Epcot and Expectations

Happy Tuesday, squiders! I am so glad to be home! (Although I am behind on everything, but what else is new?)

You see, last week we took the smallish, mobile ones to the most expensive happiest place on Earth. I would like to say that it was a fantastic family bonding experience (and, to be fair, sometimes it was), but good Lord. My eldest is on the spectrum and I don’t know if I just forgot how overstimulating Disney World is or if I just never knew, but it was…overwhelming.

(I do not have sensory issues myself–aside from styrofoam, screw that stuff–and Toy Story Land about put me over. The noise and the lights and the colors, they will haunt me.)

I went to Disney World three times as a kid, when I was 8, 10, and 14, so it’s obviously been a while. But when I was little, I remember loving Epcot above all the other parks (though, to be fair, there were less of them then). I’ve always been a nerd, so I loved the science and technology aspect of it, and looking at what the future might bring.

(I am also fond of the World Showcase, though the last time I went as a kid, we got some chocolate dessert in Norway which was just the worst. I don’t remember what exactly it was, just that it was sacrilegious to the idea of chocolate. But, seriously, the World Showcase is a nice companion to the future world part of Epcot–the world as it is next to the world that could be.)

This time around, however, I found Epcot to be…disappointing? Languishing, maybe. Aside from Spaceship Earth, everything from when I was a kid is gone. (Well, Journey to Imagination is still there, but in some weird, less awesome form.) That’s not necessarily bad–it’s supposed to be about technology and the future, and that’s changing all the time!

But it doesn’t feel like they’ve replaced them with anything worthwhile. Like…it became too hard to keep up with the future, and so they just…gave up. Most of the buildings in the future world section are partially or mostly empty. The Innoventions buildings, which I remember being full of cool science things, have nothing but a small section labeled Colortopia (which was cool, not going to lie) and a handful of character meet n’ greet spots, most of which feel like they were put together at the last minute.

The two newer things, Mission: SPACE and the Test Track, are neat and fit in to the general idea of Epcot, but they’re a couple of things surrounded by empty buildings. The Seas and The Land Pavilions feel dated and are in bad repair. And the new thing they’re working on–a Guardians of the Galaxy-themed rollercoaster–feels completely out of place.

I mean, on one hand I understand. Epcot has no doubt been hard to merchandise, since it lacks the connection with Disney properties like the movies and TV shows. It’s also probably expensive to maintain, since rides and exhibits date themselves faster than at the other parks. (Hell, they’re still doing the SAME Indiana Jones stunt show that they we’re doing when I was 14 at Hollywood Studios.)

But on the other hand, the little kid in me that loved science and technology and dreaming of the future wants to cry. I remember Epcot as being this glorious celebration of science and space and dinosaurs and energy and the future. A tribute to what humanity had been and would be capable of. And it’s hard to see that anymore.

But hey, maybe my nostalgia is coloring my memories. Maybe Epcot has always been poorly realized and/or half-empty. I mean, my husband told me that Walt Disney had wanted to build an experimental future community (EPCOT stood for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), and so Epcot’s beginnings were already off-track before the park was ever built.

Anyway, thanks for reading my rant. Any thoughts on Epcot, squiders? Want to talk about rides that have been?

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Why Science Fiction/Fantasy?

I was ditzing around the blog and discovered a variety of draft posts that never got written, for whatever reason. This is the earliest, from 2010, right after I started this blog up.

No reason to let things sit around forever, right?

Here are the notes I left myself for this post:

“Why I write scifi/fantasy

Including points:
-why read the real world?  It is sad and depressing
-you can do anything with scifi/fantasy (not even the sky is the limit)”

Good job, Kit. Very useful.

Maybe I felt like I had to explain myself, back then? I know that sometimes people who write genre get pushback from “literary” types about how genre stories aren’t real literature or whatever. I don’t think I’ve ever really run into that in person, so I don’t know if that was it. (2010 was an awfully long time ago.)

Since this was from the beginning of the blog, maybe it was as an introduction? Kind of a “here’s what you’re getting yourself into” sort of thing. I think I’ll go with that one.

In my case, the question wasn’t ever “Why Science Fiction/Fantasy?” I don’t think there was ever any other option available to me. I watched Star Trek with my parents before I could talk. My parents were huge scifi fans, and that definitely rubbed off. And when I found and read my first real epic fantasy book in sixth grade (The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks), well…I’ve never looked back.

That’s not to say I don’t like other genres. You guys know I love mysteries, and I’ve read my fair share of classics, romance, historical fiction, thrillers, horror, etc. But there’s something about science fiction and fantasy, about the possibilities, that has always stuck with me. In most cases, there’s a sense of wonder, a sense of possibility, even in the bleakest of storylines.

