How To Outline Your Fantasy Novel

I like outlines because they save so much time; I’d rather spend a few weeks outlining thoroughly, and then have a final draft without plot weaknesses, then write through blindly and wonder if I’m getting to a point.

I use a modified version of the Snowflake Method to make my outlines. I’ve changed it up to suit myself. Here are my steps:

  1. Write a sentence of the story.
  2. Expand that to a paragraph.
  3. Basic character motivations for 3 to 5 main characters.
  4. Expand the paragraph into a complete summary of sequential events. (I use this instead of going from a paragraph to a page, and then to a four-page summary. I find it easier and faster to line out a simple cause-and-effect for the whole story in one go.)
  5. Character charts for the 3 to 5 main characters.
  6. Make a list of scenes out of step 4. I also like to assign word counts and chapter names here.
  7. Write the book!

After my six steps are done (I work on outlining every day, and I only do a little bit at a time, so I spend a few weeks on each outline), I’ve spent a good deal of time living in the world of the book, and getting to know what the characters and the situations feel like.

Once I start writing, I have plenty of material collected to work from, and my finished first draft is very nearly a completed draft. I’m on about my eighth full-length novel now, and my process is gradually becoming more streamlined.

Because I work a little on outlining every single day, I have a pile of finished outlines in a folder; it’s great to never wonder what I should write next. I know I have three or four projects that I can start any time, and the outline is ready and waiting for me.

I’m learning to trust how I write, and that is a good feeling.

Do what works for you, and happy writing.

4 Plot Fails That Will Ruin Your Novel

I almost destroyed my book yesterday. I was at the last 15k, and I was writing a confrontation between two important characters. One of them, the lesser character, made a sudden claim, in an effort to diffuse the conflict, and for a moment, my writer brain went, “Oh no! That will destroy the story!”

So the lesser character was lying, and the story remains intact.

Fringe was a great show for about three seasons. Then the writers broke the story, and the show got worse and worse until the dribbled out finale, where all the plotting and amazingness in the first three seasons was obliterated and shat upon.

Here are some basic Don’ts for keeping integrity in your plot.

1.If a character is important, don’t yank the rug out and let it all be a lie at the last second. That makes the readers feel like they’ve been played . . . because you played them. And no one wants to feel like a fool, particularly when they’re spending time and/or money to relax and be entertained.

2. Love must be real; all stories that piss on true love are crappy stories, and will turn off many, if not all, of your readers. I don’t care what people say, in their hearts, all humans believe in the power of true love. Don’t break true love, and don’t dandy it about lightly. That means, if you have two characters who truly love each other, they must end up either dead, or together forever. There are no exceptions to this rule.

3. Bad guys never turn into good guys; never, never, ever do people change on a dime into a glorified and ass-kicking father Christmas in black leather. It doesn’t happen. Good people are often cluttered up on the surface with black leather and violence, but they are still good people. Bad people are often covered over in saintliness and shiny hair, but they are still bad people. Do not pull an inner transformation on your readers; it’s a cheap trick and it doesn’t work.

4. Never, ever, ever end with a cliff hanger. Cliff hangers piss people off pretty unilaterally; the only reason to use a cliff hanger is when you’re writing the end of a chapter within the book. Cliff hanger endings disrupt the reader’s day, and leave a bad taste and a lot of unfinished emotional business in their minds. These endings are disruptive. You can end with massive tension, but you have to resolve all the important plot questions that you raised within the story.

Happy writing, people.

My dead character is now in heaven, technically

He broke in through the sky. I’m playing Spongebob while I work; it helps me to not get distracted from the writing. I set a timer this time, and just now I reached 65,000 words.

I keep getting ahead of the outline, which, surprisingly, is quite pleasant. I enjoy getting ahead.

Being ahead means that I can take a few hundred words to write a transition, instead of a few thousand. Sometimes the transition takes a thousand words anyway, but then I can trim later on in the outline.

I’m about a week and a half behind on the outline, but technically, I’m 8,000 words ahead of schedule. It evens out in the end. I’m not scheduled to finish the book until next week. If I get back up to quota on my fantasy book, I’ll finish that by Thursday.

