Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Trello for Writers: Using Templates in a Project

Trello is as flexible as you need it to be. The way you set up your project really depends on the way you work. In this tutorial, I'll assume that one story or book is one project. I'll also assume that you've set up template cards as shown in a previous tutorial.If you haven't set up template cards, it's no big deal. Those templates make it so you don't have to re-create similar cards for each character, for example, or for each scene.

Create Project

In the previous tutorial, we created a Trello board to hold our templates. Because we want to be able to use those templates in multiple projects, we don't want to use that same board as our project board, so we'll create a new one.

  1. Open Trello.
  2. From your Boards menu or on the Boards screen, click Create New Board.
  3. Name the board. For this example, I'm calling the board for my project "Jack and Jill."
Create Lists


A story consists of several elements. For my Jack and Jill story planning, I want to create lists called Characters, Settings, and Scenes. Eventually I'll create another list to track submissions, but let's not get ahead of our selves.

On your new project Trello board, create a list called Characters. Conveniently, there's already a box to help you create your first list. Just type "Characters" and click Save. A new box automatically pops up for the next list, so call it "Settings," then do this one more time for Scenes."



Copy Templates to Project

The next thing we need to do is copy cards from our Templates board to our project board.

From the Boards menu, pick your Templates board. Next, click your Character template card, then click Copy.



Change the Title field to your character's name. Then, in the Board field, select your story project, and select the Characters list. Then click Create Card. This creates the card based on the template and puts in the right place. If you switch back to your project board, you'ss see the character card you just created in your Characters list.

Repeat this for each template you want to copy. Remember to set the name, board and list for each card. But if you forget, it's no problem. You can easily change all of that stuff later.

Edit Cards

Once the cards are where you want them,you can edit them.

For example, my Character card includes a comment with some basic info about thecaracter. In the template, I just have headings for the info, but I can go into the card and add the details now that it is is in my project.


Next Steps

That's most of the basics for creating your project and starting to plan your story. Next we'll go into some deeper information, like using Trello to manage actual writing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How to Get Motivated to Edit

At LDStorymakers this last May, my favorite workshop I attended was by the woman who actually put on the conference this year—Melanie Jacobsen. She talked all about how she makes herself be productive in her writing no matter how busy she is. It was really great and practical, and I came away ready to apply everything she said.
I didn’t. Part of my problem is I’m not actually in the writing stage I’m in the editing stage. I found myself wanting a follow-up class about how I can make sure I am productive in editing/rewriting, which in some ways is a whole different beast than writing your first draft.
Here are the ways I’ve applied some of her advice and also figured out my own:
1.       Have and update your outline. I’m a total pantser. All the way, 100%. But, even the most hard-core pantser needs to create an outline as they are writing the rough draft, and then update that as you edit. Otherwise you get soooo lost. And have no idea what’s going on. And your story will make no sense. Basically, organization has to kick in at some point. It’s still flexible. You can still change things whenever you want. You just need some way to keep track of what you’re doing and what needs to be fixed as you edit.
2.       Schedule time to write. This is basic, but I keep forgetting it all the time. I think I’ll just want to write, it will just happen magically because I’ll feel so inspired. But most of the time, I have to schedule it and I have to make an annoying reminder to beep at me in my phone over and over before I’ll actually get myself to write/edit consistently. Because it is a thousand times easier to write today when you’ve already written yesterday. Momentum is a big deal. Plus, I’m so Type A that I’m obsessed with checking things off my list—so if I put writing on my list every single day, I’m more likely to do it so I can check it off. And then I feel so good and productive that I want to do it again tomorrow. It works.  
3.       Write a blurb of what you’re going to write tomorrow. This is the one thing from Melanie’s presentation that I’ve actually been applying. It’s so helpful. Everyday once I’m done writing, I write a paragraph or so about what I’m going to write about tomorrow. Sometimes dialogue starts coming to me and I write it down. Sometimes I end up writing a whole page. Whatever, that’s great. That means I’ve already got the inspiration going for the next day without putting the pressure on myself for it to be “perfect” like I do when I sit down and write for real. If I’m not totally rewriting a scene but just editing it a little, I write down exactly what I need to go through and edit for. Then the next day I know exactly what I’m doing and how I’m doing it, and that makes it easier to start—especially since sometimes rewriting something can seem more overwhelming that writing it in the first place.
4.       Stop worrying about it being perfect. This relates to a point I just brought up in the last one. When you’re on your third or fourth or tenth draft, but you’re writing a whole new scene that you’re adding in or basically completely redoing a scene that was there before, you’re basically back in rough draft land for that scene and that can be frustrating. Because you’ve already gone over this thing how many times now? But it’s OK. It still doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s never going to be perfect. It just needs to be written and then you can look at it later and then show it to your critique group and clean it up. For the millionth time. I used to think that just writing a novel took patience. I’ve realized that’s nothing compared to the patience it takes to edit a novel. And I’m not even close to done. Sigh. Patience.
And all those things have helped me to be much more productive lately, which is great.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Trello for Writers, Part 2: Templates

If you use Trello to manage your writing projects, you might find it useful to create cards that you can use for multiple cards.

