Back when I wrote longer non-fiction, including a book on training, education, and unconferences (shameless self promotion), I made extensive outlines including notes, quotes, and anything else I needed for the section or chapter I was working on. Transferring this process to writing fiction took some trial and error, but after taking a workshop with Rhonda Helms on plotting and GMC, I figured out a process which works for me. If Rhonda ever offers another workshop, I highly recommend it.
Having an outline keeps me focused on what my goal is for each scene and chapter. Knowing what each chapter needs to contain to move me to the next scene and chapter also keeps me from getting too long winded or wandering too far afield. An outline makes me a more efficient writer.
I start by writing one or two sentences about the following items:
- Beginning/inciting incident
- Turning Point 1
- Turning Point 2
- Black Moment
If my project is about 70,000-75,000 words (my norm), then I figure out where each of the above elements fits into a chapter by chapter blank outline. For instance, the beginning is in Chapter 1, Turning Point 1 would be around Chapter 6, the Midpoint would be somewhere around Chapter 11 or 12, and so on.
The other chapters, those between the focal points of the plot, are filled in with one or two sentences describing the events which will lead my characters to the next plot point or develop them as they go along. In addition to small summaries, if I know whose Point of View I want a particular chapter in, I make note of it.
I write out the first draft of this outline by hand on a legal pad. I used to do all my GMC and plotting on my computer, but I remember details better when I write them by hand. I then transfer the written outline into a new document which then becomes my WIP. As I write each chapter, I erase the notes for that chapter and move on to the next one.
As the manuscript progresses, I will often add details, move things around, or delete entire chapters if a certain element does not take as long as I anticipated or I add elements as needed. As long as I stay within my plot points, I have wiggle room in how I get there.
I will admit that the Resolution for the last manuscript simply said, “They somehow do X and all is well” because for about half the book, I had no idea how the characters were going to solve the main external problem. I knew they would in general but the details were fuzzy.
Some writers plot with sticky notes. I adore sticky notes, but I do not have the wall space for that and I do not always write in the same room. My outline needs to be mobile. Some writers do not plot at all. They just plop their butts in a chair and start writing. You should do what works best for your style.
What does your process look like? Is it organized? Messy? Are there ways to refine your process to make it better or faster?
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:5-9
When my oldest son was about three, he was getting dressed with my husband one morning. He said, “Daddy, I take off my shirt just like you.” He then removed his little t-shirt in an exact imitation of his father. Before that moment, I could not have told you the movements my husband makes when he removes his shirt, but my three year old could. My husband was floored. He knew our sons were watching him but he had no idea how closely they watch every little thing we do.
When the Lord gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites in the desert, He told them to put the words on their hearts. They were to think of them every moment of every day. They were to talk about them with their children. They were to be such a part of their lives that they were like the air they breathed.
God asked this of them because He knew two things, denying yourself and living for the love of God and others is contrary to our nature and thus it is hard. We fail often. Secondly, He knew that their children would be watching.
The Israelites were surrounded by people whose cultures were different and contrary to their own. There were many other people their children could learn from. It was not enough that the parents taught their children the words themselves, they had make their actions match the words.
Love the Lord. Love others. Simple words. Complex actions. Actions our children watch us perform everyday whether we succeed or fail.
In what area do you find it a challenge to line up your actions with the things you teach your children? Where do you fall short of the love God and love others command?
For your characters:
If your character has/had children, what would they want to pass on to them as fundamental truths about life? Are there things they say they believe, but their actions do not line up? Is there a moment where they realize their hypocrisy and do they take steps to rectify their behavior?
I started plotting my fourth book last week. I know not everyone is a plotter, but I need a plan when I start that first blank page. Part of my planning process involves getting to know my main characters.
In the beginning, I did a standard electronic version of a GMC (goal, motivation, and conflict) chart. The Mid-Michigan RWA chapter has an extensive example of a GMC here (link is a PDF).
I needed something more specific than just the whys of things. I wanted to know what the whys meant in practical terms. It was fine for me to know my character was motivated by a driving need to protect others, but how does this manifest in their decisions and reactions. I added questions to my GMC chart to help flesh those things out. Before I make my plot outline, these are the questions I answer for each of my main characters:
- What is his/her best memory?
- What is his/her worst memory?
- What is their secret dream?
- What is their biggest fear?
- What is, in their mind, the worst thing that could ever happen to them?
- What is their external goal?
- What is their internal goal?
- What is their external motivation?
- What is their internal motivation?
In addition to these questions, I make note of things as I learn them. This list sometimes includes things like what kind of family they came from, how they react to certain things or people, pet peeves they have, tics, and speech patterns.
