Plotting out plot

Joe’s Post #168

So, when I find something interesting, I like to share it.

Sometimes that’s like, “hey look at this weird growth on my butt, what do you think that is?”

Sometimes it’s something I find on the internet.

So check this out. A new way of looking at plotting. It comes from Oz and Ends by J.L Bell. 

A cool way to look at plotting

A cool way to look at plotting

Now the cool thing I like about this, is it looks at making the hero’s life hell in a whole different way and can be used for pretty much any part of your book. It’s sort of a rinse and repeat for writers.

heros journeySo why did this speak to me? Well, there are a ton of books and articles on how to plot. I’m sure you’ve seen some of them, the most famous being the Hero’s Journey.

But nowhere have I seen something that gets your mind thinking like this one did. It’s basically character meets conflict to create plot.

Now, sure, it doesn’t tell you how to put in backstory or when to introduce important pieces of information vital to the story, but try running that ‘plotting made simple’ template through your story and see what happens.

Or take a look at this from Jody Sparks.

Plotting by Jody Sparks

Plotting by Jody Sparks


Also, if you have some free time, check out Robert J Saywer’s latest post. Here. It’s a great read about the craft of world building and writing.

And that’s it from me. No wise words of wisdom from me about how to write, but please check out these other bloggers/writers. They’re awesome.


Between times


Silk’s Post #149 — It’s that mid-winter “pause” week. A little too late to say “Merry Christmas” and a little too early to say “Happy New Year”. It’s the space between official holidays that has become, in practice, a week-long time-out from normal work-a-day life.

So in between binge-watching shows I wasn’t able to keep up with through the year, and sweeping up (one more time) the needles dropping from our Christmas tree, and musing about what recipe I could possibly come up with to do something different with the leftover turkey … I started thinking about the role of “between times” in the plotting and pacing of a story.

There’s what happens – the plot points – then there are the times between what happens. Does this mean there’s nothing happening in those intervals? Absolutely not.

I think the “between times” are the natural spaces where the emotional tension builds in a story. These are the times full of questions about what will happen next. The times the reader is left wondering, speculating, reflecting, anticipating. So they need to be handled carefully, creatively, because they’re full of latent story power.

But how many writers treat these “between times” simply as unavoidable dark spaces between their starring scenes? Spans used functionally – to transport a character from one place to another, perhaps? Intervals that are story “dead zones”, or are merely hinted at in the narrative to hustle readers along to the important bits?

Perhaps the equivalent in visual art is “negative space,” the open area that surrounds the positive, or featured, image – in essence, defining it. In music theory, the “interval” between two pitches can have horizontal, linear or melodic qualities. Even mathematics has an “interval” concept (which I, wisely, will not try to explain because it’s way over my head).

In life – the great imitator of art – this principle of yin-yang is always at play. Says Wikipedia: “In Chinese philosophy, yin-yang describes how opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.” In this duality, “yin-yang … form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts.”

This principle plays out in storytelling at many levels, such as theme, conflict and character. In terms of plotting and pacing, it’s also a principle that can be used to craft a more compelling story.

The writer chooses which scenes to spotlight, to illuminate with bright yang energy, and which parts of the story play out under the surface in yin darkness.  The plot cycles through these mysterious dark intervals, when unseen forces are inexorably moving the story forward to an enlightening (or explosive) action scene – over and over throughout the narrative until a satisfying conclusion is reached. That ending could be seen as the balance point when the yin and yang elements combine to reveal the whole picture of the story premise.

Hey, you never know where your wandering mind will take you when you have the space of an in-between time to sit around daydreaming and munching the last of the Christmas shortbreads.

Maybe it’s just a sugar high. Or maybe I’m on to something?

Commit to write and set your goals

Karalee’s Post #91

It’s wonderful to refocus and aim high. Yes, everyone in our writing group has agreed to each have a book written, edited and ready to self-publish within the next year.

To me our 5Writers group has expanded from being a critique group to an all-encompassing writing support group. We’ve challenged each other to write our manuscripts, continue and expand on our social networking as 5Writers, plus learn as much as we can about self-publishing and all that it entails. And, we will all support one another in all of these aspects along the way.

