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Discover Writers Can So Outline!   3 comments

There’s a myth that you are either a plotter or a pantser as a writer.

Plotters outline. They know where they’re going before they even start. Many of them know exactly each step they’re going to take in the journey to THE END before they write the first word. They are generally plot-driven. Occasionally, they might deviate from their intended course if a plot element presents itself that must be included, but they like order and so any deviation is a carefully-thought-out deliberate choice.

Pantsers thrive on spontaneity and discover. They tend to be character-driven. After introducing themselves to their characters, they let the characters navigate. Discovery writers seek to be surprised by the words as they fall from their fingers, discovering new insights about their characters and their world as they go along. At best, they sketch a few guidelines in advance, maybe have an idea of what the end point will look like, but generally, they don’t want to be constrained by an outline.

Related imageI am definitely a discovery writer when I draft. Even writing a series where I know what the change points of each book are going to be, I generally don’t want to know how my characters intend to get there. That would be boring and I suspect self-defeating. It would feel too much like work to me and a large reason why I write is to entertain myself. If you can produce a good book that way (and who am I to argue with the likes of Stephen King), more power to you, but I prefer to allow my creativity to take lead. I get a better draft that way.

But that doesn’t mean I never outline.

What? How can I say that? You’re either an outliner or a discovery writer. You can’t be both. Right?

I outline after the draft is finished.

Writing 100,000 words for a book is often a series of sprints. I tend to work on a scene at a time. I don’t always work in chronological order. Sometimes I work on scenes later in the book before I work on scenes at the start of the book. I may sketch out a few guideposts in advance, maybe identify some oncoming conflict, but overall, I let the characters lead me through their lives and tell me their story.

When I complete a draft, I then write a chapter-and-scene outline of the completed manuscript. This is where plotters are frowning in confusion. Why would I do that? It makes no sense to them.

Bear with me.

I’ve just written roughly a 100,000 words that are like a puzzle that still needs to be fitted together. I need to step back and see how that puzzle looks when all the pieces are put together, and a scene-by-scene outline lets me do that. I assign one bullet point per scene, and then I can see the whole puzzle in a few pages.

Where are the rises and falls, where is the climax, where is the inciting incident or incidents, where is the resolution? Is there a ton of backstory, delivered too early? Is there not enough conflict?

Image result for image of a road mapWhen you look at your book from a macro perspective, you can see big-picture flaws like abandoned plot threads, unnecessary scenes, missing or unbalanced elements, the place a faulty ending really began to go wrong, etc. I use different highlighting to note these types of problems on my outline so I fix them early on.

It’s easy for rewrite to become about fixing wording, grammar, punctuation and countless other details. Those errors need to be fixed before publication, but that’s proofreading. Why do that if you might later delete the entire chapter? Evaluating your manuscript via a scene-by-scene outline helps cut out some of that superfluous editing of words and commas.

I have a friend who actually prints out her outlines and cuts them up by scene to pin to a big corkboard, but I prefer to do my moving around on the computer. What if you moved the gas station scene to the next chapter? What if the father’s backstory went after the funeral instead of before? What if you cut chapter twelve, except for the fight?

Where are you heavy or light, long or short? Is your book dark except for a couple of humorous scenes? Okay, but did you realize all those scenes were within a few chapters of each other? Is your book almost all loud moments? Is it too quiet throughout? A big-picture view is invaluable in making these determinations.

Once you see an outline you like, you can revise your manuscript with a plan in mind.

By outlining after writing, discovery writers can draft in the manner that allows our creativity to lead while still making use of the organizational benefits of outlines. Also, you’re not locked into your original outline. You can revise the outline after each major revision, then take a step back to see how things look through a wide-angle lens. Your characters will thank you for the freedom you’ve given them, and your readers will be grateful for the extra steps you took to ensure your story works on every level, big and small.

And, finally, there’s a last advantage to this. If, like me, you give your chapters titles, your outline makes a handy way to do the table of contents. I’ve had author friends complain that this is an annoying process of going back and forth between the written chapter and the front matter and it was for me the first time, but then I recognized I could do the TOC in the outline and it eliminated all that bouncing back and forth. I could just run the two documents and go back and forth between them. I intend to borrow my son’s computer for a night to do this with two screens this time around. I suspect that’ll be so much easier.

You learn as you go along as a writer, and I have certainly had plenty of lessons.

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Posted September 14, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in writing wednesday

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Conflicted Character   Leave a comment

A Threatening Fragility Front CoverI like when my characters have internal conflicts — emotional, ethical, or mental struggles — while trying to decide what to do about the external problem that drives the plot. The challenge isn’t a physical thing, but a struggle within the protagonist to make the right choice.

Why?

An external task that’s easy to complete often lacks tension and unpredictability, which leads to boring stories. Adding an emotional roadblock makes the task much more interesting.

What needs to be done is clear, but the protagonist doesn’t want to resolve it that way for personal reasons. Either the right choice has consequences he doesn’t want to suffer, or there is no good choice—whatever he does has serious ramifications.

