DIY Writer’s Organization Program, Pt. 4


Now that you have been happily house-cleaning with folders, it’s time to organize the top level inside Chiller.

The first thing, of course, is your manuscript.

There are two approaches to a manuscript. One, the whole thing is one file and you have markers, whether chapter names or ****, to find your way around inside 140,000 words. Two, you keep it as a bunch of separate files, chapters or scenes, and label them that way. If you hate one and the other makes you happy, I would never suggest changing. Having done both (old computers couldn’t handle a file larger than a chapter or two), I will say you need to be very organized about your labelling so that you can find the chapter among many that you want. If doing one big file, if you’re a railroader, no problem. If you’re a grasshopper, you need to mark the gaps and remember distinctive phrases to find particular scenes.

Discarded or superceded versions get a “z” in front of their name in the file label, and get put in Old Versions, so you don’t write on them any more. The first discard starts “zZ”, the second “zY” and so on — we hope no farther than zT.

I always label the one-piece manuscript in progress as “00 Chiller ms” so it will be at the top of the list of files when I go to open something in my word-processor. “00 Chiller plot” will sit nicely under it, for those of you addicted to plotting in advance. “00 Chiller synopsis” works, too. Then there’s “01 Tally Chiller” where I keep my word count, or “01 Char Chiller” where I keep my compact list of characters by name. That keeps me from having Fred, Franny, Frank, and Fern in one book. In main characters, you want to spread out those initials.

Actual character details are best kept in a database. Then you can sort them by prominence (A for main characters, down to E for extras), personal name, family name, height, or any number of things. However, the big character bio probably won’t fit in the notes allowed in a database: back to the word-processor or to HTML for individual bio sheets. Both bios and database are best kept in a subfolder “Characters.” You do need a short list that’s fast access just so you don’t keep renaming the messenger.

If you keep separate word-processor files for each segment or chapter, you want to have almost nothing else at this top level, or else put the chapters in a subfolder “00 Chiller ms.” I know what it’s like chasing down thirty of the things. Therefore, I will share with you my labelling system.

If you’re a plotter, you lay out your scenes in a list. If you’re a pantser like me, you will do this on the fly. No problem, because you change this whenever you feel like it.

Most novels are five-act structure:
I. opening and set-up,
II. complication and information,
III. false climax or lesser climax,
IV. descent and ascent,
V. climax and denouement

though a few, shorter and more simple-minded, are three-act. Westerns and category romances spring to mind for three-act.
I. opening and set-up,
II. complication and information,
III. climax and denouement

The main point being that you can look at a scene or chapter and roughly assign it to one of the areas, and use this number, 1 to 5, as the start of its file name. In your list of scenes, you ought to be able to figure at what point to change from 2 to 3.

No one ever sees this but you, so there is no right or wrong assignment, except to get the scenes in order of presentation. It’s just a tool. You don’t have to split hairs about which belongs where. Just do it.

The opening scene is “1AChiller.” The climax may be “5MChiller” and “5NChiller,” with the coda kick in “5OChiller” and the denouement in “5PChiller.” The letters are whatever feels right. You don’t have to have all the letters: I sometimes found nothing between G and something “middlish” that I had called M, and that’s fine.

If you find 5MChiller is running too long, and you already have a 5NChiller, don’t try to reletter all your files. Instead, you split it into 5M1Chiller and 5M2Chiller. Later, you may want to put the party scene into Act 3, rather than Act 2, which you can do with a few key strokes. All you do is change the name of the file as a file in the file window. When 2C and 2D turn out to be the beginning and end of one chapter, you put them together and call the new file 2CD so you don’t think you lost a file somewhere. See how flexible this is, while still keeping everything lined up?

If you’re a plotter with a scene list, you can put the scene description at the top of the file so when you open it you know what you have to write about in here.

Look at any other files you have at the top level inside “Chiller.” Certain ones you do want immediately available all the time. With the one-piece manuscript, the rest can be allowed to have alphabet names so they fall below the numbered ones. Even so, look to see if any might be grouped in a subfolder, like everything on the economics of the diner and what they cook. Every book has its own peculiarities: picklists of names, lists of battles and sieges, details on just what a dermatologist does with her days.

Now you can find things quickly, and not have to go through long lists of files.

Part 5

Start over at Part 1.

One response »

  1. Pingback: DIY Writer’s Organization Program, Pt. 3 | hollyiblogs

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