Tag Archives: prewriting

Outlining the easy way

16 Mar

This post assumes that you’ve read the post I made a few days ago about world building in 5 easy steps. You can read that here. If you’ve followed those steps then you should have a good idea of the story that you are building. You’ll know the “rules” of your new world and the kind of character that would be the most interesting in it. You should also have a handful of scenes to start you on your way to a completed outline.

***As a disclaimer, I will say that it’s a really long post and has quite a bit of math, which I’m not great at. I did my best to explain what I did, but you might find that you need to do some trial and error to figure out what I’m talking about because it’s possible I messed something up. If so, feel free to leave a comment to help out everyone else. I’ll obviously change my post to reflect any corrections that need to be made.***

I’ve been working on the outline for Moonbound, which was formerly known as Soulbound until I realized that my friend Courtney Cole already had dibs on it for her upcoming book. She only wrote it like a billion times in emails and I still managed to completely space on the fact. Luckily, I found out before I published so I just went with a different choice. So I’ll continue to use it for the examples here.

The updated cover (which I like even more than when it was Soulbound):


After working through the steps in the last post I had about 10 scenes. Some were really vague “sexual tension between MC and love interest”, but I knew the important stuff like what the overall story was about and how it needed to end.

The stuff I’m going to talk about pulls really heavily on what I read in “Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need” (Blake Snyder) and “Save the Cat!® Strikes Back: More Trouble for Screenwriters to Get into … and Out of” (Blake Snyder). I believe he says he draws heavily on Syd Field. “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting” (Syd Field)

Anyway, the point is that I didn’t make the beats up so I’d highly recommend getting your hands on those books and reading up. They are written for screenwriting in specific, but I think they can help anyone’s writing.

I’m going to ask you to do some math now. None of this is exact, but it’s going to give you an idea of how many scenes you’ll need for everything.

Try to estimate what your average words per scene are. I hit 1500 pretty consistently so that’s the number I am using for this formula.

How many words are you shooting for total? I chose 80k. It’s an arbitrary number, for sure, but that’s what I picked. It seemed like a good length.

Ok, now we’re going to figure out how many scenes you’ll need for each part of your outline. I’m not going to define these areas because I feel like I’d be treading a little too close to copyright infringement if I do, but you might be able to pick up some of the information with some googling. I’d just recommend the books. They are really good.

Set-up- 0-8%
(you can include scenes that happen at home, work, and play for the MC that show what her life is like before they get flipped turned upside down)

Catalyst- 10%

Debate- 10-20%

Break into 2- 20%

Fun and Games- 25-45%

Midpoint- 45%

Bad Guys Close In- 45-62%

All is Lost- 62%

Dark Night of the Soul- 62-70%

Break into 3- 70%

Finale- 70-100%
(He suggests adding gathering the team, executing the plan, high tower surprise, dig down deep, and executing the new plan as milestones in the finale)

So you wonder what this means, right? Well, his suggested lengths dealt with a screenplay so I did my best to try to translate that into percentages so I could apply it to my much longer books.

There are two formulas that you’ll want to keep in mind.

The first is how to figure out what word count you’ll be at at a given percentage. You can figure that by using your word count goal (WCG) for the project times the percentage.


In my case it was 80k*.35= 28k… so I know that if something hits the 35% mark, it’s 28k words in.

The second formula is to figure out how many scenes you’ll end up for each range. You take the number you just figured out and divide it by the average words per scene (WPS).

X/WPS=# of scenes

So for me, say that I start with that 28k we discussed. 28k/1500=18.7… so I’d need about 19 scenes to cover 35% of the book.

So this is how it looks for my 80k word book. I figured some scenes as being one scene long, but this isn’t an exact science so do with it what you want.

Set up- 5 scenes

Catalyst- 1

Debate- 5

Break into 2- 1

Fun & Games- 15

Midpoint- 1

Bad Guys- 9

All is Lost- 1

Dark Night- 4

Break into 3- 1

Finale- 10

photo copy 2.JPG

This is what it looks like on my story board (as mentioned, it’s a tri fold poster board with sticky notes). I use the blocks of color to keep track of what act I’m working on and the contrasting colors represent the key scenes (catalyst, break into 2, midpoint, all is lost, and break into 3).

Of course, as I work on it I change my mind and things get moved around until it’s not strictly color blocked anymore. I’m ok with that, but if it bothers you, you can just rewrite it on the right color sticky note.

Ok, so at this point if I didn’t totally muddle up the math for you, you should have a pretty good idea of how many scenes you need. I need around 54, I think.

I find it so helpful to know how many scenes I need. Of course some will run long or short, but you will be in the ballpark of what your goal is and that helps tremendously. Trust me on that. I guessed that my average scene length was 2k words when I was writing I Wish and my 80k goal turned into a 47k reality after the first draft. No good.

The next thing you’ll want to do is going to help you fill in some of these blanks. If you’re like me, you’ve got a handful of scenes, but no real sense of where they need to go and all those empty squares are daunting. The good news is that we’re going to eliminate some of those empty squares.

Figure out the plot and the subplots. In Moonbound the main plot is Trevyn’s efforts to track down a Were serial killer, who also happens to be responsible for ruining her life and killing her husband. Since it’s the main plot, it’s going to have to hit those 5 main scenes. I like to plan for those first. It helps a lot in figuring out where everything else goes in relation.

For subplots I chose things like her strained relationships with her parents and her sister, her romantic life, and learning to accept her status as something other than human. I forget off hand how many I came up with, but I think I had around 5 or 6.

Each subplot has to have a beginning, a middle, and some sort of resolution. For subplots that involve other people, you need a scene that introduces the other person. There will sometimes be some overlap where a scene will serve more than one function, but if you plan on having at least 3 scenes for each one (beginning, middle, and end), then 5 subplots will net you 15 scenes.

My romance subplots (love those love triangles) actually gave me a lot of scenes. I had a scene for each of these points:

-Introduce the love interest
-Show why they should be together
-Show why they shouldn’t be together
-At least one scene of sexual tension

My story isn’t an erotica or romance so there’s far less focus on the relationships than there might have been otherwise, but as you can see, even in a straight UF, there’s plenty of room to add some romantic complications.