Internal conflicts require a fully-developed understanding of the character, because these conundrums are based on who the protagonist is because of what has happened to him or her in life, and this past makes it harder for him to make decisions and resolve external challenges. They typically come from the morals and ethics of the character, and, more often than not, choosing one side negates the other, and the protagonist can’t have it both ways.

So how do you set up internal conundrums for your characters?

Just as every real person has a set of morals or values that they like to think they would never violate, a character who is more than a plaster saint must also have lines they won’t cross easily. What a character thinks is true affect his behavior. If the “right” choice contradicts what the protagonist holds as true, he’s going to struggle to make that choice. Nothing builds conflict like some serious soul searching and nothing causes soul searching like being asked to contradict your deeply-held beliefs. That can create a lot of fun conflict to play with in a novel.

How a character believes other people should be treated will also affect how she makes a decision—and sometimes these are much harder to reconcile. For example, if the protagonist believes killing is wrong, any choice that requires killing someone will be met with fierce resistance. Morality is rooted in personal rules and laws about acceptable behavior. But if killing is the only way to save someone she loves or to prevent something terrible from happening, a character might be tempted. Doing a bad thing for a greater good can be a persuasive argument … and a slippery slope to disaster. There’s the post-traumatic stress disorder, the dark night of the soul, the belief that others are judging you for your actions, and that fact that now that killing is on the table, you might not be able to take it back. Think of Rick in the Walking Dead. “We don’t kill the living.” Once they had to kill the living, however, it became easier to justify killing the living, but not any easier to live with the guilt that follows.

Sometimes a character wants to do things he knows are wrong. It could be a lie or a theft. What he wants to do goes against what he knows is right, and a lot of conflict is possible as he tries his best to rationalize why it’s okay to do it anyway. Such ethical slip-and-slides can be compelling problems for your protagonist to regret and have to deal with at the worst possible time in the story.

Fear is a powerful motivator for stepping outside your morality. If a character is focused on survival, he might make bad decisions that go against his morality. Maybe a character who would normally intervene when a woman is being abused chooses not to step out of the shadows because there’s a mob doing the abusing. Being too afraid to do the right thing is a conflict nearly everyone can relate to.

Shame is also a powerful emotion. People can ignore their ethics and personal beliefs if it means saving themselves from a terrible secret being revealed. They’ll act to avoid standing out or looking foolish, which can keep them from doing the right thing at the right time to prevent a problem. Someone who witnessed a crime while doing something embarrassing isn’t likely to tell anyone for fear his own transgression will be exposed.

Internal conflicts are fun opportunities to put the protagonist in the hot seat and force him to decide who he really is and what he really stands for. How far is he willing to go to help a friend? What will he risk? What does he value? His struggles while making a decision shows readers who he really is as a person. And it all makes for a much more interesting story.A Threatening Fragility Front Cover

Self Editing   2 comments

I’m in the editing part of my latest book and so I’m thinking about editing all of the time. A lot of writing gurus claim you shouldn’t edit your own writing … that you really can’t because you simply won’t see your own mistakes. I disagree.

Image result for image of manuscript editingSelf-editing is a valuable skill that will help you produce better work, improve the feedback you receive, and ultimately become a better writer.

Self-editing is not a substitute for working with an editor or proofreader. Getting a fresh, objective set of eyes on your manuscript is one of the best things you can do to improve your writing and its chance of success in the marketplace. There are editors out there for every genre and every budget, so please consider engaging one.

But, before you do, it’s well worth polishing your manuscript as much as you can before sending it to editors, beta readers, and proofreaders. Self-editing will save time and money by enabling your editor to work with fewer distractions. In a “clean’ manuscript, mistakes are more likely to stand out. And, in self-editing, you will become more aware of your weak points and less likely to make the same errors again.

“Editing” is an unfortunately broad term that covers everything from organizing the overall structure of a narrative to picking up minute spelling and punctuation errors. They’re actually very different tasks, and they require different approaches and, in many cases, different people to perform them.

So how do you self-edit in your writing process?

There’s a convention wisdom that says you should write a book without editing first. I’ve personally never been able to do that. When I feel a little stuck on the next scene, I often read earlier scenes to get myself going. Well, if I see a misspelling or clunk grammar, I edit that rather than waiting until later. But it is true that you should take a break between writing and editing.

The longer the manuscript, the more time you should take before picking it up again. Obviously, deadlines and other life pressures may make this impractical, but to the extent that it’s within your power, schedule your writing so that you can let it sit anywhere from overnight (for, say, a blog post) to several weeks (for a full-length book).

I suggest enlarging your display to a minimum of 200%. This limits the number of words that you’ll see on your screen at any one time, making you less likely to skim, and literally helps you see errors more clearly. In the same vein, consider changing your font or font color because this makes the manuscript you’ve been staring at for months seem fresh and new and actually helps you see errors.

