I’m pressing ahead with the final revision to my third DCI Matt Proctor novel that I hope to publish early next year (2017). I’ve written this novel experimenting using OneNote and I’ve found it to be a most useful tool. I’ll try my best to explain how this works – however if you are minded to give it a go I suggest you open Microsoft OneNote or if you haven’t got it already, then download it – it’s free!

I use the 2007 version – the later 2013 version is similar but as always with software and app developments, 2013 has a few extra tweaks.

If you have OneNote open you will see a series of tabs across the top. They are called sections. My approach for novel writing is to label the different tabs or sections as follows: Core idea, Outline, Scenes, Characters, Settings. I suggest as a minimum these five sections are all you need. However, I’ve added Synopsis and Research sections as well. The beauty is you can have as many or as few as you like – and here’s the real bonus – everything is in one place, one screen – it’s dead easy to flick between one section and another. You’re writing a scene – does young Zoe have a stud on her nose or her lip? Open your Characters’ section, go to Zoe’s page. Ah, on her nose. One click – back to Scenes and your current scene page. Now you carry on writing your scene describing Zoe’s nose piercing – and perhaps dad’s reaction on seeing it for the first time. Wait, dad – is he hot-tempered or generous and understanding? Back to the characters tab. Checked! Now since her parent’s divorce is Zoe’s dad living in Washington or Wolverhampton, New York or Newcastle. Check the Settings section, ‘dad’s house’ page. Got it, click back to Scenes. Now you’re up to speed and can finish writing your scene.

Now here’s a really great feature. You’re writing scene 44 and you think – hey, this needs to come much earlier, before scene 23. Down the side of your scene 44 text is a panel where the heading or first line of each scene appears. Hover over scene 44, slide it up before scene 23 and drop it there. Bingo! You’re sorting your story structure as you go along. But maybe you prefer to push ahead and get that all-important first draft completed and then worry about issues like sequence, pacing, character development, etc – okay, get all your scenes written first, then at the revision stage start moving those scenes up and down. Ah, but what about timelines, the dreaded timelines. Well, I’ve devised what I call an EASYVIEW SCENE PLANNER that goes at the head of each scene…

OneNote 2010

OneNote 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I’m running ahead of myself here – what I want to do next year is pull my novel writing approach using OneNote together into a freebie that I can give away to my blog followers. So step up, folks, sign up and keep looking in.

Nose piercing

Nose piercing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I belong to an excellent writing group that meets every four weeks. Using a rota system – because we are a relatively big group – everyone gets a chance to chair the session and read and receive feedback on their writing.  The group also undertakes ad hoc projects such as themed writing, anthologies, workshops, ‘blind’ readings. As the group comprises a mix of poetry and prose writers and in order to ensure everyone gets a chance to read, time is limited for each reader and for feedback on their piece. As a prose writer, I felt we were lacking the opportunity to present an extended piece of prose writing and to receive more detailed comments, in addition to the ‘short reads’. The group therefore agreed to set up a ‘critique swap’ list  for those interested and having launched this – well, we will see what happens.

How will it work? Here’s what I suggested, and agreed to by our writing group.

“I see it as self-administering and best kept simple.
1. Contact a member on the list and agree to do a mutual critique swap.
2. Email your piece of writing. Invite your critique partner/buddy to send their work to you.
3. Complete and send your critique. (No hard and fast rules but I suggest guidelines of up to a week for a chapter, 2 weeks for 2-3 chapters, 1 month for a complete book).
Some members may wish to get together and have a face-to-face chat to feed back/clarify and discuss comments. Over time and as experience grows, the arrangements can be reviewed.
Although I think the responses to a piece of writing are up to individuals, the checklist below devised by Holly Lisle should prove useful , especially if the writer has asked for comments on specific aspects. Thanks Holly.”
“Holly Lisle
never give up on your dreams
writing, books . . . and magic

The following is a recommended (but not required) format for offering a complete critique of a manuscript. You are welcome to cut and paste this to a text document on your computer so that you can reuse it any time, or you can cut and paste it from here (somewhat awkward.)


My first impressions of your story:
The plot:
The characters:
The action:
The dialogue:
The background:
The overall story:
The theme:
The technical details (spelling, grammar, scientific or historical details), etc.:
What I loved about this work, and why:
What caused me problems, and why:
Final comments:
A link to the story of mine I would like comments on: (if applicable)


You can go into as much or as little detail as you would like on each area of this, leave out areas completely, or just mark one or two areas you feel require comment. Remember that the critiques you receive will often reflect the amount of effort you put into yours. (If they don’t, find new and more appreciative critiquing partners  ).”

Thanks again, Holly. (You can visit her site via In-Text link below – good stuff there.)

So – we’re up and running. I’ll update this blog at a future date to report on our experience.