5 heads are better than one, right?

freytag's pyramid

I work best to deadlines and taking courses on learning about the craft of writing seems to light a fire under my butt and often kick-starts my ideas.

I can easily flip between feeling confident in my writing to wondering WTF am I doing? So, improving my writing skills definitely feeds my self-confidence to be able to write well enough to publish an awesome book!

Before our two day writing group retreat I had already started an online course by Dean Wesley Smith  called “Character Voice and Setting”. It is excellent and I enjoy how Dean uses videos to teach so it’s close to being in a classroom and taking your own notes. The assignments are in-depth too and put into practice the concepts taught.

12 weeks to draft

The other course I’m signed up for is through Writer’s Digest University called 12 Weeks to a First Draft  by Mark Spenser. This course is perfect timing for me as I’m pushed to figure out my plot-line, develop my characters and setting, and put into instant use the techniques I learned through Dean’s course.

I feel stoked and my FUN FACTOR is back to get my book written. My goal is to get the first draft outlined, researched and at least half written by Christmas. There, I said it.

To make it happen I need to commit to time and productivity goals so here goes:

  1. Spend a minimum of 3 hours in my office per day or 21 hours/week.
  2. Produce at least 500 words/day over and above research/outlining/blogging, etc. starting next week so I have this first week to do initial plotting.
  3. Keep up my regular exercise routine for my health.
  4. Meditate daily. I’ve found this has become essential to help keep my energy and mood balanced.
  5. Journal my progress daily. I haven’t done this before and I think this may open my eyes to how I work best and help my productivity for future books too.
  6. Of course, my dogs and family need some daily attention too!

dogs at beach

I feel that all 5Writers left our retreat pumped to rise to our new writing challenge. In the last year our group has become even more geographically spread apart and the feasibly of getting together more than a couple of times a year seems difficult. To help us stay connected and give us a regular venue for progress and feedback, we’ve decided to have a Monday morning group check-in via email. I love this idea and we started this week. Already it’s a great addition to our group dynamics.

Sometimes the simple ideas are the best! And who doesn’t like Monday morning coffee?

Does your writing group keep connected in-between meetings? If so, how?

Happy writing!

So little time, so many plots

Helga’s Post # 88:  Friday already? My posting days come fast and furious, especially at this time. What will it be today? I will try a slightly different topic. I feel like story-telling.

Busy times for me. We are in moving mode. Or I should say ‘mood’, because that’s what we were gearing up for until two days ago. Alas, the stars are not aligned just yet. We thought we were moving, in fact in less than three weeks. Turned out the prospective buyers of our house got skittish and walked away from an accepted offer. So, after cancelling the moving company, cleaning staff and miscellaneous helpers, we’re back to the drawing board: open houses, showings galore, and keeping the house pristine 24/7.

But every cloud has a silver lining. We are not homeless! Not yet. We can still enjoy the magnificent west coast summer in our own place instead of frantically searching for a place to buy or rent, all within a ridiculous deadline. The moving boxes are piled high in the garage, but they will just have to wait for their content. We can actually do fun things now, like attending the annual Harmony Arts Festival at Lawson Park at the beach. It’s a really cool event for great music, visual arts, delicious food and it’s free (well, not the food). Terrific live concerts by popular bands on an outdoor stage, free outdoor movies, a serious art market, local art exhibitions, innovative food events and more. If you are visiting Vancouver at this time, make sure to drop by. None better.timthumb.php

There is even a special event on tap for writers. It’s a free workshop titled “Writing for the Faint of Heart”. Its promise is to ‘Enjoy learning to ‘free write’ with Fran Bourassa of the North Shore Writers Association. This workshop will demonstrate how to write by triggering memories, strong emotions, and eliciting ideas for story and poetry. The method is quick and powerful and everyone can do it. Perfect for all ages and levels of writers.’ (If you click on Fran’s link you will find she also has lots to say about getting published)

Nice. Not to be missed. Just steps from the ocean in a picture-perfect settings. Views of the Lions Gate Bridge, and to Stanley Park across the inlet included at no extra charge.

