Posts Tagged ‘outlining’

Ill-advised Interludes

Ah, Squiders. I may be doing something very stupid, but I’m going to do it anyway and see how it turns out.

You guys know I’ve been working on a rewrite for a while now. Well, I worked on getting ready for the rewrite for several months, and then at the beginning of the year, I started the rewrite itself.

And you guys know it’s not been going well.

In fact, it’s going so poorly, I haven’t touched it in over two weeks. Aside from this blog, I haven’t done any writing in two weeks. (Well, I wrote a synopsis, but that doesn’t really count.) And that’s a waste and it’s driving me mad.

So I’m going to take a week or two off and work on something else, and then come back to it and see if I can’t figure out how to make it go better.

I pondered what to work on for a bit. A short story or two would seem to be the logical choice, but I’m a little burnt out on that front. It feels like, for every short story I sell, I have five floating around in limbo. Do I really need any more floating around right now?

Things related to the rewrite would be another logical choice. Maybe by working on related shorts, or drabbles, or something along those lines, I could shake loose whatever’s blocking me from getting work on the rewrite done. And I’m not against doing that, if something comes to me, but the thought of potentially hitting my head against more brick walls isn’t terribly appealing.

So, you may be asking, what did you decide, Kit?

I decided to start another novel. One completely unrelated, completely different in tone, etc., etc. I’ve been joking about writing this for about eight years now, so maybe it’s time to finally get on it. I always thought it would be a novella, maybe 30K, though my outlining is implying that that’s wishful thinking.

It’s the same universe as Shards, with some overlapping characters. It includes a frame story, which I’ve always wanted to try my hand at.

While I understand that it’s a bad idea to start another novel while in the middle of one already, I’m hoping that this will at least get me moving again. And if it doesn’t, well…

Hopefully it does.

I’m going to skip Thursday, Squiders, so I will see y’all back here next Tuesday. I hope your Feb/March cusp goes well!

Pantsing vs. Plotting

Sometimes, Squiders, it’s good to go back to the basics. I would divide the writing process into the following steps:

  1. Outlining
  2. Writing
  3. Revising
  4. Editing
  5. Submission and/or Publication

Would you agree with that?

The first step of that is (arguably) outlining. It’s said that writers fall into two categories, plotters (people who plan a story before writing) and pantsers (people who write by the seat of their pants without an idea where the story is going).

I would argue that we all plot, at least a little bit. Even a pantser typically doesn’t go into a story without having an idea of length, main character, and premise. I mean, I’m sure people have, but I’m not sure they got very far.

Perhaps that’s a point for discussion another time. Does planning things out make it easier to finish a story? My experience says yes, but that’s only one bullet point.

So, I would argue that we all fall somewhere on a sliding scale between true pantser (no planning whatsoever) and true plotter (detailed, several thousand-word outlines, character sheets for all major and minor characters, world map, etc.).

People on the pantser side of the scale like to jump into a story with a minimum amount of planning and see where the story gets them. They can add in whatever cool new thing catches their attention because they don’t have to stick to an outline.

People on the plotter side, in general, have an idea where they’re going. This makes it easier to stick with a story and not get stuck. Plotting also helps you remember things, especially if you’re prone to forgetting your latest great plot epiphany or character motivation.

I think people kind of float back and forth along the scale throughout their careers. As for me, I started out close to true pantser, many years ago. My first novel, all I had going into it was a premise and a genre (murder mystery). It stands uncompleted at 29,000 words, and will probably never see the light of day again.

I’ve been drifting more toward plotter ever since. At first, I would pants the first half of a novel and then outline the rest so I could pick up the loose ends. My last few novels I’ve outlined the whole thing before I started using a fairly loose method that identifies key plot points (inciting incident, midpoint, climax, etc.).

Oh my landsquid, this makes it so much easier. It doesn’t kill your creative wiggle room, and taking stories in chunks, knowing where you need to be at a certain point and what you’re working toward overall, makes it easier to get there without wallowing in unproductive middles.

Of course, that’s just my experience. What about you, Squiders? Are you a pantser or a plotter? How have your methods changed throughout your career?

The Changes of the Process, Part 2

Along with the revision/editing post from Tuesday, I found a post about outlining from February of 2011. A little newer than the editing one, but still completely different from my current process.

