The Top Five Writing Tools I Can’t Live Without

Well, what better way to start the New Year than a top five list!
This week I embarked on a new writing project. There is something very special about starting a new novel, I’ve only done it three times now and the more experienced I get, the better I am at getting off to a good start. Also this week, I met up with Joanne Phillips, an author who I came across this time last year when I was at the start of my self-publishing journey. I read her books and her blog posts with awe, trying not to feel daunted by her talents! This year I am proud to call her a friend and we met up last Tuesday for the first time. Her debut novel is brilliant and inspired the title of this blog post Can’t Live Without.
So here is the list; the top five writing tools I can’t live without

1. ‘The Idea’ that gets me up at five in the morning.
I have ideas for stories all the time. I can’t believe I’m writing that! When I first decided to write a novel, it took me ages to come up with a single one! Now I have plenty, but it’s the one I can’t stop thinking about, the one which drags me out of bed at five in the morning to explore – that’s when I know I’ve found The One.
2. Main Character Sketch
So far, my books have centred around people. ‘It’s a book about a girl who…’ it seems obvious to me that I start with a person in a predicament but I know it’s not the same for everyone. In this interview PD James explains how she starts with a setting. I start with my main character, I write a short bio and test whether she is strong enough to lead a whole novel.
3. Story Outline and Blurb
I take my poor Person in a Predicament and pad out her story a bit, making notes of Significant Others,a rough idea of the beginning, middle and end of the story and what the main characters’ goals are. I then attempt my first ‘blurb’. Somewhat unusual to write the blurb for the back of the book, before writing the novel, but for me, its a way of seeing whether the concept will work as a comedy (I seem incapable of writing anything serious.)
 Now, points four and five came to me courtesy of the talented author and equally talented creative writing tutor Julie Cohen during workshops I attended at the Festival of Writing last year. As I’m not sure if they are copyrighted, I haven’t reproduced them, but here’s Julie’s website for further information:
4. Creating Characters
I create a spider diagram on a sheet of A4 for each of my main characters with their goals, best and worst qualities and how this affects others and themselves. I also jot down physical characteristics, personal details and verbal tics etc. It’s so helpful to have all this stuff in one place. It amazes me how quickly I forget what colour eyes I have meticulously chosen for each person!
5. Three Act Structure
In just a few bullet points, I write a list of the main plot points of my new story. Then I sketch it out on a sheet of landscape A4 paper as a huge upward curve from the Inciting Incident at the end of Act one, through act two, until I get to the high point, then a dip for the Dark Moment and then up to the climax. I add in notes, checking that I’m building the tension right up until the high point. In her workshop, Julie used the plot of the film Cars to illustrate how this visual aid works. For me to draw the ‘story mountain’ allows me to estimate word count for each plot point and check that there is enough action to propel the story forward.

So there you go, I’ve been working on my new story for a week now and it’s still getting me up at five am – I think it might be The One!

Cathy Bramley
By Cathy Bramley

Cathy is the author of the best-selling romantic comedies Ivy Lane, Appleby farm, The Lemon Tree Cafe and A Vintage Summer. She lives in a Nottinghamshire village with her family and Pearl, the Cockerpoo. Her recent career as a full-time writer of light-hearted romantic fiction has come as somewhat of a lovely surprise after spending eighteen years running her own marketing agency. However, she has always been an avid reader, hiding her book under the duvet and reading by torchlight. Now she thinks she may have found her dream job.

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