Prewriting

My Story Binder

Something that’s mentioned fairly often but doesn’t get talked about clearly is a story bible/story binder. I’ve loved the idea of having a story binder for a while, and I started making one for House of Mages, but it didn’t really go anywhere. There’s not a lot of guidance for writers who want to make one. Well I went looking back in April and decided to start a story binder for my Camp story, The Heart of the Baenor. It now also holds the notes for The Dark War Trilogy, since they take place on the same planet, and I thought I’d share with you what I included in my binder in case you’re in the same boat I was in and are wondering what to include in your own.

This is the front of my binder, the cover of which I got from a blog I follow (I’ll link to all of the print-outs I used at the end of the post.) I believe it’s a 1 1/2 inch binder. It was originally the story binder for House of Mages, but I ended up not doing much with that, as mentioned above. Now what was in it from House of Mages is in a much smaller (but, coincidentally, still purple) binder, while this one is actually getting used.

Opening up the binder, you see some random notes and stuff sitting in the front pockets, like a choir announcement that I wrote the ages of my characters on, pictures for character profiles I haven’t put together yet, spare graph paper, a list of characters to make profiles for, etc. The first page is a short synopsis of the story that I wrote while at camp in case anyone asked what my story was about, because I stink at explaining things verbally. It’s kind of a lame synopsis, but it’s only temporary, so oh well.

After that we have the first forty-nine pages of my book, which I printed out so that I could reference back to things if I needed to while writing at camp. It’s about the first seven and a half chapters.

Next I have a prompt envelope. In there I have little tiny, flimsy strips of notebook paper with prompts copied onto them. I recommend that if you use a prompt envelope you put your prompts on something more durable than I did. ;P (Also, I stink at doing fonts freehand, so the font on both sides of the envelope looks really bad.) I got this idea from Alyssa at The Honeydrop Post, and I’ll link to the original post at the end.

Then we have a “novel overview.” It has the title (of the trilogy), the genre, estimated word count, date started (July 1st, if anyone was wondering), and a few other things.

Ah, my favorite part of the whole binder. Characters. I love characters. But I like even more that I feel like this part is pretty, and since I’m not generally very creative or good at visual art, I’m rather happy with that. ^-^

Unfortunately, we can’t jump right into the beautiful section. We have to start with my list of character profile questions. I adapted the list from Life of a Storyteller’s character questionnaire, which I’ll link to at the end.

And we’re still not quite to the pretty part yet. Now we have my character list, which I’ve color-coded according to book. Or rather, what book they’re most prominent in, since a lot of them are seen in at least two if not all three books.

Nissa Quail, the main character of The Shadow Raven (book two in the trilogy). I adopted the basic idea of this page from Alyssa Hollingsworth at her blog of the same name (I’ll link to the post at the end), and changed it to suit my needs. I added in the character’s aesthetic, their Divergent faction, and their top five favorite things to do. I also added, just for The Dark War Trilogy, which book they appear most in. The font on this one looks a lot better than those on my prompts envelope because I traced an actual font. #lifehack. I used graph paper for this, and I really like it because it helps me keep things even, which is nice to look at.

Beyond the character’s cover, which has just a few basic facts, we have the in-depth character profile. Each of mine is an average of ten pages, and it answers the questions on the list above. I do the headings in a certain color depending on the character, which helps it to stand out. Nissa’s favorite color is black, so hers are boring, but Coraline’s, for instance, are metallic blue. Most of them are colored pencil, because that’s what I have, but a few of them (like Nissa’s) are in pen, which I prefer for headings partially because it’s bolder and partially because the point doesn’t get run down and have to be sharpened.

My pretty tabs. ^-^ The main tabs came from the same package that a lot of my print-outs came from, but the patterned ones I made with scrapbook paper I never use and a square hole punch. I folded them over and glued them to the covers of each character and I’m really happy with how they came out.

