Wednesday Writing Tips: Outlining your Novel

wednesday-writing-tips-outlining

So if you’ve read through my posts, you will notice that I am a big proponent of outlining. To me it’s helpful and necessary. Now, there are some writers who are pantsers, which is who write by the seat of their pants. If that’s you, that’s ok; Find what works for you and go for it.

For me however, outlining is my saving grace. Your outline can be as detailed or minimal as you want it to be. Today, I’m going to share what I do to outline.

An outline helps me stay focused on where the story is going, and various sub-plots that are running through the story. This way I don’t have to go back and reread 100 pages to remember when Mr. Yellow hair looked at Ms. Teal for the first time. Obviously, that’s made up, but you get my point.

Now, let’s get to outlining.

First you start with your story idea. Today, I’m going to make one up.

Story Idea: What if electricity had never been harnessed for use.

Where do I go from here? I find my MC. In this case, it’s a 19 year old girl named Cassidy (for now).

What’s her goal? To save her tribe.

From who? Whoever is killing each tribe one by one.

How does it end? She finds out it’s the Council killing off the tribes to eradicate magic from the land.

AND we have a story. I know my beginning and I know my ending. On to the outline.

Some people stop here for their outline. Not wanting to be boxed in by details. That’s ok too. If you know where you’re headed with your story, you can write until you get there. I prefer a little more details in my outline.

Now, I use an excel spreadsheet. (I can hear you cringing; it’s really not that bad.) Here is what mine looks like. I save this spreadsheet as a template and use it for each story idea. If I can’t complete the outline, I don’t write the story. The reason for that is twofold. One, the story idea may not be big enough to carry a full novel, and two, I may need to research a little more before attempting the story further.

If you get stuck, don’t worry. Research is your friend, and can help you through.

Outline

Yours doesn’t have to look like mine; this is just what works for me. As you can see, I use the three act structure, and then include the points that need to be hit and at what time. This ensures my pacing stays on track. You can also see I have a word count goal. This I change with each story. The template is set up for Nano. Which is 50k words in a month. You can adjust as you need.

Now once I have my template open, I hash out the details. Where the story starts, each incident that needs to occur to move the story forward, and fill in the ending. From there I fill in all missing places. The way my template is set up is each chapter is its own scene. You can adjust if you have more than one scene in a chapter.

I tend to get very detailed here. That’s not to say I follow it to the letter when I sit down to write, but it is a great guide as to where I’m going. By using this I know whose POV the story is through at each moment, I know when the tension needs to rise and when it needs to fall, and I know where all my storylines are at any given moment.

With all this it helps with consistency and ensuring there are not any glaring plot holes. When you view your story through the outline and get a big picture of it as a whole, any missing pieces tend to stick out, and you can adjust before you’re 35k words in and have to delete back to chapter 3 to fix it. (I’ve done this.)

Also by outlining, you will have less editing to do when the story is complete. That’s not to say you won’t have any, because you will, but you won’t have as many in the form of pacing and plot pitfalls.

Once I have completed my outline, I turn to world building and character development. This is to fill in any and all places so that I can describe them and the story doesn’t feel flat. After that, it’s time to start writing.

So there you go, how I outline. Feel free to use my template if you like. I created it after studying various other story outlines and found this is what works best for me. Now, how about you? Do you have any advice about how you outline? I’m always open to hearing it.

Happy Outlining!

Monday Motivation and Humor

Good Monday Morning. I would like to start with an apology. I missed last week, entirely. No excuses but, I started a new job. Which in turn made me leave my house every morning at 6:45am and not get home till around 7:00pm. Needless to say, my first week, between the new job and working on my manuscript, left me beat.

I neglected the blog.

But, I am back, now that I have become used to the routine and know what my schedule will be. So let’s start this week on a funny and possibly motivational tone. Here are the memes I found over the weekend.

I hope everyone has a great week.

This Writers Life: About Strength and Loss.

grieving-takes-timeSo I have been thinking all week about what I would write about today. I debated on talking about the first week back at school for my kids, the books I have been reading, or even posing a few questions. But none of those really struck a chord with me that made me want to write about just yet.

Finally, I decided, just this morning, that I wanted to write about strength and loss.

