Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Scrivener

Last year, I started using Scrivener as my primary writing software. I wrote this blog before the new version of Scrivener came out. I have the new version and it's great. Most of what I said here is still applicable.
Scrivener is a robust, powerful software program designed specifically for writers. Sounds great, right? Even better? It's cheap. Only $40.00. You can download a test copy or buy it direct from the website.
Here are some things I like about Scrivener.

1. The main window includes (from left to right) a working outline, a writing area, and labeling tools all in one view.
 
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The outline is on the left. You can change the titles of sections, move things, and expand or collapse the outline all while you have your manuscript open in the main window. I create a file for each scene because that provides more flexibility when reorganizing. Here's a closer look. (The outline is really just notes to myself about the scene. They wouldn't make much sense to anyone else. They do make sense to me, though, I swear.)
 
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The labeling tools are on the right. You enter a short synopsis of what's in this file--very useful when you want to scan what you've already done. For people like me with day jobs, catching up on the previous day's writing can be a battle and the synopsis is a great help. I use the labels to indicate the POV in the scene, the keywords to call out some important elements like the theme or secondary characters, and the whole set of tools to make my orderly soul feel happy.
 
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2. The Corkboard is Awesome! You can also view your Scrivener files in the Corkboard. It's exactly what it sounds like. I use this view mainly when I'm working with my research and backstory notes. I also have some character inspiration photos. I don't really do casting, but I like to have a photo that gives me some element of the character. I create notecards for everything from factual research, to theme, to his and hers thoughts on family. It's tons of fun and a very creative way to think. (It's also easier to keep cards organized when they're in the computer. I don't have an office so my notecards always end up scattered between my nightstand, my backpack, and who knows where.)
 
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3. Easy export to Word. I deliver my manuscripts as Word files and the export to Word is simple. I can answer questions about the process if anyone wants to know, but it's not hard. I've figured out how to format the exported file with the correct fonts and formatting including the header with page numbers!

4. Project Stats keep me on track. The Project Statistics are wonderful. You can see your progress toward an overall word count and keep track of the current session. You can also tell Scrivener which files to include in the stats so, if you're like me and you make lots of drafts of the same scene, you can only include the "correct" version. That means your word count doesn't get padded with lots of extra, but you can still keep all your drafts in the same folder and outline view in case you want to refer to one or include a different version.
 
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In another stats view, you can see your overused words--what a great editing help! (Not that I ever overuse words...)

5. I can use the Outline view when I want "just the facts." I have a very linear brain and sometimes I just need to organize. In the outline view, I can use the synopsis and the labels I've set up to keep my manuscript in line. I don't always need to "think" this way, but the outline view is simple to use and powerful when I need it.
 
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6. I have always wanted to write "out of order," but I was never able to do that comfortably in Word. Scrivener makes it work for me. If I've written three solid chapters but then have an idea for a scene that will come later in the book, I can write it, but because I have the outline always open on the left, I can keep my sense of the story progression. The scenes feel anchored even if I haven't written the steps between them.

7. It's easier to recycle scraps. When I write in Word and I cut a section out, I have to put it in another file. It's hard to remember what I've cut and saved. In Scrivener, everything stays in the outline on the left side. I can easily pick out bits and pieces to put back into the manuscript. This program seems to be excellent with "scrappy" thinking.

8. Scrivener saves automatically all the time. I don't need to explain why that's a blessing, do I?
So that's it. A quick overview of Scrivener and some of the things I like about it. If you have any questions or want to know more about the program, the floor is yours!

Ellen
P.S. Scrivener comes with great video tutorials. Really easy to follow and understand. The Help and online forums are also good.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Never

Have you ever started something with the certainty that you know exactly how it will go? You know, when you have such clarity that you can make a list of I Will Nevers?

That’s how writing romance started for me. I had a whole list of things I’d never do. Here is a sample.

1. I’ll never write a marriage of convenience story.
2. I’ll never write about little kids.
3. I’ll never write about a secret baby.

My first book came out in 2007, which means I have almost four years under my belt. How am I doing with my Nevers?