I would say that the plot section is the one I use the least often, but that’s actually not true for this story. At least not at this point. In most cases, plot would be what I use least, but with overlapping storylines it’s kind of important to know what’s going on. ;)

I looooooove this template for this story. I ended up putting it into a spreadsheet instead so that it’s easier to insert times and extra POV characters, but I wouldn’t have thought to do that if I didn’t have this template. (I’ve blurred out some things to avoid spoiling anything. I’m too excited to share this when it’s ready to give away spoilers now. ;) )

And this section is the reason that the plot section isn’t the least used. I really need to flesh out this section. I have some worldbuilding for this world, but most of it is here on the blog. I keep meaning to print out my worldbuilding project posts and put them in here, but I always forget, so this section is pretty scarce.

This sheet is adapted from a deity worksheet printout from Jessica Cauthon’s blog. In physical form, I colored the headings as with my character worksheets and added in an aesthetic for each. Each of these is only a page long, and I should probably expand them a bit so that I know some more about the gods, like what their symbols are and what their preferred offerings are and stuff. *makes mental note*

These tabs aren’t very pretty. I made them out of file folders and used stencils on the font, so the titles aren’t even and they don’t look pretty. But hey, they do what they’re supposed to.

This is Kaloris’ flag. A lot of people have asked me how I made them, so I’ll answer that here, as well; I traced the emblem and then colored it all in with markers. I’m really happy with how it turned out. I have them for Mandoria and Roenor, too, but I’m keeping those secret for now.

This is the beginning of an info sheet for Kaloris. I haven’t done much with it, as you can see. I actually didn’t copy this one from a printout, I picked the questions after reading Storyworld First by Jill Williams (which I highly recommend. It’s great). The fields on here, since you can’t read them, are “origin of name,” “blessed by” (as in which gods they believe they’re blessed by), “values,” and “education.” I’m haven’t decided yet what else is going to go on there, but eventually it’ll be a lot longer.

Shae-Nir is one of four regions of Kaloris, and I have tabs for two of those four. The third is barely ever talked about (I regularly forget about it, actually, because it’s so unimportant) and the fourth is the bulk of the country, so its info goes under the main Kaloris tab.

Yes, I traced this. No, I don’t have the artistic ability to have drawn that on my own. I said in my notes that one of my characters has a “traitor’s brand,” so I figured I should probably know what that actually looks like. Thus the above drawing.

This is Roenor’s country overview so far, and it’s actually more fleshed out than Kaloris’ at the moment. It has the same four mentioned above, as well as its antagonistic qualities, beautiful qualities, three things I love about it and three things I hate, and its relationship with each of its neighboring countries. The ribbon is on there because I saw it laying around and immediately thought of Roenor, for whatever reason.

It was a massive pain in the neck to staple this thing in. The top staple took me one or two tries, and the bottom took me at least four. But it was worth it for it to look cool. This story binder is basically my creative outlet in visual stuff.

Resources

Cover and the majority of the printouts – Ink and Quills. It has a lot more sheets than the ones I used in this binder, too. It has worldbuilding sheets, character sheets, goal trackers, a lot more plot trackers than I used, etc.

Deity sheet – Jessica Cauthon.

Character sheet basis – Alyssa Hollingsworth. Hers has more information on it than mine, so you should check it out and see if it suits your needs better than my adaptation or not.

Prompt envelope origin post – Honeydrop Post. This post actually has more in it than just the prompt envelope, that was just what I latched onto and borrowed.

Character profile questionnaire – Life of a Storyteller. I’m pretty sure I omitted some of these questions when I put together my own list, so I think hers has some “extra” to check out.

Other story binder posts to check out

Creating a Story Workbook Series: Part 1 – Which Notebook? This is the first of a seven-post story workbook series on Jessica Cauthon’s blog.

Creating a Story Bible: The Basics. This one is another beginning of a series, this one on RJ Blain’s blog.

Creating Your Very Own Story Bible. This one is written by J.M. Butler on Farah Oomerbhoy’s blog.

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Idea Organization

I have lots and lots and lots of ideas for stories. My brain is teeming with them. I have way more than I know what to do with. (Enough so that I might start a blog series giving them away so that they’ll get used.) So how do I organize them all?