Over time, I have moved to taking notes on legal pads instead of Google Docs and I have modified what I fill out for each character. I write these answers out by hand because the physical act of writing, as opposed to typing, helps me remember details. I copied reams of notes in college when I studied for exams.
If you want a book on this topic Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon is an excellent resource.
How do you get to know your characters?
When I first started taking workshops and reading online about the craft of writing, I was struck by how little I knew. Hooray, more learning! Like any good librarian (my career prior to children), I started researching, devouring, and testing out different methods. Librarians also loathe to keep information to themselves.
Much of the advice about the craft of writing online is “Do what is right for you” and “Follow the rules” which is closely followed by “There are no rules.” The advice usually ends with a list of books to read on craft. I longed for something grittier and practical. I want a discussion about some of the stuff I am learning. And by discussion, I mean I need to write some of this out so I can understand it better. I am a writer. It is what I do. I write to understand.
Starting tomorrow, I am going to post every other week (that is my goal, hold me to it!) on a writing topic covering something I have learned about the craft or the industry or something I have found that works for me.
On alternating weeks, I am going to continue a series I started on my family blog of devotionals for writers. They are small devotionals whirch pose questions both to you personally and to your characters. They are an alternative to understanding different aspects of your characters’ personalities outside of a standard GMC (Goal, Motivation, and Conflict) chart.
I hope you will come on this journey with me and share some things along the way.
I overheard a man in front of me at the store on Thursday telling the cashier he had spent $80 on flowers for his girlfriend. He was purchasing a gigantic box of chocolate candy and bemoaning the money he would also be spending on dinner the next night.
I realize some women must love overpriced flowers and mediocre chocolates because Valentine’s continues to get crazier every year. I am just not one of them. I spent the evening on Friday, flower and chocolate candy free. I went to the Lego movie with all the boys in my house (it was adorable and hilarious) and then we had milkshakes (I got chocolate). It was a perfect evening out and everyone had fun. No pressure.
I could not help thinking as I watched the man being checked out that if Mr. Rochester came home with $80 flowers for me, I would be furious.
Eighty dollars would buy a lot of books.
I have spent the last few weeks pondering indie publishing in a practical sense: what the prospects are, what kinds of things to budget for, and reading basic-how tos. Recently, there have been some reports and discussions on indie/self publishing that I have found interesting and encouraging, but not terribly surprising.
Beverly Kendall’s Self-Publishing Survey 2013 (link goes to pdf) polled 822 self-published authors about their earnings, price points, and release schedules. The overall conclusion Kendall draws from the results is that authors who spent time and money on professional presentation (graphics and editing), who wrote series instead of singles, and offered one of the series for free are out-performing what is generally reported in the press.
While success is not assured no matter the method of publishing you choose, 48.05% of self published authors earned more than $10,000 last year. In this survey, many self published authors were also published traditionally or digital first. Almost a majority of the traditionally published authors who responded (47.06%) earned more self publishing. The traditionally published authors who earned more with that route had twelve or more books out under a traditional press.
The incomparable Chuck Wendig has a set of posts about getting self publishing to the right place. Not surprisingly, his comments are controversial to some, but I think he is bloody brilliant. The first is a call to be awesome.
The culture will need to start asking tougher questions. If we’re going to admit that self-publishing is an equal choice, then it’s time to step up and act like it. It’s time to stop acting like the little brother trailing behind big sister. Time to be practical. And professional.
Defeat naysayers with quality and effort and awesomeness so blinding they cannot see past you.
You should just go read the both posts. The follow-up explains, in true Wendig style, what readers should and should not be to an author, indies in particular.
Asking readers to be your gatekeepers is putting a lot of responsibility on the people who are paying you. Stop saying you’re going to let the readers figure it out when it comes to sorting through what’s crap and what’s not. You need to figure that out. That’s on you.
Both posts are a call to writers to hone their craft and put forth the best product possible for readers. The best product means a professional, well-produced product. We are, after all, asking readers to pay us money for stuff we made up in our heads. Wendig’s premise is held up by Kendall’s survey results. Authors who spend time and money on editing and design make more money in the long run.
Jeremy Greenfield and Dana Beth Weinburg from Digital Book World published What Advantages Do Traditional Publishers Offer Authors? A Comparison of Traditional and Indie Publishing From the Authors’ Perspective. You can read a brief summary with some charts on the blog here.
The categories in which all types of authors (aspiring, self-published, hybrid, and traditionally published) agreed traditional publishing has an advantage is a wider audience, better marketing, and the opportunity to be a bestseller. Otherwise, the categories seemed to favor self-publishing.
The most telling responses were from the hybrid authors. These authors, with a foot in both worlds, have a perspective to give a better picture of what is possible in both scenarios. They were the ones most likely to say that quality is the same regardless of being indie or traditionally published. Hybrid authors also thought their earnings potential was greater with indie publishing. I would be curious to know how many of the hybrid authors spent money on editing and graphic design.
