Writers Chatting: Chapter 12

“Memories”  Illustration by Walter Beach Humphrey

Welcome back! I had a request for a writing thread to discuss goal setting and planning. It is actually a good timing for me. My finished novel has been sitting on a shelf for a year while I decided what to do next. Now all of sudden everything is in overdrive, so I have to manage all of that with continuing work on the second book in the trilogy.

I have spent so much  time in the bulk of the first book, I’m stumbling as I set up the second. Jumping back into the prep stage has been hit or miss.

How do you approach your writing? Do you outline everything first and then fill in from there? Do you just write and worry about structure later? Do you write specific chapters, out of order and decide where they go later? Do you write beginning to end – what do you do when you hit a roadblock? How do you manage your characters – do you keep a bible on hand, do you make index cards and hang them all over the room?

And can we talk a bit about social media? Who is doing it for their books and how is it going?

Okay, that should get us off to a good start. As always, it’s just a guideline, discuss what you need to in your process.

Final note: for you romance writers out there, the next RWA conference is in Denver in July. Info here.  If you go, let’s make sure  we schedule a meet-up near you, around that time.

There you go, have at it. And remember to be kind and supportive.

89 replies
  1. 1
    TaMara (HFG) says:

    Eventually, I will introduce you guys to my alter ego and hopefully you’ll all follow her on social media. :-)

    I have to go out to shovel. I’ll check back later…

  2. 2
    Ramalama says:

    I do a lot of free writing first and see if there’s a story. I don’t do outlines but perhaps I should given how I don’t yet have a novel that has been published. My brother, a writer, works doggedly on outlines. Which seems so foreign to me. As for social,I started a blog but realized that things I post are good topics for publishing and posting = publishing so I kinda shoot myself in the writing foot. Savvyer friends than me are using patreon to show new work to interested readers without the I advertent publishing aspect.

  3. 3
    Peter says:

    I sometimes outline, but often I just dive in. Right now I’m working on a couple of book proposals, which are essentially one giant outline (and soul-eroding pain in the ass) and I do not love any part of writing them.

    Social media is essential and ferociously difficult to crack in a meaningful way unless one is already famous or has tons of followers. There’s a reason why businesses who can afford them have phalanxes of 20-year olds running their digital PR.

  4. 4
    Mnemosyne says:

    I have a couple of minutes before my RWA meeting starts. It turns out that I do need an outline, because I usually know the midpoint and the ending when I first start, and if I don’t have an outline, I get frustrated trying to get from Point A to B to C.

    I also have issues with just everyday organization and project planning (thanks, ADHD! 😒) so I’m taking an online course with a writer named Kitty Bucholtz to help with that.

    As far as story organization goes, the big book right now is Story Genius by Lisa Cron. She walks you through how to build the emotional arc of the story and then build the plot based on that.

  5. 5
    Mnemosyne says:

    Also, unless something weird happens between now and July, I am fully planning to go to Denver for RWA. I already got the time off work, so now I need to wait for registration to open and make the other travel plans.

  6. 6
    Joyce Harmon says:

    If I might be permitted a small whoop of triumph – I got my long-stalled WIP moving again and now am writing the epilogue! Looked back at my Amazon dashboard and my last book was published in October of 2015! Not sure how I got myself kickstarted again, but it’s such a relief!

    So – A Town And Country Season, coming soon to a Kindle near you!

  7. 7
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Joyce Harmon: Ooh, nice! I’ll have to get a Kindle or some such device as soon as I can afford it, because I would love to read your work!

    Over here in the central mountains, I am having a nice day reviewing some work I started a couple years ago, tweaking here and there before diving in again. I’ve just been laid off from my job, and so as part of my “don’t mourn, organize!” campaign I am wanting to write again. I am a perfectionist and a total ‘pantser’, to use a term I believe Mnem introduced me to – meaning I’m allergic to outlines and tend to write by the seat of my pants – *and* I tend to be a “beginning to ender”, so when I hit a road block I am *screwed*

    Thing is, when I write nonfiction, I can compile my notes and then sit down and bang out a finished article in one draft. This tendency has so far not worked for me in fiction writing. So, since I am unused to having to write in drafts, when I get stuck, I get STUCK.

    Hoping to figure out a way to reverse this trend.

    @Mnemosyne: Ooh, I might like to go to that! Do you need to be member to attend?

  8. 8
    West of the Rockies (been a while) says:

    @Joyce Harmon:

    Congrats, Joyce!