What are you looking for as you edit your own manuscript? You want to improve it, to bring it closer to reader expectations for your genre. You want to have a clear, well-supported theme and excise extraneous or distracting material.

Content Editing

Get ready to kill some darlings … you know, those distracting subplots or multiple climaxes. I know that’s hard, but really, readers get bored by them.

If the first page—heck, the first sentence—doesn’t compel readers to keep reading, they won’t. I have a writer friend who says he doesn’t really write his first chapter until he’s pretty much done with his book and then he spends almost as much time writing his first chapter as he did writing the rest of the book. I don’t go that far, but I do tend to spend a lot more time on it in the rewriting phase because it is really that important. The first chapter is that crucial. It must give readers a tantalizing glimpse of what to expect from the rest of the book. You’re not done with the draft until it does.

One of the best places to create tension and compel the reader to keep turning pages is by crafting strong chapter endings that leave a little suspense. This doesn’t mean the chapters should simply cut off randomly in the middle of scene … at least not often. There is a place for “open” endings at the end of a chapter. You want the reader to want to find out what comes next. Use your chapter endings to showcase an important insight or action.

 

Copy/Line Editing

At this point, you’ve more or less nailed the content of your manuscript; now you want to be sure that the language flows—that it’s appropriate for your audience, conveys the right feeling, meets grammatical standards, and isn’t confusing or redundant.

Tighten it up! Most writers include more than they really need to in their original draft. Look for ways to shorten sentences and paragraphs. Sentences should be 75% active voice. Do a search for the word ” was ” and consider ways to rephrase sentences that use it as the primary verb. Consider whether you actually need a dialogue tag or if context can make it clear who is speaking.

Watch your metaphors. They’re a lovely thing that adds spice to your writing — unless they used badly, when they might confuse a reader or make them laugh when you don’t intend them to laugh. Double-check your descriptions to make sure that they’re in line with the tone you want to convey.

Check dialogue and action scenes carefully. Make sure that it’s clear who is saying what, either from context, accompanying action or dialog tags (they have their place).  With action scenes, carefully block out the action in your head to make sure that all your characters are where they are supposed to be and that the action is physically possible. You can even draw diagrams if you have to or invite your teenager to the backyard for a mock sword battle.

One of the best ways to “read” your writing objectively is to hear it out loud. Invest in some text-to-speech software or get a friend to read it out loud to you. You can also read it out loud to yourself, but I don’t find that as effective.

Know your limitations. Some of us can do these first parts ourselves because we have a background of editing others’ material. Some of us can’t. There’s one area where most writers really need some editing help.

 

Proofreading

It’s critical to have another person (ideally someone with proofreading experience) look over your work before you publish it. At this point, you’ve read your draft through too many times to be able to reliably catch tiny errors. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it as a proofreader before you send it off to your proofreader or critique partner. The cleaner the copy, the better.

Use your word processing program’s grammar and spell check. No, it won’t catch everything—and many of the things it catches won’t actually be errors—but it will almost certainly find some mistakes you’ve overlooked.

Use the find-and-replace function. You can change your single quotes to double quotes and your double hyphens to em-dashes (so, — to —) in a snap and far more accurately than if you do them one at a time. While you’re at it, replace all your double spaces with a single space—this is in line with current standards and will help the final product look more professional.

Just remember that find-and-replace is a double-edged sword; make sure that you replace only what needs to be replaced. Don’t get lazy and clip “replace all.”

Use the Search function. If you know you have a tendency to make the same errors over and over again (typing “from” for “form,” for example, or spelling a character’s name different ways) do a search for those mistakes and check them one by one to be sure they’re correct.

Print out your work, if possible, and proof on paper. Time-consuming and not always practical, it’s still one of the best ways to see your manuscript in a fresh light.

You Should Self-Edit

These are just a few of the many ways that you can improve your own manuscript before sharing it with readers and editors.

Posted August 23, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in writing wednesday

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Stay Tuned for Writing Wednesday   1 comment

Author interview (already scheduled) and maybe an article. Who am I kidding? I’m pretty absorbed in writing A Threatening Fragility. We’ll see.

Posted April 11, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in writing wednesday

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Stay Tuned for Writing Wednesday   Leave a comment

I have several interviews in the pipe, so Writing Wednesday is back on for a regular basis. This week’s interview is with a visionary fantasy writer.

Posted April 4, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in writing wednesday

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Stay Tuned for Writing Wednesday   Leave a comment

I’m back with Writing Wednesday and revisiting with a long-time friend of mine, Jane Bwye, who is launching a new book this week.

So tune in and hear what she’s up to. My best guess — it’s Africa-related.

 

Posted March 28, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in writing wednesday

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Stay Tuned for Writing Wednesday   Leave a comment

I’ve been busily polishing a submittal to an anthology the last few weeks, so have been remiss in posting author interviews. I would just look up and go “Dang, I missed that posting.” But I definitely have an author interview tomorrow.

Posted March 7, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in writing wednesday

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