The last thing I do is figure out what each subplot’s resolution teaches the MC. In Nightmare on Elm Street 4, all the kids were being killed off and the MC was absorbing their powers until she was finally strong enough to face Freddy and win.

You are doing the same thing for your MC. Each conflict exists to teach her a valuable lesson that helps her evolve until she’s ready to meet the challenge of defeating the main plot line’s antagonist.

Keeping that in mind has helped me out a lot as I plot. It gives me focus as I work out each subplot arc. I actually sat down and wrote down all my subplots on a piece of paper and then wrote out what each lesson she should be learning from each.

Now I’m not saying that these scenes should read like an after school special. Good lord, don’t have your character say something like, “well, I hoped you learned from this”. Seriously, no.

You’re going for subtext. You show how each lesson effected her by having her actions change as the story progresses.

To recap:

*Do your math and figure out how many scenes you are working with.

*Define your plot and write in the 5 key scenes.

*Define your subplots and figure out at least a beginning, middle, and end for each arc.

*List the lessons the MC will learn from the resolution of each subplot and make sure that those lessons color her future actions.

Doing these things has cut my outlining time to about a quarter of what it was before. It’s given my outlining process a laser focus that it never had before. I know exactly how many scenes I need for each part of the story which helps me place my planned scenes in a more cohesive order from the start. Defining the lessons she learns from subplots helps me plan the ending of the story by giving me a set of “tools” she can draw on as the story progresses.

Hopefully you find this method helpful for your own plotting. :)

Proudly Paranormal Blog Hop – Wren Emerson

8 Mar


During the month of March I will be participating in blog hop with some other lovely authors of exciting paranormal reads. Check them out for interesting articles on all aspects of writing (and reading) in the paranormal genre and for chances to win lots of great prizes.

Today it’s all about me. I gave it some thought and I decided that rather than talk about my books, I would tell you a bit about how I do my world building for paranormal/urban fantasy novels. One aspect that my debut novel, I Wish…, is consistently praised for is the interesting setting that I have with the town of Desire. I’m going to show you how I get to that point with a new idea. It’s going to be a bit long, but if you stick it out, hopefully you’ll find something of what I’m describing to be useful to your own process. :)

my indoor writing nook.jpg

This is my cold weather writing nook. The only difference in the summer is that I like to drag my table out to the screened second story room and write out there. So there’s less sticky note action. Total cost for this set up, furniture and all, (minus the computer) was probably around $75 and you can definitely use things you already have around the house to cut costs even more.



  • Tri fold poster board- you can use the wall if you like, but I like the portability of the poster board. This is going to be your primary planning space for the first stages.
  • Sticky notes- you might prefer to do this stage with index cards or all digital with computer software, but I’ve found that I think better when I can easily manipulate my scene and sticky notes are cheap so there’s no feeling that every idea has to be solid gold to merit being written down.
  • Notebook- this can be replaced by a note taking software, but you should really have one or the other. I like to use both.
  • Pens, flags, highlighters- this is really a collection of things that will help you keep your work organized. I have a single subject quad notebook and I use the flags to easily find different projects I’m working on. Highlighters and colored pens help keep my notes organized for easy browsing.


  • Note taking software- To do what I do, you absolutely need a way to take notes easily. My recommendations are Onenote (if you use a Windows machine) or Curio (for Mac). They are fairly pricey, but in my opinion, they are the absolute best note taking programs out there. Other people might have different opinions, but I have used both extensively and adore them. A free program that will work ok is Evernote. It’s not my favorite, but it’s a decent replacement if you’re on a budget, and what writer isn’t?
  • Mind mapping software- I use the mind mapping capabilities of Curio, but if you’re using anything else, you’ll want to check out Xmind. It’s free, easy to learn, and powerful.
  • Family tree software- I wouldn’t say you NEED to make a family tree, but when writing a paranormal with creatures that can live centuries, it’s very helpful to be able to see how many generations that would really be. I’ve had pretty good with My Heritage, which is free, but nothing I’ve tried is super paranormal friendly. I’m waiting for the programer who realizes there’s a market for immortal creature family trees, lol.

Now that you have your things together, I’m going to give you some homework that will help you overcome writer’s block forever and virtually guarantee that you’ll never struggle for new projects to write. It’s so easy you can do it in less than 10 minutes a day. Do I sound like an infomercial? Sorry, but this is the real deal.

Start a list, either on paper or in a computer program, and every day add 5 ideas to it. That’s it.

What do I mean by ideas? Every single day we’re exposed to stimuli from dozens of sources. Your mind then takes all this information and sorts through it and combines it in interesting ways. If you take the time to write down the things that capture your imagination you will eventually end up with a valuable list you can refer to in the future when you are looking for a prompt.

My lists include all sorts of ideas. I have basic character sketches all the way down to just a specific trait that I find interesting. I write down things about movies and books that I find especially interesting and would love to take in a different direction in my own writing. And, of course, if actual plot ideas occur to me, I write those down too. Anything goes on your list because these ideas are more of a jumping off point at some point in the future. When you’re stuck, start reading through your lists and you’ll be amazed at how your mind is able connect a totally unrelated idea/character/plot point to your current WIP.

Ok, so you’ve started your list. It will take awhile before it gets long enough to be really useful, but eventually it’ll be an important resource. Checking my list for a new idea is one of my first steps in creating a new world.

We’re going to talk about an upcoming adult urban fantasy I’m working on called Soulbound. It is based in a world I came up with a couple of years ago that I refer to as the Dominance Wars stories based on in-universe events.


How to build a unique paranormal world in 5 easy steps:

I always ask myself a series of questions when I’m building a world. If you answer these questions you’ll almost certainly have a clear direction to take your story when you’re done. The steps are going to generate a ton of notes and this is where the mind mapping and family tree building are going to come in handy as you work out the details.

  1. What is distinct about this world? (Is there magic? Magical creatures? An alternate reality?)
  2. What are the characteristics of your non human characters? (What do they look like, how do they breed, how do the humans react to them and vice versa, what are their powers?)
  3. What kind of character would have the most conflict in the world you’ve created? Congrats, you’ve just found your main character. Your main character should be someone who has the most to gain by challenging the system and the most to lose if they fail.
  4. What unique strengths (super powers or just special training) does your character have? Make sure that there are limitations to those powers. Every Superman needs to have ktryptonite. If you’re tempted to skip this step you are putting yourself in danger of writing a Mary Sue. Pro tip: if your character’s biggest flaw is being clumsy, you might want to reevaluate your character. ;)
  5. Evaluate your character’s strengths and weaknesses and backstory and figure out how those things come into conflict with the “rules” of your newly created world. This is the skeleton of your plot.

