally got less than 20 minutes of experimenting with WriteWay. I think if they’d updated the interface by looking at Scrivener and YWriter, they’d have probably would have been more successful. However, I’ll say this that WriteWay is a good contender for the beginner novelist who can’t afford Scrivener right away. This goes in with YWriter as a good free alternative to Scrivener.  And some people may indeed decide after getting used to it (and seeing if the annoying Name this Chapter/Scene can be turned off!) that this is indeed the program for them.  I think this is great, to have two free alternatives to Scrivener. Not all people think alike, and many writers alas are financially strapped until they get published.

Essential Keys to the Writer’s Notebook

It doesn’t matter what kind of notebook you get. I like a small one (9.5X6) because that way I can carry it around with me essentially everywhere.

Open it, and on the top right hand corner of the page, smear a yellow highlighter. Now write the date with your Tul pen. Don’t do it the other way around! The operative word there is “smear”.

It takes about a day to get your Tul pen working nicely, by the way.

Now, on the left margin, draw an underscore line. ___________ Then wait. Any thought or to-do you have goes to the right of the underscore line. Why?

____X_____ Need to have an umbrella in first scene

See? It’s a check off spot. It’s not enough to come up with ideas, but you have to keep track of them as well. I also have a habit of lining them out afterwards.

____X_____ Need to have an umbrella in first scene

There’s no question if I got to that or not. You can come up with your own system, what works for you. But during the day, you’re going to come up with a million ideas, and no – you won’t remember them. Get into the habit of every day bringing that notebook with you, keeping it open, and waiting for ideas to come up. After 21 days of this, you’ll find that ideas and to-do’s are FLOODING your head. Why? It takes 21 days to create a habit. This is training your mind to come up with ideas, and to WRITE THEM DOWN.

Here’s the catch – I come up with 3 1/2 pages of ideas a day. Most of them are to-do’s, and probably if I got the Full Focus planner, it would end up taking about 50% of my notebook’s contents. But many of them are also novel and script ideas, and some of my hobbies (I like to make military dioramas).

NEVER THROW A NOTEBOOK AWAY. What ideas you didn’t get to in notebook one, five years from now and novel number 11, you’ll find a use for that umbrella scene.

When you open the notebook the next day, repeat the process. No matter where you are on the page, you’re going to find the first open line, and put the yellow highlighter there on the RIGHT, and put in the date.

You’re going to find you came up with good stuff. This now ELIMINATES your number one excuse for not writing your novel. “I can’t come up with any good ideas!”

Sure you van. you’re filling a notebook with them.

I bet Stephen King carries around a writer’s notebook. I bet Tom Clancy had one. You’re going to need something to capture ideas, and you need to start TODAY the practice of sitting or standing in front of an open notebook, ready to take ideas as you come up with them.

The Next Steps in the Novel Challenge

Okay, in the last few days, we got the mechanical stuff set up for the novel. We’re about to really start our planning soon, but today should be the last of the mechanical stuff.

Open your project (you can actually save a link on your desktop, and open it that way too). We need to put a scene or two for every chapter. Click on the chapter in the binder (that’s the left column). It’ll show a corkboard. left click on it, then press CTRL+N. If you do it twice, you get two scenes. For now, let’s do one scene.

Did you do your 60 plot points? If you did your math, you’ll see it’s going to be roughly one plot point per scene. Now it’s just all the “He said” and “She shouted angrily”. BTW, of course, if she’s shouting, it’s… angrily. Edit the line to “She shouted.” We can infer the anger part.

If you were able to come up with 60 plot points, you’ll need two scenes per chapter. If you were only able to come up with 30, it’s going to be one scene per chapter. I’ve used up to 7 scenes per chapter. More than that, and the chapter starts to drag.

Scenes, by the way, do not have to be 1600 words long. I’ve written 300 word scenes. I tend to list them as 400 words (action snippet), 600 words (short scene), 900 words (medium scene), 1200 words+ (long scene).