I’m 3 for 3. (Yep, I’ve done every one of them.)

Heh.

So I’m not good with ultimatums. Or rules. Or maybe I’m just bad at predicting my career, because I do have some absolutes in my life.

1. I’ve never gone to bed angry with either of my kids. (Although, I have broken this rule with my husband.)
2. I’ve never littered. (At least not in my memory—maybe back in my toddler days I tossed empty milk bottles out the window of my parents VW bug.)
3. I’ve never said no to chocolate. (Unless it was chocolate pudding.)

See? I can do rules (as long as I’m allowed parentheses).

I think the trouble comes in when I try to declare the absolutes before I find out how I really feel and, more importantly, what really matters. Those “nevers” I outlined for my writing career were superficial. I didn’t know then what my real never was. The truth is I’ll never write a book unless I can find some way to identify with the subject and the characters. That’s the key.

My June Superromance, Married by June, is a marriage of convenience story. (Well, technically, it’s an engagement of convenience.) I struggled with it for many months, mainly because the motivation wasn’t clear for me. Why would modern, intelligent, stable, employed people ever agree to get engaged if they weren’t already in love? I answered that question when I let myself write the engagement scene. I did it as a writing exercise to explore the characters, but it was never meant to be included in the book. Once it was finished, though, I kept it and it’s now the opening scene.

Want a sneak peek? Here's Cooper Murphy proposing...

The spotlights on the front of the Capitol building glinted in his brown eyes, making them sparkle as he looked down at her. Suddenly he swung in front of her and dropped to one knee.
"Jorie, will you marry me?"

"What? No!" she said. The guard halfway up the steps straightened. He held his gun casually in front of his chest, but the Capitol was no place for messing around. "You've got to be—"

"The Wish Team granted your mom's wish," Cooper said, never looking away from her.

"What wish?" Jorie could feel her world starting to spin.

"She wants to give you a princess wedding. The one she's always dreamed of. The Wish Team is picking up the tab—"

"Wait— My wedding? To whom?"


Thus begins Jorie and Cooper’s engagement of convenience—the story I thought I’d never write.

What about you? Do you have rules you never bend? What about something you thought you wouldn’t do and wound up doing anyway? Leave a comment and be entered to win a set of my three most recent Supers: Calling the Shots, Plan B: Boyfriend, and The Boyfriend’s Back.

Thanks!
Ellen Hartman

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Excerpt: Calling the Shots

Here is an excerpt from my hockey dad book, Calling the Shots. It's coming in October 2010 from Harlequin Superromance! There are purchase links on my website.

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Bryan was beyond late. He’d missed Allie’s entire practice. He just hoped she was still at the rink. He’d texted her that he was going to be late, but she hadn’t replied. His sister, who watched Allie when he was gone, wasn’t picking up either.

Not good.

So not good. People weren’t almost an hour late to pick their thirteen-year-old kids up from hockey. At least not people who were good at being parents.

He was going to have to arrange a backup plan for the nights he was coming in from out of town. One more arrangement he needed to get under control in this whole precarious mess he and Allie were calling a family.

He sure as hell hoped Erin’s new life was worth it.

He pulled into the drop off circle at the front of the rink. It was past nine o’clock—no one was going to complain if he left the Lexus there for a few minutes.

He took the stairs three at a time, his bad knee twinging as he landed on the icy top step, but he ignored the old pain. Bryan yanked the doors open, the blast of warmth hitting him hard after the bitter cold air. He was already scanning the lobby, checking the worn, tweed couches for his daughter when Danny Jackson, the rink manager, popped his head out of his office.

“Bryan,” Danny said. “I need to talk to you.”

Bryan glanced over but kept walking toward the locker rooms. “I’ll be back in one sec. I’m late picking up Allie,” he called. She wasn’t in the lobby but she had to be there somewhere. She wouldn’t have asked someone to drop her at the apartment. Not when she knew he was out of town.

“There was fight, Bry,” Danny said. “That’s what we need to talk about.”

Just that quick there was no air in his lungs. No spit in his mouth. “Is she hurt?”