If anyone does something similar in their group, please let me know how it works for you – we can all learn from one another.

Write on.


Worth Dying For (Jack Reacher, #15)Worth Dying For by Lee Child
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been late coming to Lee Child’s novels featuring the iconic character of Jack Reacher. ‘Worth Dying For’ is undoubtedly a page turner, the writing style generates an urgency and is purpose designed for fast, breathless reading.
In this novel Child captures the isolation and vastness of Nebraska; in a curious way a spacious landscape yet at the same time claustrophobic.
The story follows Jack Reacher as he arrives in a remote farming community (how and why he’s there intrigue and as in all good suspense yarns you are kept waiting). A powerful family clan – the Duncans – rule the roost and impose their will on a cowed community. At the centre of the plot is a mysterious shipment moving overland from Canada to the US. Its content is the subject of tension and rivalry between competing ‘mobs’ and the Duncans. Jack Reacher is very soon caught in a maelstrom of personal jeopardy and violence as he deals with the Duncans and their ‘dissatisfied’ clients (over the shipment) while investigating the strange past disappearance of a young girl, the daughter of a member of this terrified community.
As a writer of crime/thriller novels myself, I was fascinated by the Jack Reacher character. He is fearless, has the courage of a lion, highly resourceful – even superhuman – but his drive as a lawless ‘White Knight’ hero to impose righteousness and avenge evildoing reaches psychopathic proportions. Did I feel empathy for him as a reader? Where are the human flaws, vulnerabilities that, as writers, we are supposed to imbue in our characters? Is he credible?
Putting that aside, all in all this is a compelling thriller read that sweeps you along to a satisfying climax and resolution.

View all my reviews


I’m writing my  next DCI Matt Proctor crime novel, (a series) and I’d like to share my approach to “PLANNING A NOVEL”.

How do you put your novel together? Please let me know.

I’ll set out my approach in separate blogs – this is the THIRD. There are SEVEN in all.  

(A recap – if you read my first two posts on 1. CORE, 2.OUTLINE, skip down to 3. PLOT/STRUCTURE– if you missed the earlier posts see archives).

From the outset let me say I’m more a ‘planner’ than a ‘pantser’- but please, you ‘pantsers’ out there, don’t tune out – we can all learn from each other. (I wonder if there really are out-and-out ‘pantsers’ or ‘planners’ – or are most of us somewhere in between on a spectrum?).

PLANNERS                            IN-BETWEENERS                                              PANTSERS

I may be a planner but one who leaves space for the story to breathe, to bend and flex, change direction at times. Yet the CORE story line remains.

PLAN because I think it makes me write my book faster and better. I’ll tell you why later.


I need to know my story plot(s) in detail, understand the motivations, secrets and fears of my main characters before I can progress to writing my first draft. From my outline, I develop scenes and flesh out characters. The process is very much iterative, synergistic. I hop from one to another; adding to my character profiles, summarising a scene in a brief heading, modifying and reordering the outline chronology using a ‘scene order’ grid, to get a visual overview of the book.

The tabs across the top – like file labels – show the seven components, Core, Outline,Scenes, Characters, etc. Clicking the ‘Scene’ tab opens a list of the scenes down the right hand side. In the grid, the different colours show main plot, sub-plots, viewpoint character for any one scene. Clicking a scene on the right opens that scene’s pages – your writing.

Clicking the character tab lists all the characters down the right hand side. Clicking on a character name opens your detailed profile of that character.

(By the way this is a pic of an Acer notebook 10.1″ screen – not an Imax image!)


A great tool for doing this is Microsoft OneNote (as above). Some swear by Scrivener, Ywriter; another good tool is Hiveword. There are others. I think writers need to experiment to find out what suits them best. Two factors influencing my choice are a) the ability to write the book content within the planning tool, and b) to work offline sometimes – I may be on holiday and want an hour or so of ‘writing therapy’ but might not want to go on-line, or have available on-line access.

By giving me an overview and instant access to the components of my story on a single screen, I get control of the project and so I find the process of drilling down into the detail of my story easier, more efficient and fulfilling. Certainly much less frustrating than switching from one screen to another, hunting down folders and files, hopping back and forth from page to page on websites and between different websites.   ARRRGH…

  • In planning my novel I use seven COMPONENTS.  They are not written in a strict chronology – that’s important. They have synergy, they feed off each other. Maybe it’s like bringing up a family – you don’t focus all your energy on one child and when that job’s done, move on to the next. Oh, no, – you don’t bring kids up like that. You juggle, you compromise, negotiate, discipline, encourage, motivate, and so on. You spread your attention, your focus, your love. (OK, OK, we didn’t have seven children but you get the picture!). Now – please let me show you in specific terms how all this works (and for me it definitely does) in practice


