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!

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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.

 

Wednesday Writing Tips: 5 tips on writing dialogue

So to kick off my Wednesday Writing Tips I have decided to start with 6 tips on writing great dialogue.

  1. Explaining when you don’t need to.

Ex: “I can’t believe she said that! Well, I’ll just have to give her a piece of my mind when I see her next.” Jane exclaimed angrily.

Ok, written on the fly, so not the best example. But, the point is, in the example Jane is going to give someone a piece of her mind. The whole line conveys that she’s angry. Tacking on ‘angrily’ at the end is not needed. Try to avoid this.

2. Watch your Tags.

 – he said

 – she said

 – they said

Sometimes it’s ok to say ‘he said’ but watch how many times you’re using tags. Sometimes it’s not always necessary and can impede your flow.

3. Pay attention to conversations around you

This is where being a people watcher comes in handy. If you’re sitting at a coffee shop, or in a book store, or a park, listen to those around you. How are they interacting with each other? How are they moving? What is their body language like? There is more to great dialogue than just what your characters say.

4. Give each character distinct speech patterns.

Now, obviously, your female main character is not going to sound anything like your antagonist. Or at least, she shouldn’t. And her little sister who is only seven is not going to sound anything like the captain of the football team. Different people, different ages, will all have a different way of speaking. Their word choices.

So when you are writing for your character, make sure they sound like themselves. You don’t want everyone to sound the same where your reader will have trouble distinguishing who is speaking without having to reread it.

5. READ IT OUT LOUD!

No, seriously. This is one of the best things you can do to hear how it’s flowing. When you read something aloud you will stumble when the flow isn’t right. If you stumble, you know something is wrong and you need to look at it again. I always read any dialogue I write out loud.

*BONUS*

6. Just let it flow.

And finally, just let it flow. When you first start writing a draft just let it flow as it comes to you. Obsesses over it after you have finished. Don’t stop progress to agonize over your dialogue choices. It’s much easier to edit your dialogue after you have written it. So just keep going.

So there you have it. Five plus a bonus tip on writing dialogue. Do you have any to add to it? Let’s hear them.

Revisions, and learning to love them.

Yes, you read that right. Learning to love revising.

Oh come on, don’t groan.

We all know revisions are part of writing. It’s what takes that first draft to polished finished manuscript. But it can be drudgery.

You’ve finished your first draft. Go you! Now put it away. If you start revising now, you’re still very much in the story. You’re riding the high of it being finished, and you may miss some things that could/should be changed. So put it away.

After you have left it alone for a while, and you may even be starting to forget a details of your story, then pick it back up. You will have fresh eyes and be able to read your story as a critical editor.

Read it all the way through. Don’t stop. Make some notes if you must, when you find glaring issues, but read it from beginning to end. This will give you the best picture of the over all story and any big plot holes or gaps you will need to fill in.

Ok, so you’ve read it, you’ve made a few notes, and you have a good feel for the issues in your story. Now you start revising. If you’re like me, you will want to work in stages. It’s easier, I promise.

Round One of revisions.

I like to break my stages up into three chapters each. Unless there is an arch in the middle in which case I may add a few more chapters to round it out. As you’re going through, don’t pay too much attention to your punctuation just yet. Because you may change bigger things later on that will have made those punctuation changes useless.

After you have finished this first round of revisions, now you send it to your critique partners. When you get their critiques back look and see if they are similar. If they found the same issues, or had the same suggestions. This usually means there’s an issue that needs addressing.

Round Two of revisions.

So you read through your critiques, you made your decisions based on their suggestions, and you revised. Now, send it back to them. See what comes back. Did what you changed/added/removed change anything major that you missed? Did it cause a plot hole? This is what they are looking for the second go round.

After they send it back, you’re(me/we’re) hoping there are no huge changes, only minor grammar and punctuation at this point. If all street lights are green and the road is paved in gold, it might be. But for now, let’s just say that it is. Great!

Round Three of revisions.

You fixed the grammar, the punctuation, and your critique partners didn’t find anything big that needs to be changed. Now what? Your Beta readers. You send it to your betas to read through. You will get comments back. They will make suggestions, and you will have another revision to do.

Round Four of revisions.

Ok, you made the changes. It’s getting better with each pass. You’re confident in it, and you send it back to your betas. They jump up and down and call you the next [insert your favorite author here]. You’re stoked! What’s next?

Round Five of revisions.

One final pass. One final revision. Polishing it to the very best it could possibly be. You wanted to rip your hair out and throw your computer out of your window, but you’re done.

Why would anyone ever love this process, and why should you? Because, if you hadn’t done it that polished and shiny completed manuscript you have wouldn’t even be there. And looking back at it, isn’t what you ended up with so much better than what you started with? I’m willing to bet you fifty bucks it is. Just make your check payable to A.G.

But in all seriousness, while revising can be daunting, and it can feel like a never ending loop, know that with each pass you are one step closer to that finished publishable novel. And isn’t that something to love?

On Critiquing

Ok, it’s something we all need as writers. We need to give, as well as get critiques on our writing. And when I say critiques, I’m not talking about your spouse/partner/family reading it and telling you how much they love it. Sure, that can be a good boost, but that’s not what you need.

You need another writer. Someone who knows about structure, plotting, voice. Someone who is focused on the elements of a story that really make it sing. Someone who can call you to the mat and tell you something sucks isn’t working. But with telling you something isn’t working, they offer helpful advise and suggestions.

While your critique partner should never be mean to just be mean, and if they are stop swapping with them; Your critique partner should also not be afraid they will hurt your feelings. As writers we must always strive for better. A better scene, a better description, a better dialog exchange. An honest critique will help you get there.

Here is an example of a very good critique I got:

I like your use of descriptive words here, but I think changing them around a bit will help the flow of the sentence structure. Also, try an avoid cliches, you have a few in this paragraph. Cut them, and see what happens. Does it stop the scene in it’s tracks, or does the scene keep moving forward. Never be afraid to cut something if it’s not working. And right now, I don’t think it is.

Here is an example of a critique that’s nice, but not very helpful:

You did a good job here. I would change a few things, maybe move some things around.

And finally, here is an example of a completely unhelpful critique:

Nice. I liked it.

Now, which one do you think will help me grow as a writer and craft a better story? The first one right? Right. The second was good, it did let me know that there was obviously something wrong and that I needed to look closer at it, and the third, well while it’s nice to get compliments, if that’s all you have to say in a critique it’s not very helpful.

I haven’t gotten any like the third, but I have seen them before. So, when you are giving critiques, while you should be mindful of your word choices, you should never worry about hurting the writers feelings. If you are giving an honest critique with helpful advice, trust me, the writer is not going to string you up. We really do want those kinds of critiques. Not our egos stroked.

And, if you are getting critiques, don’t ever take them personally. They are not critiquing you as a person. They are critiquing the story and the way it is being told, and they honestly are trying to help.