Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

This colourful outline brought to you by Scrivener’s binder feature.

I know what you’re thinking, those of you who know me. Why would a non-outliner write a post about loving outlines?

It’s not that I’ve come entirely over to the dark side become an outliner, but I do recognize that sometimes they can be useful, whether you’re a dyed-in-the-wool planner or a steadfast pantser. And in fact, this post has been co-written by my sometimes author assistant, Emily, who actually is an outliner and therefore knows more about the whole outlining thing than I do. Here’s what we’ve come up with in our collaboration on the topic.

1. There is No “Right Way” to Outline. Outlines can take on different forms depending on who is making them. Some writers use programs like Scrivener to create digital outlines, others prefer to use note cards or index cards. Any way you want to outline is a good way to outline. You might even find that you don’t have to go the full mile and outline your entire plot, but an outline of your main character’s arc would be helpful, or a timeline of historical events to set up your current world. You’re free to outline whatever will assist you and your writing, and pay no attention to the rest.

2. Outlines Are Inspiring. Whatever method you decide to use for your outline, make it not just helpful to you but visually or aesthetically pleasing. If there’s a color you find particularly inspiring, incorporate that into your outline. If you have images that get the creative juices flowing, represent your characters, or paint the picture of one of your locations, include them in your outline so you are always reminded of them when you return to your outline. Remember that no one else is going to see it; it’s just for you and it should make you excited as well as get you organized. Just don’t get lost in adorning your outline when you should be adorning your plot. Keep it simple and fun!

3. Having a Plan. The beginning of a story can be intimidating to write. So can the middle. And so can the end. Having an outline provides you with an overview of the plot, detailing how things start, how they progress, and how they end so you know where you’re starting and also where you’re going. There is no frightening blank space lying in wait just beyond that exciting first scene. You always have something to fall back on if you forget what you wanted to happen next.

4. Defense Against the Dark Arts…er, Writer’s Block. Every writer faces writer’s block at one time or another. A conversation isn’t working, an explanation requires some research before it can be written, a scene just isn’t interesting enough. An outline provides you with numerous distractions from that one difficult section; you can move onto another scene that you know needs to happen, but with a basic understanding of what needs to come before or after.

5. Structured Spontaneity. Outlines can, at first glance, seem to be an obstacle that will stand in the way of your creativity. If you know everything that’s going to happen in your story, is there really room for discovery or development? Absolutely! Think of your outline as a foundation; your action, characters, and themes all have their own jobs and interactions, and are probably not going to adhere to the outline indefinitely. Your writing will still surprise you, and on that note…

6. Outlines are Not Static. Sometimes characters do things that we don’t expect or a rogue plot point will plummet into the thick of our stories seemingly out of nowhere. This doesn’t mean that your outline becomes worthless. When things need to change, an outline can change with them, and you already have a platform to input new information and step back to see the whole picture in terms of this new development. An outline does not need to be restrictive.

7. Outlining is Pantsing in Disguise. Whether you do it before you write or as you write, you are still creating this storyline, these characters, and these events out of your imagination. Outliners are just pantsers who do more of their imagining prior to the actual act of writing, and write it down so they don’t forget it. So no matter which camp you think you fall into, it’s more a matter of perspective and style than anything else. If you’re a pantser, don’t let the prospect of an outline be scary or off-putting, because it’s not fundamentally much different from the way you usually tackle story construction.

8. Revision Tool There’s no better tool to have by your side when heading into a novel revision than your trusty outline. It gives you a necessary overview of the structure, pace, and logic of your story when you’re trying to ferret out where change is needed. To that end, if you’re not an outliner before you write, create an outline as you go. At the end of every writing session, briefly describe in a sentence or two what just happened. Even if you didn’t start out with an outline, you’ll have one by the time you finish the first draft.