  • CORE – Who is the Main Character, what’s their goal, problem, obstacles, what are the stakes for failure? In 50 words; yes, I keep this to 50 words. Concentrates the mind!
  • OUTLINE – Two pages max. Written in present tense, with a start, middle and end. Split into key scenes with short headings. Leave room for the story to evolve.
  • PLOT/STRUCTURE – Spine of the story, the heart of the MC’s journey. Sub-plots add complexity and richness. The main plot (and sub-plots) summaries need only be a sentence or two.
  • SCENES – Scenes are the building blocks of the novel. These are where the action is. As you write scenes you are writing your book.
  • CHARACTERS – Absolutely critical. The reader must care about these people.
  • SETTINGS – Give ‘colour’, atmosphere, they complement characterisation, add credibility and context whether real or fictional places.
  • SYNOPSIS – Comes at the end because a synopsis is a ‘selling’ tool; your book summary. You write a synopsis when you’ve finished your book. (I include it as part of planning because you’ll need it for submissions).

In this third blog in the series, I’ll focus on my third COMPONENT in PLANNING A NOVEL, namely the PLOT/STRUCTURE of my story. 


Plot and structure are very much inter-related. In fact as I’ve repeated already several times ALL seven components feed off each other and should not be seen in isolation or as chronological. What kicks off a novel might be a core idea, a character, a place, a scene, a line of dialogue – a memory. As the story grows so the components can be fleshed out. When the actual writing starts is an individual matter – some pitch in and write from that first kick-starter, others hold back until as much preparation as possible is completed. Sooo…when I talk about plot/structure, remember this component influences and is influenced by all others (except perhaps the synopsis which I’ll talk about at the end). However, I urge that as the writing flows do return and fill out the component parts. Doing so, in my view, makes for better and more efficient writing.

So – is plot/structure one and the same? I think not – but I have integrated them into a single component because I feel they are more than cousins, more even than siblings – I see them as twins, and joined at the hip!  Plotting is about cause and effect, action and reaction, if this – then that. Structure is the ordering of these. Think architecture, your building plan; how do you sequence the events in your plot to create a coherent, well-paced and satisfying story. Let’s take an example.

In my novel ‘In it for the Money’  my core idea is:cropped-cover-money-fuzzy-6.jpg

‘DCI Matt Proctor fights to break an  international ‘match-fixing’ gambling syndicate and becomes their kill target when he gets too close. Serbian Mafia boss Petrovic hunts him – yet real power lies in sports boardrooms, directors’ boxes and wheeler-dealer agents. Matt Proctor is a marked man.’

For plotting purpose I use this core as my main plot. Remember?  Who is the Main Character, what’s their goal, problem, obstacles, what are the stakes for failure?

Sub-plots add richness and layering to the story – they amplify and contextualise the main plot. Put simply, sub-plots add to the main plot to  make for a better, more satisfying read overall.

Here are three sub-plots for ‘in it for the Money’:

  • DCI Matt Proctor’s ongoing relationship issues with police colleague DI Azzra Mukherjee,
  • Proctor’s internal tussle between loyalty to an old friend and sense of guilt/betrayal versus upholding the law,
  • Ali (Azzra’s brother) getting involved with jihadists.

The ordering of scenes gives the structure of the novel.

Make sure the end scenes work as well as the openers – putting a roof on your house keeps out the rain! Check that the main character’s wants, objectives have been answered –  might not always get what was wanted. Loose ends tied up.

A useful way of getting an overview of your story plot/structure is to use a ‘grid’ in which each scene heading is entered. A table or spreadsheet will enable scenes to be shuffled around to get the balance in rising  tension, pace, action, reflection, etc. If you prefer low tech to high tech, post-it notes or cards can be used instead.

Colours and/or ‘tags’ within the grid can help identify viewpoints and plot/sub-plot scenes. Here’s an extract from my current novel’s grid – about 70 boxes in all, one for each scene. (Numbers unique to each scene – shows how much shuffling goes on!)

/19 Celia spies on Adele, C tells G, argue, leaves Adele w/G. /19a MP visits Handsworth sees Daz, Red Den at racist rally. /55 Bahar challenges Omoto – Red Den hears

/15 Gabriel seduces Adele

5 *Attempt to kill Adele 53 Adele put in witness protection 6  V2 – MP called to gruesome canal murder 2-MONICA 7 MP/Az get close – mirror young couple 9 Azzra and MP row _ Azzra pours water over MP 10 *MP made SIO -sceptical about motives

Coming up NEXT. What’s the future gig? THE BIGGIE!



© tombryson2015

If you have a free hour or so on the afternoon of Friday, 21st August (3.00 – 4.00 p.m.) come along and say hello and we can chat about crime/thriller writing and my approach, share views and ideas. Be good to see you you.

Venue: Brandhall Library, Tame Road, Oldbury, Sandwell  B68 0JT(Free event)Website header collage straightPicMonkey