This is part of “directing from the pen”. You’re going to control the pacing of your novel by choosing scene length. If your book is starting to drag as you write it, switch it up and resort to action snippets. If the pace is going too fast, you need to throw in a medium to long scene.

The same thing works with sentences. I’ve already got my writer’s voice, so my sentences tend to be uncontrolled – they are what they are. For now, start thinking in terms of writing shorter sentences to speed things up, longer sentences to slow them down. Compound sentences mean the same thing as compound fracture – something’s broken.

So, for now, make one scene per chapter, and be prepared to make three or four.

Take EACH plot point in your list, and put them in the synopsis in each scene (you have to have scenes – if you try writing your novel in the chapters, you’re in for a rude surprise when you print this thing out).

Last mechanical items you need to do:

Get Evernote if you didn’t do that yesterday. Just use the free plan for now – authors are notorious for being broke. Install the Evernote clipper plugin to your browser. Trust me on this. You’re going to do a TON of research, and you’re going to need something to hold all that research. Evernote is my default storage. it’s MUCH better than the old days when I’d save something to PDF.

Eventually, on a slow month I’m not researching something, or if they offer me the business trial again, I’m going to import every last PDF on my hard drive and get RID of them! Well, not the E-book ones I’ve paid for.

Get a pack of Tul pens. Up to you if you like blue ink or black, fine point or medium. But nothing writes like a Tul.

get a small notebook you can bring with you to jot things down with. Even if you bought the Full Focus Planner, be prepared to carry a notebook around. Get into the habit of jotting down EVERY thought you have about your novel. I’m going to talk about the writer’s notebook tomorrow, and show you how to set it up.

Writing a log line for your novel

Loglines are essential to writing movies. There are entire books and seminars about writing log lines.

Recently, I got a book from Writer’s Digest where one of the authors advocated using loglines as a blueprint for writing novels – except they were completely unfamiliar with loglines, and essentially were re-inventing the wheel.

Loglines are a one or two sentence summation of a movie. “An amateur boxer down on his luck gets the shot at the big time when a professional boxer chooses him for an opponent for a big time boxing match, and a chance at the same time to win the love of his sweetheart.”

There you go. Rocky. I’ve actually never seen it, and people tell me it’s a great movie. All I know is that Stallone set an all time record for writing a screenplay that I have to beat – he wrote the movie in eight hours, sitting up all night in front of a typewriter after watching a boxing match on TV.

So at some point, I have to write one in seven hours!

Karl Iglesias summed it up with a template that reads, “(title) is a (genre) about a (description of hero) who, after (inciting incident) wants to (outer goal) by (plan of action). This becomes increasingly difficult because (complications and obstacles)”.

That’s a little wordy for me – I tend to like action. A punch in the nose really eliminates a lot of dialogue.

so, Karl has loglines for people like me, too. “(title) is a (genre) about a (description of hero) who must (outer goal) or else (dire consequences)”.

Like… “Die Hard is an action/thriller/police drama about a cop from New York who must defeat a group of heavily armed terrorists that have taken hostages or his estranged wife and the other hostages will be killed.”

There’s a lot that’s not there. But this is where we start planning our novel!

I’m inclined to throw out another log line: “Deep Hurting is about a temp worker who is shot into space and forced to watch bad movies by two evil scientists, and must resist being driven mad by the movies or they will enslave the world.”

Mike is better than Joel.

Anyway (!), now you’ve got the formula.

This is your first step to determine what your novel will be – an actually, it’s essentially what you do anyway – but there’s no conscious decision to force the log line to plot your novel.

So, write your log line, right now. Open Scrivener, go to your new project (if you haven’t made one yet, shame on you, we did it yesterday!) and you’re going to write your log line in the right hand window of the inspector, in the window labeled “Project Notes”. If you don’t see the inspector, click the blue “I” button. 

We’re almost ready!

