Archive for February, 2011


As with almost everything, outlining is a process that tends to be individual to each writer, if they do it at all.  In the seven years that I’ve been writing seriously, I’ve gone from a complete pantser (i.e. someone who writes by the seat of their pants) to outlining at least part of every story.

What’s interesting about outlining is that it seems to be not only individual to the writer, but individual to the story.  I have stories that I outline completely before I write a word.  I have stories that I will get 30-60% through before I start outlining.  Some stories are planned with more details than others.

I always use a form of phase outlining, however.  With phase outlines, you list a series of sentences or phrases in chronological order that help you remember what you want to do with that.   I like to use bullet points just because I like bullet points.

My basic outlining more or less follows this process:

1. Write down all major characters.
  I always do this at the top of any planning document.  I list the characters’ names, their ages usually, anything that is important to the story (for example, I have one story that lists each characters’ elemental affiliation.  Another lists their occupations), and usually important background.  I find this helps me get the characters in my head so I can picture scenes more clearly.

2. Freewrite the overall plot.  I admit that sometimes I start a story with very little planning.  The only thing I may have is a premise and a few characters.  But I always ALWAYS write down what I know, and I add onto it as I develop the plot more or work on writing the story.  I will also make note of things that might be integrated into the plot or that are neat and may work in the story.

3. Start writing.  (optional)  Most of the time I will start writing at this point.  Especially with novels, it’s hard for me to get a feel of what the story is going to be without just starting.  The only exceptions are if I’m doing complete rewrites of stories and short stories, which I tend to outline completely before starting.

4. Phase Outlining  At some point, I will feel like I have figured out the story and will outline the rest of it.  Normally I will summarize what has happened thus far and then go into my bullet points.  Each bullet point is normally a complete scene.  Sometimes they are complete chapters, depending on the book and how well I know what’s going to happen.  I tend to be vague in my points to allow myself creative wandering, but if there’s something specific that needs to be included at a certain point, I make sure to add it in.

5. Finish the draft, updating outline as needed.  I will then finish the draft, using the outline as my guide.  Sometimes I will figure out plot holes or a better way to do something while I’m going, and I will update the outline as necessary.

What are you, a pantser or a planner?  How much planning do you like to do, and how do you like to do it?


Friday Round-up

The Extraordinary Face of the Moon
Picture of Discovery on the Launch Pad
Interactive James Webb Telescope (launches in 2014)
Photos of Discovery Launch
Sotheby’s to Auction 1961 Soviet Capsule

Endurance wallpapers
Locus Magazine Recommends Some of Tor’s Short Stories from 2010
Review of Ian McDonald’s Ares Express
What does poor showing of I Am Number Four mean for Scifi Movies in 2011?
Video Excerpt of The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Apparently there is also a movement at the moment to help Nathan Fillion buy Firefly.

Misc Books
Borders’ Footprint
Notes in Margins
Tim Burton’s Children’s Book Rejection
Indie Alternatives to Closing Border Stores

Dark Fairytales Writing Community
Seven Stages of Critique Grief

The Boat, It Floats
100 Best Protest Signs from Wisconsin
China Bans Reincarnation  (I just…what?)

Stereotypical Creatures in Fantasy

My apologies for missing Monday’s update and for the fact this is late.  I blame jury duty.  And hockey.  But can you really blame me for the hockey?  It is the landsquid’s favorite sport.

Anyway, onward to content.

It’s come to my attention that you can usually tell whether something will be urban or traditional fantasy just be looking at the fantastical creatures involved.  Let’s test.  Vampires.  Elves.  Fae.  Unicorns.  Kraken.

(Okay, that last one doesn’t count.  I just wish there were more kraken in things.)

Admittedly urban fantasy seems to incorporate anything that looks vaguely human, but for the most part, fantastical creatures in this day and age seem to be pretty well-divided.  You rarely find things like dragons in urban fantasy.  Vampires tend to not to lurk in your more traditional Sword and Sorcery fantasy.  This is not to say that these creatures can’t be found in all types of fantasy, just IN GENERAL they tend to stick to one or the other.

It’s not terribly surprising.  Let’s look at urban fantasy as a genre.  Urban fantasy tends to take place in a modern setting, in a city or a town or someplace where lots of people tend to hang out.  Unless you go the alternative reality route, we are all familiar with these settings, and magic and fantastical creatures do not figure in.  So it makes sense to use magic/creatures that can more easily blend in with what is considered “normal.”

High fantasy, on the other hand, often takes place in a pseudo-historical context, in a world that is quite obviously not our own.  While each world needs to have its own rules that it conforms to, it does not need to take reality into account, so there is more freedom for larger and more blatantly unreal creatures.

You could argue that elves/dwarves/orcs/etc are essentially human-like and therefore would fall more into the urban fantasy category based on my (admittedly very general) guidelines, but there are also subgenre covenants that tend to be followed by the majority of examples of that subgenre.  People tend to read the same subgenre because there are things about that subgenre that they like.  (Some people will, of course, argue that such things are overused and/or cliché and/or are a rip-off of Tolkien, etc, but we will leave that alone for the moment.)