New ideas always go into whatever writing notebook I’m currently using, or possibly my little blue ideas notebook that has been left alone for far too long in favor of my main notebooks. Poor thing. An example of a section of one of those pages looks like this:

It has any story ideas on it that come to mind, be they short snippets of scenes, dialogue, description, or names. Then at some point later I transfer them to a document I’ve titled “Writing Adoptables,” which is split into sections.

The first section is characters, and it has whatever facts about a character I have swirling in my brain and don’t plan on using in a current project. That section looks like this:

Any ideas I use in any of these sections will be formatted with strike-through.

The next section is settings, and as you can see in the picture below I do quite a bit with it:

Not. For some reason settings don’t pop into my head as readily as other things.

After that is titles, which I have a lot of, most of which came from title generators that I was using to come up with a title for a specific book and these didn’t fit but I liked them at the time and saved them. And then there are others that I came up with myself, one of which is blacked out because I like it enough to protect it (not that I expect any of you to take any of these):

I actually started Skandain’s Pride and then decided I didn’t like it much, so it’s still on here.

The fourth section is random lines. These can be lines of dialogue, lines of description, lines of narration, anything so long as it’s only a line or two long.

Section five is plot ideas, followed by various ideas that don’t fit in any specific category:

As you can see, plots aren’t something that tend to pop into my head unbidden, either.

The next section is names, and these are rather plentiful. The majority of them are fantasy names, since I find those the coolest, and this list (though not the visible section) includes a place name or two, as well:

After that comes a list of stories that I started or that I had cool ideas for and were too long for me to copy:

Some of them got so far as to even earn Pinterest boards before I lost interest or set them aside in favor of something else.

the last section is scenes and paragraphs, and it’s the longest section, partially because there are a lot of them and mostly because they’re just longer:

This is just the very small sliver that fit before the bottom of the page, and even the second one is a lot longer than it shows here. It’s 10 paragraphs long, actually, mostly dialogue. (I write a lot of dialogue. It’s something I’m working on balancing out.)

So that’s how I organize my ideas. Do you organize your ideas similarly or is your process entirely different?

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My Bullet Journal

A bullet journal is something that I’ve seen lots of authors, and non-authors, using. I tried it out a while ago and it didn’t really work well for me. But I’m also pretty sure I was using it wrong, which probably affected the use I got out of it. At the beginning of the month I found a video that better explained how to use it (I’m not comfortable linking to said video because it had enough language in it I almost didn’t finish it) and decided to give it another try. I used the same notebook that my failed attempts are in, and now I consider my bullet journal starting at about page 23, because the rest of it isn’t really a bullet journal because I had no idea what I was doing. So here’s the process I’m using now, and hopefully it helps out someone else who is maybe in the same boat that I was in and doesn’t really understand the bullet journal system.

To begin with there’s a legend, which I originally used to mark pages, but now I use to mark goals. All but two of the above are stories I’m working on/I have waiting in the wings, and the colors aren’t nearly as dull as they look here, I’m just a really bad photographer. The ones written in lighter are ones that I expect to change the titles of.

This is a piece of my monthly “spread,” as it’s called in official videos. The dates are down the side, and I have written in the blog posts I’m putting up those days. (Hooray! You get a sneak peek of what’s coming up!) I also have icons next to those that I have events to go to.

This is below the end of my monthly list, though you can’t see that in this picture. It has my main goals for the month, and this month I have more than usual because before this system I didn’t really make myself goals.

This is my first daily spread. Beside the date I have my word count for that day, and then below that is my list of goals for the day. The arrows indicate I postponed that goal, and Xs indicate cancelled goals.

I also kind of use my bullet journal as a space to talk about my writing progress, and so for each day I have a journal section where I talk about my writing that day and how it went and if anything special happened. On the 4th I troubleshooted a part of House of Mages and mentioned a piece to cut, on the 7th I mentioned some cool things I’d learned while researching for Dark Queen Rising and that I finally picked a satisfactory name for one of the characters in that, etc. And there have also been days that I’ve used this space to make writing-related lists or notes, as well. I have a full two pages dedicated to blog post topics between the 9th and 10th (which really annoys me, but I needed the space).

