In my plan for 2016 I mentioned that I was going to get serious about my writing. I shared a few of my stories on Amazon WriteOn and received a rather lackluster response. The overwhelming lack of response made it obvious I’m not a natural. Well, it’s not like I expected to be great the first time I wrote a story, I started writing this blog to improve my writing.  My current quest for improvement led me to discover two amazing writing aids, William Bernhardt’s Red Sneaker Writers series and Scrivener, a software tool that helps in planning your stories.

I made my first find while searching through the numerous books offered by Amazon that promise to make you a great writer.. I remember reading the description for Dynamic Dialogue and realizing I needed just the sort of help the book was offering but needing a lot of help, many of Amazon’s offerings fit my needs. I still can’t tell you why I selected book number four of The Red Sneaker Writers Series out of the thousands that Amazon sells but I feel fortunate I did.

The series currently consists of six books, each book covering specific topic and I will admit there is a lot of repetition between the books. If you took all six books put them together and removed the redundant sections, you would probably have one book. To William Bernhardt’s credit splitting them up into smaller sections made it much easier for me to study each topic on its own and understand the merits of what he was trying to tell me. Once I finished number four, it was less than a week before I owned all six.

Where previously I thought my writing was passable, I now understand why I was getting a lackluster response from the Amazon WriteOn community. Did my writing greatly improve as a result of reading these books? Sadly, no. Knowledge doesn’t automatically become skill. It will be many months of work before I managed to incorporate even half of what I learned. As I continue to exercise the skills I’ve learned, I’m seeing improvements and have more confidence in my writing.

I started in the middle of the Red Sneaker Writers series because of a random suggestion Amazon made to me. The topic was interesting and the price was right.  How could I resist? Now that I’ve read the entire series, I understand the value of reading them in order.

Story Structure

Story Structure

It was bad luck that I read book number one, “Story Structure,” last. It wasn’t intentional but that’s the way it came out. This book discusses how to start your story how to structure your story and the importance of planning. Make sure you read this one first.

As a programmer, it took a long time for my mentors to convince me how important it was to plan my code, to set down and commit to paper what my software was going to do. I never did get into flow charting but I was a total convert when it came to flow grams. As a systems engineer, planning is a major part of my job. I don’t set down and start writing requirements until I truly understand what the requirements need to be.

Back when I was programming, I was stunned when I watched a programmer intentionally delete two weeks of work because he realized his lack of planning was forcing him into an endless series of workarounds. His actions cost him two weeks of work but by starting over he undoubtedly saved himself months of work trying to debug his code. That lesson is coming back to me with a vengeance as I realize I need to start over on my favorite story because I skipped the planning step.

Sundae, ready to help!

Sundae, ready to help!

In “Story Structure,” Mr. Bernhardt does a marvelous job of convincing you the importance of planning. He also gives a number of ways to do planning but I really liked his suggestion of index cards as a tool for planning. It’s a great idea, I liked it but I’ve moved all my paper to my computer. Introducing index cards to my environment would almost be an open invitation to Sundae for her to restructure my story. Not that it wouldn’t improve some of them but then I would have to give her a byline and she’s already demanding enough.

Here’s where we get into the second part of this post. As you would expect from me, I went out online looking for a computerized version of index cards. Once again, I feel I was incredibly lucky because I found references to a program called Scrivener.


Scrivener with the start of a new story

Scrivener is a program from (fantastic name) that allows you to plan out your short story, your twenty volume saga or anything in between on index cards but it does so much more. In terms of planning, it actually forces you to think about your characters, to think about your locations, to think about each scene that will be in your story. Scrivener provides templates for each element of your story but does not force you to use those templates. In the words of a famous pirate, “it’s more of a suggestion really.”

Scrivener has been around for a long time but aside from obvious functionality, it has some nuances that convince me I will purchase this program. They give you a free trial for thirty days. It’s not cripple ware it’s exactly the same as the final product and if you can write your book in thirty days, more power to you. The amazing thing is that they calculate the time based on the days you use it. If you go on vacation, your trial will still be waiting when you come back.

Their license allows you to purchase one copy and use it on any computer you own. This is important to me because I have my desktop and I have a laptop that I use when I travel. Now I can store my Scrivener files on Dropbox and access them from anywhere in the world.

These people are not trying to get rich, they’re trying to offer you a tool that will improve your writing. A brief visit to their forums convinced me I wanted to do business with this company. It’s not Microsoft Word but the nature of Word discourages planning. At forty dollars for the Windows version, it’s a bargain.

Today I have all six of William Bernhardt’s Red Sneaker Writers series in an Audible format so I can listen to them in the forty-five minutes I normally waste on the way to work. Just as important, working with Scrivener has forced me to take a hard look at how little planning I had in my stories.

I know that reading six superlative books and using an exceptional piece of software will not improve my writing. When I was competing in fencing, I spent a lot of money on fancy equipment to help me improve. It never helped. I started improving when my coaches forced me to practice the basics. It almost always comes down to hard work. Still, it’s a step in the right direction. Did I mention Scrivener has a name generator?

© 2016 – 2019, Byron Seastrunk. All rights reserved.

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