Most books require a structure. Think of it as an architect’s blueprint. You may not see the pen strokes and angles, but there is a skeletal framework, a sense of design, required of narrative without which it is likely to fall apart.
In something like Scrivener structure comes naturally. You create folders or master documents then add subsidiary documents to create scenes within chapters and parts. But Word 2013 – while it lacks Scrivener’s fancier features – can do much the same thing too. This isn’t the same as heavy duty outlining or brainstorming. But it can be a creative and useful way to develop a story – one I use all the time these days.
A word of warning before we get started. This is about Word 2013 on Windows. You may be able to emulate this with other word processors – I don’t know. You can get some but not all of these features on the current version of Word for the Mac too. The omissions with the latter are significant however, as I’ll detail as we go.
To start create a blank Word document which you will eventually save as your novel template file.
The key to this process lies in using heading styles to represent the levels in your story. So for a simple two-level story a top heading – say part one or a day or era – would be assigned the style Heading 1 and the subsidiary style, for a scene, Heading 2. If you have three levels in your story, say for parts, chapters and scenes, you need three headings. I’m using The Killing as an example here and it’s a three-level book – parts, days, scenes.
First off, to make life easier, learn how to assign keyboard shortcuts for those heading styles such as Ctrl-Alt-1 for the top heading and so on. I’m working on an existing story here so I can type in a few part, day and scene headings very quickly.
Then, if I was developing this as a narrative from scratch I’d put in brief, outline-style descriptions of each scene.
Then I’d write the first scene.
Fine. But you see the problem? We’ve lost our narrative structure – the parts, days and scenes tree that helps us navigate what is going to be a very big book. In Word 2013 You can collapse those headings so the text ‘folds’ underneath them which makes things a bit easier. But there’s a far better option. Go to View and hit the Navigation Pane button. Then we get this.
Magic! The complete book structure by the side of your manuscript. You can navigate to any of those scenes in a flash, fold them down to make them more compact, and drag scenes from one part of the narrative to another just by moving the heading. Very much as you would in Scrivener.
Need an individual word count for a scene or section? Easy. Just right click on the heading in the navigation pane.
At the foot of the window you will now get a word count for the document or documents covered by the heading, and the entire document as a whole.
Mac users… here’s the bad news. You can see the navigation pane but you won’t get a word count or be able to move headings around to change their position.
How would you use this writing a book from scratch? One way is to set down key scenes in your head – the ones you know about. I always have a rough idea about how a section ends, for example, even if I don’t know how we get there. So I write down a heading and a brief description, work on an earlier chapter (perhaps even the beginning) and keep adding scene ideas as I go. When I feel like writing a scene in my list I do. If it’s after scenes that are as yet unwritten… who cares? I can always go back and amend things for continuity later if necessary.
The Killing works on a TV-style A, B C storyline structure. Scrivener very usefully let me tag each scene with a colour to let me know which storyline it belonged to (Lund, family or politics). You could do this with Word too if you wanted. The complicated way would be to set up heading styles for each storyline, each with a different colour. The simple way would be to preface each story heading with a letter denoting the relevant storyline, L, F or P. Word has a neat and unobtrusive comments facility too which can be used for easy margin notes. There’s a lot in this software that can be used for story navigation and development if you approach it with imagination and, as with Scrivener, learn just as much as you need and nothing more.
I really enjoy developing a story from scratch this way. You can brainstorm in a very limited way and shift things around to see how a narrative changes when viewed from a different perspective. Then pick and choose the parts you most feel like writing at that moment.
And when it’s done? Remember: those scene headings are for your enlightenment, not a reader or editor. For scene headings either go in and replace them with a number or a simple hashmark # to denote a scene break which in a printed book will denote a new paragraph set full out, not indented. With The Killing the part headings and days stay the same. Your project may be different of course but I wouldn’t agonise over it – an editor will tell you if you’ve named something you don’t need.
So you create a new version of your Word doc with the unnecessary headings removed then send it off. And save your Word file as the template for the next book in line.
As I said a while back one of my present goals is to reduce the number of pieces of software I use on a daily basis to the absolute minimum. At the moment it’s just Word, OneNote, Outlook and a browser, which means I can read and edit my work on everything from a variety of phones and tablets to a desktop PC and Microsoft’s incredibly useful little Surface tablet. This suits me fine – but feel free to adapt or reject as you see fit. As always in writing it’s what works for you that matters, not what someone else does.