Overall, this has really helped me because it gives me some accountability with myself. I like seeing the pretty colored boxes checked off. I’ve written a lot more this month than most non-NaNoWriMo months, I think. I’ve written 35,193 words this month already, and I had a 7k+ day, which I’m fairly certain has only happened once outside of NaNoWriMo. And it was also very instrumental in reviving my blog. I wouldn’t have started posting so regularly if not for the organization that my bullet journal has provided.

Overall, I’m very glad I found that video and learned how to use a bullet journal, because it has helped me a lot. Hopefully this post was helpful to you like that video was to me. :)

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Character Development

Character development is something that I really enjoy in writing. I enjoy getting to know the characters, being surprised by them, falling in love with them or being repulsed by them, some of my characters even scare me. Characters are the first thing I notice in a story, because they’re the main part of the story, possibly even more than the plot itself. They’re who the story centers around and you have to be able to at least tolerate them for the entirety of the book. Unfortunately, I’ve read some books that I could only go so far as to tolerate the characters of, or who’s characters downright annoyed me. So how do we get to know our characters inside out so that we can make readers love our characters? (Make is a bit harsher a word than I want, but I’m not thinking of one that fits at the moment.)

In this post I’ll cover some exercises that can help us really get to know our characters.

To begin I’m going to say that I agree with Shaelin from ShaelinWrites on YouTube in that I think you get to know your characters best by writing them. I suggest watching her video on exercises to develop characters, because it’s really good. I really like her whole channel, actually, though there are rare occasions on which when uses the S-word, which I would warn you of before you start watching them. Further warning, I can’t in good conscience recommend the videos that include her brother because he cusses more, and in one (Writing High Fantasy) he drops an F-bomb, which is really a shame because otherwise it’s a really great video, but overall her channel is cleaner than some other writing channels I’ve seen. Anyway, that turned into an unexpectedly long bunny trail. *cough* Let’s get back on track, shall we?

I think you get to know characters best by writing them, and so most of the tips and tricks in here will probably have to do with writing your characters in one way or another.

Since I linked to Shaelin’s video I’ll just give short explanations of the methods laid out in said video, in case you’re not going to watch it, and if you’d like them expanded on you can watch the video.

The first method she suggests is basically word association. You make a list of things that remind you of your character. The second method is to grab a list of adages (curiosity killed the cat, the early bird gets the worm, a watched pot never boils, etc.) and write how your character would feel about these adages. Would they agree or disagree with them? Method number three is to write scenes about your character. They can be scenes from the book, or just random situations that you throw your character into and see how they react to. The last method she suggests is to make a pyramid of motivations, which I can’t really explain and you’ll have to watch the video to get explained.

And now we get into my suggestions. One of the things I do the most to flesh out a character is to role play (RP) with them. I tend to RP with my best friend since she’s also a writer and I don’t really have many other people to RP with, and we just toss our characters together and see what happens in certain situations. We have soooo many RPs going at once it’s not even funny. A lot of them end up neglected, and the majority of them focus on the same core group of characters that we call “The Squad,” but that’s not something I suggest, lol. It’s better to play around with different characters, see how they react to different people, different situations, etc. Some will get along really well and some just… won’t, just like in real life, and it’s really interesting to see those relationships unfold. A couple of my characters and hers have actually gotten married to each other in alternate timelines, so… yeah. AUs (Alternate Universes) for the win!

You can also use character profiles. These can be more or less helpful depending on what questions are on it. I’ve actually learned a lot about characters from templates that have deeper questions, while more shallow ones are just a “laundry list of facts,” as Shaelin calls them. They’re not really helpful. So if you can find a really extensive, deep character profile, I suggest filling it out and seeing what you learn about your character. The only downside to these long ones is the fact that they can be really tedious to fill out. I have one that works well for me that a friend of mine gave me and I altered slightly, and while it’s really, really helpful, I also occasionally have to take breaks when filling it out because it’s so extensive. And there are some that are a happy medium, and those are pretty good, too. Again, it depends on what questions are asked.

These are the best ways I’ve found to develop characters, and hopefully they’re helpful for you as well. :)

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