9. Synopsis Tool Likewise, an outline can be an invaluable tool when it comes time to write the Dreaded Synopsis. Particularly if you’ve updated your outline to reflect changes that happened during the actual writing and revision of the novel, or created the outline in tandem with the novel and revisions, you have an accurate but brief reflection of the story from beginning to end, and can set to work polishing it up into a synopsis right away.

10. Aid to Discovery Your outline can reveal things about your novel or story that you may have included subconsciously, like themes and motifs. They’re revealed subtly throughout the story itself, but looking over your outline it may be more obvious that certain elements or objects repeat and resonate throughout the manuscript.

11. Series Tool Maybe you didn’t set out to write a series, but the first book or story has given birth to a followup idea. Your outline can be the first thing in your series bible, and refresh your memory on many elements of the previous story as you set out to write the next installment.

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

For a number of years, I ran a couple of successful email courses through The Scriptorium; one was called “The Two-Week Short Story” and the second was “Short Story Workshop for One.” People seemed to enjoy them and I received a lot of very positive feedback from students. The first was (rather obviously) a guide to coming up with a story idea and writing a quick, complete first draft, all in a two-week period. The Workshop was a method for writers who found it difficult to get feedback or critiques to work on developing the kind of critical eye needed to help them improve their stories on their own. The Short Story Workshop itself grew out of an article I had published in Speculations back in 2001, so it had already lived through one reincarnation. It occurred to me that they’d both probably translate well into short ebooks now, and that I might reach a new group of aspiring writers in that format.

Never one to let a good idea fail to distract me from what I’m really *supposed* to be doing, I set to work and did some revising, tweaking, and re-formatting. Also, cover design, since every good ebook deserves a good e-cover. I’m not quite ready to release the ebooks yet, since they need one more good going-over, but I’m thinking within a week or so they’ll be ready to go. But I can share those covers with you now (they might get a little more tweaking, but I think they’re pretty much done):

I expect to price the ebooks around $1.99, which will be a bargain considering the courses used to sell for $8.00 each! However, I did have the hassle of setting up the email schedule, so compared to that, selling ebooks is easy. I believe I’ll test these in Kindle Select at first, and then move to a broader platform after that, as my marketing experimentation continues.

If you or someone you know is looking for some story inspiration and motivation, or have a story that needs some intensive self-workshopping, I’ll be posting here when they’re released. Maybe you’ll find them useful!

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

NaNoMusingsSometime in the novel-writing process (because I’m a discovery writer / pantser / gardener sort of writer) I usually hit this wall. It’s not a solid stone or brick wall. It’s a wall–possibly more of a pile–of random bits and pieces of story, character quirks, events that may or may not happen but certainly could happen, ideas, themes, places, conversations, people, objects, and settings, all jumbled together in an unholy, writhing mess. And when I fetch up against this wall–a wall that I admit I have scrabbled together and created myself–it’s a scary place to be. It looms overhead and threatens to topple down and bury me in a tumble of story detritus I’ll never untangle.

Fortunately, I have learned, over time and the process of many, many NaNoWriMo Novembers, that this is when I have to walk away. Get up from my desk. Get out of my office. And ideally, take a shower.

I’m not saying I haven’t showered previously at this point. If I don’t need a shower, hand-washing a sink full of dishes might do the trick, as well. But the shower is the best.

Today I hit the wall. Today I took the shower. And the eureka moment was there, in the water, as it usually is.

Now the wall is more like one of those slide-the-squares puzzles. I can see what the solution is supposed to be, and it’s now a matter of sliding everything to its proper place. I may still have to add or take away bits and pieces, but I can begin to envision the finished picture.

Your eureka moment might not be in the shower–it might be in a long walk, or a run, or a marathon housecleaning session, or a painting, or a drive in the country. But if you’re staring at the wall, you likely need to get away from your desk for a little while. Get some perspective. Talk through the problems you’re having with the story, even if (especially if?) no-one can hear you. The solution is there. It really is. If you look, you’ll find it.