Writing a Short Story

Writing a short story is vastly different from writing a novel. Many short stories literally are what it takes for me to even get warmed up! Certain things you need in writing, such as character development, scene setup, narrative descriptions have to be tossed out so quickly and so sparingly that the reader often has very little time to get a feel for what’s going on.

I remember Omni magazine had a short story once about an executioner in a future world that had degenerated into the middle ages. The peasants believed that the executioner was really a machine, who was paid his weight in gold to go into the king’s prisons and kill off all the condemned. In reality, he was a man wearing armor. And he encounters a Gump, who turns the tables on him.

I don;t know how many words it was, but it was one of those stories you don’t forget. The setup was delivered in the actions of the executioner, and there was no character development, no theme or lesson, until the Gump took control of the man’s futuristic armor and made it crush and behead the executioner.

So – how to write a 4,500 word story? You’ve got almost no time for setup, backstory, or glimpses into character history.

What you want to do is  very carefully craft the back history into people’s dialog and narrative actions. Much of my short story dealt with back story and character history in the actions and words between Ernie and Cary. The entire social climate and history of the Island was dealt with over Ernie being a lobster pirate, and how they treated Ruthie.

And I got it all in there in just a couple of paragraphs.

With short stories, this is really a case of thinking on the fly. “How can I make this one short sentence do double duty?”

It’s really a case of using a lot of subtext in almost every sentence. In hindsight, I’ve almost got enough going on in The Island to make a 110 page movie script out of it.

Another short story I’ve read was a rather boring one, about a man who is renting a flat in London, and finds a Griffin resting on the roof just outside his window. Almost all of the story is about the man – whose name ironically was Griffin – talking to the mythical beast. It was interesting, but really nothing happens. You knew all along the man would get up the next day and the Griffin would be gone.

However, that story is a good case study. If I remember, you gleaned as much from what was not written as what was written! Now, if the Griffin had done something unexpected, like eat the man at the end of the story, then you REALLY could have packed it all in there. You could have had the man realize all along that the Griffin was going to kill him, and the conversation could have turned along to the man trying to convince the Griffin not to without actually saying so.

If you’re trying to keep the story under 4000 words, then you need to conceive a single scene. There’s no movement past that scene. the short story of the  sled dog rider with a single dog who crashes his sled, and is stranded is a perfect example. There was no narrative break. You just saw the dog sledder trying to call the dog over so he could survive the night, and the dog avoiding him. And when the POV changed to the dog, then you knew the man had died.

Here’s your assignment: What if… Come up with a story, what if it, and write it. Set Scrivener to write at 4,500 words. Give yourself a 2 hour 15 minute limit. No editing. Just write.

When it’s done, you may edit it, but you may not go past 5,000 words.

Next week, write another.

Then another.

If you decide to post it here, be aware – you retain all rights to it. It is copyright (date of creation) your name all rights reserved. I have no rights, implied or otherwise to your story.

get busy!

Getting your novel off to a right start

I’m of course always reading, studying, trying to improve. Experts tell us this is the character trait of a successful novelist and screenplay writer. It’s not something I’ve cultivated, it’s just how I am.

One of the things I’ve stressed is that if this isn’t an essential part of your personality, then you need to take steps to make that part of your personality!

Whenever I’ve taken up anything new, I try to immerse myself in it. I try to read everything on it I can get my hands on.

Writing a novel is daunting the first time you try it. It’s so daunting, such a huge job, that many people work at it for years upon years upon years and never see the end of the tunnel.

If that sounds like you, I’m telling you, it’s not as hard as your making it. You’re just floundering, and haven’t found your way. You can write a short novel in 30 days, edit it in another 30, and have it on your publisher’s desk by the end of 90 days.

What you really need is a blueprint, or a road map. Many books on writing novels will give you that blueprint, but no worries – I’m giving it to you now.

The beginning of a novel is called the set up. This is important. you must show your main character, called the protagonist, in their normal life. Why is this important? Because you want to show how their life has changed at the end of the story. This is important for the reader. You know you did your job well if they continue the novel in their imagination past the ending of the book.

