Tag Archives: technique

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. :)

Scene-storming Redux

23 Dec

mindmap example.jpg

(via weheartit.com)

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.

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. ;)

Screen Shot 2011-12-14 at 2.53.37 PM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2011-12-14 at 2.57.08 PM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2011-12-14 at 3.02.26 PM.png

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.

Creating a production schedule

14 Dec

I’m not sure if there are other terms that apply to what I refer to as my production schedule. But my definition is my plan for upcoming writing projects mapped out through 2012.

My schedule hinges on my ability to write 2k words toward my novels per day, every day. I’m not giving myself any planned days off because I don’t really feel like I need them. Writing is not a chore for me. It’s something I enjoy doing and I can knock out 2000 words without too much effort. If I do miss a day due to life getting in the way, I’ll just add those missed days onto another day. It’s the end result that counts. I did this with I Wish… with great results.

I used the Curio software to set up my schedule. It allows me to assign due dates to lists. So this is what my schedule looks like for 2012.

Screen Shot 2011-12-13 at 11.21.05 AM.png

This plan hinges on me being able to do several things at once. I’ll always have something in either a 2 week pre-writing stage or actually being written. Then there will be edits happening as well. At which point I’ll find a pro to give my drafts a final polish. I haven’t factored in hiring a cover artist, this only covers the things I’ll be doing myself. I’ll probably work with someone while I’m writing the story since I’ll know from my outlining what will happen in the story. Depending on the turn around time with the editor, I should have these books up within a few weeks after I finish my round of edits.

As you can see, you can expect the Witches of Desire trilogy to be done by next January. I figure that should give me some breathing room in between projects to keep up my enthusiasm for the project. This is a tentative schedule. I plan to keep flexible on what projects I tackle. If I’m not feeling it when it comes time to work on something, I’ll either swap it with something due later in the year or take on a new project altogether. This schedule isn’t meant to stifle me, just hold me account able to a certain level of productivity.

The novels aren’t the only thing I’ll be working on. I have my short fiction under my pen name that I’ll be writing simultaneously. Also at a pace of 2k words a day. Each story averages about 4.5k words. My plan is to write 3 stories a week that I’ll upload on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On Saturdays I’ll spend some time coming up with story ideas for the week and creating the covers so when it’s time to upload them, all I have to do is format and go.

This is a pretty ambitious year. I do expect that I’ll come up short on the stories because there’s not much room for error and my life is full of socializing with the other girls on the derby team, as well as more serious commitments to the team. On top of that, I have a family which includes my young minions. Summer vacation will play havoc with my carefully structured schedule, I have no doubt. The novels I feel a little bit better about. Since I work from strict outlines, there’s not a lot of on the spot creative thinking necessary. I can do that with kids arguing in the background. I’ve done it before.

So you want to know how I came up with this schedule so you can make your own?

Come up with a daily/weekly word goal

What’s reasonable for you? I went with 4k on a daily basis because I feel like it’s not much of a strain. I don’t work outside the home. Writing IS my job so it’s not unreasonable to expect myself to put in a full day’s work doing it. It’s enough to challenge me, which I think is a good thing to strive for, but I don’t run much of a risk of burn out since I’ll be working across several projects at a time. Figure out what a good number is for you. Challenge yourself, but don’t make it impossible to achieve.

Determine the length of your projects

My shorts are ~4.5k words each and my novels are being planned at 90k each. 90k/2k = 45 days. Or about 6 weeks. 2 weeks of outlining seems reasonable to me since I’ll be working on that unofficially during the time leading up to them. I LOVE that part of writing, so I’ll think about it for fun. By the time I’m ready to start a project I’ll already have a really good idea of what I’m looking at.

Mark it on your calendar

Screen Shot 2011-12-13 at 12.00.51 PM.png

This is what my February is going to look like. It seems pretty chaotic in the overview, but by taking it day by day, I don’t think it’ll seem so overwhelming. Other things to add would be any anthologies to which you contribute, contest dates, submissions to traditional agents/publishers (if that’s your thing), and other writing projects. Write it down and then live by your calendar.

Hold yourself accountable

When I wrote I Wish… I kept a daily word tracking log. It told me exactly how many words I’d written that day, how many words I’d written total, and how many I had left to meet my goal. It was motivating to watch my word count slowly grow. I’m still debating about how I plan to keep track this time around. I’ll probably just start a couple of lists with Curio and add the date and the number of words I wrote that day for each project. I won’t stress about daily totals as long as I’m good about finishing my weekly goals (4k a day or 28k a week).