One more note on the responses of the hybrid authors. They were more likely to think that marketing opportunities for traditional and indie publishing would be similar. I would like to know how many of them write in sub-genres which receive little or no marketing backing from their publisher.
I do disagree in part with the conclusion drawn by the authors of the survey. They list stardom as one of the motivations for going with a traditional publisher. While I would agree that some people striving for a traditional contract want to be bestsellers, the vast majority of authors just want to write compelling stories people want to read and pay a bit of money for. I do not want to make a million dollars and be on the NYT Lists. Would that be nice? Yes, but that is not my end goal. I just want to create something worth people’s time and money that they will love.
These things, and others, have led me to the same conclusion. I am saving up money to start self publishing the current series I am writing. It will take me some time to save what I think I need, but writing takes time and creating a great book takes even longer. The end result will be worth the time and effort.
–Jane, learning to be great
Here is the annual list.
I have to admit, the number of books I read this year disappoints me. It is the lowest since I started tracking my numbers. I went back to work part-time this year and I think that made an impact. I also spent more time writing and researching for the new series I started in September.
Along with the lower numbers, almost all the books are some sort of romance genre. I did not stray far this year from my first love. In 2014, I am going to try to branch out a bit. I would like to have more scifi/fantasy on the next list.
Books Read – 34
Least books in a month: April and July with 1 each
Most books in a month: October and December with 5 each
Best books: The first two books on this list are auto-buy authors for me. Not only do I adore their stories, but they are lovely ladies online as well. I wish I could tell you how much I adore them. If I ever meet either of them in person, my head might explode.
How Beauty Loved the Beast by Jax Garren (May) – A wonderful culmination to a trilogy that has captivated me. By captivated, I mean this series is like the best kind of drug. I have no will to resist. (See Best Rereads below)
Bewitched by Sandra Schwab (August) – Bewitched is a touching tale of magic, love, and the miracles love can work in our lives. Schwab has a way with words that reminds me of Austen and she makes me swoon. She is a wonderfully smart lady who throws references to literature, history, and culture into her books. Fabulous.
A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourne (December) – Every once in awhile you find that book whose words drip from the page into your pores. This is one of those books. The way Raybourne paints Africa you can feel the heat of the sun and hear the animals hidden in the grass. Raybourne uses complicated, but beautiful characters, to draw you into a timeless story. It is perfect.
Best reread: The Jax Garren Beauty and Beast books. They are irresistible to me. I go to read one and then have to read them all. It’s a sickness, but I don’t want the cure. In fact, just writing about them makes me want to read them again.
Unexpected find: Stone Guardian by Danielle Monsch – Sexy. Gargoyles. I don’t really think I have to say more.
Hottest read: Takhini Wolves series (Black Gold, Silver Mine, Diamond Dust) by Vivian Arend – No one, I think, does shifters like Arend.
Books By Month
January – 2
Lady X’s Cowboy by Zoe Archer
All He Ever Dreamed by Shannon Stacey
February – 4
Firelight by Kristen Callihan
How Beauty Met the Beast by Jax Garren
How Beauty Saved the Beast by Jax Garren
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling
March – 2
Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce
These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer
April – 1
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
May – 3
The Lady of the Rivers by Phillipa Gregory
How Beauty Saved the Beast by J. C. Garren
*How Beauty Loved the Beast by Jax Garren
June – 3
Ten Days by Olivia Mayfield
Working for the Devil by Lilith Saintcrow
Dead Man Rising by Lilith Saintcrow
July – 1
Critical Digital Literacies as Social Praxis ed. JuliAnna Avila and Jessica Zacher Pandya
August – 4
*Bewitched by Sandra Schwab
Betrayal by Sandra Schwab
Black Gold by Vivian Arend
Harry Potter and the Half -Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
September – 1
Silver Mine by Vivian Arend
October – 5
Diamond Dust by Vivian Arend
Stone Guardian by Danielle Monsch
Simply Love by Mary Balogh
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
November – 3
Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
A Perfect Blood by Kim Harrison
December – 5
*A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourne
All She Wanted by Nicole Deese
Far in the Wilds by Deanna Raybourne
Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare
Love A Little Sideways by Shannon Stacey
Retreat: v. - (of an army) withdraw from enemy forces as a result of their superior power or after a defeat.
Retreat: n. – 1. an act of moving back or withdrawing. 2. withdraw to a quiet or secluded place.
I have always wanted to go on a writer’s retreat. It sounds romantic, to be able to move away from the world and surround oneself with the creation of words and nothing else. A writer’s retreat is something real writers do, the kind of writers with books on the shelf and a room of their own in which to write.