So let’s take my mimic example and see how it breaks down.

  1. What is distinct about this world? This is a world where creatures we think of as being fairytale/magical/mythological are real and living among the human population. They saw an opportunity to try to get rid of humans while they were weakened by World War II and they organized world wide efforts to eradicate them in was later referred to as the Dominance Wars. They might have won, since Others tend to be far stronger than humes, but unfortunately for the Others the temptation to try to attack their distracted racial enemies was too strong. Humans were able to win the wars through superior numbers and are now control all the political power. This leads to a lot of racism and bitterness that bubbles just under the surface and makes for a very uneasy truce.
  2. What are the characteristics of your non human characters? I made all kinds of notes for the different races that will show up in my stories. Because this is an open ended world, anything goes, but I’m being careful only to write about 2 or 3 races per story that are relevant to that story. For my were-creatures, I did research about the different animals that my characters can change into to make their behavior and description of them when they are in animal form more believable.
  3. What kind of character would have the most conflict in the world you’ve created? In the course of outlining different creatures, I started making notes about how people become weres. In the DW universe, you can be infected with the Therian Virus through the transmission of fluids, including sex. That lead to the concept of a man who is tricked into infection and then abused by the very weres who engineered his transformation. As a result of those tragic actions he strikes out at innocents as a manifestation of his insane rage. Two of those innocents are Trevyn Smith and her husband.
    Now it’s 10 years after the attack that left Trevyn’s husband dead and her identity changed forever and there’s no room in her life for anything but her career in the elite, human-only, Rogue Enforcement Department. The only problem is that the attack left her infected, something that she should have reported immediately. No longer eligible for human citizenship due to her were status, she’s been faking her way through annual blood tests and lying to everybody she knows. Her thirst for vengeance will cost her life if anyone ever finds out that she isn’t who she says she is.

  4. What unique strengths does your character have? Make sure that there are limitations to those powers. She has several powers. As far as non “super” powers are her fighting abilities and training for taking on Others. Due to her were nature she can assume the form of an ocelot, a big cat that’s about twice the size of a house cat. It’s unusual enough that being in that form will draw attention so that’s something she always has to consider. Also, her clothes don’t turn with her so she’s always got to know where to find clothes when she turns or she’ll be naked when she turns back.

    Other were powers are enhanced senses and agility. In her cat form she has the powers of an ocelot, which isn’t as impressive as a lion or tiger would be, but still a pretty fierce opponent in a fight. Because she’s been exposed to the Therian Virus, being bit has no affect on her. Her healing is so fast that she has become immortal.

    Now for weaknesses. For starters being a were in the DW world is the same as being a second class citizen. Humans fear and revile Others, but especially weres. The Therian Virus is 100% contagious and it’s around 97% fatal to humans. Trevyn put herself on the wrong side of the law when she didn’t report her infection, but she became at risk of being put to death when she lied about her human citizenship to join RED. So for her, a big weakness comes from the fact that her eyes aren’t human anymore. She has to wear specially made contact lenses at all times to cover for that.

    She can’t have normal relationships with humans anymore. Having sex with a human will almost certainly result in their death. She could have sex with other weres but pack politics make that tricky. She can turn into her cat form at will, but it’s a lengthy, painful process. Every bone in her body breaks and reforms as she makes the change. And although she can go without a change most of the time, she’s moon bound and will change against her will on the nights that there is a full moon. She must always have an ironclad reason to be alone when the change comes upon her or else risk revealing her secret.

    She’s also got considerable emotional baggage that she needs to overcome. She resents her were nature and resists it on every level. Also, just having a normal relationship with anybody, even just as a friend, will be a challenge for her. Which is just what we like in a protagonist.

  5. Evaluate your character’s strengths and weaknesses and backstory and figure out how those things come into conflict with the “rules” of your newly created world. This part is really cool. Almost like magic. This is where your sticky notes and poster board come into play. Write down these scene ideas and stick them to your board in no particular order. You’ll figure out the best way to sort them out later. This step is just about laying a foundation to work from.

    Ok, so no woman is an island. I decided that Trevyn is not an only child. She has a sister. I decided that just for flavor I’d make them 1/16 siren. This doesn’t have much bearing on Trevyn, she can hold her breath a little longer underwater than most people and is an especially good swimmer, but nothing major. However, her twin sister has inherited the full powers of her great grandmother, which means that she’s actually considered a full siren and would test that way on a blood test if she ever gave anyone a reason to test her. Humans don’t really understand how Others work, especially when it comes to breeding with humes so they haven’t required mandatory blood tests of all citizens yet, but there are rumbles that it might be coming.

    So she’s got a siren for a sister. Her sister is fine with this and actually exploits her sexual hold over men by working as a lounge singer and having reckless affairs with anyone who catches her eye. A practice that Trevyn doesn’t agree with.

    For funsies, I decided that Trev’s dad is a racist. He isn’t exactly a lovable fellow.

    Her husband was a were. A remarkable attribute of the magic that surrounds people who become infected with the Therian Virus is that if a were becomes soulbound to a human (soul mates), that human has immunity to the virus through sex. A human and were can even have a baby together, but the baby will almost always miscarry due to being infected by the virus, although there is a genetic link to surviving infection so those babies do have a higher chance than your average baby would.

    So were husband has a living brother who survived the same attack as her husband and turned them both into weres. He understands her emotional distress at being turned against her will since it was the same for him. He took care of Trev in the year after her attack when she wasn’t able to control her blood craze and has helped her hide her were attributes from RED. Somewhere over the last decade he’s also fallen in love with her. Too bad she doesn’t feel the same about him.

    Trev has a rookie partner who is totally inept at her job and promptly gets herself killed which necessitates a new, sexy, partner. A partner she can’t be with due to the fact that she might infect him.

    She has the opportunity to confront the man who infected her and killed her husband. Now she has to decide whether to kill him or show mercy.

