Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Why Do I Need (or Want) an Outline?

Happy Tuesday, squiders! It is freezing in my house and I can’t find–oh, here they are. Never mind.

We’re continuing to talk about outlining today, tackling why you might want–or need–to have an outline.

What’s the point of an outline?

An outline serves as a guide for you while you’re writing the story (or nonfiction book). It helps you remember what your plan was, keeps all your information in one handy spot, and can help you develop ideas from vague thoughts into something deep and meaningful that will make your story super cool. It can even help you spot problems before you get started.

An outline helps you write your story, simple as that.

Aren’t I trapped?

This is a common misconception that comes with outlining. Many people think that if you have an outline, you’re trapped. The story must happen exactly as you’ve planned it. Creativity is dead!

This is not true at all. An outline works for you, not the other way around.

That’s why, in the intro section, we talked about experimenting with what information, and how much, you need for your outline. And the good news is that an outline is not a static document. 

If you write a scene, and it’s more natural to go a different way than you’d originally envisioned? Great! Update your outline. If your planned ending feels forced? Try something else. There’s nothing that says you have to stay with your outline if it stops fitting the story.

I would recommend updating your outline if you decide to radically change things, but we’ll go into that in a minute.

Additionally, you can outline at any point in your writing process. If you started off pantsing and find yourself in a corner, you can start outlining from that point as a way to figure out how to get from where you are to where you want to be. This is actually how I started, once upon a time–I would pants the first half or so of the book, then outline the end, so I could make sure all my loose threads would be tied up in a logical and entertaining manner.

You can also outline revisions and rewrites. Because you already know the story (and what’s wrong with it), it can help to lay out what needs to be changed and how, to limit the amount of drafts you have to go through in the end.

Outlines are the solution to writer’s block

The biggest pro of outlining is that it virtually eliminates writer’s block.

(There are exceptions, as there are to everything. That’s another subject.)

Have you ever been happily writing along, throwing every terrible thing you can think of at your main character, and run into a brick wall? Things have gotten too terrible, and you don’t see how they can ever get out of it. Or your main character is flitting around from subplot to subplot, not getting anywhere, because you’re not sure what they’re trying to get to?

As I said before, an outline can be basic. Just knowing what your character wants (and whether it will be a good or bad thing when–if–they get it) can help shape your entire narrative. A little more structure, and you can know where you’re supposed to be at what point (“okay, at the midpoint, she finds out that who she thought was her sister isn’t her sister at all”). Nothing has to be specific–you don’t have to do any great detail–but knowing where you’re going, even vaguely, helps eliminate that flailing feeling where you don’t know where to go next.

NOTE: It can also be useful to outline the next day’s writing when you stop writing for the day. This can help you easily remember where you were and what was happening when you come back, and it gives you an idea of what you need to do for the day. It’s always faster to write when you know what you’re doing versus when you don’t.

(If you’ve ever read one of those books or articles about increasing your daily word count, you’ll know they almost always talk about having a plan for your daily writing. Same idea here.)

Next week, squiders, we’ll start delving into the types of outlines (complete with examples).

Thoughts on outlining?

Advertisements

What is an Outline? (Part 2)

Good morning, squiders! Last week we started talking about the basics of outlining. We’ll finish that up today.

What are the parts of an outline?

Again, this varies wildly from author to author. A basic outline, the one most people think of when they think “outline,” contains the plot. Plot, in this case, is the order of events that happen in a story. Things like “Characters A & B discover a dead body in their garden” and “When they call the police, they discover someone has framed them for murder.”

And, to be fair, this is an integral part of almost all outlines. Even if you’re a pantser, and you just need to know where to start (“In a park, where Character A has just seen Character B, the most beautiful man she’s ever laid eyes on”), there’s still a tiny bit of plot. Having at least a basic idea of the story you want to tell is typically a good thing.

How the plot is laid out again varies, based on the type of outline one is using.

Aside from plot (and subplots), outlines might also include:

  • Character information (names, ages, appearance, personality, history, etc.)
  • Setting information (helpful to have all in one place for consistency)
  • Theme(s)
  • Arcs (internal, external, relationships, plot, character)
  • Target word counts (“this chapter should be about 2000 words”)
  • Goals (“this scene introduces Love Interest B”)
  • Bits of prose or dialogue (to remember to include)
  • Premise
  • Chronology (if you’re mixing timelines or telling a story out of order, or in a specific pattern)

Getting started outlining

Last week we touched briefly on how to know how much of an outline one needs before they start writing. While experience is the best teacher here, I find that the best way to feel your way out if you’re just beginning is incrementally.

Start with your premise. A premise is the idea of the story, like “What if Hamlet only pretended to die?” or “Romeo and Juliet, but told in space with pirates.” This is your starting point, in most cases, the idea that popped in your head that you want to try out.