Again, for those too lazy to go back and read the original post, I shall summarize: at the time, I made a list of characters with plot-specific characteristics, freewrote out my premise and the story that I had thus far, and then usually began writing. At some point I would use phase outlining (where you outline by writing out sentences or phrases in chronological order, usually in bullet point form), usually after I’d written some of the story.

One of the things I’ve noticed as I’ve become more experienced and serious about my writing is that more organization has come into the writing process. There are still some situations where I will pants a story, but they’re increasingly rare. Short stories I always completely outline (admittedly, by phase outlining) before I start. There’s no room in a short for meandering about trying to figure out your direction.

But past!me didn’t do short stories, so that’s a moot point.

For novels, I’ve been experimenting lately by outlining by structure. For my space dinosaur adventure story that I wrote for Nano last year, I noted internal, external, and character-based arcs, and then found the “tentpoles” for all three plot lines (inciting incident, midpoint reversal, and climax). No phase outlining. I did write down my worldbuilding and characters before hand (mostly rank and position, as well as appearance). And it worked–by knowing where I needed to be at a certain point, the story naturally built toward the necessary goals.

I’m working on a co-authored story at the moment, and we’re working in a similar manner, though with more “acts.” (Five, I believe.) But I’ve also mixed my phase outlining back in. I identify where I need to be and how many words I have to get there, and then I make a list of everything that needs to happen between the current point in the story and the next turning point. And then I arrange those points in a chronological order, and tada! Phase outline.

I used to believe that outlining killed the sense of discovery one had when writing, and that identifying what needed to happen when would force you to ruin the flow of your story. And I always used to say that I wrote because I wanted to know how the story went. But I haven’t found any creativity drain by putting in some organization, and I’m much more pleased with my first drafts now than I was back then. In many cases, they just need tweaks instead of a major revision, which is awesome.

Believe in outlining, Squiders? What’s your process? Tried anything new lately that’s really been looking for you?

Character-Driven vs. Plot-Driven

Evening, Squiders. I hope it’s not as hot where you are as it is here.

When we were talking about pacing last week, we mentioned that slower pacing tends to emphasize character over plot, and faster pacing tends to emphasize plot over character.

Which brings us to a classic breakdown: the character-driven story vs. the plot-driven story.

What do these terms mean? Well, arguably, every story has both plot and character development. Plot is, of course, the events that happen in a story, and character, in this case, refers to how a character changes over the course of a story.

A simplistic definition is that plot-driven stories are more concerned about what’s happening–that it’s not important for characters to grow or change as much because what’s happening is awesome. Character-driven plots care more about what the characters are going through with less concern about exterior events.

Another definition I’ve seen used is that plot-driven stories are reactive (i.e., things happen to the main character) whereas character-driven stories are proactive (i.e., the main character is doing things).

You will hear these terms thrown around a lot, but in most cases, especially novels, stories are both. I’ve started to see a shift in terminology to external and internal arcs.

An external arc is plot-driven. It’s the events happening around the characters. To use my favorite Star Wars examples, the external arc of the original trilogy is the war with the Empire. A lot of plot points are directly linked to this: Vader’s attack on Leia’s cruiser, the destruction of the Death Star, the Empire’s attack on Hoth, etc.

An internal arc is character-driven. This is the internal dilemma a character faces throughout a story. Luke must go from snotty farmboy to Jedi knight. Han must learn to stop putting himself first and be willing to fight for what he believes in.

Any decent story has both. I’ve actually made a change in how I outline my stories in the last year to outlining separate internal and external arcs, which has proved to be immensely helpful. Without an external plot, it’s hard to draw your readers along a narrative, and without an internal arc, it’s hard for your readers to care about your characters.

(Note that all main characters, if you have more than one, need their own internal arc.)

Don’t get me wrong–stories still can hinge more on action or more on decisions. But, like pacing, most are a mix of plot driven and character driven bits.

What do you think, Squiders? Agree or disagree with me? Have any excellent examples of a story where the internal and external arcs are tied together really spectacularly?

Even Outlining Goes Awry

Ah, outlining. Some people hate it. Some people swear by it. The longer I’ve written professionally, the more I’ve come to like outlining, both as a writing tool, but more as an editing tool.