So we would have missed all this fun if our prospective buyers had been less skittish. The Universe works in mysterious ways.

Talking of writing, I have time again to sit down and create stories instead of pounding the pavement to find us a place to live. Yes, stories. With that in mind, I’ve been rummaging through my e-storage boxes on my Mac and reviewed some of my start-ups from several years ago. Just to see if anything might grow legs and could morph into a novel. Good grief, did I really write this?

A sampling: A teenage adopted girl, half Caucasian half Indonesian, living in Vancouver (of course), finds out her boyfriend impregnated her fourteen-year old half-sister. She plots revenge with the help of a Muslim man who exploits her for his own deadly agenda.

Another start-up, about a ‘travel’ agency that is in fact a purveyor of body parts for well-heeled patients waiting for organ transplants. Hmm, maybe this one could grow. Such as, Chinese prisoners getting executed so that their kidneys, corneas, skin, bone, heart, ligaments, liver, pancreas, bowel, tendons, in fact pretty well the entire cadaver, can be ‘donated’ to wealthy westerners. Sound familiar? Because you may have heard it on the news. (Go on, open that link above.) All I have to do is invent the characters and a plot to wrap this up. Such as, what if…. a ‘nice’ young Chinese man is in prison for something minor – shoplifting, stealing pigs, whatever – and gets the death penalty. What if…. our heroine, a journalist, is doing a documentary at that time in China and hears of the story. Meets the boy’s family. Meets the young (handsome) man in prison. Tries to save him by exposing the scandal. Etc. etc.

But wait, there is more. A missing husband. Missing in Thailand or Indonesia (I happen to have lived there, so no coincidence). Wife goes in search for him. Adventures, kidnappings, betrayals abound. She is caught in the riots of 1998 when Jakarta is in flames during Suharto’s forced resignation (I was there).

How about a wine mystery set in the Okanagan valley of British Columbia? About a Picasso drawn wine label and of course murder? (Just ask Paula if you want to know more).

I could go on. There are more skeletons in my attic. But I better spend the time deciding, and then writing one, and only one (the bane of all writers).

So for me, the whole question of publishing and marketing is a while off. But I will have to keep my ear on the ground, as all writers have to, because that day will come when we have to chose which fork in the road to take. Or take both and become a hybrid author.

Happy summer reading and writing!reading+on+beach+03

12 steps to creating a great book

Joe’s Post #99

hobbs and writingSo how do you plot out a great book? How do you go from a blank page to 500 pages of awesomeness?

Damned if I know how to create a great book, but I do have a process for starting a book.

I was thinking about the process while I drank a cup of timmies coffee and munched on a chocolate chips muffin. It’s quite the process, really. Writing a book. Like God, we create a world from nothing, a story from the cobwebbed part of our minds, and then we sit somewhere and try to make it all work.

Honestly, it’s amazing to me that anyone wants to do this. But here’s how I look at creating a book. Thanks to Kris and Dean, to Don Maass and a zillion other writers, editors and agents that I’ve listened to.

The 12 Step Program for Writers…

1)    What makes your main character different or unique?  All stories, I believe, start with character. There was a time I thought it started with plot, but what really drives a story?  Who is he?  What strength will your character have that defines how they drive the story? For a detective, it might be an attention to detail or a love of puzzle solving or an ability to into other people’s minds.



2)    What is the setting?  When?  Where?  What is unique or magical? Ah, it’s that last question that really matters. How can you make the setting different and engaging?

3)    When the story opens, what interesting thing is the main character doing?  The moment you write ‘sitting’ or ‘thinking’ or ‘taking a poo,” have a look at redoing that opening. What INTERESTING thing is the main character doing?

Now stop here for a moment. If you’ve spend a good 10 min on this, great! Spend 15 more. A hour. Whatever. Knowing all this stuff for the opening will help make that opening rock. And, you know what, the more time you spend on character, the better the book will be.

Then look at what you’ve written, and ask yourself, how can I make it better, snappier, have more action, have us more engaged, have us locked into your novel more?