*”What the Water Gave Me” – Florence & The Machine

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

NaNoMusingsSometime in the novel-writing process (because I’m a discovery writer / pantser / gardener sort of writer) I usually hit this wall. It’s not a solid stone or brick wall. It’s a wall–possibly more of a pile–of random bits and pieces of story, character quirks, events that may or may not happen but certainly could happen, ideas, themes, places, conversations, people, objects, and settings, all jumbled together in an unholy, writhing mess. And when I fetch up against this wall–a wall that I admit I have scrabbled together and created myself–it’s a scary place to be. It looms overhead and threatens to topple down and bury me in a tumble of story detritus I’ll never untangle.

Fortunately, I have learned, over time and the process of many, many NaNoWriMo Novembers, that this is when I have to walk away. Get up from my desk. Get out of my office. And ideally, take a shower.

I’m not saying I haven’t showered previously at this point. If I don’t need a shower, hand-washing a sink full of dishes might do the trick, as well. But the shower is the best.

Today I hit the wall. Today I took the shower. And the eureka moment was there, in the water, as it usually is.

Now the wall is more like one of those slide-the-squares puzzles. I can see what the solution is supposed to be, and it’s now a matter of sliding everything to its proper place. I may still have to add or take away bits and pieces, but I can begin to envision the finished picture.

Your eureka moment might not be in the shower–it might be in a long walk, or a run, or a marathon housecleaning session, or a painting, or a drive in the country. But if you’re staring at the wall, you likely need to get away from your desk for a little while. Get some perspective. Talk through the problems you’re having with the story, even if (especially if?) no-one can hear you. The solution is there. It really is. If you look, you’ll find it.

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

Did you think I was going to forget? Nope, here I am.

Terriermon completeIt’s been a not-so-productive week at the desk, since I’ve been laid low by a rather miserable cold and spent a good portion of my not-as-miserable time sewing. The sewing was definitely rewarding, however, since I finished this plush Terriermon for my daughter’s upcoming Digimon cosplay. He turned out to be quite a size and required a ridiculous amount of stuffing, but we are super pleased with him! The fabric is fleece so he’s very soft and cuddly.

I did manage to put the finishing touches on that little book trailer video for The Seventh Crow, and made it live today. You can find it here if you’d like to take a look. I also sent out my October writing news newsletter. If you’re not subscribed, you can find it here, but there’s a contest running only for subscribers, so consider signing up!

One nice aspect of the writing life is that one doesn’t necessarily have to be at the desk to be working, so I did a fair amount of cogitating on the plotlines of my upcoming NaNoWriMo novel while at the sewing machine. There are QUITE a number of things going on in this novel, and I’m not sure yet how they will all fit together, so a goodly amount of thinkage is required. Next I think I’m going to organize some index cards, either physical or in Scrivener, to sort out what’s been percolating this week.

Although it has nothing to do with writing, I’m so pleased that we have a new Canadian government as of this week, I can hardly stand it. Also not writing-related, I planted (with hubby’s help) all of my new bulbs and perennials–tulips, crocus, daylilies, oriental lilies, hyacinth, coneflowers, and astrantia. In a departure from the norm, I even marked where they are planted. I’m rarely that organized in the garden. Now to hunker down and wait until the long winter passes before they bloom in the spring. Sigh.cleandesk

Notably, I’ve kept my desk clean and tidy for over two weeks now. I expect that to change when November hits, since I’ll be writing like mad and also starting to run an online workshop.

Books I’ve been reading/listening to this week:

Read only one book at a time? Not me! :)

Next Friday I’ll be on the road to Hal-Con 2015, but if I’m really on the ball I’ll have my blog post ready to go before I leave.

 

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

No, this is not a post about knitting or weaving…at least, only figuratively.

This week I’ve been struggling to pick up an unfinished manuscript and get it moving forward again. I wrote over 50k words of a second Magica Incognita novel last November, and expected to finish the first draft early this year with an eye to rewriting and editing in the spring, and maybe a publication date this past summer.

