Creating character charts on Corkulous

Yesterday I went on and on about how much I love the Corkulous app, and I promised to talk today about how I use it for my novel-writing. Again, I would like to stress that owning this app (that works on iPad or IPhone only, and the pro edition costs 99 cents a month or $7.99 for the year, at least as I write this blog) is not essential—you can use pen and paper or real cork boards and post-it notes to do what I’m doing just as well, and possibly better. But if you like indulging in cool apps, Corkulous is fun.

I’ve taken a screen shot of the blank version of the character cork board similar to the one I am creating for my novel, which has one protagonist, one love interest, two best friends, and two half antagonists/half allies, and all of them deserve extra development on my part so I can bring them to life in the novel.


You can see that I can add a photo, usually a screen shot of a stock photo or minor celebrity who looks the part of my imagined character (in this example, I just used a photo of my puppy dog Cisco). Then I can brainstorm different elements that might boost my descriptions of the characters as well as my understanding of how each one constructs their sense of identity. I find it helpful to associate senses with the character. For my puppy dog, let’s see, that might be the sight of the leash (always gets his attention), the sound of my husband’s whistle, which he can’t resist (he ignores my attempts to whistle for him, the stinker) (I mean the dog, not my husband, fyi), the smell of salmon and eggs, etc.

As for the other categories, the object prompt is one I did for a writing workshop where we wrote about an object that was somehow significant to a character or the story, and it was a powerful exercise, so that’s been helpful to me. It helps me build character and story at the same time.

As for the various favorites, I am working on a SF novel set at least a hundred years in the future (which I agree is very optimistic of me), but I actually assign to each character favorite songs, movies, and books from my lifetime—I won’t necessarily name any of them since one imagines that people will have moved on by then… though I’ve noticed that some of the shows I associate with the past are booming right now (Seinfeld, Friends, etc.). I just use those categories to help me think about what this character would connect with, to get a feel for types.

I have the advantage, being overly indulgent in owning various tech toys, that I can use a keyboard with my iPad, so I can type a bit more on the board than I would if I were entering it directly on an iPad or iPhone screen, but if you don’t have a keyboard, I would recommend just jotting a word or two at most, because this board is really meant as a pre-writing tool to trigger lengthier writing on the novel in whatever medium you use (notebook, word processor, etc).

I will also note that I keep changing how I create character notes for my fiction. I’ve used several templates that I’ve found from different sources, some more helpful than others. Sometimes less is better for these notes, serving as prompts for writing in the novel drafts but rather than generating a lot of writing for hours that I then completely forget when I’m actually writing parts of the novel (or that may just be me?).

Okay, enough about Corkulous and character charts. I will say that knowing I planned to write about this topic for the blog prompted me to move forward on this work on my novel, which was awesome, and now I’m filled with ambitions to use my blog as a tool or a kind of accountability partner to accomplish various tasks on my to-do list (I have, for example, multiple articles backlogged to read and reflect on for various reasons). So that makes me happy.

Hope your week is off to a good start. If you have the chance, let me know if you have any tools or strategies for character planning or cork board systems that you like.

Revision redux

After gathering some encouraging and helpful feedback on my novel and engaging in extensive research into the query process, I have decided it’s time to revise, not query. It was an easy decision to make because the only part of the writing process I dread more than revising is submitting my work. So it’s a win-win.

I have decided to use this blog as an accountability partner for me to report periodically on my progress, just in case I lose momentum. I am hoping I won’t. It is starting that is hardest for me, not the actual work. Before I start revising, I tend to view it as not writing and therefore not good. Once I get moving, I remember that revising IS writing, and it can be quite joyful. Or it will inspire me to make a fresh pot of coffee. Again, win-win.

My revision goals:
1. Shift from three storylines/protagonists to one. I think this will make the book more accessible to readers. It will also make it easier to query and find comps.
2. Commit to writing the book only in third person limited and past tense. The current version is more experimental, switching not just between p.o.v. but also tense. That was very fun for me as the writer, but might not be so fun for a reader, and at some point, I have to let the reader win.
3. Identify and, if necessary, tighten the arc of each scene.

Those are changes I believe I can make. With luck, I will find other ways to strengthen this novel in the process.


I have discovered that if I am not immersed in novel-writing, I am very cranky. Be glad that you are reading this online and not hanging out with me right now. I’m getting on my own nerves.