I’ve been extraordinarily sick the last few days. I’m feeling a lot better now.

I’m on the final step of outlining for the first book in my dragon series; there are nine books in that series. I’ve got a few more worksheets to finish in my marketing class, and then I’m going back to the beginning to study the whole class again.

I really enjoy writing.

I hope your writing is going well today, too.

Editing: 7 Ways To Finish

When editing, remember that your goal is readability; your prose must flow like the licking of a friendly ocean over the pebbles of your readers’ thoughts.

  1. Never, ever add details that weren’t part of your original vision. They will have a different energy, and they will create spikes and disruptions in the original flow. Don’t do it. If you’re antsy about the scenario, write a new book with the new details. Never add them into an existing draft. Just say no!
  2. The overall story is much more important than any individual word. Word choice, whatever the people on the internet say, has a negligible effect on your overall story. People are reading your thoughts; they are hearing your voice. They are, in essence, eating a part of your soul that you’ve squeezed out onto a metaphorical plate. As long as you live a clean (edible) life, and use healthful writing practices, your writing will taste good to the readers’ brains. Overworking individual sentences is like adding more and more salt to the soup. Soon, it is utterly inedible, and makes the reader vomit. Don’t tweak.
  3. Your goal is to check for actual errors, and muddled passages. For example, if you meant to write “cloths”, and you find that your fingers typed out “clothes”, that is something to fix. Take out the “e”. If you know, or you saw, when you were writing, that the alien had a green shimmer over his exoskeleton, and you find, when editing, that you never wrote that down, write down that the exoskeleton has a green shimmer. You aren’t allowed to add new details, but you must convey an accurate picture of what you saw in your mind when you wrote. You are the bridge between your mental picture and the reader’s mind. Be a solid bridge.
  4. Stop trying to help the reader. Either the reader is intelligent enough to follow your train of thought, or they aren’t. If they aren’t, you writing differently is never going to make the reader any smarter. Stop trying. Write as smart as you are, and stop “clarifying” your draft while you edit.
  5. No one cares about your comma usage, as long as the prose flows, and the punctuation never distracts from the story. Seriously. No one cares. The only people who say they care are the people who post ads on author forums, offering to charge you $500 to change all your commas. Stop listening to those people. Just make your prose clean.
  6. Don’t listen to anyone who lectures you about writing. If they knew how to write to sell stories, they would be selling stories. STOP LISTENING!
  7. Sex does not sell the way you think it sells. (This does not apply to you if you are already successfully selling erotica.) Most humans are turned off by manipulative sex-writing by an unscrupulous author. Don’t edit sex into your draft because you think it will make you edgy.

Editing should be easy; it should be easier than writing. That’s what I think.

Also, today is Tuesday.

Run Your Life Like You’re Dying Tomorrow

From my brief and admittedly shallow study of yogi-ism and Eastern philosophy in general, I caught the impression that I am meant to see Death as my ally, and as a tool with which I can recenter myself in the present.

See, when you are constantly aware of mortality, supposedly you become more manifested in the now.

Here’s to writing about death in your novels. May your dying characters lend you much catharsis and healing.

How To Write So That People Will Read

Writing is doing basic emotional labor for the reader. Readers want kindness and thoughtfulness and civility.

Literary fiction is a tacit agreement that the reader will do a lot of emotional work in exchange for a dense thought structure, and sometimes obscure or symbolized meaning. Most readers either don’t have the resources or the emotional skill set to seek that lopsided arrangement out. Many readers who would read literary fiction don’t have the time anymore to think about what they read. They can’t afford to invest the emotional labor of reading dense literature.

When it comes down to emotional labor in writing, readers don’t really care about spelling or grammar. Just as a poorly dressed or groomed person, or a person with colloquial speech, can glow with kindness and thoughtfulness, and be loved and enjoyed by strangers, so a book with spelling mistakes and clunky or repetitive sentences can be genuinely loved when that book performs some kind of emotional labor for the readers.