The setup has to continue until you’ve firmly established this is their life – and no longer.  Usually this takes chapters 1-3, but depending on how free or sparing you are with your words, this could take less time.

Now you have to move onto the Inciting Incident. This is the one incident that motivates the protagonist to do something. Here’s a simple math formula – if your protagonist allows things to happen, book=boring. If your protagonist makes things happen, book=good.

If you complain, “but my novel needs him to sit back and wait for things to happen!”, then your book is going to be lame. Sorry, but this is the facts. Your protagonist must DO something.

What must they do? Hey, look, I’m not writing your novel for you! Well, I could, but it would be really expensive! You have to decide for yourself what they’re going to do, and how they’re going to do it.

Now you have to invent all kinds of obstacles to their getting it!

In Lord of The Rings, Frodo is basically told by Gandalf he needs to bring the Ring to Rivendell. Well, now you’ve got the 9 riders after him. Merry and Pippin are trying to get him there, but they’re prone to taking the wrong way and getting them embroiled in adventures. They end up at Bree and getting into trouble there, and the 9 riders find their rooms – but they’ve fled.

See the setup of goal, and blocks? Frodo has one simple thing to do. If he gets the Ring to Rivendell, and Elrond tosses it into a smelting forge and that’s the end of it, you’ve got a dull short story.

So add Merry and Pippin, who’re going to lead Frodo into trouble.

Add the 9 riders. There’s now peril beyond a simple journey and getting lost.

Tom Bombadil serves as the Guardian of knowledge, and helps them, but only to a point, where they can be handed off to Elrond, the next Guardian of knowledge.

They get into a scrape at Bree. Weathertop and the Wraiths.

Nothing is simple about a simple journey from Hobbiton to Rivendell.

Then, after numerous adventures, he finally gets there – and is told he’s still got to go to Mordor and toss the Ring into the volcano it was forged in.

These are the setup and blocks. Frodo has simple tasks, but the blocks preventing him are legendary. It’s why the LOTR series has sold millions. Every step of the way sounds do-able, until you get to the whole “take it to Mordor, right under Sauron’s nose and watching eye, slip past all the watchers and sentries, bypass a million orcs, and destroy the ring.” And even THEN, Tolkien gives you a giant spider, armies of Orcs, The watchers, a waterfall, battles, the lands of the dead, forests of living trees, Sauruman, the palantir, flying wraiths, etc. Every roadblock is literally increasing tension literally to the point the books fail. And you know what keeps you reading, the frank admission from one character, right at the point you’re about to toss the book, that if all this was a book, they were at the point you’d want to toss the book! clever. It’s never been done before, and because Tolkien did it cleverly, it can never be done again!

Act 1 is 25% of your book, act 2 is 50% of your book, and act 3 is 25% of your book, including the epilogue.

So here’s the important part. You need plot points, 50-60 of them. One writer likes to describe them as “Story sparks”, something that your mind seizes on and thinks, “That’s really neat, I’m putting that in my book.”  Weathertop is a story spark. Strider and the hobbits running into the stone trolls from the Hobbit is a story spark. The Barrow downs is a story spark. Technically, they’re called “plot points”. Dramatica calls them “signposts”, and the spaces between “journeys”. Whatever you call them, you need at least 40, and 60 is better. I can tell you that LOTR had more than 60 plot points in the first book alone.

“So, Do I just sit down and write out numbers 1-60, and just write down what my plot points are?”

Yup. The more you have, the better.

This is why I constantly say “plan your work, and work your plan.” Remember the 5P principle!

“How do I keep people reading?”

Promises and payoffs. If you promise something in the book, you’ve got to pay it off. My short story “The Island” had several promises – repeated references to the drowning of Mike (you knew before the end of the story that Ernie was going to drown Ruthie), the mention of the icepick in the store, the repeated information that only two could survive, and several mentions of 9 people on the island. Every murder was a payoff. The icepick was a payoff. Ernie drowning Ruthie was a payoff. The subtle antagonism between Cary and Ernie was a promise, and it had a payoff.