Don’t go easy on yourself. When you are an indie writer you don’t answer to anybody but yourself. Oh sure, your fans are going to want to know when they can expect the next book, but believe me, no matter how much you want to give it to them, if you aren’t motivated internally, it’s not going to happen. You won’t be fired if you don’t finish your manuscript by a certain date. These are your goals so you need to be the one making sure you meet them.

Stick with it

This is going to be the hard part. It’s easy to make goals, but something else all together to stick with it until you get the results you want. If you fail to meet your goal one day, or a week, or even a month, don’t just throw in the towel and give it up as a lost cause. Either reevaluate your goals since maybe you were being too ambitious or, if you’re sure your goals are reasonable and it was a just a weak moment on your part, pick it up again and carry on. Don’t beat yourself up over past mistakes. Self loathing isn’t going to get your books written. Put it behind you and try again.

Are you planning to set up a production schedule for 2012? Let me know and we can try to help each other stay motivated to stick it out.

Dealing with writer’s block

11 Dec

I’ve never really thought of myself as having writer’s block. For as long as I’ve been writing, which has been since I was a kid, any time I’ve sat down to write, there have always been words. I’ve never felt blocked in a traditional sense. I’ve been reconsidering my views on writer’s block recently.

When I wrote I Wish, I was excited to move onto the sequel immediately. Until I tried to start plotting it out. Suddenly I wasn’t excited anymore. Even though I knew before writing I Wish the overall plot of Your Word Is My Bond, when I sat down to finish outlining the details I kept getting stymied.

For the longest time I’ve just chalked that up to an overall lack of excitement towards writing. I turned my energy to writing other things that paid the bills and just stopped writing the fiction for me. Every so often I’d sit down again, determined this time to write that sequel, only to give up after a day or two of half hearted attempts to come up with an outline.

I miss writing fun, just for me, fiction. So this time when I sat down to write I decided to scrap my plans of working on YWIMB for right now. I’ve been really digging American Horror Story lately. It’s got a gothic, dark vibe to it that I really enjoy. It inspired me to pick up an idea I had earlier this year to write a ghost story about a young woman who was murdered years ago and has finally pulled herself together in ghost form only to find that the world has moved on without her. Her toddler has grown up to be a rebellious teenager, everyone believes that she abandoned her family when she disappeared, and the only living person who can see her is her ex husband who may have been the one who killed her.

I love the premise, but originally my plan was to execute it as a 1st person POV as told by the ghost and play it more as a comedy. After watching AHS, I started thinking about what would happen if I tried to get that same eerie tone and made it a 3rd person POV instead, with several viewpoint characters. Suddenly the concept took off. I’ve recaptured the excitement that I originally felt when I was working on I Wish.

My tips for dealing with writer’s block:

Learn to recognize it:

I chalked up my lack of progress to changes in my life. Within a short period I moved halfway across the country, joined the local roller derby team, and switched from a Windows machine to a Mac- which included steep learning curves as I struggled to find alternatives to all my favorite writing and planning software.

If I had realized what was going on sooner, I could have taken steps to break out of the cycle.

Figure out what’s causing your block:

For me, it wasn’t all writing that was an issue, it was one particular project. I got a lot of positive feedback on I Wish, including the very flattering, “When can we expect the sequel”. I was optimistic and thought that it was just a matter of putting in the time and it would roll out as easily as I Wish had. I didn’t have a plan B. The idea of working on anything else before I finished YWIMB made me feel guilty. I dealt with the guilt and lack of excitement for the project by focusing on other aspects of my life and just abandoning writing altogether.

It’s a really counterintuitive way to deal with the issue. Not only did the sequel not get written, but neither did anything else, wasting all that time.

Work on something else:

Of course I want to deliver the sequel to the people who have invested themselves in my series. Since that isn’t working for me right now, I’m giving myself permission to write something else that I do feel passionate about. Writing anything is beneficial to me as a writer and to my career. Not only does it grow my body of work and thus my “shelf space” at sites like Amazon, but it teaches me more about writing than reading any number of books or articles about the craft. And I think my fans would rather read an unrelated novel that I’ve written than have nothing from me until the sequel is released.

