Posts Tagged ‘process’

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?

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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.

Recording vs. Typing

I type, Squiders. When I write, I sit down at a computer, open a word processing document (or the blog window, I guess), and go to it. (Or get distracted by the Internet. Dang you, Internet, you double-edged sword.)

But, sometimes, it’s hard to find time to sit down and write. And my laptop is getting older, so sometimes it takes a few minutes to get up and running. And sometimes it hurts my neck because invariably I’ve picked some place stupid to write and have been typing away with terrible posture.

So every now and then I consider other options.

I do handwrite sometimes, but I’m not terribly fast at it and I find it hard to really get going. (I do find that outlining or brainstorming on paper can be more efficient, however.)

I had a dictation program that I used for a bit right after the largest of the mobile ones was born. It still involves sitting at a computer, and there’s a learning curve while the program learns how you talk. Also it hated all my nonstandard fantasy names. So there was still a lot of fiddling to fix up what the program heard wrong. Which kind of eliminated the usefulness of using the dictation program. Also, I’m pretty sure said mobile one broke the headset that came with it, so that’s a bit of a problem.

There’s another option which I have not previously tried, and that’s recording and typing it up (or having someone else type it up) later. Kevin J. Anderson, who is a very nice person and a very proficient author, works this way. He goes for hikes out in the wilderness, talking into a recording device as he goes, and comes home with two or three hours worth of story, which he sends to his transcriptionist to type up.

Of course, some of us don’t have two or three hours to wander around talking to ourselves in the forest, but I admit the idea intrigues me. I could maybe do it while I folded laundry, or cooked dinner. Or maybe in patches when I find myself with a spare 15 minutes.

My biggest worry is voice. I don’t talk like I write, and it seems like it would be awkward to learn how to tell stories out loud in a way that could be supplemented by (or supplementing) writing on the computer.

Of course, I haven’t tried. Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard.

I looked at audio recording apps for my phone, which seems most convenient (since I have my phone with me most of the time) but there was a ton of them, and I got overwhelmed and ran off.

Have you tried recording a story and then transcribing it later? How did it work? Or do you know of a writer that works that way that has talked about their process?

Assessing Yourself

I’ve talked about day jobs before, and how they can be useful for a number of reasons (steady income, giving your brain time to think through plot points and whatnot, etc.). I’ve also talked about how I think, at least for me, being a full-time freelance writer/editor has hurt my fiction (or at least my motivation).

So I’ve been thinking very seriously about finding a new day job. The problem is that the options are wide open. (I think I talked about that somewhere too.) I do think I’ve decided to go for something non-freelance, something where I have to go some place and talk to other people on a semi-regular basis.

Having so many options, and not knowing what I want to do, I scheduled an appointment with my alma mater’s career services department. (Most people know you can use career services to help you find a job as you near graduation, but it turns out that they’ll help alumni too. I got an email about it and was like, “Heyyyyy…”)

(Also, funnily, the woman I got was the one I worked with when I was graduating. Uh, many years ago.)

They recommended a series of assessments to help me learn about what’s important to me and what jobs would be a good fit.

And I figured, hey, what could it hurt?

That was a few months ago, and now I’m done with the lot. There was the Clifton Strengths, which told me what my strengths were. Then Myers-Briggs for personality. The Strong for what I’m interested in. And the Values for what’s important to me in a job/work place. Then the idea is to look at all four, see what patterns there are, and make a decision moving forward based on the results.

None of the results are especially a surprise, but I bet you that I wouldn’t have been able to pull the information out of my head before hand. The strengths was probably the most useful, in that they give you your top five strengths and explain how they are both good and bad (for example, one of mine is that I absorb information easily, which means I can learn–and apply–new things quickly. But the downside is that I can get distracted by research and lose a lot of time).

But it is nice to have it all laid out. Not sure it’s useful yet, because I can see three distinct career paths that could be taken from the results.

But aside from potential day jobs, I can also see how some of the information can be useful in my writing. It’s given me some ideas on how to work, and also on some new projects to try.

So if you have the opportunity, it might be a good idea to run through these tests yourself. One of the best ways to be true to yourself is to have a good idea of how you work. These tests aren’t perfect, of course, but especially by taking the lot, you can get a good general idea of things.

Taken assessments, squiders? Find them to be of any use?

5 Things I’ve Learned From Co-Writing a Novel

Well, Squiders, that novel I’ve been working on isn’t exactly done and off to the editor like I hoped, but it’s very close, and I’m kind of basking in the accomplishment of completion even though we’re not quite there yet. So, in celebration, here’s some things I’ve learned from co-writing a novel.

(It should probably said that I’ve co-written novels before, informal things mostly done for fun that might never get anywhere. This is a completely different animal.)

1. Co-writing is hard
At first glance, it seems like it should be easier. You only have to write half the words, right? Score! A full novel for half the work! But you have to make sure your half makes sense with your partner’s half (or however you’ve got it broken down), that you’ve got similar themes for the entire work, and that the whole thing feels cohesive, as opposed to two people writing two disparate stores.

2. Communication is essential
My partner (the wondrous Siri Paulson) and I talk all the time. We send each other lengthy emails discussing plot points, coordination, characterization, etc. We tweet each other quick notes (and to ask if the other is in the manuscript before we mess around too much). We have face-to-face meetings over Google Hangouts to hash out worldbuilding, discuss key scenes, and occasionally write important scenes together. We chat in IRC. We leave notes in document. We are everywhere. But if we weren’t, well, see point 1 about cohesiveness and whatnot. We were in the same time zone over Christmas and it was amazing.