4)    What external event will affect the character? What gets the plot going? For a romance novel, that’s meeting the love interest. For a crime novel, that’s, well, the crime.   Is there a problem?  I hope so. There better be something for the main character to overcome. An obstacle. Is there a time limit? Noting like a good deadline to create tension. Does it connect with ‘the interesting thing the main character is doing’? An obstacle to doing that thing, perhaps? What is the character’s strength that will help him solve the problem?  What is the character’s weakness or failure that will hinder him?  I love the weakness thing. I often forget to add great weaknesses to my character.

5)    Which character or force will the main character fights against?  The heart of the conflict. It can be internal or external or, even better, both. Who is the antagonist?

6)    What is the main character’s stated goal? Go deeper. What is the hidden goal, his personal need? This adds depth to the story. Your character wants to be a writer, get that great American novel written (that’s her goal, her ‘want’), but she’s doing it because her father read a lot and valued writers more than anything so, she really wants to please her father, make him proud. (And you can go deeper from here? Ask why? A lot.)

7)    What problems get in the way of that goal? List 3 obstacles. Go on, write them down. Then add a few more. Make thing worse and worse. Make your main character get farther and farther away from the goal. How will the character change or grow due to the problems or obstacles put in his way?

8)    What is at stake if the character fails?  Or why should we care?  What is the personal cost? So what if your main character fails? Make it matter.

luke9)    What is the darkest moment for the character?  What is the best moment for the antagonist?  This is what makes great fiction, that moment of despair or when all hope is lost and yet your main character finds a way to go on. It’s that moment he stands in shock, his hand cut off and finds out his dad is, like, holy crap, Darth Vadar.

10)    What will the hero lose or have to sacrifice? What happens against your character’s will?  It could be external or internal. But something’s got to be lost.

11)   How will the book end?  It doesn’t always have to have a happy ending, but your genre will tell you which way to go. But if the journey isn’t complete, then is it really an ending?

12)   What is the theme?  What is the book about? There are whole books written about this. Even Karalee wrote about theme. It’s a hard one to nail down, sometimes, but so worth the effort.

Now, doing these 12 steps will not create an outline or a book, but more like the basis for either. A foundation for your story. A guiding light.

It’s a cool system for those who write with an outline and those who free-form writers. Outliners can take those ideas and create a series of scenes. Free-formers can use them to help keep the story focused. Either way, a story is born.

Did I miss anything?



Lost for Words

Illustration: Christian Tate

Illustration: Christian Tate

Helga’s Post # 80:  Few things in life are as frustrating as having to abandon what you love most and yield to what has to be done. The necessities. The drudgeries. The self-imposed tasks of feeding the monster called ‘improving your life’.

Like shelving writing for something as mundane and trifling as selling the house in which we have lived for a quarter of a century. By the time it’s finally ready to be listed I feel like a robot. My office is gone, converted into a bedroom to show buyers there is enough room for an extra kid in the family, should they wish to expand. Trying to double-guess a décor that the average prospective buyer finds alluring feels demeaning, but apparently necessary if you want to sell. As a result, our house has become a stranger. Or, I admit, maybe we are the strangers that don’t fit the mold. In any case, the house is no longer ours, at least in appearance. Twenty-five years of familiarity suddenly a thing of the past. It feels a bit like breaking up a long-standing relationship.

But really, when it comes right down to it, it’s just a place. Four walls and a roof. A tiny spot on a map. When we leave we will take with us those things most dear, our music, paintings, and things collected over the years imbued with memories of places visited and of special events.

And then there is the garden. That’s a little more challenging to part with (although the upkeep is becoming more cumbersome each year). As I have done since we moved here, I get enjoyment from tending to the countless shrubs and perennials planted over the years. I know everyone of them – the rhododendrons, azaleas, weigela , and the tiny fragrant alpines in my rock garden. I know exactly when each comes into bloom, year after year, and which ones will follow. They are like constant and loyal friends. I will definitely miss them. Perhaps another, smaller garden is in our future.