Look at ideas from new angles:

When I originally came up with the idea for the ghost story, I liked it a lot. I could see how it would play out. I think it would have been fun to write and fun to read. Now I’m convinced that with this new approach it’s going to be a stronger story than it would have been before. It also had the added benefit of renewing my interest in the project. Now I can’t wait to start getting words on paper.

Set goals:

I sat down yesterday and spent several hours creating a production schedule based on a personal goal I’ve created for myself to write 4k words a day (2k for my fun stuff and 2k for my other projects). This is a very doable goal for me, challenging, but nowhere near unachievable. It hinges on treating my writing like it’s a full time job, which is something I should have started doing earlier this year when I decided this is what I want to do with myself.

My production schedule hinges on having several projects going on at a time, including writing one novel while simultaneously editing the last one. I have mapped out a projected 6 novels that I expect to have written by the end of the year. By planning them in advance, I can start the outlining and prewriting process for later books right now, which will give me almost an entire year to plot out the last book, which should take off a lot of the pressure to come up with something workable right now. It also gives me the ability to direct my attention to just a handful of projects instead of wanting to run with every new idea that pops into my head.

Start a “daily 5″ list:

Speaking of ideas… one thing I swear by is having a daily 5 list where you write down ideas you can use in your writing. Anything is game for these lists as long as you find it inspiring. When I’m asked to contribute to an anthology, the first thing I do is scan my idea lists to see if I have anything that could be worked into a short story. Since I write down everything from character sketches, to lyrics and quotes, to entire plot summaries, I can usually find something that gives me a jumping off point. Your lists are also helpful when you get stuck in your writing. It’s almost like playing with a random generator except every idea you come across is going to be something that spoke to you at one point, which is guaranteed to make it more interesting.

The other benefit to keeping a daily 5 is that you never have to worry about forgetting an idea. You can write it down in as much detail as you care to and mark it so that you can find it again easily later. It’s really helped to curb my impulses to drop everything and run with a new idea. I know it’ll be there waiting for me when I have time to address it.

Outlining is your friend:

The one thing I can say is that once I start writing, I have never gotten hung up. Because I’ve already worked out the plot in advance through an outline, I always know exactly what needs to happen in a scene. I also don’t do any editing during the first draft, even if I’m convinced a scene is painful to read. My first draft is 100% putting words on a page. A finished novel can be reworked, one that hasn’t been finished isn’t doing anybody any good, even if the 4 chapters you have finished are solid gold. Turn off the inner critic, follow your outline, and finish that first draft.

Butt to chair, everyday:

The last thing I’d recommend making writing a priority. You’ll never write anything if you aren’t putting in the time. That’s something I keep saying, but not practicing. I haven’t been treating my writing like a job and it shows… I could be a prolific writer due to the time I have available to focus on it and the ease with which the words come to me. Instead, I have 1 rather short novel and a handful of short stories to show for an entire year. This is unacceptable to me and, sadly, totally avoidable. This is the one thing that every writer can control. If you aren’t writing, you’re missing out on the opportunity to improve your craft and your income stream.

I did some math the other day. This is something I’ve seen other places, Dean Wesley Smith preaches it regularly on his blog. There are two ways to make money as a writer: have one blockbuster release or have a large body of mildly successful titles. Clearly the second option is the more realistic option for the majority of us.

I think almost everyone can assume that they’ll sell at least 10 books per title a month. The more titles you have, the more they’ll all sell overall as it increases your shelf space, but even my lowest selling titles will move at least 10 copies per month. If you do the math based on 10 copies a month times the amount you know you could have been writing if you’d only put in the time, it becomes really eye opening. Even if all you have time for is one title a year, that’s still 120*$3.50 (the payout on a $4.99 novel)= ~$420. The next year if you write a second novel that’s another $420. After a few years you can start paying for a nice vacation with the money you earn for work you did years ago. I think most people can push themselves harder than that though and a lot will sell significantly higher than 120 copies a year.

I sort of went off on a tangent for a minute there, but the point is that it’s all moot if you aren’t writing. You can’t sell something that doesn’t exist. I think that making writing a habit will do more to cure yourself of writer’s block than anything else. If you aren’t letting yourself off easy, “Well, looks like I can’t think of anything to write. Oh well, I’ll go watch that Law and Order SVU marathon instead.”, I believe you’ll find a way to work through it because it becomes a habit. The human brain is constantly seeking ways to entertain itself. If you sit there staring at a blank page long enough, your mind is finally going to come up with something to say because it can’t stand it any longer.