    And so on…

So from those scenes we know that we’ll have scenes where the following happen:
* She interacts with her sister and they argue about their life choices

* She interacts with her parents and deals with her dad’s racism

* Scenes of her losing her first parter, getting her new partner, and being put on the case that will put her face to face with her attacker

* The scene where she confronts her attacker

* Scenes of relationship building between her and her BIL

* Scenes of relationship building between her and her partner

* Scenes that either flashback to, or address, the attack that changed her and left her husband dead
There are a ton more I can draw from just that stated information, but I’ll leave it at those because I don’t want to spoil the story for anybody. Also, because I’m privy to more information, I obviously have a lot more scenes that I’m not sharing here at this point. But you can see how you an turn the information you already have into the beginning of an outline.
You will basically turn every conflict, relationship, strength, and weakness into a scene. She can’t let anybody see her turn into a were, so it’s a given that I need to put her in a position where she’s in danger of being caught turning into a were and then figure out how she gets out of that situation. She has a racist dad so I need to write a scene where that comes into play and it somehow has a bearing on the plot… either he learns from his ways and it teaches her a moral lesson or he’s a total jerkass and a bad interaction between them prompts some sort of plot driving action.

One thing I haven’t addressed in the 5 steps is an antagonist. Every story needs at least one, although it doesn’t have to be a single physical entity. It could be someone versus the political system or a person versus the elements. If you do have a person as an antagonist, it helps to figure out their back story and run them through the steps too. You need to know what their strengths and limitations are.
This method won’t write the story for you. There is a lot of flexibility with it. You can keep the bare bones outline just like it is and figure out the specifics of each scene as you write. If you are like me and you need to know every detail before you start writing, then this is a wonderful place to start. Once you’ve plotted out a skeleton version, try to put them into an order that tells a powerful story (I recommend using the three act story structure from “Save the Cat!® Strikes Back: More Trouble for Screenwriters to Get into … and Out of” (Blake Snyder). It’s a screenwriting book, but you’ll be glad you read it, I promise). Now all you need to do is fill in the blanks. If one scene happens on a Tuesday in Vegas and the next happens on Thursday in New York, you need a scene between them that gets them on a plane.
Hopefully you found this little essay helpful. If you’d like to see these steps in action, you can pick up a copy of my book I Wish… the first book in the Witches of Desire trilogy exclusively at Amazon.
Leave a comment on my blog for a chance to win a free copy of I Wish and an upcoming collection of short stories based in the WoD universe. Just saying “hi” is enough. I’ll do a random number generator to determine the winner at the end of the month. I Wish Wren Emerson.jpg
All she ever wanted was a chance to settle down in one place.

Thistle Nettlebottom knows her life isn’t exactly normal. She travels the country with her secretive mother and bestselling author grandmother in a pink RV going from book signings to crazy research trips. She’s never been to public school or had a boyfriend, but she can pick a lock and hotwire a car. One day the phone rings and they set a course to a tiny town that’s not on any maps. Suddenly, Thistle finds her whole life changing.

She’s finally found the home she’s been searching for.

Thistle soon realizes that Desire isn’t like other towns and she’s not like other girls. The family she trusted has lied to her about everything her entire life and the things she doesn’t know about herself could cost her everything. Her legacy as one of the most powerful witches the town has ever seen has made her enemies that have been waiting patiently for a chance to destroy her. Thistle needs to learn to use her powers to protect herself before they succeed.

Be careful what you wish for.

Thistle has a power unique even among the magic wielding witches of Desire. She can wish things into existence. At first she enjoys the freedom of having everything her heart desires, but she soon realizes that her power comes at a terrible price. She’s losing her grip on her sanity at a time when she can’t afford any weakness. Her enemies are closing in quickly, but she might not have the strength to save herself.
Be sure to visit Janie Franz’s blog tomorrow for the next stop on hop.
To learn more about the blog hop, check out the main site.

God Bless 3 Act Story Structure

9 Jan

notebooks are good.jpg

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I started looking at 3 act story structure last year. I didn’t have the first inkling when I wrote I Wish… I made an outline sure, but it was just based on a story that occurred to me. I was blissfully unaware that there should be a midpoint or that the B story should reinforce the theme. I didn’t even have a theme in mind. I just went for it.

It was an amazing feeling. Words just poured out of me and onto the page. But was it flawed? Oh yeah. Most notably is the ending. It ends abruptly. I reworked it a couple of times and it still doesn’t flow quite right.

For this first experiment with script writing, I’m relying really heavily on the Save the Cat beat sheet, which is influenced by Syd Field. I’ve watched around 8 or 10 movies since I started this project and they all pretty much followed his formula within a minute or two. I did have some troubles pinpointing the beats in Little Miss Sunshine. They are probably there, but the emotional highs and lows are so mild that it’s really hard for me to spot. A character dies and the family is no worse off than they were. The emotional low point is color blindness? Really? Oh well, it’s something I’m not getting, I’m sure. It has to be because that movie is pretty much universally agreed to be a good one.

Anyway, as I mentioned yesterday, I’ve got my little digital cork board all set up with 40 index cards. I’ve got a story that’s sitting in my head in a fairly complete state. I’m still missing a few filler scenes, but pretty much every important scene is stewing away up there. Now I’m in the process of plugging those scenes into the framework. And incredibly they are starting to fit.

This isn’t going to be the script where I internalize the structure and neither will the next one or two, but I can see where there’s potential for it to happen. Before long I’m going to be able to write a script that hits the marks at all the right places without having to rack my brain and decide if what I’m thinking should go in the second act or the third.

This can only mean good things for the stories I will write in the future. I can already tell that my endings will be much better paced. In fact I’m going to take a look at my outline and make sure that there are clear cut beats for the midpoint and plot points. I think I had some idea of them when I laid it out before, but it’s definitely becoming clearer to me as I work with this concept more.

If you’re working on a novel and you feel like something is missing, it might be the underlying structure isn’t quite right. I’d strongly recommend that you read up on 3 act story structure and see how well your story works. It sure can’t hurt. And in my case, I think it’s going to be the best thing I’ve done to improve my writing yet.