But hey, perhaps I’m full of it.  What do you think?  Do some fantastical creatures seem stereotyped into specific fantasy subgenres?  Do you disagree with my break?

Friday Round-up

Symphony of Science
Earliest Photos of Universe Yet
Possible Previously Unknown Gas Giant in Our Solar System

Literary Crushes
Book Cover Smackdown
How to Tell if You’re Going to Get the Girl

Misc Books
Books of Love Letters
Return of the Serial Novel?

Writing Full Circle
Search Engine for Writers
Is Your Writing in a Rut?

The Art of the Write-in

We all hear that writing is a solitary activity, but this is a new age of social media and I end up talking to other writers all the time.  I suspect, if you’re here, you’re the same way.

One of my favorite things about this new era of social writing is the idea of the write-in.  I was introduced to the concept through Nanowrimo – it’s where a group of writers get together and work on their own individual projects in the company of their own kind.

Write-ins can happen in person or virtually.  I personally prefer in-person, because it is an excuse for me to drink hot beverages and eat chocolate. 

They seem to have a strange inverse property.  The more writers present at a write-in, the more work gets the done.   The fewer writers, the more likely you will spend three hours talking about mermaids and Egyptian gods and why cheese is funny.

This may seem like a poor usage of time, but I would disagree.  Being able to chat with fellow writers, especially in real time, is enlightening.  Even if I get no real writing done, I come out of it with story ideas, advice about issues I may have that others know the answers to, and feedback when it’s needed.  Plus it’s some good socialization.

Do you participate in write-ins?  Do you find them useful?

Giving Romance a Chance

You know me.  I like to follow social trends in the oddest ways possible.  (Preferably with landsquid and plesiosaurs.)

Since it’s the Day Before Cheap Chocolate Day, I thought I’d tell you about how I recently became a fan of the romance genre.  Poor romance gets a bad cop much of the time, considered a stereotypical genre of bare-chested male models and fainting heroines.  That was certainly my opinion of it.  I’ve been a scifi/fantasy girl as long as I can remember (scifi forever, fantasy since 6th grade) and I’d always kind of prided myself on not being a girly girl.  It probably didn’t help that, for a friend’s graduation from high school party, we were each asked to bring a romance novel along and they were then read aloud with appropriate melodrama.

I was brought up by mystery/scifi readers.  The only person who read romance was my sister, which really was reason enough to not go near the genre.  (I love my sister.  Really I do.  And I don’t just say that because she might read this.)  So I never had anybody championing the cause of romance to me.

Cue joining the online writing community a few years back.  Many of my friends write romance.  As they were people I respected and liked, I assumed the genre could not be as bad as I was led to believe and asked for some recommendations.

Things I have learned:
1. Most romance has a plotline besides just True Love (if they even go the True Love angle at all).  Murder!  Archeology!  Mystery!
2. There’s plenty of romances out there with strong, funny, sassy female protagonists.  These are not people who need a man or need to be rescued. 
3. When done well, it is an immensely satisfying read.

Let’s face it, everybody thinks about love/romance at some point.  It’s inescapable.  Even people who are not interested in looking for a partner still at some point have to think about that decision.  It’s something that we, as living, thinking creatures, have ingrained into us.  Partnership!  Love!  Being able to rely on another person through thick and thin!

Since it’s a huge part of life, it makes no sense to ignore it.  Sure, there are those shirt-escaping lunkheads out there and the stupid, dependent women, but, like any other genre, there is good in with the bad.  I’ve been able to identify the portion of the genre I like (spunky female protagonists, perhaps with a bit of a fantastical twist) and have gained many a good read out of it.

Let’s keep with the V-Day trend.  Favorite romance (or book with a strong romance subplot)?  Mine’s Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer.

Friday Round-up

Private Company to put Robot on Moon (For some reason, this sounds like a terrible idea to me.  Sounds like a good way to leave trash everywhere and mess up scientific missions.)
Last Rollout of Space Shuttle Discovery (video)
Recycling the Space Program
Trying to Prove the Multiverse (The quantum physics at the bottom kind of hurts my head.)
All 1200 Possible Exoplanets Found by Kepler Visualized
NASA’s New Technique to Find Alien Life
Pictures of Space Shuttle Discovery’s Building

The Furniture of Steampunk
Winners of the 2010 British Fantasy Awards
Chance to win a signed copy of Maria V. Snyder’s Inside Out
The Unreal and Why We Love It Part 6: Recognition
Star Wars Characters – Who Got Better?  Worse?
New #Torchat on Twitter
What Star Wars Job are you suited for?  (I’m a Jedi! \o/)

Misc Books
10 Greatest Child Geniuses in Literature

Stop Thrashing

Odds and Ends
Who to blame for the snow?
Science Valentines
If Social Media was High School
Headless Monk Forces Move of Amusement Park Ride
IKEA Instructions for the Large Hadron Collider

Also, this is awesome: Zombie Choose Your Own Adventure, all across the interwebs.