On Saturday evening, I lost my Grandfather. It hurts. After I got the phone call I began making my own calls. Making sure I had someone to stay with the kids, a place to stay when I reached Maryland (thank you to my bestie who would have slapped me through the phone for thinking I even had to ask if she could have), and making sure I and my spouse had the time off work to get there and be there.

But then, I get another call. There won’t be a service.

Now, this came as a shock to me. Why? Why wouldn’t there be a service? It made no sense, and made me think it was a lie. I still think this. But I’m not going to voice why.

So I started making calls again, thanking all those who had stepped up in my time of need, willing to help ensure I could get there, but that I wouldn’t be heading out of state. Of course, they were all shocked as well.

I don’t pretend to know what people think, what makes them who they are. I am not a psychiatrist. I didn’t want to sound selfish, and therefore, did not voice my objections and feelings of hurt at learning there would be no service, I just said ok.

But why?

Because, I’m not the only one who lost someone. My mother lost her father, my aunt and uncle lost their father as well. My cousins and I lost our grandfather, and my children lost their great grandpap. Everyone is hurting.

Loss is such an insurmountable feeling. I can understand what my mother is going through having lost my own father a few years ago. But I know there is still nothing I can say or do that will help her grieve. The only thing I have to offer is strength and understanding. To her, to my kids, to the rest of my family.

While my heart hurts, and I will miss him, my family needs me here. And for you I say, feel the loss. It’s supposed to hurt. While you may feel that someone has more of a right to be hurt than you do, that is simply not true. You are entitled to your feelings, they are valid.

I do not care if it’s worse somewhere else, you can’t push your pain away for that reason. “I know it could be worse,” “Someone else has it worse than I do,” stop it. So what. Someone somewhere will always have it worse than you do, but that doesn’t make your feelings any less real.

Grieve.

Which is what I have been doing this week. I am strong for my family, but I still allow myself to feel the loss. I am not pushing it away. Strength can come in so many different guises. You don’t have to pretend that everything is ok to appear strong. Sometimes, the strongest thing you can do is feel the pain.

Be strong for those around you while they need you, but never forget, you lost someone too and are allowed to feel it.

R.I.P Grandpap, I love you, and will miss you.

Wednesday Writing Tips: Should you Self Publish or Traditional Publish

Self or Traditional

So today we’re talking about if you should Self Publish or Traditional Publish that baby you have been working on for months or years. This of course is no easy question to answer, and also very highly personal to each writer. So I am going to discuss my opinion on the matter. And a little forewarning, because of the topic of this post, this is going to be a long one.

Before you can answer this main question, you must answer a few others first. Let’s see what those are.

  1. What are your goals as a writer?
  2. What are you looking for in the publishing process?
  3. Where do you see your writing career in 5 years? Because yes, you should treat this as a career, even if you have a day job.
  4. How good are you at sales and marketing?
  5. How much money do you have to invest in your book? This does matter, and I will discuss below.

Ok, so let’s take those questions one by one.

 

First, what are your goals as a writer.

Do you seek to publish just this one single book? Are you looking for fame and fortune? Are you planning to write five books a quarter? This first question is very important, no matter which route you decide to go with publishing. You need to know your short and long term goals.

If you are looking to publish just this one single book, and no more, then Self-Publishing may be a better option for you. Not that all agents will reject because of that reason, but a lot of agents are looking for writers who want a career as a writer. Someone who is going to publish multiple books they could sell to publishers. For obvious reasons, the more they sell, the more they make. If one writer can put out 3-5 great books in the next five years, that writer is a better bet for the agent than the writer who only wants to publish one and done.

Also, if you are planning to write multiple books a quarter, you could go either route. If you can write, revise, and edit multiple great books each quarter (first know, I hate you. No, I’m kidding. I am jealous though.) an agent could sell to multiple publishers. Or, you could self-publish them so that you’re not waiting a year for each book completed to be launched. Notice I said great books. This is key.

 

Second, what exactly are you looking for in the publishing process.

Are you looking to be in complete control over cover? Release dates? Or would you rather just have that done? Self-Publishing by far offers writers the most control over all aspects of their book. However, Traditional Publishing handles all of that, with very little input from the writer.