Scene-storming Redux

23 Dec

mindmap example.jpg

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I’m getting closer to my self imposed, January 1st deadline to start working on my new novel. The other day I talked about the way I’ve been approaching this outline. I’ve been tweaking it and getting it closer to the final version. One of the main things I’ve done is to color code each bubble of my mind map by POV. I decided early on that I needed about 60 scenes to make my word count. I estimated about how many scenes I wanted to give to each of my POV characters.

As I broke my scenes down by POV it was easy to decide on some scenes as they can only be told from a certain perspective, but I also found that a rather large handful of them could be told equally well by at least 2 different characters. Something I will do for the next day or two is brainstorm how the scenes would go as told from each POV and see which one provides more conflict. Each scene should start with a character wanting something and end with something having been changed. My goal is to figure out which character has the most to lose or gain and then make sure that the change is something that makes their goals even harder to achieve.

The other thing I’m working through now is arranging the scenes into the most probably order. My first 10 scenes or so are plotted out entirely right now. After that point I started just writing down pretty much anything that seemed like it might make an interesting scene or that I knew I needed to establish somehow. I have a rebellious teenage girl character, but I know that I need to show that she’s not a lost cause so that her character arc is believable so I know that I want to have a scene showing her bond with her younger siblings. So one of my scene bubbles just says something along the lines of “Gen has a tender scene with her siblings”.

I’ve only come up with around 50 of my projected 60 scenes. I’m going to start arranging the ones I have into an order that I think will tell the best story. Once I’ve done that, I’ll start to fill in the blanks. How do we get from point A to point B? This is my first attempt to use a formal story structure to arrange my story. I don’t know if it will help or hurt me during this stage, but I’m trying to be open since I do feel like there’s real value to keeping that in mind as I write.

Choosing a setting- real or not?

20 Dec

real places.jpg

(via weheartit.com)

When I wrote I Wish… I set it in a totally fictional town called Desire. I wanted to be able to create a town that lived up to my idea of what a town populated with a bunch of witches would look like. There wouldn’t be a “bad part” of town since every family would be incredibly wealthy due to the powers they have access to. I also wanted it to be filed with elegant old Victorian houses that have been around for years and will continue to be there for generations to come.

No real town would live up to the picture I had in my mind’s eye. So I went crazy building a town. I have maps of who lives where and different street names, even though I haven’t needed that information in the story. It’s just nice to know. Nobody can take offense to anything that happens in this town because it’s a totally made up place.

So now as I’m planning this new story, I’m considering setting it in Savannah, GA. Savannah has quite a reputation as a haunted place. It’s full of atmosphere and awesome old buildings. And from a world building perspective, it’s a lot less work since you can just use existing maps and names.

The downfall is that if I use a real place and take certain liberties with it, I risk upsetting people who have actually visited that town. I remember reading Stephen King’s The Stand when I was younger. He wrote a note somewhere, possibly in the foreword, but it might have been somewhere completely outside of the book, saying that he made a lot of mistakes such as turning a ticket booth or something similar in a New York subway into a toilet. I’m heavily paraphrasing here, obviously, but the point is that everyone makes mistakes, even the wildly successful people.

I have an extremely limited knowledge of Savannah. To write about it is to risk making a lot of mistakes. I’m thinking about going for it anyway because the setting is perfect for the story I want to tell.

I know another option that some people use is to create an alternative place where all the magic happens in a real place. A hidden street, a pocket dimension, or something else along those lines. But that route won’t work for this story so for now it’s not on the table as an option.

Anybody have any opinions one way or another?

My new approach to outlining

15 Dec

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve recently discovered the joys of Curio for the prewriting stages of my writing. I wish I got a commission for selling copies of that program because by the time I’m done I’ll have converted my entire readership, it’s just that cool.

Anyway, I’m a big fan of visuals. It’s probably the artistic side of my mind taking charge, but I think so much better when I can SEE a representation of my thoughts in front of me. That’s why I’m such a big fan of finding pictures to represent my characters. With that in mind I decided to try something new for plotting this story.

I’ve talked about how I outlined I Wish… in the past. For that book it was purely text. I started out with some ideas for scenes that I jotted on a piece of notebook paper and then it developed into a pretty good summary of the plot from start to finish. That’s the point when I started breaking it down into individual scenes. It worked well for me and it got the job done. I stand behind that approach for anyone. It’s not labor intensive and I knew exactly where I was in my project every single day I sat down to write.

For this upcoming project, I decided to play a little bit with my approach since I’m trying to write something that’s a little more complex. I Wish… is told from a 1st person POV so there’s no need to work out who’s POV a scene will be in and there aren’t a lot of crazy subplots. It’s a very linear story.

I’ve gotten a lot more ambitious with my upcoming project (F My Afterlife) and it was becoming difficult to write everything I want to happen in a summary because there are scenes that exist to lay down clues to crimes as well as clues to more subtle things like a shared history that will color their reactions to each other throughout the book. How on earth do I keep track of all that?

I briefly considered doing something similar to what I’ve done in the past with Onenote. With ON I was able to set up a page for each scene with a few sentences or more of description of what’s supposed to happen in the scene. Then I can easily move the pages up and down to try out different orders or add new pages as new scenes occur to me during the planning stage.

Since Curio supports mind mapping, I decided to use the that to my advantage. It’s easy to move the bubbles up and down in the map. I can color code each branch (including all the sub levels) so that I can tell at a glance who’s POV the scene will be in. And perhaps the most useful for an outline is the fact that I can convert the mind map into a traditional outline and back again at will. I’ve been calling this process “scene-storming” because I dig cheesy names.

Screen grabs anyone? You know how I like them. ;)

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So this is pretty much what it looks like. I have a quick scene description and the sub branches are just me going into more detail about what happens during the scene. I make as many of those kinds of notes as I want. It’s my guide post to writing the scene later so the more, the better. If there are other things I need to consider such as maybe there needs to be a long lingering look or a visual clue slipped into the description I’ll make a sub level bubble for it.

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This is pretty blurry, but hopefully you can tell that it’s a traditional outline. It’s just a super long column of information. But I’ll probably refer to it a lot as I’m writing to make sure I’m on track. Actually, I’ll probably have a copy of both views so I have options for tracking the information.

