Wednesday Writing Tips: Outlining your Novel

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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!

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: 5 Reasons you should be Free Writing!

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As writers, and people in general, we have so much technology available to us. We have apps, programs, websites, all aimed at helping us along. We are constantly bombarded by: You should be doing it like this, Don’t do this, This thing over here is better. But all of that technology doesn’t replace something very important, pen and paper.

Here are 5 reasons you should start (or consider) free writing.

  1. It can help you work through a writer’s block. Seriously. When you sit down with nothing more than pen and paper, no internet to distract you, and just start writing you would be amazed at what will come out.
  1. You will find new ideas. You don’t have to use free writing just to work through blocks. You should be doing it as a habit. Not necessarily free writing your current work in progress, just whatever jumps into your head at that moment. You could write a scene, a short story, anything. While it may not be what you’re currently working on, you could find a new idea for your next project. After you finish your current one of course.
  1. It’s just plain fun. No really. Do you remember being a kid and just sitting down and writing a story, with no end in mind, no goals for that story other than to write it, no advanced planning. If you’re anything like me, you do. I did this as a kid, and now, I can’t remember why I ever stopped. Oh, right, computers. Free writing helps to bring you back to a time when writing was fun for you, to help stir the passion you hold for it, and remember why you started writing in the first place.
  1. You can find new characters through free writing. When you’re working on your current project, you’re focused, dialed in to that story those characters. But when you’re free writing, you can find many new characters, new personalities, interesting traits you may have not thought of before. No matter if you use them in your current project or not, they can be saved to use later.
  1. It’s exercise for your imagination. Don’t think about all the writing rules you’ve learned, don’t think about publication, don’t think about anything other than what you’re writing in that notebook and let your imagination soar. As writers we sometimes lock ourselves into the worlds we’ve created and can’t see past them. Free writing let’s your imagination roam. By unplugging yourself from the distraction that is the internet, you are freer to write whatever, and however you please. Free writing is for you, and you alone.

 

So there you have it. 5 reasons you should be free writing. Can you think of anymore reasons? Do you free write? Why or why not? I’d love to hear it!

Monday Motivation and Humor

This is starting to become one of my favorite days. Sharing the funny or motivational images on reading or writing I found throughout the week before. Really, I look forward to it.

I hope you all find it amusing as well.

Sometimes, if I’m stuck writing, or on my lunch break, I look up funny memes for reading and writing, as well as motivational ones. I started doing this just to release stress and laugh, because let’s face it, that’s essential.

But now I get to share what I laugh at with you all, and that makes it even better.

So here are the ones I found last week.

This Writers Life: Grateful for the little things.

what-are-you-grateful-forSo, last weekend I purchased a new laptop, and I love it. In fact, I am writing this blog post on said laptop from the comfort of my bed. Not that this will be a common occurrence, but that it’s a possibility, I’m grateful.

You see, I work from home. For my day job. The thing that pays the bills and keeps a roof over my head. I have my own in home office and have it all set up for that job. I wake up, go into that office, and work until late into the evening.

That job is not exactly great for creativity. When I am working in there I have found that it is hard for me to switch my brain over from day job, to creative it’s time to write mode. This was becoming a problem. To the point that I didn’t even want to write in there anymore. While in that office, all I thought about was day job work, stress, day job emails, etc. Not the best place to focus on my writing.

So buying this laptop, while a little thing, opens up so many possibilities for me. It will allow me to physically leave the office, and still work on my writing. It will allow me to have one central location for my research, drafts, images, etc. Without it being bunched in with work stuff. It will also allow for an automatic brain shift. You see, this laptop will only be used for writing, either for the blog or my current work in progress. So when I open it up and turn it on, my focus is solely on writing and nothing else.

This excites me. I have felt so hampered and distracted in the office as I always found myself drifting back to work stuff, even after I was done for the day. On Sunday I turned on the laptop and set everything up. Switched everything that related to writing from the office computer to this laptop. I immediately felt freer. I am now free to work on nothing but work stuff while in the office, without thinking about writing, and free to work on nothing but writing and writing related things without thinking about work stuff.

It’s a little thing, but it’s those little things I am grateful for. Just this small, seemingly inconsequential thing, has opened up so much for me. It’s amazing what a small item can do to shift the way you think about things and how you work.

So how about you? What are you grateful for today?

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.

The Solitary or not so Solitary Life

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So if you were like me growing up, you thought that writers hid themselves away, toiling over their work. Agonizing over every word, sentence, and punctuation. They locked themselves away from all forms of life to finish the next great novel.

Well, part of that is true, I have found.

The parts where you drive yourself crazy over a word choice. Pull your hair out over sentence structure. Work for hours on end when the muse has you in her clutches.

What I found not to be true? The hiding away part. At least, for me.

I need that interaction. That contact.

I need to see facial expressions, hear voices (that are actually talking to me and not just my characters in my head), converse, laugh, have fun. Without it, I don’t seem to have any inspiration.

I had always believed when I was younger that the life of an author was a solitary one. While I do spend many hours on my own, in my office, writing away, I am not actually alone.

There is always someone in my house. Whether it’s my kids, or my husband. Someone is talking, someone is laughing, someone is running through the house.

They say that to be a good writer, you should write what you know. Well, how are you supposed to write great dialogue if you don’t hear it? How are you supposed to describe body language if you don’t see it? How are you… well, you get the idea.

For me, hiding in my office for days at a time has hindered my inspiration. I find myself struggling with scenes, characters, their interactions. I have to get out. Go into the world. If it’s to people watch at the Arts Market, or just go swimming with my kids. I need that to keep writing.

So don’t think that in order to write you have to lock yourself away and hide from the world. Go out. Gain experiences. Live life. And then, come back and write about it.