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.

Nano2012

Today we jump ahead to 2012 in the NaNoWriMo Retrospective. This was the year I wrote most of the first draft of The Family Business, which is, sadly, another of the still-unfinished manuscripts waiting for my attention.

I had a lot of fun with this one; it’s a ghost story and a mystery, and it’s definitely one I want to finish. Here’s the blurb:

Stella McKarron is sorry when her Uncle Ambrose dies suddenly, but she doesn’t think it will actually change her life much. They’ve never gotten along terribly well, anyway. So it comes as a surprise to learn that he’s left her his cat (she’s allergic), his car (she doesn’t drive), his private detective agency (she’s a librarian) and his collection of ten thousand books (she’s actually okay with that one). The bigger surprise is yet to come, however, when his ghost appears and tells her that he was murdered, and the first case he wants her to take on is his own…

familybusinessHere’s my hastily throw-together cover mockup; I still like the concept although it could be MUCH better executed.

The November draft came in at just barely 50k, since I was also working on the rewrite of One’s Aspect to the Sun that month. I see from the notes in my spreadsheet that I actually did not have an idea for what to write this year until I actually sat down to do it. I’m trying to remember where the idea eventually came from, but it appears to be lost in the mists of time.

Notably, this was the year I set up my treadmill desk, and this was the first project I wrote at it. I don’t seem to have stats from that month, although I suspect they are around somewhere…I do like obsessive record-keeping from time to time.  We do seem to have had a lot of word wars in the Ramsey household, according to my notes, and some successful write-ins with other Cape Breton Wrimos.

I believe that this one remains unfinished because I made that classic error of trying to write a mystery without enough advance planning. Other genres can work out okay with the “gardening” approach, but mysteries require more of the “architect” thinking. Or as I once said in a radio interview, “When it comes time to lay down a clue, you’d better have a clue.”

Someday soon I’ll pull this one out and see what it needs. It’s  fun tale with some quirky characters and deserves to play out to “The End.”

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

school-05It’s been a busy few weeks, both at and away from the desk. This week I was out of town for a couple of days doing Writers in the Schools visits, and they were, as usual, wonderful experiences. I had great sessions with elementary, jr. high, and high school students, who were interested, engaged, and willing to participate in the writing exercises we did; they also asked great questions during our Q&A times. They came up with some wonderful story ideas and some even seemed interested in writing them later! I had a lovely lunchtime chat with two Grade 12 students who asked insightful and interesting questions about many aspects of the writing life and business (and I hope I gave them decent answers!). All in all, it was a rewarding (if tiring!) two days. Wow, I don’t know how teachers do it. Much respect.

Work continues apace on the novel draft, slower than I would like but more steadily than I feared at one point. I’m also writing a short story with hopes of meeting a looming deadline. Which looms, and LOOMS…Slowing both of these projects down just a little is an idea for reinvigorating a long-languishing manuscript. This idea insists on knocking on the door of my attention with relentless persistence. I just spent half an hour making notes on it in the hopes that it will be satisfied with that and sit quietly in a corner while I finish up these other things first. Then it can take up as much space in my brain as it wants. But for now I need it to just Wait.

Ideas are seldom so conciliatory, but it’s worth a try.

In the midst of all this I watch in horror as wildfires destroy parts of our country. I might write apocalyptic scenes sometimes, but watching some of the videos of this fire and the wild escapes people have been forced to make from it, my brain is overwhelmed. If you are interested in helping, the Canadian government is currently matching any donations made to the Canadian Red Cross for Fort McMurray relief; the website is here. This is a wonderful first step in the government’s efforts as your donation is immediately doubled. I’ve been so heartened by the endless stream of offers of help and support pouring in from all over the country to help those displaced and devastated. If only the rain would pour with such vigour, the fire would already be out.

Things I researched this week:

  • underwater habitats
  • pressure suits
  • sea monkeys
  • ocean trenches
  • King John’s lost crown jewels

Yes, it’s like a game of “one of these things is not like the others…” ;)

 

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.

girl-silhouette-1193153-m

Who are you, anyway?