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Another thing I’m doing differently during this process is keeping a “parking lot”. It’s a concept that was introduced in a couple of different training classes I took years ago. The concept is to let the instructor know any questions or terms you want to have explained in great detail later and he’ll either write it on a white board in a designated spot or else write it on a post it note to stick on the wall. It keeps things from getting derailed without losing any important information along the way.

My parking lot is full of snippets that aren’t quite worth their own scenes or that I’m not 100% sure which scene they should be mentioned in. Maybe it’s something like a connection I want to make between two characters at some point. What does not go there are full fledged scene ideas. If I have an idea for a scene, it goes on the mind map/outline no matter how vague it is. I have plenty of scenes labeled something like “Scene where hero finds a clue”. What clue? I don’t know yet. It doesn’t matter at this stage. It’s just a place holder for later.

As I come up with new ideas for this outline, I’m adding, rearranging, and deleting scenes like crazy. That’s the awesome thing about outlining before you write. I feel free to change things drastically as my ideas develop because all I’m losing is a few words rather than 30 pages and hours of writing. There’s just not as much at risk.

Long time no see!

9 Dec

This is the first in what I hope will be a long string of regular blog posts. Of course I thought that a few months ago too and then didn’t have much (if anything) to say for the last 4 or 5 months. So no promises.

One of the main reasons for a lack of blogging has been dissatisfaction with my blogging software. To briefly recap, my old laptop was a Dell. It wasn’t good for much but typing my stories and when it started randomly pressing the control button while I was typing, it wasn’t any good for that anymore either. I replaced it with a lovely Mac machine, which I was extremely leery of at first. These days I’m happy to report I’m actually quite smitten with it and spend hours of every day doing pretty much everything on it.

One of the downfalls to switching OS was that I needed to replace Windows specific software, including the Windows Live Writer software I used for blogging. It’s free and intuitive and I love it. But how hard could it be to find something similar for Mac? Well, I wouldn’t know because I more or less gave up on it. I tried Qumana, but it didn’t click with me. Now I’m working with Ecto. So far so good.

I only tell that long and ultimately uninteresting story to segue into the real point of my post. Almost a year ago now, I posted about my go to software programs for my Windows set up. I’m still 100% supportive of those choices, by the way. It was hard to find replacements for them, especially Onenote. That one was tricky, but I’m so inspired by the replacement that I found that I overcame my aversion to finding a new blogging tool to just to be able to share with you.

Scrivener- This could very well be a one stop program because it has some pretty robust planning tools built into it, but I personally just use the word processing capabilities because I don’t care for Open Office (free). There’s a lot of positive things to be said for Scrivener that have been mentioned at length in the many reviews out there so I won’t restate them all. It’s worth checking out.

Curio- This is the only other program I use for writing these days. I tried several note taking/organizational programs before I settled on this one. It combines the mind mapping features I loved in Xmind (free) with the free form note taking capabilities of Onenote. It does have a pretty steep price tag. I bought my copy on “Cyber Monday” at 25% off and still ended up paying over $100 for the mid-grade version, but I feel good about it. I’ve posted before about my need for extensive outlining and prewriting so I get a lot of use out of the program.

As far as I’ve been able to determine, Curio does all the same things I used Onenote for and then some. It’s got all the flexibility to arrange text, images, and other media around on the page that I enjoyed with ON. In a writing context, I used that feature to arrange several pictures per page (I use pictures I find online as inspiration for characters or settings) and I like to write summaries in one column with annotations running beside it. I’ve tried other programs, but that’s a fairly unique feature, but one I really wanted.

Another improvement is that Curio supports more levels of hierarchal organization than ON. ON is committed to a notebook analogy, which is fine. I actually find it very attractive. But that seems to preclude very many levels of organization. Curio uses a combination of sections, folders, and workspaces to organize everything and allows folders within folders. I haven’t found a boundary to that yet, although I haven’t tried to go deeper than 4 or 5 levels at this point.

The visual tools in Curio are what really sets it apart in my mind. You can make mind maps and lists using several preinstalled templates and you can then further customize them with color swatches you can download from different online sites. That’s such an unnecessary feature, but one that I love anyway.

Here are a few screenshots of Curio in action with the story I’m working on currently.

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This is an example of one of my character’s mind maps. I have a blank template that I have saved and I just copy and paste it onto each workspace I create for a character. I customize the colors as desired, but otherwise the style information carries over from the original. This is also a look at the interface itself.

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This is just an example of how I drop a photo onto the workspace to use as visual inspiration. I either search Google for photos or look at stock photo sites. I don’t pay for the images since they are for my own personal use. I just ignore the watermarks. Sometimes I’ll add a paragraph of notes underneath if there’s more to say than what I can easily put into a mind map. Curio supports voice recording and other kinds of media, including handwriting using a tablet, so there’s a lot of room for building some truly epic notes.

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This is a grab of the list tool. It also supports color customization. These are just some notes I took while reading a book (“Story Engineering” (Larry Brooks) good book, btw. I’m enjoying it a lot.) the other day. **

Curio also makes tables and notecards, although I haven’t used those features at this point. You should truly take the time to look at their samples. If you aren’t totally impressed then I want to know what note taking program you use because I think I want to buy a copy.

That concludes my little essay on the reasons why Curio is a writer’s best friend and a viable substitute for ON. As far as the Ecto experiment, I haven’t tried to publish yet, but everything else has worked as good, if not better than, hoped. It even has an “Amazon Helper” tool that let me look up the link for the book I mentioned without having to leave the editor. Very cool. I think you guys might be seeing more of me around these parts real soon.

**Edit: I took new screen shots for this post since the old ones were too small to be useful due to my inexperience with Ecto at that time. The list is actually from “Story Structure Architect: A Writer’s Guide to Building Dramatic Situations and Compelling Characters” (Victoria Lynn Schmidt) which is another helpful book that I’d recommend.

A real look at how I outline

24 May

I’ve described my outlining process before on the blog, but this time I’m going to show you guys real pictures of my notes. I can not stress strongly enough that these are my actual notes from the book I Wish. If you haven’t read it yet and want to, there WILL be spoilers. Avoid this post at all costs if that will ruin the experience for you.

The program I use is Onenote by Microsoft. I swear by it. It’s about the most amazing notetaking software ever invented. Do yourself a huge favor and get a copy.