“No.” Danny looked uncomfortable, pulling his wrinkled golf shirt down over his gut as he opened the door wider. “Allie’s fine.”

“A fight?” He’d already started for the office, even though he hadn’t entirely processed what Danny meant. Allie took her hockey seriously, and yeah, she was still playing in the coed league at an age when most girls opted for the single-sex, no-contact league, but a fight? A hockey fight? At practice?

That was when he noticed the mess around the skate shop on the opposite side of the lobby. The display in the front window was knocked to pieces, and the glass from the window glinted on the floor. A rack of jackets was overturned near the entrance door. Allie’s stick with the distinctive fluorescent purple tape lay partially under the collapsed sandwich board advertising current sales.

He looked back to Danny who tugged at his shirt again.

The top of Allie’s head was visible beyond Danny’s shoulder in the office. He tried to push by the smaller man but Danny locked his arm, blocking the doorway, and said in a low voice, “I’m sorry about this.”

“Let me see her.”

Danny stepped back and Bryan was past him and kneeling next to Allie. He barely registered that there were other people in the room as he put his hands on either side of his daughter’s chin and raised her head.

Allie. His girl. For a second he couldn’t focus, he was so relieved that she was in one piece. He stroked her jaw with his thumbs, happy to have her there so close, and then he blinked and her features came clear. Her lip was split, a thin line of blood where the skin was cracked. Her small, upturned nose, with the exact same smattering of freckles his ex-wife had always hated on her own nose, was fine. She had a scratch on one cheek but nothing looked too bad except her eyes. She wouldn’t look straight at him, had her gaze fixed somewhere over his shoulder. Allie was scared. Not hurt scared, but scared scared in a way he hadn’t seen since those first panicked days three months ago when Erin, his ex-wife, had told them she was going on tour with Lush and Allie would be staying with him full-time.

What the hell had happened to put that look back in her eyes?

“You okay?” he asked, his voice rough.

When she nodded, he let his eyes skim quickly over the rest of her. There was blood on the neck of the Sabres jersey he’d given her for Christmas and the knee was torn out of her jeans, the skin underneath raw and weeping blood, but she looked all right. She was in one piece and he’d made it home, late but not too late and whatever else happened, he could handle. He would handle. Somehow he’d make this right for Allie because although she deserved the best, all she had right now was him.

He slid one hand around to the back of her neck and then down to rest on her shoulder, reassuring himself as much as her as he turned to stand. His knee protested when he straightened it, but he barely noticed. With his immediate worries answered, the other people in the room finally registered. His gaze jerked from the woman in the chair next to Allie to the boy sitting on the far side. The boy who’d hit Allie. The boy who better have a damn good explanation for himself.

My Writing "Process"

One thing writers love to talk about is process. What’s your process? Do you use charts or worksheets? Outlines? Do you wing it or do you have a plan? What kind of highlighters? Do you edit on screen or on paper? Do you collage or fill out character sheets or let it come to you during the book?

I can answer all of those questions about my process. I like to think I’m a fairly orderly, organized, and prepared writer. Except, once I hit a certain point in a book, the entire process goes out the window and the one word left to describe what I’m doing is desperation.

Will I ever be able to finish? Will this pile of nothing turn into something someone wants to read? Will my editor ask for the advance back? How many times can the word “just” possibly appear in a manuscript? Who typed this thing? Who thought this was a good idea for a book? How is this ever going to end? Am I really out of M&M’s again?

Etc.

I thought it might be fun to share some pictures of what my “process” looked like when I was closing in on the deadline for Calling the Shots, my hockey dad book coming out in October.

Note for the spoiler-phobes among us: I obscured any actual spoilers. If you can read my notes, that means it’s either not a real spoiler or it didn’t make it into the final cut of the book.

1. This is a collection of some sticky notes that were either on the manuscript, on my desk, or stuck on some of the many versions of printed pages I generated during the course of my "final push." Some of them are quotes I want to get in, some are character insights, and some are pure dead ends.