Plus, you know, dragons. And spaceships. Oooo, maybe dragons on spaceships?

It’s probably for the best. When I try to write something without fantastical elements I get a little melodramatic.

So the question isn’t “why science fiction/fantasy?” It’s “Why wouldn’t it be science fiction/fantasy?”

How about you, squiders? Why do you write/read your genre of choice?

Using Outlines for Revision

A lot of people consider outlines as something you need before you start writing your first draft, but I would argue that they’re a much more important tool for the revision phase of a project.

That’s not to say that having an outline when you’re doing the initial writing isn’t helpful. In a lot of ways it is. (Please refer back to the section about why you need an outline for more on that.) But revision is a whole other beast, and if you’re unprepared for the process, you can find yourself putting out draft after draft and never really getting the book/story you’re looking for.

Revision is the process of taking the book you have and making it the book you want. But if you don’t know what you want…

That is why I highly recommend using outlines for your revision process. And the more thorough the outline, the easier it is to put into place. Even if you’re a pantser, use an outline for revision. The story’s been written. You know how it goes. The point now is to make it coherent, logical, and beautiful, and to prepare it for whatever the end goal of it is (whether it’s to share with a few friends or family or send it off hoping for traditional publication).

If writing is a right-brained activity, revision is left-brained. And having the right tools and processes make left-brained activities flow better. Having an outline can help you see where you’re missing scenes, where scenes don’t make sense, where you can add in more conflict (or streamline some that’s too complicated).

And once you’ve planned out what needs to go where, then you make it do so.

I like to use a combination of phase outlining and note cards for my revision process. Note cards in particular can be very useful, because each scene is its own card, which means you can rearrange scenes or add/remove them without disturbing the entire outline.

So, if you’ve had issues in the revision steps of the writing process, look at adding some outlining in. It can also help to note what in particular you have to keep rewriting (character motivation, plot flow, etc.) and focus on that in your outlining.

What say you, squiders? Do you think using an outline for revision is helpful? Alternates or other tools you like instead?



2018 Books in Review

So, if you’ve been around for a while, squiders, you know it’s time for me to do my nerdy reading stats for the year before. This year I barely eked out my 50 books on the last day, whoops.

Books Read in 2018: 50
Change from 2017: -1

Of those*:
11 were Science Fiction
10 were Mystery
8 were Fantasy
7 were Nonfiction
4 were General Literature
3 were Short Story Collections
2 were Horror
2 were Dystopian
2 were Science Fantasy
1 was Satire

*Some genre consolidation was done here. YA or MG titles went into the general genre. All subgenres of fantasy or romance, for example, also went into the general genre.

Also, I listened to an audiobook this year (It was Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller) which was an interesting experience, but not one I think I’m going to do a lot of unless I’m doing way more driving than I am currently.

New genre(s)**: dystopian, satire
Genres I read last year that I did not read this year: essay collection, magical realism, romance
**This means I didn’t read them last year, not that I’ve never read them.

Wow, no romance whatsoever? Weird.

Genres that went up: science fiction, nonfiction, mystery
Genres that went down: fantasy, mystery

32 were my books
17 were library books
1 book was borrowed from friends/family

35 were physical books
14 were ebooks
1 was an audiobook

More of my own books this year. That’s probably a good thing.

Average rating: 3.48/5

Top rated:
Harpist in the Wind (4.5 – fantasy)
The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (4.5 – mystery)
The Mousetrap (4.2 – mystery)

Oh, hey, not sure a fantasy book has been top in a while! A lot of 3.9s as well (Ready Player One, First-Person Singularities, The Sparrow, The Selection, Version Control, The Wanderer, Audrey, Wait!). I generally liked what I read this year.

Most recent publication year: 2018
Oldest publication year: 1904
Average publication year: 1999
Books older than 1900: 0
Books newer than (and including) 2013: 26

A lot of newer books again, so good job me!

And, as it might be interesting to look back on in the future, the first book I read for the year was Ready Player One (2011 – science fiction – 3.9/5), and the last I read was All Systems Red (2017 – science fiction – 3.8/5).

Read anything good in 2018, squiders?

Looking Back at 2018 and Ahead at 2019

For the last few years, I’ve had a spreadsheet with a general idea of what I want to get done for the year and the general time frame in which I think it’s going to get done.

There’s a lot of overlap from year to year–the same projects not really getting done–so I may want to rethink this moving forward.