The first thing I do is a brain dump on paper. These are some actual crappy cell phone pictures of my actual crappy written notes. Seriously. Nobody can read my handwriting. It’s like a blind gorilla wrote them with his stupid foot. But it’s just an example anyway.

paper notes 1

paper notes 2

I love bullet points. Some of the notes made it to the final version, some were changed until they didn’t resemble the original note at all, and some I just scrapped completely. I can’t stress enough how important it is to just let yourself go during this part. Sometimes if I piece of information or dialog occurs to me, I’ll write right up the margin or further down the page. I use a lot of arrows and underlines or boxes to link ideas together or emphasize some. It doesn’t have to be pretty. It’s just what makes sense to you later on when you’re reading over it. I’ve also been known to go over sections with a highlighter.

paper notes 3

A lot of times I’ll use Xmind for mind mapping (ooh, I’ll take a picture of that too!), but sometimes it’s just faster to grab a sheet of paper and make a quick diagram. This is one I made when I was brainstorming some new scenes to add length to the book. I think really well in this manner. That whole chart took me about 10 minutes to come up with and I had ideas for an extra 6 scenes.

It’s totally unrelated to anything, but don’t my fingertips look fat in that picture? I just got sized for our wedding bands and my ring finger is a size 4, which is pretty small. I had no ideas that fingertips could even look fat, but there we are. Ahem. Done now.

mind map 

mind map 2

So here are a couple of samples of different mind maps I made to get some ideas onto paper. Again, some were used in the stories, some weren’t. The process of brainstorming this way really unlocks a ton of potential ideas in my mind and inspires lines of thinking that I personally feel enrich my writing.

At this point I start plugging the ideas into Onenote.


This is an example of the summary I write before I start breaking my ideas into individual scenes. I write the summary as if I were telling it to a 3rd party. This is where I find out if I’m missing important information. It breaks down roughly to each paragraph = a scene. I leave myself notes on the side to remind myself to add more information to a a section when it becomes a scene or to make sure I don’t forget something that’s coming up. Also if you’re actually reading my notes, you’ll see that this was before I determined that Katie is an overused name and changed her to Krista.


The last thing I do is write out a scene description. For I Wish… I used yWriter. It made formatting a bitch when I added new scenes though so I don’t think I’ll be using it this time around. But you get the idea. I wrote a couple of paragraphs of what was supposed to happen in that scene and then turned it into a 3000 word passage. Not a bad conversion, right?

I filled out each scene in the book before I wrote a word of it. Some descriptions are a lot more detailed than this one is. I included any ideas for dialogue or other phrases I liked and wanted to include. You can’t do yourself any disservice by being really wordy on this part. When I was ready to write every day, I knew exactly what I was planning to work on. I never had to spend any time trying to think of what came next because I already knew before I started writing what happened in what order.

There was one pitfall to the whole thing. My outline was TIGHT. I had every day accounted for, even if it wasn’t specified in the story exactly what day it was. It doesn’t matter if the reader knows as long as I do so that I don’t have my character in two places at one time. So when it came time to add more scenes it was like crap, where the hell can I fit that in? It took a lot of wiggling and a few serious rewrites at the beginning or end of the scene to fight them all in.

But that’s a minor problem and if I had a better handle on how long my average scene length was it wouldn’t have happened. The nice part about yWriter is that it tracks how long each scene is for you so it’s easy to do the math. Now I know that my average scene length is almost exactly 1500 words and I can plan enough scenes in advance to come out to where I need to be by the end.

Hopefully, this clarifies my process for anyone who was confused. Xmind and yWriter are both free programs and a lot of people have Onenote on their computers and don’t even realize it. If you have any questions you can leave it in the comments or hit me up on twitter @wrenem. I’ll be happy to help you out as much as I can.

Edit: Wow guys, totally didn’t expect this to go viral like this. It’s awesome, thanks for stopping by my fine little piece of web real estate. I’d love to have you visit again in the future. If you are interested to see what this outline and 2 weeks of 1st draft writing will net you, please consider buying a copy of I Wish… for only $.99. I’d sure appreciate it. Smile

Plotting vs Pantsing

28 Apr

Hi, I’m Wren and I’m a plotter. 

Phew, glad that’s out of the way.  I’ve had 2 pretty in-depth conversations about my process in as many days and I decided that it might be worth exploring further via a blog post.  Courtney and Will are both pantsers (as in flying by the seat of their pants) and maybe they can write something from their perspectives.  If you’ve ever wondered what aspiring authors talk about, it’s really just about that exciting.

I never would have thought of myself as the type of person who would plot a book in advance.  I’m disorganized in real life.  I have trouble making short term goals and even more trouble meeting them when I do.  The idea that I’d be able to plot out an entire book before writing a single word just seems totally out of character for me.

I’ve tried just making things up as I go along.  I never made any progress.  I distinctly remember my first Nano as a perfect example.  I took off like a bullet and wrote in a frenzy for maybe 3 or 4 days straight.  I was around 10k words in when I realized I had no earthly clue where my story was going.  The story ended up scrapped and I felt like a failure.  

The same with my attempts at writing high fantasy in high school.  I had a notebook that I carried everywhere full of character sketches and pages and pages of long hand scribbles.  I’m a little sad when I think about how many hours I actually spent writing a story that was destined to fail.  It doesn’t matter how amazing the characters are if there’s no story for them.  Again, the story ended up scrapped and I felt like a failure.

I even attempted to do Nano again this past year.  I had epic notes.  Seriously, you can’t even fathom the amount of notes I have on that particular setting with piles more just on that one idea set there.  I was all set.  I even had an outline of sorts, but I still failed.  I understand now what was missing for me.  But still, it took the story getting scrapped and feeling like a failure to make me admit I was doing something wrong.

I want to share my process, not because I think I’m an expert.  I’m not.  But it took a lot of trail and error for me to figure it out and if I can help someone else skip some steps by putting it out there, then I’d love to help.

I think the biggest factor in me coming around was Lazette Gifford’s article about phase writing.  She writes about how she micro plans each scene.  Basically, she writes a really really skeletal first draft and then fleshes it out into a more traditional draft afterwards.  For some reason, that really resonated with me.  And from that article my method of writing was born.