If you show a pistol as a decoration in act 1, it had better go off in act 2 or three. Someone’s got a bejeweled dagger? Someone better get stabbed with it. Cliff? Someone falls over it. Most of the time (here’s the joy of writing novels), you write something, and suddenly you realize you just wrote a promise of something. Now you know completely by accident that you’ve got to deliver the payoff!


This article alone isn’t enough to write a novel, but it’s enough to get you started! If you start going through my web site, you’ll run across a myriad of articles written to help you get your novel written.

The goal is – plan now. Because we’re writing a novel from January of 2018 through until March 30, 2018! I’ve got an entire series of writing tips on Twitter every day @NSReicher that will help poke and prod you into planning your novel, then writing it! I’ll host additional tips on my Facebook Author’s page, so check that out as well!

no more dreaming about writing a novel. You’re going to do it.

Starting your novel project in Scrivener

The first thing you’re going to do is get Scrivener, and then get the template. I’m probably going to try a mystery, because I’ve never written one. We’ll try something new together. Besides, I want to try a mystery because right now, Hallmark is accepting mystery novels. Because of Hallmark’s requested novel length, I’m going to set Feb. 15 as my deadline. It’s probably about 5 more than I need, but once you go past a 30 day goal, expect interruptions. That’s why I raise an eyebrow at the whole “Write a book in six months” concept. If it’s that long, it’s not happening.

So, file—new project—and choose a template. I usually use the 30 chapter template, because someone did a great job of assembling a workable outline. Do a search for “FREE SCRIVENER TEMPLATES”. A lot of people work against Scrivener (believe it or not) in the way they set up their templates. All of your novel MUST be enclosed in a folder called Manuscript. Some people like to rename this folder, and actually, they’re working against themselves. Any time someone follows convention and names it something else, that means they’ve got to rename that in every template they find. I literally won’t try a template if they rename manuscript. So for me, it’s either the 30 chapter template, or my own.

Choose your default location as “Dropbox”, assuming you have Dropbox. If not, don’t do anything yet – go to the Dropbox website, get the Dropbox program, sign in, and THEN choose your save location as Dropbox. There’s a reason for this. If your laptop crashes or gets stolen, or you spill water on it, your novel will be saved. All you have to do is get a new computer, install Scrivener and Dropbox, and you’ll find your novel right there! (BTW, I’m going to make the plea you get Evernote also, and that you store your passwords in it. This way, everything you save will be in Evernote as well).

Your project will now open in Scrivener.

The way Scrivener works, you  can’t write in chapters – you have to write in scenes. I had found a murder mystery template, but it was bare bones, no headlines to tell you what to write when. The 30 chapter template is set up for you. Be prepared to add notes to the synopsis – we’re going to do this soon.

Today, the important part is to get your word count in there. Because I’m planning on submitting to the Hallmark Channel, they have specific requirements of happy endings, no violence, if it’s a murder mystery it has to happen off the page, and they’ve got rules of no violence. So you can’t show the murder.

So. go to project—>project target. Hallmark’s got a target of 70,000 – 85,000 words. For now, I’ve got 80,000 entered under manuscript target. Then for word count, I’ve got 1,667. Plan on your novel being 50,000 for now.

This means you’re going to have a complete project done in 30 days. Again, this is not like NaNoWriMo, because they’re satisfied if you get the word count. We’re aiming for a complete novel, first draft. I’m going to give you a couple of Scrivener tricks that will increase your daily word count beyond the 1,667.

Today, open your front matter and give your book a title. Choose a pen name (or if you’ve got a name like Stephen King, use your own), and go ahead and fill out everything in your front matter section and back matter section. If you don’t know what to put there, that’s your dedication, your about the author, etc.

