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.

My two new non-fiction ebooks are live as of yesterday! The Two-Week Short Story is a guide to brainstorming and writing a fast first draft, and the Short Story Workshop for One is a workbook for improving fiction when it’s difficult to get outside feedback or comments. For now they’re exclusive to Amazon, and priced at $2.99 and $1.99 respectively. More details about them, and buying links, are here.

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.

NaNoMusingsEspecially in the second week of NaNoWriMo, writing and the dream of writing can be a switch flipping between elation and despair. While the first week is usually a glorious outpouring of fresh new ideas taking form for the first time on the page, the second week becomes hard work. Those ideas don’t seem so fresh any more, and suddenly things are supposed to start making sense. You haven’t thought this through, and you’re not sure how you’re going to get these characters from that beautiful beginning to a satisfying ending, through a middle of vitality and meaning.

That’s okay. The only way to get there is to keep going. The only way to make it better is to write it badly first. That’s how the dream becomes reality.

Keep going. Week Two shall pass.

*The Dream Called Life – Edward Fitzgerald

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

Over the years, I’ve blogged a fair bit here (and at my old blog) about the crazy, wonderful, month-long word-wrestle that is NaNoWriMo. I thought some of you might enjoy a little round-up of links to some of those thoughts, while there’s still time to read them before November hits. :)

Survive and Thrive During NaNoWriMo (Five Parts, start with Part One here)

5 Quick and Dirty Tips for Increasing Your NaNoWriMo Word Count

5 Questions and 6 Sentences

Help For The NaNo-Panicked (Part 1)

The Sort-of Outline

Are you participating this year? Find me on the NaNoWriMo site (I’m wordsmith) and say hello!

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

160px-Noalleynight

Pssst! Hey, buddy, you want some NaNoWriMo tips?

Disclaimer: These are not tips for good writing. However, it’s the middle of November, and if your word count needs a boost, you may find these ideas helpful. Just don’t forget to fix it all in revision. ;)

Names: give all your character double or even triple names — Betty Lou or Nanny Lola or Master Sergeant Bob. Every time you type a name, it’s at least a two-fer.

Chapter Titles: Name every chapter descriptively, like so:  Chapter Seven: In which Nancy tells Sue Ellen a Secret, Heather Loses a Toenail, and Officer Joe discovers something Terrible in the Bathtub.

In-line Annotations: Don’t waste perfectly good plot and character notes by placing them in the margins, comments, or a separate document. Stick those things right into your text. You typed them, didn’t you? They count! And when you go to rewrite, BAM!, there they are, exactly where you need to be reminded of them.

Description: If your characters don’t want to talk to each other and nothing much seems to be happening, describe the surroundings while you wait for the muse to come back from her coffee break. It’s not a full description until you’ve included at least one sensory detail for sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Throw in the weather for good measure. Soon your characters will be chatting and moving just to break the monotony. Bonus: You don’t need to remove all of these in revision. Having at least some of them is actually good for your story!

As-you-know-Bob: Although instances of this info-dumping-disguised-as-dialogue must be excised in your later drafts, having characters tell each other things they should already know is a great way to bump up a sagging word count. Bonus: Sometimes having your characters discuss these things will actually make the resolution to a plot problem come clear for you, the writer. And then you can get on with more exciting words for your next writing session.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and write…

Photo Credit: Dand8282

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

breaking-ice-1-1407046-mEarlier this year, I wrote about Eleven Reasons to Love Writer’s Block. In this post, I was mainly talking about the situation where we get blocked on a particular project and can’t seem to move forward. But a writer’s “funk” is different. When you’re in a funk, you can’t seem to work on anything writing-related. It all seems too difficult, too big, too overwhelming, and your creativity and inspiration have frozen over like ice on a winter lake.

Now, some of the advice from that earlier post holds true for a funk as well as a block; do something else productive or creative, walk away for a while, exercise, read. Sometimes those things work. But sometimes they lead you into an even deeper rut. The longer you spend away from the writing, the harder it is to return to it.

Breaking out of a writer’s funk usually means getting your brain back into writer mode. And to do that, you often have to prime it with writerly stuff.

1. Read a book about writing. This could be a new title or one of your favourites from your own resource shelf. Reading about writing can shift your thinking back into the familiar writing grooves.

2. Listen to a podcast about writing. Again, either something new or a favourite source of advice. The bonus of a podcast or audiobook is that you can pair it with one of the other block-busters like exercise or housecleaning.

3. Make a list. I’m a great believer in lists and schedules. Write down all the writing-related projects you can’t seem to make yourself tackle. Then choose one that you can finish reasonably quickly and easily and resolve to concentrate only on that one until it’s done. Sometimes a funk comes down to having taken on too much and feeling paralyzed. Being able to finish just one thing might make you better able to tackle the rest.

4. Start small. Write a blog post, Facebook note, or journal entry about how you’re feeling about your writing and what you’re doing to get back on track. Setting down words–any words–can break the ice.

5. Talk it out. Take your problem to your local or online writer friends and ask their advice. Have they ever been in a writer’s funk? How did they break out of it? And do they have advice on solving a particular problem that’s got you stumped?

It takes willpower and desire to break out of a writer’s funk, but I hope some of these ideas will help you get back to that keyboard. Have you experienced a writer’s funk yourself? How did you break out of it?

Photo credit: ivanmarn

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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