Why Genre is Like Root Beer

When my sister and I were little, whenever we went out to a restaurant where you could get your own soda, we would mix a variety of them together.  Sometimes it tasted good, sometimes it tasted horrific, but what remained true, no matter what, was that if you added root beer, the whole thing would taste like root beer.  It didn’t matter how many other kinds you put in, or how little root beer was actually added, it was root beer.

(I swear this is not totally random.  I had root beer with lunch.)

Genre is like root beer.  I think we can all agree that most genre stories are not wholly a single genre.  Romance subplots are found all over the place.  A story can have a murder or a car chase without being a mystery or a thriller.  Something can be set in the past without necessarily being historical.  Heck, even speculative fiction elements like ghosts crossover into other stories.

Last year, I read Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie and Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters within a few weeks of each other.  Fast Women was categorized as a romance, and Crocodile on the Sandbank was a mystery, but if anything, I would have reversed the two.  Both stories have a female protagonist, a main mystery plotline, and a strong romance subplot.  So what pushed one into romance and one into mystery?

Every story has a root beer – a genre, that once it’s added, no matter what other elements are also included, overrides everything else to be That Genre.  I think sometimes it’s arbitrary.  Sometimes, perhaps it is a marketing decision. 

Sometimes it’s hard to tell what the root beer is.  We’ve got dozens of sub and cross genres popping up these days, but they’ve still got to be shelved somewhere.  I think we can all agree that a story with elves would have a hard time marketing itself as anything other than fantasy, no matter how small a part they play.  Something with aliens is going to be slotted as science fiction.  But what do you do with a story that’s based in the real world, with love and mystery and a hint of the supernatural?  Where’s the root beer in that?

I’m currently working on a story where I’ve yet to identify my root beer.  I’m calling it a scifi mystery in my head.  Yeah, I know.  Good luck pitching that when the time comes.  What do you consider an Absolute when it comes to determining genre?  What do you think about sub/cross genre specifications?

Embarrassing Early Stories

Yesterday I was at a Super Bowl party with several college friends of mine.  (I am not a huge fan of football but I do like the Super Bowl because it often involves friends, food, and drink.)  Shortly into the second half, I found myself in the kitchen with a few friends, one of whom mentioned she had recently purchased and read Hidden Worlds and had enjoyed it.

My host says, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to get that.  It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything of yours – probably that murder mystery you let me read was the last thing.”

My husband laughs and says, “She let you read the sex murder mystery?  She doesn’t let anyone read that.”

At this point I alternately want to melt into the floor and kill my husband.   “Was I drunk when I let you read it?” I ask.

“Probably,” he answers.

Some background.  I wrote a lot when I was younger, but when I got to college I took on two engineering majors and figured I was too busy to write, and so didn’t for several years.  Nanowrimo was invented, my friends started doing it, but I held off until 2003 when I woke up one day in early November with a premise and jumped into the insanity.  It was a murder mystery set on a cruise ship where they were filming a dating reality TV show.  There were a number of problems with it – 1) mystery, while I love to read it, is not my writing forte. 2) I did not and do not, to this day, know anything about reality TV shows.  3) It was the first novel I had attempted in five years.

Understandably it went into a drawer and has not come out.

There are some things that make this even more horrific than a normal first novel.   In the middle, my characters got away from me and decided that it was a good time for a sex scene.  It was not a concise sex scene.  If I remember correctly, it went on and on and on and eventually I just crossed the whole thing out (but left the words in, as it was Nano) and pretended it hadn’t happen.

The second thing that makes it horrific is that my roommate at the time had asked to be included – and I had relented – and this was someone that was also a friend of my Super Bowl host, so it’s entirely possible that he got to read not only a terrible sex scene, but one containing a mutual friend.

I still want to melt.  I am unsure how I desperately distracted the topic to something else.  Perhaps my friends sensed my embarrassment and graciously went along with whatever inanity I came up with to spare my feelings.

All stories teach us something, help us hone our craft, but I still can’t believe that I let that one out of the drawer for anyone to see.  Do you have any stories that you wouldn’t want out in the world?

Friday Round-up

Nabokov’s Butterfly Theory Proved Correct
NASA spots 54 Potential Life-Friendly Planets

io9’s February Scifi/Fantasy Calendar
12 Revolutionary Uprisings in Scifi
10 Greatest Starships of All Time
Utopianism in Steampunk
February Fantasy Book Releases
Free Read: Chenoire by Suzanne Johnson
Recommended SFF reads from 2010

Misc Books
List of Best Selling Authors (Never even heard of some of these people…)

Query Paralysis

Whatever, Bro
Snow Godzilla (with fire!)