All to say, with these somewhat unnerving and time-consuming events I had to relegate my writing to the proverbial backseat. Am I making excuses for not having written a single word of the new novel that the 5 writers have decided to embark upon?

Before you nod, read on. My neglect only applies to the ‘act’ of writing. While no actual words have yet filled the first blank page, my mind was active and often went into overdrive. There are many hours during a sleepless night that can produce amazing results for planning a new novel. The difficult task is deciding which of the many ideas born at three AM or thereabouts will stand the test of dawn. While I haven’t ‘produced’ a tangible product just yet, meaning I have nothing to hand out at our group’s meeting next week, I did the groundwork. I spent countless hours pondering potential stories and plots, comparing, discarding and in the end selecting a few that spoke to me most loudly in the wee hours of the night.

Isn’t that part of writing? In fact it’s one of the most crucial parts of writing a novel. “To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard,” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David McCullough once said.

As writers, we’re likely both devoted to our craft and eternally frustrated by it – and that holds true for even the most talented writers, according to a recent article in the Huffington Post, titled ‘How To Think Like A Writer’. We could all use guidance from the greats on how to hone our powers of thinking and get those creative juices flowing, the article claims. Here are some tips, tricks, quirks and habits – some quite tongue in cheek – that might inspire us to think like a writer:

Study the greats.

Hunter S. Thompson was known to transcribe Ernest Hemingway’s novels in full, just to absorb the words — he typed out The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms in the hopes of absorbing as much wisdom as possible from his literary idol.

Observe everything.

Practice the art of observation daily and everywhere — perhaps a writer’s greatest asset. “Read, observe, listen intensely — as if your life depended upon it,” says Joyce Carol Oates.


Joan Didion 1970 (Julian Wasser/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)


Daydreaming may get a bad rap — but it can help connect you to what you think and feel, the source of all good (and bad) writing. As Joan Didion once pondered, “Was it only by dreaming or writing that I could find out what I thought?”

Write from your own truth.

Gabriel García Márquez used to advise young writers, based on his own experience, to write what they know. “If I had to give a young writer some advice I would say to write about something that has happened to him; it’s always easy to tell whether a writer is writing about something that has happened to him or something he has read or been told.”

Make writing your top priority. Henry Miller

Henry Miller wrote in his 10 commandments for writing that the serious writer must put his craft above all else. “Write first and always,” he advised. “Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.”

Find your creative inspiration, wherever it may be.

Gertrude Stein once said of the writing process, “It will come if it is there and if you will let it come.” Novelist Patricia Highsmith took a stiff drink before writing to reduce her energy, and subsisted on a diet consisting only of bacon, fried eggs, and cereal. Friedrich Schiller, writer, philosopher (1759–1805) kept a drawer full of rotting apples in his workroom, saying that the smell urged him to write.Patricia-Highsmith-in-1962-Talented-Mr.-Ripley-US-1st-Edition

Know what you’re getting yourself into.

Want to live the writer’s life? Great. But make sure you’re not just infatuated with an imagined ideal of your artsy existence. Margaret Atwood wrote in The Guardian: ‘You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.’

Take it one day, or sentence, at a time.

When a writing assignment or grand idea is sitting in front of you waiting to be put into words, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the scope of the undertaking. But like any great work of fiction or non-fiction, there’s only one way for it to be done: One word, sentence, and paragraph at a time.

Just do it.

Stephen King knows a thing or two about being a prolific writer. And it pretty much all boils down to this: “Read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

And do it with joy.

As Joyce Carol Oates advised in rules number 1 and 10 on her list of rules for writers “Write your heart out.”

And that’s exactly what I am planning to do in the months to come.

Pages written this month:            0

Plots created in my mind:            >100

Plots narrowed down:                  ~10

Surprise, surprise

Joe’s Post #84

One of the hardest things to do as a writer of suspense fiction, is…

Wait for it…

movies-20-shocking-twists-gallery-2A surprise.

Or, more specifically, that lovely plot twist that’s essential to a good mystery/thriller. Like the ending of “The Usual Suspects”.

Why is it so hard?