So be sure you know exactly what you are looking for with the publishing process so that you are not disappointed, or overwhelmed once you make your decision.

 

Third, where do you see your writing career in 5 years.

This is important to know. Do you plan on quitting your day job to be a full time published author? Do you plan on having written and published more than 5 books in 5 years? Or I this really just a passing thing that you always wanted to do, but don’t really see it as your career?

If you plan on quitting your day job, well, I hope that’s because you know you’re coming into money that’s not from publishing. While yes, you get more royalties from self-publishing than you do from traditional publishing, it will still be a long road to go. It is not a get rich quick thing. You need to build up your reader base. Enough to where you are selling thousands of books a year. And be honest, you may not ever get to that level.

Being able to quit and do nothing but write full time is a lot of writers’ dream. However, one you must be honest about with yourself. It’s a very rare occurrence. Not saying that you won’t, who knows, you very well could. I hope that you do. But don’t put all your eggs in that basket. Be realistic with where you see yourself in five years.

If this is just a passing phase for you, that you may have always wanted to publish a book, but you don’t really see this as your career, self-publish. The reason is once you self-publish, it’s always out there.

 

Fourth, how good are you really at sales and marketing.

While you will have to do both no matter which publishing route you decide to go, the amount will be different. With Traditional Publishing, you will get the aide of the Publishing house somewhat. When you can attach your name to a well-known publishing house, or even a small but still traditional publishing house, it will make your marketing job just a little easier.

You will still be an unknown (if this is your debut) but being able to attach the publishing house name to any of your marketing materials, it’s just a little easier.

However, when Self-Publishing, you are 100% on your own. No one may have heard of you yet. You have no contacts (maybe, depending on how much work you did prior to publishing), you are responsible for everything. Every single aspect to make sure your book gets out there and sells. Is that something you know you can do, do well, and are ready to take on?

 

Finally, Fifth, how much money do you have to invest in your book.

I’m not talking about vanity publishers. You should never pay a publisher to publish your book. A reputable publishing house pays the writer, not the other way around. Always keep that in mind.

It is well established, when done well and correctly, self-publishing costs the writer far more than traditional publishing. You have to pay your own editors, and yes, you need them. You have to pay your own cover artist, and yes, you need this too. And you have to pay for all your own sales and marketing. While traditional published authors do invest in marketing also, self-published authors need to do just a little bit more.

 

 

Once you have answered all these questions, honestly, for yourself you will know which path may be better for you.

Personally, I am going to be trying for the traditional route. Simply because, that has always been my dream. This is what I want, have always wanted, as my career. I am in no way opposed to self-publishing however. Some writers are hybrids, that both traditionally publish and self-publish. This could be you as well.

When you make your decision, know that neither is really easier than the other. They are just different. Different challenges, different hardships, and different kinds of work. So know what you’re getting into and what you will be looking at, no matter the route.

Which direction are you planning on going? Traditional? Self? Or do you plan a hybrid approach?

This Writers Life: Pushing Forward

keep_moving_forward11I know on Fridays I tend to talk about what’s going on in my life on a personal level, but today I want to talk about what’s going on in my life on a professional level. I want to talk about pushing forward.

If you have been reading through my blog, you know currently I am working on world building for my new WIP. You also know that I have fallen down the rabbit hole of research. So much so that my original story idea changed to fit the world I was creating. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The problem I am finding though, is that as I am building, as my story is changing, it is starting to sound more and more like another published novel. This, of course, scared me. While a lot of writers take inspiration from everywhere, things around them, shows they watch, stories they read, we have to be careful that we don’t get too close to that line. That line of where we are clearly following that other inspiration source.

Was this my intention? No, not at all. But, now that I have noticed it, I can adjust. It does sadden me however. I was really growing attached to this world, the characters, and the story that was forming. But, I can’t, won’t, allow myself to tow that line so close that I might tip over it.

As writers, this is usually something subconscious that happens to us. A story that we read years ago, that we don’t even know we remember, is suddenly staring at us on the screen. We let details, or traits, or settings slip in from that story. If you recognize it, you have a chance to change it so that you are not looking at the same story.