STEP 1: Create a "Templates" Board


Let's start by creating a Trello board where you can keep the cards you want to reuse. Open up Trello and click Create new board. Give the new board a title, such as "Templates," and click Create.

That's it. That was easy enough, right? You now have an empty board, waiting for your cards.

STEP 2: Create a List

Now that your board is ready, it's just sitting there empty. An empty bulletin board isn't particularly useful unless you pin something to it, and the same is true of your Trello board. Unlike the blank slate of a bulletin board, though, Trello expects you organize your cards in lists. The kinds of lists you create on your template board depend on the types of templates you want to keep there. For this demo, let's keep it simple. You can always take what you learn and get fancy later. Let's create a single list.

That's easy enough. Turns out, your board is not exactly empty. Turns out there's a box waiting for you, where you can type a name for your first list. Let's call it "Novel Cards."


Click Save (or just hit Enter) and you'll have a list, ready for your cards.

Step 3: Create Cards


Your cards can be anything you want, but because we're keeping it simple for this demo, let's go with something high level, like the following:


  • Character
  • Scene
  • Setting
  • Submission
In your new list, click Add a card, then type the name of the card, "Character," Hit Enter, and type "Scene. Continue this process until you've created all four cards.


Step 4: Add Details

The point of these cards is to contain information that you want to reuse, so we'll need to add some details. Think about the details carefully, so you add what you want and don't have to go back and make changes.

Click one of the cards, and create a comment with the outline of the details you want. Remember, that hitting enter will save the current comment and create a new one. This is good if you want each characteristic to be its own comment, where you can add more details. If you prefer a lighter card, press Ctrl+Enter to move down a line in the current comment.

For example, for the Character card, you might want details like name, age, birthday, best friend, address, appearance characteristics, personally traits, and so on. What you include and the amount of detail depends on your preferences. Click outside the card to close it, then click on the next card.

For scene, you might want a name, summary, goal, characters present, conflict, resolution, and maybe a sequel if you write using the scene and sequel method. 

Do this for each or your cards, adding the types of information you are likely to want in each project. Once you copy the card to a project (we'll do that in another lesson) you can always edit the card to add any project-specific info that you don't necessarily need in a template, such as whether your character is on Team Zombie or Team Pirate.

Next Steps

As you can see, Trello is flexible enough to adapt to your style and preferences. 

After you've created your templates, we'll copy the template cards into a project and look at how to use them to plan your story. 



Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Trello for Writers

Lately, I've been using Trello a lot at work to track tasks and projects. As often happens when I'm using cool software, I automatically consider how it can be used to improve my writing process. Turns out that with a little creativity, Trello can easily be adapted to be anything you want.

I guess I should start at the beginning. What is Trello? Trello is a task management system, which is a fancy way of saying it's a way to manage your To Do list.

Trello is set up like a bulletin board where you pin cards with each task into a list. Typically, you might have three lists: To Do, Doing, and Done. When you start working on one of your To Dos, you move it to Doing, and when it's completed, you move it to Done.



Of course, the cool thing about cards on a bulletin board is you can make the cards whatever you want them to be, and you can arrange them however you want. That means the ways you can use it are limited only by your imagination.

Trello is very easy to use, but there are some tricks and tips that add extra power, which you can use to improve your writing processes. If it were just about making cards and moving them around on a board, this would be a short post.

In this series of posts, we'll look at ways to use Trello to manage a writing project. We'll use it as a kind of sketching tool to map out our plot, start developing characters, and build our fictional world. I'll also show you how you can use Trello as a way to organize your actual written documents, and to collaborate with others, whether it's a co-writer or your crit partners. And once you have everything written, you can, of course, use Trello to track submissions.

The first thing, of course, is getting it for yourself. That's the easy part. Go to trello.com and sign up. Trello is a web app, so you can use it anywhere you have an Internet connection. In addition to the web app, you can get free apps for iOS and Android. The mobile apps let you do almost everything you can do on the web, except for a number of customization options and some advanced management. You'll probably want to use both the web and the mobile apps.

Trello is completely free. You can create an unlimited number of boards and cards without paying a cent. There are a couple of paid versions, but you probably don't need them. The paid versions give you a few extra features, like emojis you can use as stickers on your cards and the ability to create more personalized backgrounds for your boards. The one bit of functionality that is nice in the paid version is that you can attach bigger files to your cards--the free version limits you to attachments that are 10MB or less--but unless you work with very large files, this really won't make much difference to you. Everything I will show in this series will take advantage of the standard functionality in the free version.

I recommend that you download Trello and get familiar with the basic functionality. Create a test board and some cards and lists. We'll start digging into the details in the next post.

But for now, I've finished this post, so I can move my Intro card to the Done list. Moving a card to Done always feels like a reward!



Saturday, May 23, 2015

Character Arc, part 2: the Lie, the Want, the Need

In a previous post, character arc was discussed. According to KM Weiland, gaining an understanding of how to write character arcs is a game-changing moment in any author’s pursuit of the craft. Weiland is the creator of the Helping Writers Become Authors blog, a deep well of information on the multiple aspects of the writing craft.