Some quick advice before we do this – if this is your first novel, if this is something you’ve never completed before, then be prepared for this – you may end up hiding this novel once you’re done. Most author’s first novels are garbage. It’s the second book that’s excellent. Stephen King and Tom Clancy are of course the exceptions. King’s first book was Carrie, and he threw it in the trash after he was done reading it. Tabitha King pulled it out of the trash, and talked him into trying to get it published. Clancy wrote Hunt for Red October, brought it to the Navy press, and behold – they and he had their first novels published. No kidding, I have a copy of the Navy Press Red October.

All right – last housekeeping chore. Go to your Dropbox, and create a folder called “Scrivener backups.” Now, go back to Scrivener. Go to File—>backup—>backup to. Open the Dropbox folder, then choose the Scrivener Backups. This is a step 99% of Scrivener users don’t do, and they think they’re backing up their project all the time. If you haven’t designated a specific folder for backups, then believe it or not, you’re not backing up at all. The Scrivener tutorial manuscript explains this.

Six Important Keys to Scene Introductions

Years ago, when I was a kid, I remember my dad going off on intro lines to books. He made a big deal about the fact the first line of your book had to be perfect, or nobody would read it.

Now, my dad read a lot, often more than I did – and I went from one book to another. So, I took his word for it.

And so I wasted countless hours in front of a Remington typewriter, trying to think of  the perfect first line to my novels. And then I’d waste countless hours trying to think of the perfect first line to every scene and chapter.

To the point that I never, ever finished a novel until the 2000’s. That’s 30 years of writing, and never being able to finish!

Things are different now. I’ve written and finished several novels, and several screenplays. Now I’ve got a foolproof way to write and get it done, and the first thing I did was ditch my father’s advice. Anything that stops you from writing is nonsense and dead weight.

When I’m writing, I’ve usually got a certain amount of pre-novel work done. I know the goal of the chapter and the scene. So very often, I’ll just write location and name in the beginning of the scene. “Carpenter and McKinney stood in the clearing, outside the shelter.”

Who: carpenter and McKinney.

What: They’re standing, obviously having a conversation or they’d be doing something. What it is they’re conversing about, we’re about to find out.

When: Obviously, immediately after the other scene. How do I say “Obviously?” because there’s no statement about when it’s taking place. The Next Day is missing. Later That evening is missing. So it must be immediately following the other scene. What you don’t say is often as valid as what you do say.

Where: outside the shelter.

Why: This is again an obvious one. They’re either going to talk about the shelter, plans for it – or they’re going to talk about something they don’t want anyone else to here. How can you derive that? It’s simple. They’re outside, and nobody else is. again, you don’t need to say everything.

how: There’s no how in this intro. They’re standing, which means they’re capable of it. But if your introduction was, “Carpenter was suspended twelve stories in the air, wondering how he was going to get himself out of this”… You’re going to need to explain how he got there, and what’s got him suspended!

The point here is, I try to write to-the-quick intro lines. I’m trying to write a scene! Get INTO the scene as quickly as possible. PLEASE don’t waste the intro to your scene with, “the glittering drops slowly rolled off the flower petals as Carpenter and McKinney stared off into the distance, each affected by the sound of the soothing rain as they struggled with their…”

Yeah, that’s good writing. Except for the fact that it’s such a compound sentence it looks more like plumbing than writing!

Setup. dialog. Response. gesture. objection. Confident answer. Lull.

NOW glittering raindrops!

Got it? Scenes breathe. They have life. If you load up the front end of the scene with baggage, the scene seems winded, like it’s got a weight on its chest.

If your intro is TOO terse – that’s why there’s re-writes. Get the scene written. There’s some essential part of that you’re itching to write, and you’re staring off into the distance, waiting for the starting gun to fire. BANG! Write that. Don’t worry about the perfect starting line. Just for now WWWWWH, in one sentence. If you don’t need to explain why, don’t!


It’s a sentence. Write it, and move on to the real focus of the scene!

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