An author of fantasy does the emotional labor of making a difference place to be and describing it, and putting enough stress and excitement into the story to make the reader forget their everyday life. Science fiction does the emotional labor of juxtaposing new ideas and technology in ways that stretch the reader’s mind, and makes the reader feel as though they know something that most people don’t know. Biographies do the emotional labor of introduction; really good introductions are done by people who know how to draw out the individual being introduced, so that the reader feels throughout the book as though they really met the subject of the biography.

A lot of how-to books aren’t actually read for the information in them so much as the reader wants the feeling of someone spending time with them on something embarrassing or distressing to them. The reader wants a friend, and they want a mentor, and they want a parent/sibling figure who will say encouraging things. The reader is buying an inexpensive relationship placebo.

Romances are of two broad types; the kind that do the emotional labor of waking up a person’s sexuality and getting their juices going, and the kind that are just a generalized string of sexually provocative images and situations. Some romances have no actual sex, or very little sex, but a lot of time is spent on the details about a developing relationship, and others are really just bare excuses put around a lot of sex scenes–like musicals from the 1940’s, when the plot is little more than a basic frame for a lot of singing and dancing.

When you understand why people buy and read books, it is not so scary to write books. Everyone (human) does emotional labor. Everyone (who is not a sociopath or narcissist) is good at some kind of emotional labor. Everyone (who is real) has the capacity, emotionally, to entertain and divert readers.

When you see writing as an emotional labor service instead of as an intellectual or creative act, it becomes much simpler and much more straightforward for you to plan out and execute your writing.

All you have is yourself and time.

Writing should be easy. Writing should be enjoyable. Writing (right now) is neither easy nor enjoyable for you because you’ve been sold a rotten bag of goods.

People told you in school that you had to write a certain way, but take a minute to think about the people who told you this. I know that my high school English teacher, and my junior high and middle school English teachers (to say nothing of my *gasp* university professors), were competent teachers, in that they were good at classroom discipline and they gave us things to do that made us more aware of other human beings. But when I look at what they actually taught us in terms of what good writing was, I can’t say that they knew, practically, what they were doing. None of them were authors (I don’t count academic papers as novels, sorry). None of them had ever published a book, or written a lot of short stories, or even written competent instructions that other people could easily follow. (Unfortunate, but true.)

So, grammar and usage and style and literature-reading skills aside, taking their advice about how to write is probably not the best choice.

If you want to write books, you might want to stop listening to everyone’s ideas about how to write books, because honestly, most people either don’t know what they’re talking about because they actually don’t write, or they have a vested interest in whatever thing they’re telling you to do. And in the second case, they are not being honest with you about how they actually get their writing done.

Find me an author who boasts publicly about how many drafts they do, and I will find you an author who is either exaggerating or, well, exaggerating.

Whatever people say, what they do is usually two drafts. They write, and then they go through and make their writing not embarrassing. When you hear people boasting about doing sixteen drafts, or loudly and ostentatiously complaining in advance about how much work they have left on their book, you are hearing a person who is counting every major whole-manuscript-several-days-or-weeks-screen-sit session as a draft.

You are hearing draft, and you are thinking, “Wow, every single draft must be like a whole new version of the story! That is hard work!” What you don’t realize is that an actual revision process is usually tinker-y. I might go through five drafts of a project, but one draft is the original writing, the second draft is me cleaning up obvious mistakes, or capitalizing names, the third draft is me changing a person’s name and cutting and changing two scenes, the fourth draft is me realizing that the original is better and putting the material back mostly the way it was in the first place, and the fifth draft is a detailed screening for grammar and awkward sentences. The project is five drafts, because I end up with five separate saved documents (the original, v.2, v.3, etc.), and I have technically gone through the writing five times, but I have not done what the layperson envisions when the layperson hears “drafts”.

You do not have to make yourself do drafts. Doing a lot of drafts and rewrites almost always destroys whatever original spark made your writing worth reading in the first place. Remember, readers are reading primarily to get emotional labor from the author; if the author has carefully combed all mistakes, all individual sentences and incorrect phrasing and unique ideas out of the writing so that it looks “professional,” then the reader is not going to get much of what they are really looking for out of the book. The first thing that goes in the editing process is exactly the kind of emotional labor that the reader is looking for in the first place.