I have this character who’s been on my mind a lot lately. She’s a part of the novel I’m re-thinking and rewriting right now, and she’s sort of a sub-villain. Well, that’s not exactly right–she’s not really a villain at all, but definitely an antagonist to the main character. She’s had an interesting life, lived largely in the grey areas of society, because of who she is and who her father was. In a way her life has been a big lie, or a series of big lies, but since her father passed away, she’s felt the itch to do something. To confront the forces from her father’s past that impacted their lives every day. She plays a moderately important role in the draft as it stands now, but lately I’ve been thinking her part needs to be expanded. In fact, I’m thinking about getting inside her head a little more, and giving her more of a voice in the story.

She likes the notion, although she’s not giving up all of her secrets to me yet. I know she’s a bit of a maverick, with a devil-may-care attitude and a motivation to make life difficult for my main character. As she’s written right now, that’s almost all I know about her, and that’s the extent of how she comes across. That, and the fact that she has some secrets she’s not yet ready to share.

However, I’m thinking there’s more to her than that. I’m trying to understand her motivations, and, even more importantly, her goals.

Her goals as she was written in the first draft were mainly to find out more information about my main character, and hassle her a little without doing any real damage. Those goals work, but I’ve come to realize that they are not deep enough, or at least that I have not thought them through enough. I don’t really know why she has these goals. I don’t know if she really hates my main character, or only thinks she ought to hate her. I don’t know what she thinks she will get out of her current course of action. I’m not sure she knows, herself.

I do understand something of her motivations–my main character’s family “wronged” this character’s family, or at least that’s the way she sees it. And she definitely wants to do something about that. She’s driven by a mix of curiosity and a desire for vengeance, but she’s also searching for something. She knows that in some important ways, my main character and her family are like her, so I think she’s unwittingly drawn to them. It could be that without meaning to or expecting it, she actually comes to like my main character.

That may influence her actions, or it may only influence how she feels about her actions. I’m not sure yet. The storyline as it currently stands leaves much about this character unresolved, left for another time and another book. I’d like to retain some of this open-endedness, but I’m not sure how I’m going to do it if I do end up inside her head. I’ll have to reveal a lot more about what she knows and how she thinks. It might not be as neat and tidy as it is now.

But I think…I think it will make for a much stronger story, which is really the bottom line, isn’t it? And once we start hearing these little whispers from the characters in our heads, they become pretty difficult to ignore. She’s telling me “I have more to say,” and I think I’d probably be wise to listen…

Photo credit: mzacha

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

“What no wife of a writer understands is that a writer is working when he’s staring out the window.” ~ Burton Rascoe

window

…this also applies to husband of the writer, children of the writer, friends of the writer, family of the writer…well, you get the picture.

This is the stage I am at with the rewrite I’m working on. Or “working” on, if you happen to drop by and find me staring out the window. I’m doing a very important step in the writing process, which is actually a precursor to writing itself. I’m thinking.

Which is not to say that I’m spending *all* my time thinking. I’m also re-reading, making notes, drawing charts and creating timelines. I’m juggling characters in my head and on index cards. I’m using colored markers to visualize the interconnectedness of people and events.

I’m plotting.

Plotting is something I’m better at doing on the fly, if the truth be known. Or maybe it’s just that my subconscious is often a better plotter than my conscious. I’ve had many novel and short story plots work out when I don’t have things planned down to the last detail–really, when I don’t have them planned at all–when suddenly, somewhere in the middle of writing, there’s this enormous epiphany and my conscious mind realizes that this, and that, and that tie together and make it possible for this to happen and that’s how it all works out in the end. That is a lovely, lovely moment for me, when my subconscious mind is revealed, and lo, it is good.

However. It’s not exactly…dependable. It doesn’t happen every time. Sometimes the epiphany doesn’t come, and I realize that I’ve lost my way, and the writing comes to a full stop. Which is why I have learned that I can’t completely trust my subconscious. Sometimes it’s a wonder, and sometimes it’s a real jerk.

So now I do this thing where I think and think and think and plan and chart and scribble notes and ask myself questions. It’s not an outline. Anyone who writes actual outlines, like my friend Steph, would either laugh or cry if I pointed to my pile of plot refuse and said it was my outline. It’s not an outline, and it’s not a road map, and it’s not even a really badly-drawn treasure map. It’s more like a heap of organic stuff from which, if I plant the right seed, a tree will take root and grow. Some of the nutrients will get used up in growing the tree, and some won’t. I’ll have to add a lot more stuff like earth and water and sunlight (writing and revising and editing?) because the heap itself is only a starting point. But from the heap, good things can emerge.