One of the last steps I do before I start in on a major edit is to create a new outline for the story. (At this point, I’ve already identified plot and character issues, missing worldbuilding, etc.) And then I go through and see what’s salvageable from the original draft and link it to the new outline, so I can reuse things or move them around instead of rewriting everything from scratch.

And I make note on each new scene of the associated old scenes, and how much of the original scene is useable. Sometimes a scene is brand new, and needs to be written from scratch. Other times, the original scene is more or less fine as is, and just needs some line editing here and there. Every other one falls somewhere in between.

Doing it this well tends to be very beneficial, because it helps me know the amount of work a particular scene will take, and how much time I need to budget for it.

But, as lovely as this method is, it’s not always fool proof.

Take my current scene for an example. My notes denoted that the original scene was about half useable, though I would need to pull in information from a couple of later scenes. It’s always a bit of a pain in the neck to graft scenes onto each other, but you know how it goes–sometimes things simply aren’t in the right place the first time through.

In this case, though, my notes ended up completely wrong. The scene needs a complete rewrite. There’s almost nothing that’s useable from it.

Some people argue that outlining means there’s nothing to discover in your story. I think it’s cases like this that proves that statement wrong. This was a fairly detailed outline, with everything in its place to make sure that I’m getting the most out of my editing process.

Part of it is an evolution process. When I outlined, this scene seemed perfectly reasonable. And indeed, the characters involved, and the order of events, are fine. It’s the nuances that no longer work–conversations sharing information that came out earlier, or changes in the characters’ relationships that make a particular set of actions no longer make any sense. It’s hard to predict that sort of thing, no matter how much work you put in.

Any opinions on outlining, especially for editing, Squiders? Tips or tricks you’ve found really work?

Why is Tag Called Tag?

I’m not going to answer that question, I’m just wondering. Does it have something to do with tagging animals? Except it seems like the game is a lot older than tracking animals, so who knows.

Anyway, KD Sarge has tagged me on a writing meme, and so here we are. Rules of the game:  answer the questions, come up with eleven of my own, and tag more people to keep the game going.

1.) Of your characters, who would you most like to have as a real-life friend?

Hm. I think I’ll go with Sara from Bleachers. I tend to twist friendship themes into just about all my stories, but Sara can be depended on to make sacrifices for her friends, and to work tirelessly to make sure things are set right. She’s also able to be fairly open-minded to trying new solutions when her normal standbys fail.

2.) Which would you not want to be around anywhere but in the pages of a book?

Oh man, that’s easy. Paran, the Queen’s advisor, from the Trilogy. I’ve got some nasty characters, but Paran is the king. Here’s someone whose ideas and morals are so twisted that even when you see where he’s coming from, you still can’t remotely justify his actions. Plus he’s not above some truly terrible manipulations, and there is pretty much no limit to what he will do to get to the ends he desires.

3.) When a song bowls you over and you have to hear it again and again, what is probably the reason? (Great voice, real emotion, clever lyrics, et cetera)

It depends. It can be lyrics, or it can be beat, or it can be both. Sometimes a verse will hit just right, and all of a sudden entire scenes can appear. Beat’s probably stronger than lyrics, though, honestly. I like songs based off their beat, but when you get a perfect blending of meaning and musicality, it’s the best.

4.) Of everywhere you’ve been, where was your favorite place to be? (Home is a perfectly acceptable answer!)

I adored York. I’ve been a lot of places, but York has a tangible feel of ancientness. I know that’s not a word. But when you step inside the walled part of the city, something resonates.

I also really liked northern Austria, with the Alps towering overhead, and the deep, dark lakes and occasional forests. Completely different feel from an ancient city, like York, but powerful all the same.

5.) Where do you want most to go?

I want to see the Great Wall of China. Absolute top of my list.

6.) What is the meaning of life? (okay, okay–YOUR life.) What do you think your life is about?

42. Life is hard. I am not a terribly introspective person. But I think that life needs to be enjoyed and shared.

7.) What’s the best thing about what you do for a living?

Since I work from home, I get to set my own hours. And if it’s a slow day, it’s totally okay for me to go watch an episode of Merlin with lunch.

8.) What do you do when you need inspiration?