    I’m glad I checked in; I missed the announcement that there’d be a WC post. My invitation must have been lost in the mail. ;-)

  9. 9
    RSA says:

    Do you outline everything first and then fill in from there? Do you just write and worry about structure later?

    A writer in my writing group calls the first group “plotters” and the second group “pantsers” (writing by the seat of their pants). Made me laugh. She’s a pantser.

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    Gin & Tonic says:

    I know this is writing and not politics, and I’m not much of a writer, but I do appreciate good writing. So here’s a lede for the ages, from the WaPo: “Year two of the Trump presidency began here overnight much like year one had ended: with his alleged ex-mistress smashing people’s faces into her bare chest at a strip club between an airport and a cemetery.”

    “Stormy Daniels” put on a show at a strip club in South Carolina, if you didn’t get that.

  11. 11

    I need an outline to keep from freezing with writer’s anxiety, but I feel free to deviate from it as I get into the book. I know my characters well only after writing about them, and at that point, stuff changes.

    I have a blog (with a newsletter). I’m on FB and twitter. I work some at guest blog posts and interviews on writer sites, but I don’t think any of it accomplishes much in the way of sales. I enjoy chatting about writing and being social, so I keep on doing it.

    Someone I read said the best promotion she found was writing short stories because you get paid for them and they get your name out there. So I’ve been trying to do that, though I find short stories tricky to write. I posted earlier that I got email just this morning that I sold a story to Swords and Sorcery Magazine. It’s online only but yay!

  12. 12
    Ramalama says:

    @Dorothy A. Winsor (formerly Iowa Old Lady):

    Congrats. I just read the submissions guidelines to Swords and Sorcery Magazine…had you published your story elsewhere before submitting to them?

  13. 13

    @Ramalama: No. I send people a free short story when they subscribe to my newsletter, and I sent this story to some of them. But it hasn’t been in print or in a podcast or anything. They pay only $10, but honestly, I had fun writing the story and I’m just happy to have people read it.

    ETA: I did submit it elsewhere before S&S because I’d like to have been paid more, but it was rejected. I’ve revised it repeatedly and sent it out again.

    Some places do take reprints. I use the Submission Grinder to find places to submit to.

  14. 14
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Dorothy A. Winsor (formerly Iowa Old Lady): yay on the short story front! I have one that I submitted to Tor a couple years back that I’ve been sitting on – I might submit that one somewhere else. In fact, it might not be a bad idea to focus on some short story or novella length stories for a while – I actually *did* manage to complete that one, and feel proud of it!

  15. 15
    Brachiator says:

    I don’t do much creative writing, but I do technical writing and business presentations. From the time I was in junior high school, teachers always suggested outlines, but I have always found them too restrictive.

    I currently use a mind map app for meaty projects. And when I used an iPad, I used a note card/corkboard application.

    The two single greatest advantages of this for me is that it let me more easily add and reorder items than using an outline, and also let me emphasize areas I think are more important or more interesting than others.

    I also have a general direction in my head and know where I am going and what I need to write about. And then, using the note cards or mind map, I can write pieces of my manual or presentation out of order, working on parts that interest me more or that need more thought and then come back and make sure that everything smoothly fits.

    I also used this method for an unpublished short story.

    When I was in college and worked from notes, when I sat down and used a typewriter, I had to go from point A to point B, etc, and would have to stop if I had new ideas or a major shift in approach. This tended to force me to just plow on ahead and finish based on my first idea or outline.

    With word processing it’s easier to jump in and start writing in the middle, the beginning or wherever. The notes or mind map help remind me of overall structure and things that must be included, but overall I find that I spend less time on outlines and feel that this necessary step does not get in the way of actual writing.

    Anyway, thanks for letting a rank outsider toss in a thought. I regularly lurk and find the discussion about creative writing to be very fascinating.

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    I have never written fiction as an adult. When I was 12 or so I co-wrote a fantasy with my then best friend, during a summer vacation. We never finished it though, it got too convoluted, school reopened and we got involved in other stuff. I wonder if I still have the manuscript stashed somewhere.
    I was thinking of attempting historical fiction, or fiction based on the Mahabharata. Would an American market care for historical fiction not based in Europe or that does not focus on the European POV?

  18. 18

    @Brachiator: I used to teach tech writing. That was fun too, though it was sort of the anti-preparation for fiction, at least for me. I still want to put bottom line first with bullet points and a few headings. This is not useful.