Hogwash, all of it.
This past weekend, I went to my family’s lake house with four other women who write. Three of them write Christian genre fiction and one of them is working on a Christian nonfiction. I was the odd woman out, writing fantasy romance, but we had an amazing time.
For me, the weekend was a withdrawal from enemy forces. My enemies being two large dogs, two small boys, and one wonderful husband.
They allow me to write often enough, sometimes every day, but their demands are many. Even now, I am writing at the table with one boy eating a meal I prepared and one demanding to sit in my lap. Previous to this paragraph, I was interrupted by poop (not mine), an argument (in which I was called in to referee), and a consultation about clothing choices for the day. It gets wearisome.
I am not a part of a f2f writer’s circle. I have friends online to which I pose questions on craft or business, but I have never shared my work in real time. It was eye-opening.
Humans are, at our base, social creatures who desire community. Though writers create in isolation, is was nice to create in a shared space for a short time.
We would work on our own, then come together to read paragraphs, read openings, work out sticky plot points, and discuss the publishing industry. During meals, we shared our lives and got to know each other.
My goal for the retreat, which was only about 26 hours long, was 10,000 words. I was a couple hundred words shy, but I ended in a great spot.
The retreat reinforced that we all feel inadequate, we all juggle complicated lives, and a room of one’s own may look more like a corner of the couch or family table and less like a writer’s hut. Of course, if anyone would like to re-purpose an old Airstream, cabin, or train car into office for me, please, feel free to do so.
–Jane, writer of magical things
I am taking a class on query and synopsis writing. Most of the class is basic marketing with a publishing spin. The package sent to a publisher is, in its essence, the author marketing themselves and their work to an editor or publisher. We all know this, but it is nice to hear an editor’s POV when they are reading the stuff we send them.
Thinking about how I sell myself and my work has forced me to think about what I want from a publisher. A query is like any job hunt and any interview is just as much about how much they like you as how much you like them.
There are many flavors of publishers out there, from the big behemoths to tiny e-presses. There are benefits to the different choices and disadvantages to others, as there is with all things. Going through this process, I have created a list of things I want and look for when searching out places to market my work.
Here is the general list:
I want a publisher who emphasizes ebooks. I know electronic format is the future and I want to be somewhere this idea is valued. I like and read print books, but they are not the future of the industry.
I want a place I can grow as an author. I am not looking for an opportunity to publish the next blockbuster, though I would not turn that down. I have more realistic goals. I want a place to stretch my wings and I want an editor who can guide me on that path. Behind every great writer, is a brilliant editor. Developing a cooperative, trusting relationship with an editor is one of the things I am looking forward to the most in this process.
I am halfway through a cross genre series, a traditional fantasy with strong romantic elements, and my next series will probably be a scfi/space opera with strong romantic elements. I need a publishing company that is not afraid of cross genre work.
I want to be a marketing partner with my publishing company and I evaluate their webpages accordingly. No matter what size or prestige of a company, if their social media links are hard to find or contain terrible content, that is a huge red flag for me. In fact, this is a red flag for any company with which I want to do business.
That is my list. Short. Sweet. Not too complicated, I think.
After my post about my mixed thoughts on both traditional and self-publishing, I have continued to think about the purpose of what I do and yesterday, I had a big thought.
When I wrote Mob Rule Learning, I did so because the topic is important to me. I believe strongly in the power of a group to do amazing, revolutionary things. Our country was created by a group of passionate people who came together and made something new, a mob passionate for freedom.
I wrote that book because the idea has power. When people tell me they like Mob Rule Learning, I smile and am happy knowing that they understand the power of people too. I thought if anyone ever read my fiction and liked it, I would have the same kind of happiness. It is the happiness like-minded people find in a good conversation.
I think I vastly underestimated my own feelings about fiction and how that would tie into my feelings about my writing.
Something happens to me when I read fiction that does not happen when I read non-fiction. Every once in awhile you read one of those books. You know the ones. The ones where you fall down the rabbit hole and you never want out. The ones where you are afraid to get to the end because you will miss the characters. The ones that make your heart beat faster. The books that make you fall in love and you want to read over and over and over. The ones you stay up all night reading and then have troubling going to sleep because the whole thing is there in your head.
Perhaps some of you feel that way about non-fiction, but for me, it is fiction.
One day, I want someone to fall down the rabbit hole into a world I made. I want them to fall in love with the characters from my head. I want to give that to someone. Even if this only ever happens once and even if I never know, that is the reason I write fiction.
It is not the only reason. The characters in my head never leave me alone until I write them down and I am a much happier person when I have a little time to write, but those are not the secret-wish-in-my-heart reason.
I want to give back to the world once what I have been given many, many times over. I am, after all, just a bibliophile.
–Jane, always reading