Well, due mainly to consuming family issues, nothing beyond projects I had outside commitments for happened from early spring to fall this year. I’m very pleased that I was able to keep all of those commitments…but other projects fell by the wayside.

I’ve said before that the key to a really successful NaNoWriMo draft is getting to “the end.” It doesn’t matter how much work that manuscript will take in revisions and rewrites and adding new subplots and taking it apart and putting it back together again–it’s all easier if you have a finished first draft that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Well, I didn’t get anywhere near “the end” of The Chaos Assassin. And the intervening ten months or so have effectively blurred the progression of plots and clues and conversations in my mind so that I sat down at my desk this week not really knowing where to start. Reading through the existing manuscript was a good place to start, of course, as well as reviewing all my notes and mind maps. I also made a timeline of the existing events in Aeon Timeline, a program I recently purchased. Seemed like a good way to try it out, and so far, I like it.

But even all of that didn’t get the story back in my head the way it was when I was writing that first draft. I still feel like I’m floundering around with a fistful of plot threads and no clear idea what to do with them.

So I am going to try making an outline.

Yup, me. Making an outline. Weird, right? Not just of what’s already written–I usually do that anyway, after the fact or as I go along, because it’s invaluable for rewrites later. No, I’m going to go further. I’m going to catch up to where I have written and keep going. Plan out the rest of the novel and then write it.

My head’s almost exploding at this point.

Since I’m not an outliner by nature, I decided to get a little help by looking at various outlining methods online. I wasted  spent a fair bit of time perusing articles, charts, worksheets, etc., but in the end came back to one I’d looked at before and that sort of spoke to me: Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. Actually, an enhanced version of it by Tom Gowan. And a little bit of Dan Wells’ 7-Point Story Structure and a Scrivener version thrown in for good measure. No, I’m not dedicated to following it rigidly–just to using it as a guide to help put the manuscript back into perspective for me and assist me in finding my way forward.

So here we go. If nothing else, it’s colourful and pretty!

BeatSheet

 

Originally published at Sherry D. Ramsey. You can comment here or there.

eraser-and-sketch-book-1-134654-m

A rough sketch is better than nothing.

With the beginning of NaNoWriMo less than a week away, many of us are still floundering around with bits and pieces of story ideas, wondering how we’re going to arrange them into something coherent for our novels. Today I bring you a brief exercise which might help you to put some of your thoughts in order. All you have to do is answer 5 questions and write 6 sentences.

Sound simple? Then let’s go. Here are the questions. You may answer them with a word or a sentence.

1. Who is your main character? (If you don’t have a name, now is the time to come up with one.)
1b. (optional) Who is his or her sidekick? (Companion, mentor, friend, frenemy, family member, etc.)
2. What does your main character want? (His or her overriding goal, quest, desire.)
3. Why can’t he or she have it? (The main obstacle thwarting that goal.)
4. What will help him or her achieve it? (A personal attribute, an item, a person or persons, etc.)
5. What will it cost? (Nothing comes without a cost. What will your MC have to sacrifice?)

Bonus Question: What is your working title?

Okay, now that you have those things sorted (and don’t move on to the next section until you do!), write a sentence describing each of the following:

1. Your main character’s situation when the story opens–what’s ‘normal’ for him/her and the world of the story.
2. What goes wrong–what changes–why ‘normal’ can’t or doesn’t continue.
3. What your main character will do to fight back or respond to what happens.
4. How that response doesn’t work, things only get worse, and defeat for the main character seems certain.
5. How the main character rallies and wins in the end (or doesn’t, I suppose).
6. Your main character’s situation when the story ends.*

If you can go into NaNoWriMo with even these few notes in hand, you’ve got–well, not a road map, but at least some sketchily drawn directions to get through your story.

*The idea for the second part of the exercise came from here: http://www.andrewjackwriting.com/2013/02/11/six-sentence-story-planning-for-pantsers/

June 2017

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