Stop. See how you feel.

Next, try out a basic plot OR characters. Most authors write either plot-driven or character-driven stories, so a lot of people find one or the other comes to them first. If you need some inspiration, feel free to go through the Story Ideas section of the blog.

You don’t need to do a lot of work here. Your character can be “Carrie, 27, newly arrived on the orbiting station.” Your plot can be “Recently-graduated engineer arrives at her post to find it completely deserted.”

(Hm. I kind of like that one.)

Stop. See how you feel.

The temptation can be to do a ton of work up front. And to be fair, sometimes you need to. If you want to write about a subject you know nothing about, research is essential, and can help form your plot and characters moving forward. And some people need five pages of notes/outline for each chapter of their story. You might be one of those.

But I want to warn you about a phenomenon I call Plot Death. I see it in conjunction with NaNoWriMo a lot, where there is a set starting date when people can begin writing. Since they can’t write, they plan. And they plan. And they plan, plan, plan.

And they overplan. And they lose all interest in the story.

Most people have a general range of information they need to start writing. Too little, and they get stuck, unsure where to go. Too much, and the story has lost its magic. What fun is writing if everything’s already planned out? Where’s the magic of discovery, of creativity?

(Again, as a disclaimer, some people love–and need–that level of detail. But it should be something you work up to, not start out with.)

So do a little at a time. Plan out your basic character. Feel like you need their backstory before you start? Add it in. How do you feel? Ready? Still need more?

Start with a basic plot. Feel good? Go. Want more structure? You can plan out the first couple chapters and try that, or hit your major plot points, leaving the spaces in between up in the air. Now how do you feel?

At some point, the story is going to start coming to you. You’ll get an idea of side characters, or scenes, or conversations. (Write these things down so you don’t forget them.) And then start writing. See how it goes. Do you find yourself struggling to think of what comes next? It might help to outline a little more (maybe adding in other viewpoint characters or side plots). Words flowing? Keep going.

Adjust as necessary.

As time goes by, you’ll start to instinctually be able to tell what information you need, and how much of it. For example, I don’t need to do a lot of prep work on characters–they come easily to me–but it’s helpful for me to check my structure and my plot points because my pacing gets way off without that. You’ll learn what’s best for you.

Next week, we’ll discuss why you need–or want–an outline.

How are you doing, squiders? Thoughts on getting started outlining?

Landsquid Sketches

Sorry, squiders, no Red Mars discussion today. We’ve had a really bad week, personally, around these parts, and I’m just not done.

(I’m close, but I don’t see any way it’s going to happen today, around everything else that’s going on. Plus each section has a different point of view character and I’m super not digging being in the current one’s head, especially after [spoilers].)

So, instead, I’m going to share some landsquid sketches. I think I told you guys that I’m trying out a few online courses on drawing, coloring, and shading, with the idea of doing children’s books (both picture and chapter books) with illustrations. I did a digital coloring class last week (you can see the results of that over at the Turtleduck Press blog), and this week I’m doing digital sketching and character design.

I have a wacom tablet that my spouse got me several years ago. I used it for a bit (you might have seen the results here on the blog), but when I switched to my current two-monitor set-up, the graphics drivers couldn’t seem to manage the tablet correctly, and I had to stop using it.

But I’ve plugged it back in, and since I had to get a new computer about a year ago, apparently this one can handle both the dual monitors and the tablet, so hooray! We’re back in business.

Except, of course, that I find there’s a bit of a learning curve drawing with the tablet. See for yourself.

landsquid sketches

(They’re light because the class recommends sketching in a light color so they’re easier to “ink” later.)

I’m trying out different eyes, obviously–the center one is the way I’ve always drawn landsquid (for almost ten years now–wow!) but I’ve always found it a bit hard to do expressions. Any preferences on the eyes? I kind of like the anime-style ones (far left) but I’m not sure they’re any better expression-wise. But the ones with pupils look weird to me.

I don’t know. Even when I was using the wacom before, I never found it as natural to use as just drawing on a piece of paper. So we’ll see if it gets better.

Anyway, thanks for understanding, squiders. Red Mars on Tuesday even if it kills me, and more outlining on Thurs–wait, Thanksgiving. Um, Friday.

What is an Outline? (Part 1)

Okay, squiders! Let’s dig into outlines.

What is an outline?

In the most basic terms, an outline is a plan you make before you begin a story.

You’re probably familiar with the form they teach you back in elementary school (five paragraphs, intro, three body paragraphs–strong, weak, strongest–and a conclusion), with the alternating letters and Roman numerals.

This is indeed an outline–and you’ll see something similar if you go into an outline mode in any word processing software–but that’s only one type of outline, and really more of a style than anything else.