Cuz it’s hard to surprise yourself. Not impossible, though, I mean I surprise myself all the time. I managed to remember where my keys were once. That was a shocker. I didn’t scream like a girl while zip lining (despite any stories Corinne may tell). That’s a huge surprise. And one time, kinda drunk, I even danced on a table which, I’m pretty sure, surprised everyone.

But writing a story surprise is way harder than all of that. It’s because you know exactly what you’re doing. It doesn’t often come as a shock that the one armed man did it because when you thought of the idea, you thought, hey, that one armed guy did it and now I have to hide it so my audience is surprised.

But how do you know?

How do you know if that plot twist has worked?

eric robertsCSI-like shows rarely surprise me anymore. It’s always someone we’ve met (an essential element to any surprise), it’s usually some semi-famous actor (or Eric Roberts – if he’s in it, he did it). And even if they always do their best to hide whodunit, it’s pretty formulaic.

So, now I tend to watch those shows to see how they do it.

So how?

1. By red herrings, for one. That’s where you make the audience think it’s Eric Roberts’ twin where it really was, well, his twin. The other twin. It’s a false clue, a person with a motive to kill the victim or a misinterpretation of evidence.

2. The red herring must distract the main character. Not like, oh look, it’s a topless girl, no, something like ALL the clues point to the boyfriend when it was actually the cat or something.

3. The big twist has to be set up in the beginning and, if necessary, reinforced throughout the story. Remember The Sixth Sense. The surprise at the end was epic, but it was carefully crafted from the very beginning (the hero just misinterpreted all that he was seeing).

4. The audience can know what’s going on, who the bad guy might be, but it’s essential that if the hero doesn’t know, it’s for a very good reason. The detective should never be stupid.

Year-7-Plot-Twist-Story_35. It’s important to make something unexpected happen. The picture to the left is a good example of this.

Oh, there are a lot more things to consider, but what I want to get across is how hard it is for the author to know if cool plot twist will be a surprise, or will it be seen a mile away?  Will it come out of nowhere and people say, that was stupid, I’m gonna kill your dog for that?

So that’s what I worked on this week. I tried to add surprises to my story. A lot of what-ifs followed by how do I introduce that, combined with “is that even plausible?” with a lot of “where the hell do I even put that plot twist?”

In the end, the only way I’ll know for sure is when the reader has at it.

Any suggestions?


Number of Birthdays I Had: 1

Number of Blogs Written: 2

Number of pages written on new novel: 0

Number of Queries Sent Out: 0

Number of Outline Pages Rumpled Up and Thrown on the Floor: 23

Number of Sting/Paul Simon Concerts Seen: 1 (an amazing birthday gift from the prettiest girl on the planet.)

Revving up to write

Karalee’s Post #63

I’m not writing Part 3 on outlining this week as I’m still in the process of working through the process, so it may be another week or two before I get there.

On the other hand my story is quite consistently in my thoughts now as I continue developing my characters and more plot points come to mind. To me this is what revving up to write feels like. I start to live and breathe my characters and their world becomes part of my world. My mind buzzes and  ‘what if’s’ are still churning away.

This is my feeling of being a writer.

All I can say is thank goodness the human brain can keep the real and fictitious worlds alive and separate at the same time, otherwise writers would have a class of mental illness all to their own!

Characterization and scene building is well underway for me and the next layer to add is setting. I know the big locations of where my story takes place in general, but all week  I’ve been toying with what my protagonist’s and antagonist’s place should look like, where they sleep, eat, dine, who their neighbors are, the weather, the seasons, etc.

I am also envisioning my final climatic scene and if I want it to take place at my protagonist’s or my antagonist’s workplace. Whichever one, I also need to consider that the setting must challenge my protagonist to rise up and meet one of her fears head on. 

It is becoming clearer to me that outlining is crucial in establishing, or at least making me consider, not only where my characters live, but also what the setting needs to provide in order to show who my characters are as well as challenge them in some way.

Nothing solid has come to mind yet. I often find that sleeping on it a couple of nights helps and keeping my mind open during the day as I research and think about it.