But, hey! Things got done in 2018, and they were generally useful:

  • I wrote 20K to get to The End on my space dinosaur story first draft (started in 2014)
  • I wrote approximately 10K on the sequel to City of Hope and Ruin
  • I had a story published in an anthology (The Necro-Om-Nom-Nom-Icon) and wrote another one for an anthology that will be released this March
  • I finished the revision on Book 1 of my trilogy (two years in the making, argh)
  • I had a short story published in a magazine in April (Bards and Sages Quarterly) and also had two more published online (here and here)
  • I went through a critique cycle with the beginning of my YA paranormal novel, which will help me streamline it for submission
  • I continued my monthly scifi serial (which should be complete within a few months)
  • I worked on the nonfiction books here on the blog (and we’re on our last one now!)

Plus other, littler things. But it’s not too shabby. I’ve laid a lot of new projects out, so I should be good to go to work on them when I get there.

Of course, getting there is always the issue.

It’s hard to plan out a whole year of projects. Things take longer than you expect them to, or new things pop up, or priorities change, but here’s generally what I’m thinking for 2019.

  • CoHaR II MUST get done. Hopefully by March. That may be a little optimistic. This is a hard one since Siri and I have to work together on it, so I don’t have full control of the time frame, and it’s hard to work on other things around it, because then I have to re-center myself on it every time it’s my turn again.
  • I have a bunch of projects that are in this weird state between revision and publication. There’s Book 1, which I finished a major revision on last year and could, in theory, be submission ready, though I would like some betas to read through it before I act on that. There’s the YA paranormal, which I was submitting, but probably needs some work before I send it out again (the critique process I put it through pointed out that the tone is inconsistent in the beginning). And there’s the space dinosaurs draft, which is pretty good but does need some tweaking. Again, betas will be necessary. All my normal betas are too busy for writing lately so I need to find some new ones.
  • The nonfiction books are almost ready. The outlining one we’re doing right now is the last one. Then I’ve got to consolidate, write the new sections, get betas (Lord), and get them out into the world.
  • I could, in theory, start a new draft of something. Hooray! I have no outstanding unfinished drafts, and it helps to write something new occasionally instead of revising all the time. But then the options, and which to choose.
  • I spent some time in Nov/Dec poking at ideas for children’s books of various levels. While the chapter book ideas need some fleshing out (right now they’re mixes of premise and character without anything really solidifying), I do have three picture books completely outlined that I could get going on.

My thought is that until CoHaR II is out of the way, I’m going to be fairly useless on revision, so I may focus on new things at the beginning of the year (and finding betas) and then do the more brain intensive bits later on. But hey! Plans change. We’ll see.

How did 2018 go for you, squiders? Anything major and awesome planned for 2019?



Types of Outlines (Part 3)

Soooo…hi? Sorry to leave you guys hanging for so long, but, alas, holidays and so forth.

Now we’re getting into the really meaty outlines, meant for people who like to know exactly where their story is going and what is happening exactly when. These outlines tend to take a lot of work and be fairly lengthy, but they can be useful because all the kinks are worked out in the outlining phase, making the actual writing pretty straightforward.

Save the Cat!

Save the Cat! is a technique that was originally designed for screenplay writing, but several fiction writers use it as well. Essentially, Save the Cat! and techniques like it have a list of “beats,” or key plot points, much like tentpole and act outlining. The different is that there are more “beats” (Save the Cat! has 15), and that they are more concrete about what needs to happen at each plot point.

The 15 beats for Save the Cat are Opening Image, Set-up, Theme Stated, Catalyst, Debate, Break Into Two, B Story, The Promise of the Premise, Midpoint, Bad Guys Close In, All is Lost, Dark Night of the Soul, Break Into Three, Finale, and Final Image. More information can be found in the book of the same name, Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder. A companion book, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, was recently released and covers the same ideas from a novel-writing standpoint. You can also find examples of movies broken down into the beats at the Save the Cat! website.

A similar method to this that might be more familiar to writers is the Hero’s Journey template by Joseph Campbell. There are twelve steps in the Hero’s Journey, each of which correspond to a particular plot point and where said plot point needs to go.

Chapter by chapter

Chapter by chapter outlining is more similar to phase outlining than the structure-based outlining techniques. In chapter by chapter outlining, you write down what’s going to happen in each chapter, rather than each scene. These explanations are normally a bit longer than with the scene-based phase outlining, though some people combine phase outlining with chapter by chapter, which looks something like:

Chapter One

  • MC is caught stealing apples
  • MC escapes from guards by using teleportation magic
  • Teleportation is illegal and MC has been seen using it; they need to leave town
  • Hurries home to pack but discovers someone has already been in their apartment

Alternately, you can combine a method more like freewriting with this method, where each chapter is outlined in a more prose-y manner:

Chapter One

MC has no food–they have been unable to find work and their older sister needs money for her medicine, else she’ll die–so, though they’ve never done it before, they decide to nick a few apples from a cart on the edge of the marketplace. It does not go well; the guards are summoned, MC is cornered in an alley and, afraid of what will happen to their sister without them, is forced to use their illegal teleportation magic to escape. But they were clearly seen; MC cannot stay here. They go home, trying to figure out how to tell their sister that they’ll need to leave–or even if they can, with the sister’s condition–but when they get home, their sister is gone and the apartment is overturned.