Hmmm. Did I just say that my plotting style is like heaping up a big pile of manure?

Time to go stare out the window again for a while.

Photo credit: mjio

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

file0002054526820Clock on the wall ticks

Fingers dart, flash over keys

Write faster, writer


Photo credit: giggs

After many weeks of work, (and a months-long hiatus) The Scriptorium is finally redesigned, refreshed, and a new issue is up.  I've moved over to a WordPress-based site in the hope that new issues will go together faster, and I will now be able to easily post news items and updates on the News page.

It was not an easy decision to make these changes.  I've been publishing The Scriptorium in one format or another for over twelve years now, and it has looked much the same from the outset.  I'm sure some readers will not like the new look, but I did try to retain something of the "feel" of the old site.  I'm pleased with it and I think it looks fresh and really quite spiffy.

I also found out the best way to make a change like this involving WordPress, if you can do it: make a new folder at the same level as your old content folder, install WordPress in that, and build the entire site in the new folder.  When it's ready to launch, all you have to do is get your host to point to the new folder instead of the old one.  WordPress is notoriously difficult to move (yes, it can be done, but not easily, trust me) but this way all links stay intact and the way everything works in testing is the way it will continue to work once it goes live.

I have further discovered that HTML coding is now hard-wired into my brain, and I'm sure there's much more HTML on the site than it needs--but when I knew just what bit of code to slip in to make it look the way I wanted, I just went ahead and did it that way, rather than hunting around to see if WordPress had its own way to do it.  Perhaps as time goes on I'll cull more of the code, but since no-one sees that part of it but me, it will likely stay. ;)

So that's a huge job done and crossed off the list, and I can turn my attention to the novel revisions.  More on that as I move through the process.
I'm now a solid week into the revision process on this novel, and since I've recently had questions about how to tackle a big revision, I think I will detail the procedure I'm following here. It may or may not be helpful to those undertaking their own revisions, but it might offer a starting point or help you figure out your own method. I'll have to break this down into several parts to provide the kind of detail I'm going to get into.

I had already read through this particular manuscript a couple of times looking for things to fix, but I had not tackled anything major. My general impression from these initial read-throughs was that it was basically okay, but ran a bit short, needed a few more scenes, concluded too quickly, and needed some further development of the world and the magic system--at least for my own understanding. There were inconsistencies requiring attention, a long section of chapters where a particular character seemed to disappear (I don't mean he disappeared in the story, I mean he disappeared FROM the story), and I felt that the world and some of the characters needed deepening.

Before I started, I reread two Holly Lisle articles I remembered reading a while back: they are here and here. While I`m not following either method exactly, I do use a lot of her advice from these articles. They are well worth the time it takes to read them.
Read more... )I`m also using a piece of software to assist me: Writer`s Cafe, particularly the StoryLines application. StoryLines "is a multi-storyline planning tool that helps you weave a set of virtual index cards into a finished, formatted story." You can see a screenshot of it here. You can download a free trial of this program and see if it works for you; you could also do essentially the same thing with a big stack of index cards (but not as neatly).

In addition to the software, I started with:

  • all previous notes, character sheets, and jottings concerning the novel

  • a binder with looseleaf

  • colored pens, pencil, and highlighter

  • a clean printout of the novel manuscript, including all notes I`ve made in the ms while writing or reading it. In my case, these have each printed out (instead of inline) on their own sheet of paper, so I have to figure out how to deal with that.

  • an area big enough to hold the binder, a couple of different piles of manuscript pages, and my laptop, on which I`m using the software

I set up StoryLines to keep track of three things: a scene-by-scene breakdown of the action of the novel, which characters appeared in each scene, and a timeline of when and where each scene took place. Especially because this began life as a NaNoWriMo novel (which means it was written in a very fast first draft), I knew that there were probably inconsistencies of time and place. Here`s what my StoryLines sheet looks like:

Photobucket

You can see that the chapter numbers and titles appear in the black ovals, scene numbers in little white boxes, and that I have three horizontal rows of cards: purple for `Scene-by-Scene,` mauve for `Character Tracking,`and green for `Timeline and Location.` I can see at a glance what happened in a given scene, who was there, and where and when it took place.

So with that all set up, I choose a pen color to start with, and begin reading from the first line of the manuscript.

...to be continued...

*Photo credit: ladyheart at morguefile.com

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