How to Write Good: Use the furniture.

As I’ve written about before, I am a big fan of making my manuscripts as visual as possible, and I like to do so by any means necessary, including index cards, calendars, highlighters, and a variety of other techniques and office supplies. I haven’t yet gotten to the point of performing my books via the magic of puppet theater, but at the rate I’m going it’ll soon be on the horizon. I better start saving socks.

I urge you, in your own visualizing pursuits, to use any and all resources that are at your disposal. Do you have a wall? Tape notes on it. Do you have a floor? Tile it with your outline. Do you have a cat? Crumple up your plot points and have him bat them around, then put them into the order he sees fit. Alternatively, you may fold the plot points into a sailor cat hat and make him wear it, but this would be more for your own amusement than for any actual writing benefit.

Furniture is a big help too. Namely, big dining room tables. When I was working on the draft of Hellhole, I needed a way to visualize the entire–and I mean entire–story, because I had to figure out where the chapter breaks needed to go. (This is because I needed a very specific number of chapters, which admittedly is an odd thing to need. You’ll see why when you read it.) So I printed up the whole manuscript in a tiny, tiny font (I think it was size 4) and removed all page breaks, leaving only a couple of hard returns between each scene and highlighting those blank spaces to make them easier to see. This left me with one big, continuous story, which I spread out across my dining room table like a scrumptious Thanksgiving feast.

IMG_1781Sans gravy. No gravy boats near the manuscript, please.

You know what happens next, right? Say it with me: time to break out the board game pieces!

Okay, that may not have been your next logical step. But as anyone who knows me or has read the Croak books can surmise (ahem, Ferbusopoly), I have a ton of board games. So I grabbed a bunch of tokens out of whichever one was closest and began strategically placing them at the proper intervals. In this way I was able to play around with various pacing choices and cliffhanger moments without all that pesky cutting and pasting and ripping of the hair out of the head when Word decides to do whatever it damn well feels like.


And there you have it – evenly paced chapters (roughly speaking), and exactly the number I wanted. Your needs will vary, of course, but the beauty of this technique is that it’s infinitely adaptable, and without all the frustration and eye strain involved in staring at a screen.

Not that staring at a screen is a bad thing. It’s what I do 95% of the time. (And before anyone suggests I abandon Word for Scrivener, I did try that once. It wasn’t for me. But if you are one of the many people who love it, go you.)  There is something exciting, however, about standing up, moving around, and physically manhandling your work. Papercuts aside, I always get something positive out of this endeavor. Maybe I had no idea that one scene was droning on and on until I saw it side-by-side with another scene, one that’s younger and hipper and more succinct. Or I suddenly noticed that a certain character hadn’t shown up since way back at the upper left hand corner of the table. Those sorts of things.

Once you’ve got all your chapter ducks in a row, mark everything up and transfer it back into your old glowing screen buddy. Then simply add a dog, and you’re done!




  1. Every time I see one of your “How to Write Good” posts I remember the joys of physically manhandling your story into place, instead of fighting with technology. Computers are great, but getting away from the screen and actually working with your story with your hands makes such a difference sometimes!
    Also, pets. They love to help.

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