  19. 19
    Josie says:

    Since I am writing historical fiction, the historical events themselves have pretty much determined my outline. My trouble now is 2 or 3 chapters that have become almost impossible to write. It’s as though I am blocked but just on those chapters. I would have finished my first draft if not for those. I think I will have to do some free writing or brainstorming just to get the brain cells working again. I am not a terribly creative thinker, so fiction is hard for me.

  20. 20

    @schrodingers_cat: Diversity is BIG right now. So yes, the American market would be open.

  21. 21

    to all Florida writers, if you are members of the Florida Writers Association:

    1) this year’s annual contest is “Where Does My Muse Reside?” and they should be taking entries by the first week of February. This is FREE to all members (2 entries max).

    2) the Royal Palm Awards should open around the same time. That one has categories of works – existing or unpublished – by most genres, it requires a submission fee for each entry, and the costs go up by lateness of submission (the earlier you submit the cheaper it is).

    Follow the link https://floridawriters.net/ to read up on the rules.

    I may submit the ghost girl story to the Royal Palm Awards, and I’m working on Dorothy’s suggestions to get that story re-edited.

  22. 22
    Ruckus says:

    @Miss Bianca:
    For me, when I get stuck, no matter what the project, personal or work I’m getting paid by the hour for, I have to walk away, both figuratively and physically. This doesn’t always have to be a long walk, but I have to break the chain of either no progress or total blanking. I find that I can come back and have a different point of view or reference and that allows progress. But it has to be a total break, I have to go on to something else and specifically not think about the problem right in front of me.

  23. 23

    @Ruckus: Yeah that works not just for writing but programming or a mathematical problem too.

  24. 24
    germy says:

    I sold an essay a few years ago (fifty bucks!) and ever since then a bunch of other online sites have simply used it without bothering to pay me.

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    GregMulka says:

    I start with a very broad outline. Beginning, middle, end. I do try to sketch out the main characters just so I can keep a feel for them. Each day I try to stop at a turning point or mid-action scene then lay out 1 or 2 sentences as a quick outline for the next day’s work. At about the halfway mark I’ll take stock of which characters are still important and where the story has changed significantly. I’ll lay out a more specific outline through to the end of the book and if I’m changing POV characters I’ll start writing whole stretches of them regardless of chapter order. Scrivener is great for this because you can start new sub documents and drag them into whatever order you need at the end.

  27. 27
    Ruckus says:

    @Brachiator:
    I’ve used a mind map or free form outliner program and I find they sort of allow me to do exactly that, free form the concepts and general direction of a project. What I don’t get out of them of course is a structure, unless I spend all my time structuring. Which really isn’t usually the point, at least for me. OTOH I find outlining winds up being to restrictive to the point of creating in the first place. It ends up being too formal, too restricted, too unoriginal.

  28. 28

    @GregMulka: Someone I read talks about “headlight” outlining, where you outline enough to show you the next stretch. You write that and then repeat the process.

    I always have to reoutline the last part because by the time I get there, everything I planned has gone to hell.

  29. 29
    J R in WV says:

    @schrodingers_cat:

    I’ve read quite a bit of American published historical based in other countries/mythologies.

    Well, some, anyway, if not quite a bit. And of course fantasy and sci fi sometimes use ideas from a variety of cultures, or completely made-up worlds.

  30. 30
    germy says:

    when I first started writing in the ’70s I wrote notes in longhand, and then transferred to a manual typewriter. Then I’d mark up the typed pages, and type them again with changes, and then again with changes. Every step along the way was preserved on paper.

    Writing nowadays on a computer, stuff gets deleted forever if I’m not happy with it… and I sometimes find that disconcerting later.

  31. 31
    J R in WV says:

    @germy:

    Bill them for your time IDing them at a substantial hourly rate plus more $$ for the copyright violation. Tell them how much your lawyer will charge them if they need to be taken to court, offer to settle for half that hugely enormous fee. Publish their name and crime as a second step, after warning them if they don’t pay by Next Tuesday you’ll do that very thing.

    Communicate with certified signature mail, not email.

