Troubleshooting Your Outlining Issues

All right, squiders! I think this is the last bit of the outlining book. And from here, it’ll be time to go back through all the nonfiction book posts, put them together, and see what’s missing. Woo.

Outlining issues essentially fall into three main categories:

  1. Over-outlining
  2. Under-outlining
  3. Feeling trapped by your outline

Over-outlining

Problems stemming from over-outlining typically lie in overplanning, i.e., all your creative energy goes into the outline, and there isn’t any left over for the actual writing.

So, how do you fix this?

This is one of the hardest issues to fix. After all, you can’t un-plan. The best thing here might be some distance. Work on something else for a while. Let the story get out of your brain. Test different levels of outlining, so you know where your limit is.

Then, after you’ve given it enough distance, come back and give it another go. It might be that without directly working on, the story has regained some of its mystery. Or, if you’ve discovered you need less of an outline, skim what you have instead of re-reading everything to avoid overwhelming yourself again.

Under-planning

Do you often find yourself staring at your story, having no clue where to go next? This is often a symptom of under-planning. If you don’t have enough of an outline, you might not have a good idea of where your story is going or what you’re trying to accomplish, which can directly lead into writer’s block.

The good news is that this is the easiest outlining problem to fix. Just plan the story out some more. If you’re not an outliner and don’t want to be, try something more stream of conscious, like a mindmap or a freewrite. I find that phase outlining the next section can be extremely helpful for this problem.

At the very minimum, you can try a simple fix–leave yourself a clue about where to go when you stop writing for the day. Some authors like to stop in the middle of a sentence (forcing yourself to try to recreate your frame of mind), while others prefer to jot down a few notes about where to go next.

Feeling trapped by your outline

Let’s say you’re happily writing along, following your outline. Everything is going great. But then, instead of following the plan, at the height of the climax, your character suggests an alternate path forward, one that makes more sense, both to the plot and to the character’s personality.

Your outline says one thing, but it feels right to do something else. What’s the solution?

Remember, above all, that your outline works for you. It is a tool, designed to help you move the story forward and avoid stupid issues in plotting (like forgetting a subplot, or accidentally introducing a deus ex machina). Once you write yours, there’s no rule that says it is an immutable document that cannot be changed.

If something better comes along, give it a look. If you don’t want to get rid of your initial outline, make a second one with the new information and see how it looks. And the next time you run into something that needs to change, do the same thing.

(I would caution not just making the change and running blind into the wind. Take a second to give the new storyline the same level of scrutiny you gave the original, to make sure you’re not introducing anything terrible that will be hard to fix later.)

Any other issues you can think of when it comes to outlining, squiders? Solutions for these issues?

Also, I’m moving back the readalong discussion for Green Mars. The holidays and the Disney trip got away with my time, and I’m not ready to discuss it next week. Let’s look at mid-February for that discussion.

Advertisements

WriYe and 2019

So, in December, I got an email letting me know that the WriYe boards were being refreshed for 2019, and it was a weird blast from the past. Do they send these emails out every year and I’ve just ignored them? Did they do something different this year? Who knows!

WriYe (at some point it was NaNoWriYe) stands for Writing Year, and it is a year-long writing challenge where you pick a total word count for the year. Each month has a number of individual challenges (new moon and full moon challenges where you try to get a certain word count on those days, genre stretches were you write stories outside your comfort zone, etc.) to help you stay focused.

Back in 2006 I joined a ton of writing communities/challenges, one of which was WriYe. (This was because I graduated from college in Dec 2005 and then moved to a new state in Jan 2006 with my then-boyfriend–now husband, so it wasn’t a totally bad idea–where I had no job and knew no one and was generally going completely stir-crazy. So I decided to focus on writing more than I had been in an attempt to save my own mental health.)

I did well that year–I won, and I became a mod-of-sorts closer to the end of the year. I think I was in charge of making up challenges. But I haven’t really done it much since then. The last time I tried was 2013, and I didn’t check in past August.

But, for whatever reason, WriYe sounded like a good idea this year, so I signed back up and here we are.

They’ve got a blog circle, so you may see periodic posts relating to WriYe throughout the year. This is the prompt for January’s:

What’s your WriYe Word Count goal for 2019? Why did you chose it? 
What are your plans for the year? What do you want to accomplish with your writing?

I picked a 75,000 word count goal for 2019. This is one of the lowest tiers (there’s 50K and 60K underneath it) which I feel comfortable with because I haven’t been terribly prolific recently (see: small, mobile ones) and so it should be doable.

(Also, I believe I can change it later if things are going really well.)

My plans are a bit up in the air. We did discuss things that I wanted to work on at the beginning of the month, but aside from the anthology and the sequel to City of Hope and Ruin everything is more or less an option. But I would like to do something new this year. And get some things done. So many things are in revision limbo and I’ve got to get them either polished and ready to go or give up on them.

Bonus: What are you most looking forward to in 2019?

I love the possibility that comes with a new year. Of course, this is completely arbitrary, since one can start a new thing at any old time, but there’s so much possibility right now.

But I am going to write something new this year, and gosh darn it, I am going to enjoy the hell out of it.

Also, they’ve got a complicated prompt system over at WriYe, and it’s been forever since I’ve done prompts, but they actually make sense with some of the things on my list this year, so I’m going to go for it. As soon as I figure out how it works.

Got any year-long goals this year, squiders? Tips on helping me focus? I’m in that weird state where there’s so much possibility it’s hard to pick something and settle down with it.

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?

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?