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2. This book was short on word count for a while.To keep myself encouraged, I started a running count of my word count progress. It took me *ahem* a few tries to get to the proper point. On the yellow sheet is a list of some of the words I overused. When I got bored with other revisions, I'd search and replace these little buggers. Wish I could stop typing them in the first place!

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3. This one cracks me up. I was stuck on a section of the book. Couldn't figure out what should happen or what sequence would make for the most tension. I had this tiny note that I carried around with me for a few days while I considered options. At one point, I dropped the note on the floor at my day job. Luckily, I found it before anyone else did. It's not a note a normal person would have just lying around their cubicle, you know?

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So there's a peek at my "process." Do any of you have systems that work for you that might look a bit odd to someone else? Ever made a list that might have raised eyebrows? Do you think I should change the tag line for this book to Pizza, Sex, and Haircuts?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Top Ten Facts: Plan B: Boyfriend

In addition to doing FAQs about my books, I post lists of behind-the-scenes facts on my website. Here's the one for Plan B: Boyfriend.
  1. Plan B is the sequel to The Boyfriend's Back. Included with the eBook version of The Boyfriend's Back, was an exclusive story set when the characters were in high school. You can see young Charlie and Sarah flirting with each other in that story. The eBook is still on sale if you want to check it out.

  2. Charlie loves his Phillies, especially Jimmy Rollins. I'm not a Phillies fan (my team is the Pirates), but I knew Rollins's name because my niece named her hermit crab after him.

  3. My niece also had a hermit crab named after Shane Victorino, but his name is too hard to spell so I didn't put Shane (the crab or the Philly) in the book.

  4. Yes, we have bar like Wilton's in my hometown. No, I never ordered a Rob Roy there while wearing my cheerleading uniform. (I wasn't a cheerleader.) I did appropriate that story from a friend but since she's now a respectable lady and mom, I won't out her here. Blackmail possibilities are rampant in a writer's life.

  5. I stole the name "Wilton's" from The Wilton House, a bar in Hoboken. I never ordered a Rob Roy there, either.

  6. The Wilton House should not be confused with the Clam Broth House, also a bar in Hoboken. My husband once thought I'd like to live in an apartment directly above the Clam Broth House. No. No, I did not want to live above such a bar. That story is off-topic though, so we'll leave it there.

  7. The scene in which Charlie and Sarah play poker was originally much shorter. My editor liked it and encouraged me to "have fun." Hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.

  8. I submitted The Boyfriend's Back including the introduction of Sarah, suburban mom/former beauty queen, right around the time a certain other Sarah (also a mom/former beauty queen) entered the national political stage. By the time I knew how far that other Sarah was going to go, it was too late to change my character's name.

  9. This book was not originally scheduled to be a "holiday" Superromance, complete with a red bow on the cover. When my editor emailed me to say I needed to add something "holiday-ish" to the book, I had a panic moment--I'd written a water balloon fight, a baseball game, and a cookout with corn on the cob. How was I supposed to fit a holiday scene into that? Then I remembered the tie. Simon had a reindeer tie. I added Simon's tie to one more scene, wrote up a holiday epilogue, and ta da! My summer book now had a holiday scene.

  10. In the opening scene, where Sarah is worrying that she's not dressed properly for her meeting at school, I originally had her in a yellow cardigan. Several people in my critique group said that a yellow cardigan would not be a fancy, fashionable, yet business-like thing for a person to wear. Of course, I agreed 100%. I would never wear a yellow cardigan to a school meeting. Or to have my professional author photo taken. No sir. Not me. Oops.

Other top ten lists are on the individual book pages on my site: Wanted Man, His Secret Past, The Boyfriend's Back.

Friday, January 29, 2010

FAQ for Plan B: Boyfriend


I’m a technical writer. That means I write Frequently Asked Question pages (FAQs) at work. It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to post an FAQ when I have a new book out. (Previous FAQs for The Boyfriend's Back and His Secret Past.)

So here goes…

1. In the first chapter Sarah’s son gets suspended from school for bringing a knife in his backpack. Would a school really suspend a kid for that?