So this is my process broken down into steps as clearly as I can explain it.

Step 1:  I use the world building/idea generation as described in my last post to flesh out an idea.  The idea has to capture my imagination or else it won’t take off, but once I find that idea and start the process, I’m off and running.  Just try to stop me. 

Step 2:  Once I have a solid idea about who my characters are, what obstacles they face, and where the story happens I start making a list of potential scenes.  I usually have a good idea of the start and end from the beginning because that’s a big part of knowing whether I even want to work with an idea or not for me.  I add all my ideas for scenes, no matter how stupid they might be.  This isn’t the time to cut anything.

Step 3:  Now I get to try to fit all the pieces into a narrative that makes some sort of sense.  I do this in the form of a long summary.  I leave myself a lot of snarky notes during this process so that I can address any issues that come up.  Do I need more information about a characters background or a scene that explains how the current political machine came into power?  All that kind of stuff and more are noted.  I also add notes about things I think about later in the summary but want to add earlier.  I use OneNote for this part, but paper and pen would work too. 

When I’m done I have a really good idea of what my story is going to look like finished.  It’s nowhere near what Lazette describes in her article, but there’s still quite a bit of information.

Step 4:  The last thing I do is make the outline.  I use that term loosely though.  It’s more of a scene break down.  It seems to work out that each paragraph of my summary becomes a different scene.  I then fill in any scenes that I’m missing and give each one a detailed summary of its own.  So that by the time I’m ready to start I have a really good idea of what I’m going to be writing about.every day.

It is a lot of prewriting, I’ll admit.  I Wish came out to 47k words (I’m currently editing, in part, to go back in and flesh things out a bit more), but the outline was 7k words by itself.  However, I was then able to turn around and finish the book in 2 weeks with 2 days in which I didn’t make my word goal.  2 weeks to write a ~50k novel isn’t a bad deal.  If I didn’t dread editing so much, I’d already be done by now.

Another advantage is knowing in advance how long it will take me to finish a project.  I know now that my scenes average out to 1500 words each, almost perfectly.  So I can guess at how many scenes I need to make my word count goals.

And the last reason I prefer to do it this way is that I can plan sequels more effectively.  I wrote I Wish already knowing what’s going to happen in the second book (not as sure about book 3 though yet).  Nothing happens in the book without a reason, even the seemingly random things make sense by the end of the second book.  That would be impossible if I didn’t already know in advance what was coming.

So the 10 second recap:  I like to plot because I can write faster, I can get a decent estimate on the length of time and number of scenes it’ll take me to finish a project, and I can create multi book story arcs easily.  If it sounds good, give it a try.  I wouldn’t have thought I was a plotter, but now I can’t imagine writing any other way.  I’ve found a way that allows me to get this story published and makes me feel like a success.

OneNote, the Sequel

30 Jan

In our last exciting episode, I talked about my favorite software program in the entire universe and touched on how to add web information into your notes. I may have also implied that OneNote can save kittens from trees and hug lonely pandas. It can’t. It doesn’t have arms. But if it did, these are the kinds of things that it would do because it’s just that kind of program.

Since this is supposed to be a blog about my writing journey and not one about the non-writing related uses for ON, I thought that I might actually get around to talking about writing at some point in this post. It’s pretty much a certainty if you use this software for any length of time you’ll be able to come up with your own uses for it and undoubtedly they will be more clever and well planned than anything I’ve come up for it so let’s get to the point, shall we?

My preferred genre is urban fantasy. This means that in my writing universe there are more races than human. A lot of these are things that I’ll never see outside of my imagination, which is what makes my note taking so important. Even the more common place (in urban fantasy, anyway) creatures such as vampires and werewolves have “rules” unique to my universe and those rules must be obeyed.

A slight tangent here… I think that there is a huge myth amongst newbie writers. They assume that writers are gods of their creations. This much is true. But like our own Creator, writers are bound by the weaknesses and flaws of their creations. A human being isn’t likely to fly away from danger because we don’t have wings. If you make something implausible happen in your own fiction your readers WILL notice and will not be amused. /end lecture
Ahem. So yes, the rules must be created and they must be obeyed. I love using OneNote for this. The tabs, pages, and subpages allow a lot of organization to take place.

Using my own work as an example, I keep a notebook labeled “DW Universe”. This will be my main reference for all works that take place in this universe. Each separate WIP will merit it’s own notebook where I will keep track of characters, settings, plot lines and the related information, but each WIP will be included in the DW Universe notebook, which will continue to grow and evolve as long as I continue to work in that world.

The DW Universe notebook has become a wiki of sorts. Thanks to a feature in ON that allows you to link to other pages and paragraphs within the document, I am able to easily relate characters to their races. Let’s say that I have a character named Melvin the Merman. Let’s further speculate that in my world mermen are rare and thus highly sought after by the mermaids. They all also have sparkly blue tails and bright green eyes. Creating a link from Melvin’s page to the page on merfolk is like shorthand. It’s easy to see at a glance what his appearance is and that if he were to date a human it would not be a widely accepted choice amongst his peers.

These links have proven to be invaluable because I have made probably 100 pages of entries. Some are things I’ve written myself, some of it comes from research, and there are lots of images. Being able to find a key picture or the article I wrote about the racial traits of dryads in my world is important. Being able to find those things quickly, is even more precious.

Besides the links, you can add tags to help you quickly find information. And everything you add is searchable, even photos of text you’ve taken. You can make audio recordings and ON will automatically run voice recognition software to make a sort of transcript that can also be searched. I haven’t played with this feature yet, but it does seem pretty promising.

And, of course, you should consider the biggest selling point that Microsoft markets: the ability for more than one person to share notebooks. If you’ve ever wanted to do a collaborative project with someone, ON would be ideal for that. No media is off limits to this software. Voice recording, pictures, handwriting (scanned or written on a tablet PC), emails, internet documents… probably more that I can’t think of off the top of my head… They can all be integrated and Outlook especially works wonderfully with the program. I don’t use that feature as much as I should. I’d be a much more organized person if I did.

I hope I’ve done this software the justice it deserves. It really is the most important tool I have access to besides Word. It has taken my notes to another level of usability. Putting the ideas on paper is important, but so is being able to find what you’ve written weeks later.