3. You can’t futz worldbuilding
Because of the nature of the story Siri and I have put together, we essentially had to do worldbuilding for two very different places. She took the lead on one, I took the lead on the other, but we needed to understand both and also understand how the two fit together. I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes my worldbuilding can be a little underdeveloped on a first draft. You can’t do that here, though. Part of it also comes from the genre and type of story, however. My previous co-writing jaunts have been contemporary fiction with very few, if any, fantastical elements. This is high fantasy bordering on science fantasy. Before, questions like “Wait, how do the monsters maintain the pocket dimension?” have never come up.

4.Everyone writes differently
Before we started this, I would have guessed that Siri and I had near identical writing processes. We’ve been writer friends for almost a decade now, so we’ve had plenty of conversations about writing and we’ve watched each other go through numerous projects, long and short. We tend to have a similar style and write about similar topics. We even, a bit creepily, look quite a bit alike.

I have now learned, however, that our processes differ quite a bit. Siri writes detailed outlines and then goes back and fleshes the scenes out, leaving herself (and me) lots of notes as well as alternatives to the current scene. I write fully fleshed out scenes, taking care to try and get as close to a finished product as I can at first go by outlining before I start. She outlines chronologically but doesn’t flesh out in order necessarily. I prefer to go chronologically at all times.

I think this was a bit of a surprise on both of our counts. But we figured it out. I even wrote a few scenes out of order in the end.

5. Writing with someone else has a lot of perks
This is the first book of what will hopefully be a multi-author shared world. Siri and I inherited the first book because Erin and KD had other projects they were already working on. We took the shared world brainstorming and got to turn that into a story. And it’s been a lot of fun. Two heads are better than one, as they say. We got to bounce ideas off each other, and had a partner to give their opinion when a plot point on one side’s arc wasn’t working. We got to build off each other’s characters and worldbuilding. And I think we’ve been able to come up with something super awesome because of it.

Oh, and as a bonus:

GIVE YOURSELF ENOUGH TIME
Siri and I got the novel assignment at the very end of April and were supposed to have the story done by the end of the year. This has proven to be not nearly enough time due to the level of coordination necessary between the two of us. (Also, life events happened.) This is the first time we’ve tried something like this, and eight months seemed like a long time back then. Now we know better. And moving forward, I shall try to keep in mind that new types of projects should always be given more leeway on timing because it takes a while to figure out how things work. I think it took Siri and I a good 2-3 months to really get going–it took us a while to hash out characters, and then we each wrote a beginning, both of which were thrown out completely, though they really helped us establish what we were looking for and how we would work going forward. Another month or two would have been excellent. If you’re thinking about trying something similar, I’d recommend thinking about how long it would take you to do something on your own, and then add half that time again.

Woo! So close! And I’m excited to see what the editor thinks when she gets it.

How’s your 2016 going thus far, Squiders? Mine’s pretty awesome except I got pink eye from somewhere.

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?

The Changes of the Process

So, for some reason that currently escapes me, I was re-reading the very start of this blog (from five years ago–yikes!) and one of my very first posts was about my editing process. (You can see that post here.) And it was interesting to see, because in the five years since, my process has almost completely changed.

To summarize my original post, at the time I wrote a first draft, sent it out to betas, and the created a bound Master copy, which I would put all the reader comments into. I would then go through the Master copy myself and makes notes, then do a chapter by chapter edit. Then the process would repeat itself until the story was done.

At the time I wrote that original post, I’d done two edits: one directly following this method (and judging by the pictures, the story I used for the post), a YA fantasy that I’ve not touched in years and probably needs close to a full rewrite at this point; and a complete rewrite of the first book in my high fantasy trilogy (that I am still working on).

It was a good starting method, but it doesn’t deal very well with the overall picture, which eventually became apparent over the years.

So! Five years later, what do I do now?

Well, the first steps are the same. I write a book. I send it out to beta readers. I create a Master copy. (The Master copy is great because it keeps all the comments, both mine and my betas’, in one place, nicely bound together so chapters in the middle can’t wander off.)

And the end steps are the same. I still do the chapter-by-chapter edit. I still get people to read it again (or for the first time).

What’s changed is what goes between the two halves. I’ve been using a modified version of Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel process. (I would link, but she’s in the process of switching websites.) I highly recommend the course if you’ve been having editing issues, or if you’re having to go through a ton of drafts to get a finished product. Basically, this process has you look at the aspects of your book–characters, conflicts, plot arcs, settings, etc.–making sure you know what your goals are and what needs to be done from a big picture point of view to get there.

Thus armed with this information, you’re more informed going into your edit, and it’s easier to make the changes necessary to get the story you want out of it.

I’ve found it works for me. It may not work for everybody. It doesn’t really deal with structure, so if you’re someone who edits or outlines using turning points, it may not work as well for you. I’ve started putting those in my writing outlines, so I haven’t run into issues with that as of yet.

What’s your editing process, Squiders? How has it changed over time?

In other news, I have a new short story available for free over at Turtleduck Press! Give it a look! It’s a creation myth with a bit of a twist. I’ll send out an email to my mailing list in a few days explaining its origin, if such things interest you.