What I find ironic is that when I am in the midst of novel-writing, I long to be free to dabble on whatever I wish. Technically, that’s where I am right now. As I seek feedback on my novel, I have time to explore, to work on short fiction, to build my blog, to tweet, to research markets, etc. It turns out none of these small actions are especially calming, nor are they less time-consuming than the novel. I also find it daunting to decide what is top priority. When I work on a novel, it’s easy, and I save my prime hours (or minutes, as the case may be) for the novel. Indeed, any other goal for the day waits until I work on the novel.

I don’t have that same focus right now, and it’s making me terribly irritable. I have plenty to do, but apparently I’m not a fan of plenty.

I know, I know. This concern is very low on the long list of Things Deserving Concern right now. My goal is to seek a rhythm and routine that might help me surf through my shifting priorities.

Progress Report

aquatic plants floating leaves plant

Photo by Scott Webb on

I have neglected my blog for almost two months. It is not that I haven’t had anything to write. I continue to collect ideas and fragments, though some cut too deep for me to unpack, let alone post here. Eventually, some of them will be ready. Eventually, I will be ready.

It’s been a tough couple of months. On the upside, I have made significant progress on my novel. Circumstances have not allowed… so much is tucked away in those words, but that is as much truth as I can reveal right now… circumstances have not allowed me to write daily. But I have written often, and if I return to my earlier novel-writing metaphor as one of striving to reach the other shore, I have written enough of what I needed to write that I feel as if I can touch the shore.

Yet the water here is filled with lily pads. Steady rowing matters less than careful navigation, even retracing my steps. I am moving in and out of the surface of the work itself, trying to make sense of word choices and omissions. I have made the journey to complete the story but now must ask myself hard questions about how I choose to tell it.

Those circumstances that did not permit me to write daily have included some rough patches. But there is always something renewing about spending time writing. The writing always helps.

Rowing Forward

I am making steady progress, working through revisions of the (currently) 52 scenes of my novel.

I’ve been here before. I’ve worked through most of these scenes several times now. Currently, most of the scenes have notes attached to them with changes to make. The final scenes need massive changes, which is a bit daunting to consider, but I’m not there yet.

Once I do make it to the end, I have to start again. Indeed, I have already added notes to scenes I just finished revising, as well as a list of goals for the next “write through.”

I love that I still generate fresh ideas or see ways to address a gap, even if sometimes I am shocked to realize what is still missing after so many revisions.

The image comes to mind of a rowing crew. Row forward then pull back, forward then back. Push, push, push forward. A repetition, a cycle, that nonetheless represents progress.

three people on brown canoe sailing on calm water

The shore is still so far away. It helps if I don’t pay too much attention to the finish line. Forward then back, forward then back. I just need to work on the task at hand. And then another. And again. And again.

Novel-Writing Meltdown

So the good news is that I am still, on average, on track with my novel. I haven’t written every day, but I have written most days.

twisted rootsThe not-so-good news but good-that-it’s-over news: I had a meltdown of sorts, a fit of doubt and despair about the novel. None of this makes sense to me logically because I already know that there is no reason to have any confidence in the future of my novel. I just want to write it and I will write it, so there. Very logical, right?

Here’s what happened. I was on a roll with the novel, making progress every day, getting ideas in between writing sessions, and all the stuff that usually makes me feel good about writing a novel. Then a radical idea struck: What if I split it into three books? Even as I thought of the idea, I reflected that it was a creative but unrealistic idea, but sure, let me entertain it to see what new insights I might generate.

For a day, I was energized by the thought of creating three novels, different protagonists, different genres, same historical and imagined context. I jotted down notes. I became aware of elements that might deserve more attention, whether it stayed one novel or evolved into three. I daydreamed about the possibility of publishing three books.

Then for the next few days, the pendulum swung in the other direction, and I was filled with despair that I would never finish three novels, that I would never stop working on this project. I suppose logically I can accept that writing the novel doesn’t bring any guarantees of next steps, but emotionally, the thought of never finishing just wasn’t okay with me.

It was a roller coaster ride, a real tangle of emotions resistant to my attempt to reason it out.

Eventually, I just told myself, you don’t have to do it. It was just an idea. It’s okay. I felt bad that I wasn’t writer enough for the job, creative enough to follow through on a radical approach. But it made me so stressed that I was glad to return to work on the novel as originally planned.

Relieved, I let myself scan through one of the sections that I thought could stand by itself. No, I thought, the sections work better together. So it’s not just that I am not as talented a writer as I wish to be. It really is better as it is.

Of course, it turns out that as much as I love this novel, I really want to finish it. Someday.