The one good thing to come out of my brush with writer’s block is that it taught me things about myself as a writer that I didn’t know before. I feel more prepared to deal with this situation in the future now that I can more easily recognize what’s going on with myself the next time I start getting all cagey.

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.

Screen Shot 2011-12-13 at 12.23.32 PM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2011-12-13 at 12.25.02 PM.png

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.

Screen Shot 2011-12-13 at 12.27.17 PM.png

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.

Using Xmind as a timeline

31 May

I was looking at search hits my blog has received and saw that someone was looking up how to use Xmind as a timeline. I happen to think that Xmind makes a really good timeline and here’s how I use it for that.

Step 1:

timeline 2

I change the default shape into a left facing Fishhead shape using the shape menu in the right hand box.

Step 2:


Next I change the structure to left facing Fishbone.

Step 3:

timeline 4

At this point you just start adding topics like normal and they’ll automatically populate the fish in an alternating bone shaped pattern. I usually name them by date, but I’ve also called them by scene title if I’m not sure on the specific date.

Step 4:

timeline 5

Right click on one of your new subtopics. About halfway down you can select the option to make a note. The shortcut for it is F4.

Step 5:

timeline 6

Now you just fill in the details. When I’m doing my timeline I generally will post my entire scene description in there. When you’ve got a note on a topic you’ll see a little rectangular icon that you can click on to bring up your note at any time.

And that’s it. It’s really that simple to make a quick and dirty timeline using Xmind, a program I highly recommend to all writers.

In a completely unrelated note, I thought I’d share my numbers for May with y’all. I have a sneaking suspicion that my numbers are going to disappear on me tomorrow and I’d like to have kept track somewhere.

Thanks to a generous push last night, I was able to hit 100 sales (across all the stores). I was beyond thrilled since it’s so much better than I dared to hope I’d do by this point in the game. A huge thank you to everyone who’s bought my book or reviewed it or even just told a friend about it. You guys are making my dreams come true and I know that’s a huge cliché, but it’s so very true.

I know it’s early still and I still might make some sales today, but as of right now this is where I’m sitting. 94 US, 8 UK, 1 DE = # 14,815. I have 14 reviews on Amazon right now, 11 of them are 5 star reviews.

Since I love screen shots so much, I took one earlier today showing a graph of my sales over the last two weeks.

sales numbers 5 31

As you can see I was off to a great start all through the first week and things gradually started falling off during the second week. I feel really fortunate that throughout it all, I’ve still managed to stay in the top #20k for the most part. Considering that I haven’t done much of anything in the way of promotion since I released I Wish… the numbers become that much more impressive.

One thing that’s been consistent throughout is that readers are asking about the sequel. Originally I was planning to put it on hold while I worked on a totally different project and cleared my head of Thistle and the rest of Desire. The thing is that I already have an outline that’s probably 95% finished. Writing the sequel at this point would be really easy so I’ve decided that I’m going to switch around my projects and work on the sequel right now.

This is for two reasons. The main one is that if I have fans and they want something that I can give them, then why on earth would I deny them?

The second reason is more practical. I have sold 100 copies of I Wish… and given away nearly as many. That’s almost 200 people who have, for the most part, enjoyed reading my book. Several have taken the time to contact me to tell me how much they liked it and how much they are anticipating the sequel. It stands to reason that I can expect a big chunk of them to purchase the second book. There are no such guarantees if I publish something unrelated. On the one hand, they might enjoy it as much if not more and I might draw in a new crowd since it’s an adult rom com. On the other hand, it would be foolish to turn my back on the following I’ve managed to accumulate so far.

As always, I will post about my success, or lack thereof, as things develop.

There’s still time to leave a comment on Addison Moore’s interview for a chance to win free copies of Ethereal and it’s newly released sequel. She’s doing great on Amazon right now, guys, you don’t want to miss your chance to see why everyone is reading her books.


This really doesn’t have much bearing on anything, but I was looking at my sales numbers in the UK and this is what I saw. Again, I’ve only got 8 sales there total so this is kind of insane to me.