I listen to music, and I look at nature pictures on the internet. Nothing gets the ol’ juices flowing better.

9.) When you need some time for you, where do you go?

I go to my local coffee shop, grab a table by the window, drink some tea, and do whatever needs to be done.

10.) Plotter or pantser?

Combination. I tend to pants the beginning of a novel, and then, somewhere around halfway, I plot out the rest to make sure that all my subplots and strings are concluded successfully and logically. Short stories are outlined completely before I start, otherwise I can’t get going.

11.) To close with a (fairly) easy one–talk about a book. Any book. :)

I just finished The Island by Tim Lebbon. I’m not typically a fan of his – he’s too dark for my tastes most of the time – but he’s my husband’s favorite author and so, occasionally, I am talked into reading one of his novels so we can have an intelligent conversation about the book. However, I actually really enjoyed this one. Good characters, just the right amount of stuff going on, lovely description. I admit I called the ending from 50 pages out (I said to myself “There is only one logical way this can end”) but I can do that with most books, so.

Let’s see, I shall tag my lovely writing partner Sarah, my sister so she’s forced to update her blog, and the infamous and extremely devious Ian Dudley. You’re welcome to tag yourself as well, if you’d like. Just let me know you’ve done it!

Questions for you to answer:

1.) What was the first story you ever wrote? Spare no embarrassing details.

2.) What’s your favorite nonfiction topic to read about?

3.) How much research do you feel like you need to do before you start a new story?

4.) Writing challenges (ala Nanowrimo) – useful, or merely stress-inducing?

5.) Why do you write your main genre?

6.) What genre/author/book do you secretly love but would never admit to in polite conversation?

7.) What’s your favorite movie-adaptation of a book?

8.) What is your favorite type of cephalopod?

9.) What is your writing tool of choice?

10.) What are your feelings about the proper usage of whom?

11.) What are you doing to bring yourself closer to your writing goals?

Nanowrimo Prep and Avoiding Plot Death

Nano looms ever closer, my friends.  (Also, it’s my birthday!)  I talked last year about Nano Zen and Plot Death — this cheats Nano Zen a bit, but I do think it’s important.  It’s hard to experience Plot Death if you have no plot.

A quick rundown for those too lazy to click the above link: Nano Zen involves not actively working on your Nano story in October to allow your brain to work on it subconsciously and to avoid Plot Death.  Plot Death is where you overplan your story to the point that you no longer want to write it.

“Kit,” I can hear you say (or perhaps it’s just the Landsquid, who wants some of my hot chocolate), “How can you write a post about Nano prep when you practice — and are the founder — of Nano Zen?”

As much as I advertise Nano Zen, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do any planning for Nano.  In fact, I ardently believe that there are some things you should have going into November, and if you don’t, you should try to get some before Nano starts.

A main character (or two).  The main conflict (what does the MC want?).  A starting point.

What gets you in trouble is the overplanning, and what counts as overplanning varies from person to person.

So how can you tell if you’re planning to the point where you are approaching Plot Death?

Well, first things first.  Make sure you’re registered at (the 2011 site is up now) and have chosen a home region (this is the region that gets to count your words).  See if your region has any write-ins near you and, if not, suggest some.  The social aspect is a major part of Nano and I highly recommend you participate in it.

…sorry, I totally got distracted by the Nano site.

If you’ve done Nano (or written a novel) before, you probably have a good idea of what you need and how much you can do before you experience Plot Death.  For you newbies, find the above (characters, plot, beginning).

How are you feeling?  Are you excited or panicky?  If you’re excited, good job.  You’re probably good to go.  Go make yourself a book cover.  If you’re panicky, you probably need more.  I recommend fleshing out your characters a bit, finding a villain, and doing a basic outline of your plot.

Repeat the above until you find a place where you’re excited to write.  Then stop planning.

See, the problem with Nano and Plot Death is that you can’t start writing until November 1st.  So people reach that excited state, and then, since they can’t write, they just keep planning and planning and planning and then…Plot Death.

It’s hard, I know.  And by all means, write down anything important as you think of it, but after you reach the excitement phase, that’s when Nano Zen is essential.

Ever experienced Plot Death, Squiders?  Where’s your happy middle between panicking and overplanning?