You may want to check out this site: Images for weird houses. It’s good for a few laughs and who knows, it may jump start some ideas.

Happy writing!

The thrill of outlining – part 2

Karalee’s Post #62

I haven’t told my fellow 5Writers often enough that they are an inspiration to me, that they help me keep my life in perspective as they share their perspectives, and how important our group’s encouragement and sharing of information is a powerful source of positive energy that helps to keep me on my writing journey.

So, thank-you fellow 5Writers!

This blog came to be because over a year ago our group came to the conclusion that monthly critique meetings weren’t servicing our goals the way we had intended. Submitting 7500 words each was still a significant amount of critiquing for everyone, but was jerky progress at best in completing our individual novels in good time. For that reason we decided to challenge ourselves to work toward larger goals and come together as a group less frequently. Our blog was born as a surrogate meeting place and a way to share with our followers how our group works together.

All I can say is thank goodness for social media. As writers we hear that it is so important to be connected nowadays in order to market ourselves, but I feel it is also a very important medium to allow individual groups to stay connected. Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely occupation.

At present our goal is to come together this month and share our outlines for our next manuscript. To that end, I will continue my blog on that topic.

Outlining Part 2. The Middle.

outlining middlePart 1 addressed the overall story premise and jotting down four or five big moments in the plot line. If you really don’t write anything down you can keep all the information in your head instead, although I still consider this as a form of outlining as well. Actually, it’s a great exercise for the brain too and can possibly deter Alzheimer’s, but my brain doesn’t hold information for me like that.

I need to record things in order to remember details that must be consistent throughout my story. Brainstorming ideas can come from all directions and connect my characters and settings in ways that I hadn’t considered before and I easily forget the paths if I don’t write them down and I’d rather not miss the opportunity to make a good story great.

I also need reminders in front of me regarding key factors in the story that help keep me focused. As my story develops what I will tack to my wall is:

  • my story premise
  • protagonist and antagonist motives and desires (often what a character wants to do but can’t at this moment)
  • goal of the story
  • conflicts – major and minor
  • theme

More than likely when you are thinking about your story premise and big moments you will also  be thinking about what type of characters will play out the action.

This brings us to the next part of outlining.

The Middle


This section is also super creative. You get to conjure up your characters using your own life experiences as well as drawing from a plethora of references available. These range from watching movies & documentaries, news stories, books on character development, applying enneagrams or personality or psychological profiles, researching history and cultures, taking relevant courses, visit your settings and experience them, people watching, and talking to strangers, teachers, and colleagues, etc.

At the same time you develop your characters, the settings they grew up in, moved away to, and live in now will also be coming to light as they are part of what makes up your characters too. 

While you start to understand who your characters are and note down your ideas (or log them in your brain), your story line is also burbling away as you envision what your characters are doing or need to do. Scenes start to emerge more clearly, filling in holes between your major big moments.

Some of these big moments might also shift and change, which is the beauty of thinking through your story before wasting huge chunks of time writing something that doesn’t work.

For me, drawing a big bubble map at this point helps me with my timeline and who is where doing what to whom. You may use a notebook split into sections, a writing software or a simple word document. Pictures are helpful as well both for settings and characters.

During all of this exciting and creative thinking and exploring time, you may be asking yourself where to start your opening chapter. I know this is always a huge issue for me when I start a new manuscript. The inciting incident must be established, but it doesn’t have to be at the starting gate. A key event must also happen that pushes your protagonist onto a path of no return. Before this course I wasn’t aware of the two as separate entities as they had worked together for me.

  • The inciting event is something that happens that “changes the world” in your story.
  • the key event brings the protagonist through to the “new world.”
  • the two can be the same event or separate. For example, if they are separate, the inciting event could be a major fire that destroys a neighborhood while the key event could be what brings your protagonist on scene, such as the discovery of an underground bunker full of stolen paintings. And of course, the antagonist will become involved as well through the stolen paintings in some way.

Your mind will keep throwing out ideas from all directions so I recommend to keep noting them down to be sorted at a later time.

Now back to characterization.