This method can be expanded on with the next one.

Structure Plus (Setting/Characters/Plot and/or Purpose/Goal)

I got this method from Writer’s Digest, and I take umbrage at the name because it’s not actually very structure based at all. This method basically combines with the phase or chapter by chapter methods. Instead of just listing events in a chronological order, you add more context to each scene/chapter. Normally this includes noting the setting, what characters are involved, some plot information (using a true outline form like we used to use in school or a list or a summary), and may also include what the purpose or goal of the scene is. This last bit is where the structure comes in, to some extent, as the purpose/goal information is often something along the lines of “complicate the relationship between these two characters” or “to foreshadow this major plot point.”

Example:

Setting: The marketplace, early morning, late autumn
Characters: MC, cart owner, city guards
Plot: MC steals apples, gets caught, is forced to use forbidden magic to escape, thinks they need to leave town, goes home to disaster
Purpose: Inciting incident; kicks the main plot into motion, introduces character and situation to readers

This method, being a combination of several other methods, can be a good way to see if a more complicated outlining method will work for you. It can help you keep track of your characters and settings (“wait, this can’t happen then because I had this happening after this over there”), and it can help you build your themes and arcs into the outline itself in a more concrete manner. It is also a good way to keep all your information in one place, especially if you combine it with a list of characters and worldbuilding.

Snowflake Method

The Snowflake Method is a complicated, in-depth outlining method that is often considered one of the most intense ways to outline a novel. The basic idea is to start out simple, such as a single sentence about your story, and, on each following step, add more detail to the outline. There are ten steps to the official Snowflake Method (which you can find by Googling).

Step 1: One-sentence summary
Step 2: Expand sentence to full paragraph
Step 3: Write one-page summary for each major character’s storyline, motivation, conflict, goal
Step 4: Expand each sentence in summary paragraph to its own paragraph
Step 5: One page description for all major characters and half-page for other important characters from character’s POV
Step 6: Expand one page synopsis (step 4) to four pages
Step 7: Expand character descriptions into character charts including all demographical information, character arcs, backstory, etc.
Step 8: Create scene list from four-page synopsis including POV character and (optional) scene length
Step 9: Expand each scene sentence into a paragraph and put in lines of dialogue you want to include and note core conflict
Step 10: Write story

The idea behind the Snowflake method is that, like a snowflake, which tessellates as you look closer at it, your story can be looked at closer and closer, finding more detail each time. Also, by starting at the big picture (a single sentence that encompasses the entire story) and moving into more detail, you avoid some issues you may run into by outlining linearly, such as pacing issues or missing steps in your subplots.

That being said, don’t be discouraged if this method isn’t working for it. It is quite difficult, especially if you’re new to writing or outlining, and it can be hard to sit down and pull out a ton of detail on a new story if you haven’t spent some time already thinking about it.

The methods shared here are just some of the variations you can try out when outlining your own stories. Try them on their own or in combinations, or find examples of how other authors do it on the Internet and give them a try. You’ll find something that works for you, and as you get more experience, you’ll learn what you need the most to be successful when you’re writing.

Any other thoughts on outlining types? Methods I forgot?

Next week we’ll do the usual year-end/year-beginning minutiae, and then we’ll jump back into outlining the week after.

Types of Outlines (Part 2)

Last week we discussed basic outlines, really more of a way to explore backstory and get a feel of your world and characters than a “true” plot-based outline.

This week, we’ll get into more plot-focused outlining methods. Again, I’ll include examples, and please feel free to ask for clarification on anything.

Also, remember that outlining works for YOU, not the other way around, and it is perfectly fine to use a combination or modify a method to make it be what you need it to be. (I often use a combination of the freewriting from last week with the phase outlining we are about to discuss if I don’t do a more formal outline.)

(Actually I recommend the freewriting method with any of the following methods, because it really is a great way to help develop your world and characters before you try to figure out what’s happening when.)