(If you are writing a technical or nonfiction document that requires an outline, this is what you’ll want to include. But fiction works differently.)

You’re welcome to use that if it works for you, but, seriously, an outline is just a plan. Any plan. And how much, and what’s included varies person to person and story to story.

Some people pick a main character and a starting situation and jump feet first into the actual writing. Other people write hundreds of pages, outlining dialogue, characters, theme, arcs, plot points, relative word count, etc.

Most people fall somewhere in the middle.

Some people jot down a few ideas on a napkin. Others use Scrivener, or Word.

But basically, you need something to start writing a story. And whatever that something is is part of your outline. You may not call it that. It may not feel like that. But it is, nonetheless, essentially an outline. Even without the indents and Roman numerals.

Plotter vs. Pantser

If you’ve been around writing communities, you’ve probably heard the terms “plotter” and “panster.” A pantser is a writer who write by the seat of their pants. They require very little starting information before they jump into a story. A plotter is a writer who painstaking plots everything out before they begin writing.

(NOTE: It is interesting to note that a pantser may still have an outline for a story. It won’t be a “this happens, then this happens” sort, but they may still flesh out characters, world, theme, and general arcs in a less official format.)

Most writers fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Some may pants some types of projects but prefer to outline others. And those writers that do outline may do different levels for a short story versus a novel, or between one genre and another.

In my experience, most writers start off as pantsers and move toward plotters as their careers progress. This is not always true; Stephen King famously does not outline, and neither does John Scalzi, as examples.

How do I know how much outline I need?

You’re not going to like this answer, but–experience. As you write more, you try new things, and you learn what works for you and what makes you want to jump out a window. And eventually you find a process that works best for you (or maybe a few, if you write multiple lengths/genres).

If you’re just starting out, however, next week we’ll talk about how to get started with outlining, and how to try out different levels of outlining to find a good starting place. You’re not going to find your perfect outlining process on the first time out, but you can probably triangulate an amount of information that will work, even if it’s not perfect.

Any thoughts on outline basics, squiders? Agree that your outline is essentially your plan, whether you call it an outline or not?

Outlining Introduction

So, my darling squiders, I have gone through my nonfiction book ideas, and there’s only ONE left for the series.

Madness, I know. Thank you guys again for coming along with me on these book posts! After this one is done, the idea will be to consolidate the posts off the blog, add new information/sections where applicable, and release them as ebooks.

But, for now, let’s talk about outlining. Or talk about the fact that we’ll be talking about outlining.

Outlining can be scary for many new writers. There are a lot of misconceptions about what an outline is or isn’t, what the point of it is, and why you even need one. We’ll tackle all of these concepts, as well as types of outline and how to tell how much outlining works for you personally, in the coming weeks.

If you have any questions about outlines that you would like me to address, please drop them in the comments!

I’m excited to get into this subject because while I am not that detailed of an outliner myself, the whole process appeals to the analytical side of my brain. And the poor analytical side needs some exercise every now and then.

We’ll start whatever day next week ends up not being Red Mars day. See you then!

Making Nano Work For Me

Afternoon, squiders! If you are doing Nano, you should be 10K at the end of today. How’s it going?

As we discussed as a possibility last week, in the end I decided to do a time goal. 45 minutes a day. 22.5 hours for the month. Most writing-related activities count, whether it be looking for short story markets, writing, or outlining.

We’re technically 20% done with the month. How’s it going? Pretty good.

As of yesterday I’m 17 minutes behind schedule, which isn’t terrible. (But I do feel like the time limit has the potential to snowball more than a word count limit does. But maybe that’s crazy.) And so far I have:

  • Checked and updated all my KDP data from the CreateSpace/KDP move
  • Finished the draft of my anthology story (I wrote 2K in an hour yesterday!)
  • Identified short stories for revision/editing
  • Identified markets for other short stories

So not shabby. I made a list of things that have needed to be done forever and it’s very satisfying to cross things off. On the deck to day is sending out the short stories to said selected markets and working on my monthly serial section.

Nano has gotten so huge because of the creative momentum it drags along with it. I think it’s a great thing for people who want to write but who have never successfully managed to get very far. The quantity over quality approach kind of forces you to produce something, whether it’s good or not, and a lot of times that can teach you enough about yourself and your process so that you can go on to continue writing outside of Nano.

But I think it’s also important to be honest with yourself about Nano. I did Nano for ten years straight (plus one additional year). I came out of that with two drafts that to this day are unfinished (though the space dinosaurs are almost done and will hopefully be gotten to later in the month; the other one will rot on my hard drive until the end of time), one draft that was eventually finished and published (Shards), two drafts that have been edited and sent to agents (both YA) without much luck so far, and many, many iterations of my trilogy (I’ve spent…::counts::…six Nanos on the trilogy). Nano is great if you are in a place where a new first draft is both useful and timely. But after awhile, you start to build up drafts, and sometimes you need to, you know, actually do something with them.