Thankfully, I have only started the outline phase. That’s where I noticed some of the plots were eerily similar. So I have plenty of time to make adjustments so that it’s not the same, it’s something new, and mine. So that’s what I will be working on. Making the needed changes so it is not the same story, making it mine, making it new.

If you find some plot lines, or scenes, that are strikingly similar to another story, don’t fret. Make the changes needed to differentiate your story, to make it yours, and to keep pushing forward.

Wednesday Writing Tips: World Building and What NOT to do!

Wednesday Writing Tips World Building

Today we’re talking about World Building. That elusive, beautiful, wonderful, sometimes distracting piece of your story that is absolutely necessary.

The motivation for this week’s post is that I am currently in the middle of this phase myself. I find myself distracted, imagining places locations and buildings. Villages, towns, and clothing. I bump into random objects and my Husband constantly asks “Are you listening to me?” Uhm, no, sorry, I was thinking about (insert my fictional world here).

This is a problem. And one I’m sure I am not the only one to experience. Not all stories require extensive world building, but some, some require an entire universe, planet, continents, and places. Which is where I fall into on this spectrum. For my current work in progress I have to come up with an entire fictional world, customs, cultures, and people. I have gone down the rabbit hole.

So, here are some tips so you don’t fall into the same traps I have found myself blindly walking into, when building your fictional world.

 

World Building, and What NOT to do:

  1. Wing it.

Just start writing, not knowing anything about your world, its inhabitants, beliefs, and history. Yeah, don’t do this. I did at first. I had my main character, my antagonist, and a few supporting characters and just started writing. The problem I kept hitting was, “Wait, why do they believe that?”, “Why did they just do this thing?”, “Why did those villagers just think that sort of thing was normal?” All questions that could have been avoided and my writing smoother had I done some world building to begin with.

  1. Spend all your time drawing your maps.

Draw the world itself, then each city, town, village, kingdom. Then road maps for each. Yeah, again, another trap I fell into. Look, I love maps. I love maps with every fantasy novel. It helps me really visualize travel time and layout. But don’t think this is absolutely necessary before you start. It’s perfectly acceptable to draw a rough map that contains your major places, if it helps you. But don’t think you need to have mas so detailed that you’re actually stalling your writing.

  1. Freak out. Breathe. Freak out again.

So you’ve started your world building and you are finding the more research and world building you do the more your original story changes. And you subsequently, freak out and trash all the world building you did. Ok, I can admit I did this. More than once. But really, I shouldn’t have.

While I was world building, laying out the history and the culture, I found that my original story line would not have fit into this world. But, it did give me another ide for the story. I did freak out, as I was very attached to my original story line, but I continued. I loved the world more than the story in the end. So don’t freak out. Create a story that will fit in the world you just created. It will be better.

  1. Tumble through the rabbit hole that is culture research.

You want your story to make sense, so you research hundreds, thousands of different cultures over the span of a few decades to mix and match to fit in your world. You create an answer for everything, anything that could happen has an explanation as to why. And before you know it, it’s been a year and you haven’t moved past this point.

I get it. I really do. I want my inhabitants and cultures to make sense for my world. I don’t want them to stick out as out of place or not believable. But it doesn’t have to be perfect. It will never be perfect. Accept that now. A few different cultures, histories, is all you need. You don’t need a history and culture for the farm boy two towns over that has one line in passing when your main character stops for an apple. Really, you don’t. Don’t get sucked in.

  1. Focus all your time and energy on your main location, ignore all others.

Of course you want your main location to be rich and detailed. You want to know all about it and you want your readers to know everything there is to know about it. To the detriment that you ignore all the other locations that your character’s travel to. (Obviously, if your story only takes place in one location and they never go anywhere else, ignore this.)

This leaves all your other locations flat and disposable. Your readers will notice this. They will notice all the detail in one and the incredible lack of said detail in other locations. Don’t focus all your time and energy on one location only. You are world building, not just location building.

 

So there you have it. What not to do when world building. I am also including some links to incredibly helpful world building posts, and what you SHOULD be doing. All of which have helped me.

 

SFWA – That site is so comprehensive, and if you write Fantasy or SciFi, you should definitely be reading it.

Writers Edit – The Ultimate Guide to World Building

Arcadia – While this is for D&D, it has a great checklist for world building.