Your character’s history is really what has made him/her the person he/she is today. This means you need to know your character’s life over and above the details of DOB, physical characteristics, and where her/she was born and lived.

The rest is what is called backstory and is what makes your characters do interesting things for interesting reasons. It is through backstory that you discover your characters’ motivations, desires, internal conflicts, etc.

Backstory includes:

  • family, friends, colleagues, lovers – and how they have influenced your characters. What major incidents happened in your characters’ lives in childhood and onwards (good to note at milestone times) that shaped their motivations, desires, fears, strengths, weaknesses, etc.
  • time in history – present, past, future (understand the setting)
  • cultural influences. For example, understanding the culture is a good jumping point to go against the norm in a believable way and add conflict.
  • present profession and jobs leading up to what the characters do now
  • hobbies/interests
  • travel experiences
  • life-altering experiences – sickness, traumas, abuses, extreme weather events, but also acts of kindness, etc. too

The overall purpose of backstory is:

  • to weave in connection points in order for your reader to relate to your characters in some way either positively or negatively. It allows readers to understand where your character is coming from (motives, desires, fears, strengths) when he/she takes action, whether the action is as expected or unexpected. Here the cliche “show don’t tell” is helpful and information often can be given through dialogue rather than through narrative dumping. (this has been a hard lesson for me to learn.)
  • a source of inner conflict in your story
  • understand your characters arcs and how they can change in a believable way in your story

outline novel bookIn her book Outlining you Novel Map Your Way to Success, KM Weiland suggests a couple of ways to develop your characters:

  1. Start at the inciting event and work backwards to answer why your protagonist and antagonist would be affected and why will they do what they do in your story?
  2. Interview your character and ask oodles of questions such as those given in her book and her free online book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

Her website is

Have fun developing interesting and memorable characters.

Happy outlining!

The thrill of outlining – part 1

Karalee’s Post #61

outline novel book

Right now I am taking an online course called Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success with Stephen Mertz through Writer’s Digest University. The course is following the book by the same name as the course, by author K.M. Weiland, and I would recommend it for all writers no matter if you are a minimalist in your preparation or prolific in gathering everything together before you start your first draft.

In the effort to help ease those of you unsure of how much to outline or where to start, I’m going to divide the course I’m taking into three parts and three blogs, much like the familiar 3 Act Story Arc: Beginning, Middle and End.

Today’s post is Part 1. The Beginning.

plant beginning

If you think about it, outlining a story includes everything we writers do before and during the writing of our manuscripts since outlining includes all the information we need to know about our characters and plot line in order to write our story. It’s the way we document and organize our thoughts and information that is individual for each of us.

The actual outlining can take many forms:

  • ultra-organized for those that work best keeping their ideas in one place such as in a table format scene-by-scene or on index cards, in word documents or the like. The writing software I find extremely helpful is Scrivener. It is available for the Mac and PC.
  • completely unorganized on slips of paper here and there but hopefully gathered in one file or pile.
  • bubble-mapping your ideas and the plot and character interactions.
  • Writing out our thoughts as one long synopsis.
  • and any array in-between all the above

The more I engage in the art of writing the more I’m convinced that however you outline it is a gathering of your ideas and recording them in some form and in one place where you can find them again with the overall benefit of SAVING TIME!

I am also convinced that the process of outlining is a very very creative part of developing one’s story. Here is where the seed of an idea can be played with, allowing roots to grow in any direction, following any train of thought to see if it is viable. It is at this initial creative level that ideas can be explored down unexpected avenues in both plot and character development that can add dimensions and twists to your story or become evident that they are throwaways before you begin your first draft and spend too much time in a direction that will demand a re-write.

Brainstorming is part of outlining, and who doesn’t like to do that?

So what is the beginning of outlining?

The beginning is your seed of an idea, add in a few what if’s? and see where they take you in order for you to write The Premise Sentence that solidifies plot, conflict and characters. In other words, what is your book about?

As your story idea develops and fleshes out, The Premise Sentence may change. If it does, rewrite it and keep it posted where you can see it as you write your manuscript as it is helpful tool to keep you grounded as to what your story is about.

Happy outlining!