I know this isn’t a real Nano. I haven’t declared a project on the website. I probably will not go to any official write-ins (how can there be 20 every week and none at a decent time?). I won’t update my time anywhere anyone else will see it. But there isn’t any reason I can’t harness that creative momentum and use it for what I need it for.

And if you can see how to do it for your goals, I recommend you do so as well.

Red Mars continues to be too…something…for me to read at my normal pace so I’m going to put it off again, probably til next Thursday. But if it speeds up here, I reserve the right to do it on Tuesday instead. I’m also going to look over my nonfiction series today and get everything organized moving forward, so expect an update on that in the near future as well.

November Plans and Learning Options

(First of all, I’m going to move our discussion of Red Mars until next Thursday, Nov 8. I don’t know if you guys are reading this along with me, but I’m having a hard time getting into it. And I keep getting distracted by mysteries.)

(Speaking of which, I HIGHLY recommend The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, which is a mystery with a scifi bent. EXCELLENT BOOK.)

(In other news, if I get my act together, this post may be accompanied by a landsquid later. But I suspect the landsquid will have to wait until Friday, because it’s Halloween, and I have small, mobile ones who have school parties that I have to deal with.)

(Happy Halloween!)

Now that the parentheticals are out of the way, let’s talk about November. (It’s also Nano Eve! Happy Nano Eve to everyone doing Nano. The kickoff party for my region is at a coffee shop less than 10 minutes from my house, so I’m tempted to make up a fake novel and go mingle and enjoy the mad burst of creativity that happens at midnight. But I also have to get up at 6:30 tomorrow, so, you know…)

My programming class is over. It was good for me, but it was also intense, so I’m not going to look at doing another one until probably mid-January. My workout challenge is also over. So aside from my major editing job, my time is mine again! BWHAHAHAHAHA. I have celebrated by writing an entire short story this morning. (Admittedly, it was due tomorrow and needed to be done, but hey, it IS done.)

There’s still some other things that need to be done. Our ballot is MASSIVE and I am mostly done with it (I’ve got a couple of mill levies and some of the smaller position elections still to be, but have done the 12 amendments and propositions–what the heck–plus important elections like congresspeople and governor) but that needs to be finished up, and we’re planning a super-secret vacation to Disney World. Which, Lord, takes more planning than expected. We’ve got airfare and hotel done, but you’ve got to do reservations at the restaurants or you’re out of luck. And apparently for character appearances, though we’re too early for that. My husband super wants to eat at Cinderella’s Castle, but so apparently does everyone else, so he’s hoarding reservations at bad times and is checking daily to see if better ones open up.

But I should have writing time back! Hooray!

I’m still pondering Nano. I mean, I WANT to, but I am completely unprepared to start a novel project, and I don’t have any other novel projects that need enough words to Zokutou clause it. I wonder if I can do a time-based goal instead, because I have a ton of things that are ALMOST done that could stand some work, including:

  • Space dinosaur novel (~5K left)
  • Anthology story (~4K left, due Nov 10)
  • Serial story (~5K or less left, been working on for nine years)
  • CoHaR (at ~17K, so needs more, though also depends on how fast Siri’s working)

And there’s a lot of other stories that need to be poked:

  • A couple of shorts that keep getting personalized rejections with feedback that might need a bit of tweaking to finally sell
  • I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback lately on the YA paranormal I’ve been querying, so that could probably use some tweaking as well (probably not a minor undertaking, though)
  • I need to look at what I have for the nonfiction series and what I still need, and make a plan for moving forward

Or, I have a ton of new stuff I’d really like to get going on (though none are outlined/ready to go for tonight/tomorrow):

  • I have a couple of ideas for chapter book series (Space Cat and one based off a series of short stories I wrote in middle/high school) that could be partially illustrated and probably would be super fun. The average chapter book is about 10K, so in theory I could write a whole series for Nano. >_>
  • I’ve been slowly plotting out a paranormal mystery series with a modern day witch as the main character. By plotting I mean “hoarding resources to read at some point and occasionally jotting down random thoughts like evil shadows.”

And, I mean, a ton more, but those are top of the list.

I’m considering taking on a non-programming class. Skillshare has a ton of classes (you pay a flat fee per month) and I’d like to learn how to color/shade, which I am terrible at (which is why you get line art here on the blog). I’m still learning, but hopefully it won’t be as intense as the programming class, and it’ll be useful if/when I do get to the illustrated chapter books ideas.

What are your plans for November, squiders?