My friend’s daughter got the boot for a butter knife in her lunch bag. My husband said she must have been using it to spread anarchy.

2. I heard this book includes a Drunken Breakdown scene. What kind of research did you do before you wrote that?

Have you ever seen the movie Barfly with Mickey Rourke? I spent a few weeks immersing myself in that lifestyle, Heh. No, seriously. I didn't need to research to write that scene. I’m a writer. I make stuff up.

3. In the book, Charlie is obsessed with Jimmy Rollins from the Philadelphia Phillies. Are you a Phillies fan?

No. Like all good Pittsburgh Pirates fans, I detest the Phillies.

4. So how do you know about Jimmy Rollins?

My niece has a hermit crab named after him. She has another one named after Shane Victorino, but his name is hard to spell so I went with Rollins.

5. I thought you were going to say you looked Rollins up on Google or Sports Illustrated or something. You really don’t do any research at all, do you?

I think research would harm my process.

6. You have a process?

Yes. I make everything up.

7. Somehow I thought a writer would be more professional.

You want research, watch a Ken Burns documentary. You want a fake Vegas night with mini-cheescakes, read my romance novel.

8. But there’s a poker scene, right? Don’t you have to know the rules of poker to write a poker scene? That had to be factual.

I actually do know the rules of poker (thanks, Pop!), but Sarah and Charlie cheat their way through the game so it didn’t matter.

9. If they’re cheating, how do they know who wins?

Everybody wins in the poker scene

10. But…

Trust me, everybody wins in the poker scene.

11. Trust you?!! You just admitted that you make everything up.

Hmm. I'm not sure I like your tone, but to answer your question, this is an FAQ, not a romance novel. I’d never tell lies in an FAQ. Honest.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Reading: What's on Your 2010 List?

For the past two years, I've been posting this challenge in my blog (originally stolen from my friend, Diana Holquist's blog). I've thoroughly enjoyed the fantastic book recommendations and conversation so I'm going to post a new round!

How does it work? You post 12 books you're planning to read in 2010. Doesn't have to be all romance--it's tons of fun to see the range of reading we all do. Then we all sit back and enjoy the conversation.

Here are my 12.
  1. The Foundling--Georgette Heyer. I really shouldn't admit this, but I've never read a Heyer book. (I hope they don't revoke my romance writing privileges after that confession.)

  2. The Giant's House--Elizabeth McCracken. I read a memoir McCracken wrote and absolutely loved it. This one is fiction and includes a love story.

  3. Double Play--Jill Shalvis. Shalvis was recommended several times in a best books post I did last year. I'm a fan of sports books, so I'm hoping for a winner here.

  4. Playing with Fire--Amy Knupp. I've been waiting for Amy's firefighter trilogy and this summer it will be here! It's been too long since I had a Knupp in my TBR!!

  5. The Spymaster's Lady--Joanna Bourne. Historical romance is my first love. Heard great things about this one last year but never got around to reading it.

  6. Home for the Holidays--Sarah Mayberry. I've been saving this one for a treat after I turned in my newest book. Can't wait!

  7. Under Heaven--Guy Gavriel Kay. One of my favorite fantasy writers has a new book out this year. Yahoo.

  8. Sunnyside--Glen David Gold. Gold's debut novel, Carter Beats the Devil, is one of my frequent rereads. I'm not sure I'm going to love his second novel, but I'm going to give it a try.

  9. Elsewhere--Gabriel Zevin. A YA novel that I've been meaning to read so I can discuss with my 7th grader.

  10. A Dance with Dragons--George R.R. Martin. This was on my list last year even though Martin wasn't finished writing it. I'm putting it on again. Hope springs eternal...

  11. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo--Stieg Larsson. This seems like a book my husband would like, and I like to share books with him. We're great fans of Alan Furst and I'd love to find another "shared" favorite. Fingers crossed.

  12. The Iron House--John Hart. I don't know anything about this book except I think it's coming out. John Hart wrote one of my favorite 2009 books (The Last Child) and I've been stalking him online, waiting for news of a new release. Hope this one is true!

So that's my list. What's on yours?