This article is the second in a short series on how to use Scrintal to approach different types of work. The methods given here are just suggestions that are intended to help you get started. One of the best things about Scrintal is that you can do it your own way.
If you don’t yet know what Scrintal is, please see this article for an introduction.
I am by no means an expert on creative writing, but it seems that the main rule is that there are no rules. Each person will have their own approach that suits them. Having said that, there are several common elements that most writers will use to a greater or lesser degree, and we will discuss these as we proceed.
A common view is that when planning creative writing, people are either pantsers or plotters. Pantsers like to “fly by the seat of their pants” and write with no predetermined story structure. Plotters like to think things through in advance and work to a plan. Other writers might prefer something between these two extremes.
Some of the components of creative writing include:
- Plots (and subplots)
- A timeline
- Research (e.g. for historical or scientific context)
- Projects: the big picture, when you are working on a series, or have an overarching theme.
As you can see, putting all this together can be complex. Scrintal is well suited to this type of work, and this article explores some ways in which you might use it.
The creative writer gets to construct their own world. In that world are people, locations, events and a story. Before constructing their world, the writer will definitely need to think about how it will all fit together. They may also need to do some research, such as for historical fiction or if the story makes use of some technology.
Characters and locations
The more you know about these, the easier it will be to write about them. In most cases, characters don’t exist in isolation; they have families, lovers, enemies etc. The locations your story unfolds in will probably have some relationships too.
Knowledge of your characters also emerges the way a Polaroid develops: it takes time for you to know them. Anne Lamott - Bird by Bird
Scenes are where your characters come together at locations to play out parts of the story. There will be details here that will probably evolve as your work comes into focus.
Plots and timelines
Your plot may consist of a linear series of scenes occurring one after the other in time. Alternatively, it could be very complex and consist of multiple interwoven storylines at different times. You may also consider several alternative plots as you develop your story.
Let’s say your novel is set in 18th Century British Columbia. You will need to find out some historical detail first. Besides physical things like geography and weather, you might be interested in customs, eating habits, clothing and much else besides. Documenting this upfront helps keep your writing flowing and avoids inconsistencies and errors in the text.
You may be working on a series of pieces with an ongoing storyline and characters that come and go (the next Harry Potter, for example). In this case, you need to consider details of the bigger picture in addition to your current project.
Your own work may use some, all or even none of these elements. However, it helps to break it down into whatever it is made up of and start to think about how you will document and manage things as you go.
The creative flow
Create a new Scrintal board to use as a brain dump, and just start putting cards in it as things come to mind. You may start with an idea for a character or a part of a storyline. Or even a sudden insight about a completely different project. The brain-dumping process isn’t a single event. Keep the board and use it as a scratch pad for anything that comes to mind.
Don’t concern yourself with what order your ideas arrive in or whether any of them makes sense. Because all cards live in Scrintal’s archive and can appear on your desk or any boards, you don’t have to worry about where cards “belong”. This is surprisingly liberating when doing creative work: just get your new ideas down first and think about their context later.
Bringing order out of chaos
It makes sense to use tags on similar cards. For example, #character, #location, #plot, #idea. If you work on multiple projects or a series, you might also use a project tag so you can find everything related to it. When you click on the tag for a project in the Scrintal archive, you will see only the additional tags used by cards that already have the project tag. This allows you to quickly zoom in on a subgroup of cards for this project (characters, for example).
Where relationships come to mind between cards, put links in. This can be in the form of direct relationships, such as between characters who are family members or can be to show a sequence, as when linking scene cards that occur in order. Add and remove links as you see fit as your structure emerges.
Now might be a good time to work on and visualise the components of your world using boards, one for characters, one for locations and so on. You can use these boards for quickly referencing material as you work. You can use tabs on your web browser to open different boards simultaneously.
You may already have an idea of how your plot is going to form. If not, many standard formats have been described. You can pick one and see how your idea will fit.
The plot and storylines are not necessarily neat and orderly. They may cross over each other and take digressions along the way. For this reason, getting a visual sense of what will happen is often very helpful.
Make a Scrintal board and arrange the parts of your plot (and characters or anything else that makes sense to you). Play around with them until you see something that resonates. You can put cards in a line or columns, or clusters. Using colour on cards can help convey rising and falling tension, progress, separate sub-plots or something else.
Finally, you could use a Scrintal table and have plot sections as columns and arrange scenes within each column.
All your work so far is stored in your archive. You may like to make several new boards to explore different plots, story developments or interactions between characters. This is a low-friction way to test different scenarios without messing up your current work. You are constructing new and different views with the same data. Be as creative as you like, and discard things that don’t work.
The writing process
By creating your world and story in Scrintal, you have accumulated all the detail you need to begin your work.
You may write drafts in Scrintal directly (in your scene cards, for example). If you prefer another tool, Scrintal can be used as your interactive reference as you work and a place to put new ideas or revise existing details. You can export your card contents as markdown, which is easy to import into other writing software.
Let’s say you are working on a specific scene. With that card open, you can navigate links to characters, locations and research. This allows you to keep context and detail at the front of your mind whilst writing.
You may find it helpful to document your writing journey. In this case, you can create a daily card using the icon on the left-hand side of your screen and add a tag for the project you are working on. Documenting your work can help you create a sense of progress (or otherwise!) and provide insight into your current and future projects.
This article has shown how you can use Scrintal at all stages of the creative writing process, starting with your first ideas and supporting you as you go on to do the work. As has been shown, there are many details and moving parts to consider in creative writing. Having this organised using a flexible tool like Scrintal helps the author to focus on the writing, which is, after all, the most important part.
Similar approaches to those described here might be used for purposes other than creative writing. For example, brainstorming or trying to see how apparently unrelated things go together. Experiment, and see what you come up with.