Weiland devotes over a dozen articles to character arcs, linked here. A story should begin with The Lie Your Character Believes. This lie is the foundation for the MC’s character arc. It’s his “normal” and is what is wrong in his life. Everything may be grand for the MC (or not), but festering just under the surface is The Lie.

People hate change. We hang out safe in our comfort zones and our characters are no different. They resist change just as we do. Weiland says that is okay because out of resistance comes conflict, and out of conflict comes plot. Plot is more than just a protagonist working toward an external goal. It’s about the MC’s inner goal, the thing he can’t get all because of The Lie.

A protagonist should start the story with something lacking, some way he is incomplete internally. He probably doesn’t realize it, or at best, has a vague understanding of it. He may not be affected by it or in denial of it until the inciting incident. Weiland compares it to a tooth cavity, shiny on the outside but decayed just below the surface. A writer should introduce The Lie early and show how the MC is deeply established in it through his “normal” world. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens sets Ebenezer Scrooge’s normal as one of work, work, work. There is no time for Christmas and other such folly. The poor and destitute have only themselves to blame and will get no help from him. This establishes his Lie: that a man’s worth is only measured by money. 

The next leg of the character arc is what Weiland calls What the Character Wants/What the Character Needs. It is related to The Lie.

Every plot line features a protagonist striving for a goal, something external. When creating character arcs there needs to be two, the surface goal and something that matters to the character on a deeper level. The Lie is at the heart of the secondary goal. The Thing Scrooge Wants - money and lots of it - bolsters his Lie of personal worth is measured by wealth.

At the story’s beginning, the MC doesn’t realize he has a problem. He believes chasing the Thing he Wants will bring fulfillment. Yet, pursuing it only entangles him deeper in his Lie. He can only find contentment in seeking the Thing he Needs. What he needs is the truth.

Your main character will spend the story unknowingly seeking the Thing he Needs, while in pursuit of the Thing he Wants. What he Needs is usually not physical. Often What he Needs is merely a realization, a new perspective that will change the way he views himself. He Needs the truth. Without it, he will not grow. He’ll either stagnate in the negative beliefs that’s holding him back, or he’ll digress even further. Ebenezer Scrooge Needs to see that true wealth comes not from money, but from a connection with his fellow human beings.

Characters are complex little creatures. They’ll lie to themselves, wish for things they think they need, and ignore the things they need.


(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Character Arcs

A question came up in my writer’s group. One of my critique partners asked, would not my main character behave differently in that particular situation? That led me to wonder where the MC is along their character arc, which in turn caused me to ponder character arcs in general.

What the heck is a character arc?

For the simple answer, I turned to a favorite expert, KM Weiland. Her Helping Writers Become Authors site is excellent chalk full of great advice on many aspects of the craft. But Weiland’s stuff on character arcs was not simple at all, rather a fifteen part series on the topic. 

Weiland says character evolution is at the heart of any good story. Whether the protagonist is changing herself or the world around her, character arcs are the whole point of fiction. The journey from one spiritual/emotional/intellectual place to another is the story of humanity. The author’s primary job is to learn how those fundamental changes work in real life, then present them in fiction with enough realism to connect with readers.

There sometimes is a debate among writers as to the importance of plot vs character. Weiland says they are connected. “The character drives the plot, and the plot molds the character’s arc. They cannot work independently.”

But that is not all. Plot and character are related to theme. The three of them are symbiotic and can’t work alone. Weiland says that the character arc is the theme. 

There are three type of character arcs. In the positive change arc, the protagonist starts with varying levels personal dissatisfaction and even denial of the lack of fulfillment. As the story proceeds, she will question her beliefs about herself and the world until she finally defeats her inner demons. In flat character arcs, the MC tries to change the world around her. She is already a hero operating from high moral ground and are often a catalyst for change in others. The negative arc is similar to the positive arc except the MC changes toward a more darker side.

Writing a great character is more than just a character changing over time. Writers need to learn how to structure a character arc. Gaining an understanding of how to write character arcs is a game-changing moment in any author’s pursuit of the craft.

In the next few weeks, Weiland’s fifteen part series will be boiled down and presented here. Clicking on the above link above will get you to her site where she can explain the whole thing in full detail.


(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

When Your Writers Group Grows Up

I'm in a group that has had a sudden explosion of success. With one writer (out of five) having published a few books now, and two others recently finding agents, the need of the group is changing. We still do the standard critiques, but it has changed. There's sometimes more time pressure, or at least one writer is too busy making a deadline to dedicate much time to a traditional group in a certain week.

With these kinds of changes and under these kinds of pressures, some groups might collapse. Not us. We're changing though. We're more about support, providing feedback when needed and not necessarily in scheduled get-togethers, cheering each other on, pushing each other to write in scheduled or impromptu writing sprints, and encouraging the two members who are still trying to join the success party.

This creates some growing pains, but we've been together long enough that, so far, we've weathered the changes. It's almost a new group with the same people, and we continue to make adjustments so we can keep helping each other. It's been interesting to watch, and it will continue to be interesting as the group matures and evolves in the face of success.

For those of you who have been through similar changes in your groups, what advice do you have? How have maturing and success affected your groups?