Phase (and Note card)

Phase outlining is pretty straightforward. You start at the beginning and go all the way through to the end, making a basic list of scenes with one or two sentence bullet points. (Or sentence fragments. This process is not picky.) This allows you to have a basic complete plot from the beginning, but also allows for a lot of wiggle room when it comes to other key story elements, such as themes, characterization, structure, etc. Note card outlining is similar. In note card outlining, you put each scene on its own card as opposed to listing the whole thing on a single piece of paper. The advantage of note card outlining is that it’s easy to rearrange scenes later on if you find that things end up making more sense in another order. It’s also easier to add and remove scenes as necessary.

Example:

  • Anna gets another memory while in History
  • School is not great because rumors about her and Tom in the waterworks have spread (Which is not great because if word gets back to the Council it’ll be suspicious)
  • Tom, Anna, and Charlie meet at Tom’s after school (Charlie is “dating” Maesie)
  • All have information to bring to the table–Tom has his map of the Waterworks, Anna has her experience within the Hospital, and Charlie has his experience from the war
  • They still have a lot of blank spots though–what is the Town’s relationship, what are they getting?

Or, for note card outlining:

(I use note card outlining primarily for revision, as a way to see what I have vs. what I need, so there’s more information on my cards than is strictly necessary.)

Both of these methods are good for determining what’s going to happen and in what order. Points/cards can be specific (“Amy’s dig finds success–she finds a series of broken pottery shards with strange symbols on them”) or vague (“They have an argument”). And both are changeable–as I mentioned above, you can rearrange your note cards or add new ones (or take ones out), and you can always cross out a section of your phase outline and add something else in instead.

(I actually like to phase outline in chunks. I typically phase outline up to a point, normally the next major plot point, write to that point, and then outline again to the next point. I find it too hard to map out every move for an entire novel, so this helps me, and it helps with my pacing too.) 

Reverse

Reverse outlining isn’t a specific technique so much as a twist that can be used in conjuction with a number of other outlining techniques. Basically, with reverse outlining, you just start at the end instead of the beginning. Some people feel like, if they know where they’re trying to get, they can better plan out the beginning part of a story.

Example (paired with freewriting):

Okay, so at the end of the book, I want my main character to have been captured by the opposing army. Why did they capture her? She made a mistake. Doing what? A mission behind enemy lines. To get something. A powerful artifact that the other side is using against her people. If she gets it, it will turn the tide of the war. Why was she chosen for this mission? There was a team. What happened to the rest of the team? One by one, they all fell.

Tentpole

In tentpole outlining, you identify the three main “tentpoles,” or defining moments, of your story, before you start writing. These three are typically the inciting incident, the midpoint, and the climax (terminology varies). This is a pretty technical way to outline and focuses a lot on pacing and story structure. The idea is that by knowing what needs to happen at a specific point, you can have an idea of where you need to be at any point in time in terms of rising/falling action and plot progression.

Example:

First Tent Pole: First sabotage attempt (or first that can be obviously tied to sabotage); arrive at projected coordinates–no ship

Midpoint: Ship nearly suffers from fatal sabotage attempt; discovery of scorched debris

Second Tent Pole: Saboteur gets cocky, starts leaving clues; faint signal detected

It can be helpful to make sure your tentpoles for each of your arcs or subplots. I typically do my external arc, my internal arc, and an relational arc (characters’ relationships with other characters). I find the method works best if you have a general idea of how long the book is going to be, since your tentpoles happen at specific points in a story (the first plot point occurs about 25% in, the midpoint about 50% in, etc.). And while you’re not tying yourself down by having to plot out every scene, you know what you’re working toward and when you need to get there.

Act

Act outlining is similar to tentpole outlining, but a little more in depth. Typically act outlining includes more plot points that tentpole outlining, and it includes a summary or phase outlining in between each plot point, so it provides a more detail look at plot progression and where the story needs to be at different places.

A lot of outlines for this method tend to do six acts rather than the three tentpoles. I like Michael Hauge’s take on this form, and have used it a few times for my novels (you can see it explained in detail at his website).

STAGE I: The Setup

TURNING POINT #1: The Opportunity (10%)

STAGE 2: The New Situation

TURNING POINT #2: The Change of Plans (25%)

STAGE III: Progress

TURNING POINT #3: The Point of No Return (50%)

STAGE IV: Complications and Higher Stakes

TURNING POINT #4: The Major Setback (75%)

STAGE V: The Final Push

TURNING POINT #5: The Climax (90-99%)

STAGE VI: The Aftermath

This was originally developed for screenplays, but works well for novels as well. Both this and the tentpole method can be a good compromise for people who worry that an outline will kill their creativity. You’ll know where you’re going, but won’t have to know how you’re getting there.

Next week we’ll look at more structured methods of outlining.