UK sales

In the 6ks and the top 100 of a category? Really?

This does remind me though, I meant to tell you guys that I didn’t have an author bio in either the UK store or the German store. I had to go in there and add it to both stores (very tricky in the German store as all the menus are written in, well, German). So if you’re currently selling there it might help to do that. 2 of my UK sales happened last night after I set up my profile yesterday afternoon. Did my profile sell the books? It’s hard to tell, but I figure it can’t hurt.

And in case you’re further interested, here is what my German sales rank looks like:

german sales

Now keep in mind that’s with only 1 sale. Ever. I think I got that sale during my 1st week even. Is it too soon to consider myself an international bestseller? LOL!

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

How I wrote I Wish… in 2 weeks.

23 May

The title sounds like a get rich quick scheme, but I swear I’m not peddling anything. The topic came up on Twitter today when we were talking about the benefits of working from an outline. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of using an outline to work from and I think that it played a huge part in how fast I was able to write I Wish. I’m going to reconstruct my personal timeline as best I can using all dated notes, Onenote, and an excel spreadsheet.

According to my first blog post dated January 7th, 2011 I decided to write and self publish my first novel on January 5th. It looks like I started actually writing on January 13th according to this post. Of course at that point I was thinking that I’d be writing an 80k novel. I had my love write a spread sheet for me to fill in, but he wrote in the wrong formula so I spent the whole time thinking I was just flying along, when in fact it would have taken me probably 2 more weeks at the pace I was writing (2.5k words a day).  Oops.

In this post it says I finished on January 28th. Since I was there, I can verify these dates to all be accurate. That’s 15 days. And on two of those days I didn’t meet my word count goal. So, in theory, I could have been done 2 days earlier.

word count

Don’t ask me how this spreadsheet works anymore. I forget. He had some sort of 3 day projection going on or something. It also adjusted my word count up or down depending on how much over I’d written that day.

At that point I set the ms aside to start on my second project, but found that I’d frozen up. I was trying to work my scenes into a 3 act, 8 sequence story structure, but found that I just can’t do that. My brain doesn’t take kindly to that much structure. So instead I got distracted by shiny things like my new ereaders, my iPhone, and video games and I put writing aside for a couple of months. The truth of the matter was that I was dreading editing. My work came in way short and I knew I was going to have to try to squeeze in more words somewhere, but I had no idea where.

There was a gap between March 5th and April 15th on my blog where I didn’t even *think* about writing. I didn’t even mention editing my book until this post on the 19th where I basically summed up everything I just said in the above paragraph. I can’t nail it down much firmer than that. My handwritten notes all start on the 19th too. All accounts point to the first day of my editing/rewrites starting then.

I finished writing on Friday May 13th. I could pull up panicked tweets because I couldn’t figure out formatting on such short notice, but you’ll have to take my word for it. My love spent pretty much all day on Saturday with that and I was officially published by Sunday May 15th. So about 3 weeks and 3 days of editing? Of course that was with Twitter sucking all my attention so we all KNOW I could have been a lot more productive than I was. During the course of the editing I added another 12k of words and now the finished work is around 60k words. Not the longest book ever written, but it feels more like a novel now than a novella.

The purpose of this post isn’t to brag or anything. I’ve actually got a point.

I believe 100% that I couldn’t have written nearly as fast as I did if I didn’t have an outline. I’m going to set up a post to for tomorrow with screen shots of my outline and working notes. Maybe that will benefit someone to see it in actual practice.

The other thing to note is that I’m home all day. A lot of people have to squeeze writing in between a job or school or both. Me? I just have to deal with the minions. But that’s not really even an obstacle because they tend to follow me upstairs to my room (I like to write in bed, propped up by a pile of pillows). The littlest minion has a toy lap top he bangs away on beside me on his own pile of pillows and the 8 year old minion either plays with my art supplies or writes his own stories. We listen to music and keep each other company.

I’m not here to defend my work as the next big thing. I’ll never call it anything bigger than what it was meant to be: a fun book with commercial appeal. I asked myself what sort of a book would I like to read and then I wrote it. I sincerely hope to repeat the process many times to come. I’m challenging myself to actually write that elusive 80k novel in 2 weeks. That’s 5.5k words a day and change. I’m pretty sure I can do it. I’ll keep you guys posted.

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.