  32. 32
    woodrowfan says:

    I have two books now (both by academic presses) and am lining up a third. What I tell my students..
    Outline! But remember it’s not written in stone. It’s a guide to keep you from wandering off and getting lost.
    Write every day if possible. Better to write something and toss it out later than to write nothing. Writing is a skill like any other. Use it and you get better. What you write need not even be related to your paper/article/book. Write down a memory, a diary entry, a joke you heard, hell, write a sexy story for your sweetie. But WRITE.
    Nothing is set in stone until your publisher says it is. Get your thought down SOMEHOW. It will need editing, but if it is not written down, you will lose it.
    Stuck on a point? Move on to the next one and come back to the first point later. Movie directors don’t film every scene in sequence. You need not write every paragraph in sequence.
    Keep a separate document to record thoughts, ideas, sentences, phrases, etc, that you like but are not sure where to fit in. Maybe you’ll use them, maybe you won’t. But it keeps your ideas flowing.
    Better a crummy sentence than none at all.

  33. 33

    If I’m stuck, one thing I do is say here’s a stupid way to write this, and then I do that. It lets me move on, and when I come back to edit, the stupid way often doesn’t sound too bad.

  34. 34
    Ruckus says:

    @schrodingers_cat:
    Yes. For work I make things from blueprints (which haven’t been blue in decades!) or sketches and often how you order the steps determines where and how you start and if you can even make the thing sometimes. And trying to determine those steps is a creative process, even if the actual production is the same or similar to every other project. I see the same in writing, the tools accomplish the same results that any particular tool is capable of, the creative process is what changes the outcome.
    So outlining is a rather structured process, mind mapping is less so, just banging away at a keyboard is likely even less structured. Kind of like humans are in all things.

  35. 35

    Question: I need a new title and short description of the story I just sold (because the editor doesn’t like what I have). There’s a twist to the story that I don’t want to reveal too early, so this is tricky.

    Does this sound like something you (or someone) might read? “Intent on helping his sick and troubled father, a boy follows the man into a town being seized at swordpoint.”

    The phrase “Let me go” is repeated several times in the story because the boy used to ask his father to let him go with him on spying missions. I could use that I guess. I’m not happy with it though.

  36. 36
    TaMara (HFG) says:

    Stuck on a point? Move on to the next one and come back to the first point later. Movie directors don’t film every scene in sequence. You need not write every paragraph in sequence.
    Keep a separate document to record thoughts, ideas, sentences, phrases, etc, that you like but are not sure where to fit in. Maybe you’ll use them, maybe you won’t. But it keeps your ideas flowing.
    Better a crummy sentence than none at all.

    This is invaluable to me – I keep a running documents of thoughts and characters, I skim it every day before writing and use what I can (and then strike through to know not to use it again) and highlight anything I want to make sure to use in the chapter I’m writing. It makes the actual writing so much easier.

    And that document keeps me from stressing too much on days I can’t seem to write – I can always add to those notes, good or not.

  37. 37
    Brachiator says:

    @schrodingers_cat:

    I was thinking of attempting historical fiction, or fiction based on the Mahabharata. Would an American market care for historical fiction not based in Europe or that does not focus on the European POV?

    There is a ton of science fiction and fantasy that incorporates non European sources. In the world of mainstream historical fiction, James Clavell wrote blockbusters based on China and Japan.

  38. 38
    Josie says:

    @Dorothy A. Winsor (formerly Iowa Old Lady): Could he be thinking “Let me go.” without saying it out loud as he follows?

  39. 39

    @Josie: You mean in the description? So it deepens the trite title? Hm. Let me go with you, Da, he thinks. Let me go. Something like that might help.

  40. 40

    @Brachiator: But aren’t they mostly from a European POV? Even Attenborough’s Gandhi had two American narrators.

  41. 41
    Josie says:

    @Dorothy A. Winsor (formerly Iowa Old Lady): Yes, I meant the description. The way you just wrote it sounds good, gives it feeling.

  42. 42
    opiejeanne says:

    @schrodingers_cat: Works for music as well: when you’re trying to learn something technically difficult, if you lay it aside for 30 days most of the time you will find that it has improved when you take it up again. I never had that fail me when I was in college.

  43. 43

    @schrodingers_cat: In fantasy, I think of Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon or Guy Gavriel Kay’s A River of Stars. There’s actually a lot.

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    opiejeanne says:

    @GregMulka: That first part sounds like the way I’ve started to work on my novel, my first, and what you propose for the second half sounds like exactly what I should do now that I’m past the halfway mark.
    I got to the end of November and worked on Christmas and didn’t write or read what I’d written. I intended to go back to it in early January but got so sick that I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the threads of the story and continue. I’m setting February 1 as my restart date. I’m on steroids now to knock down the asthma-like symptoms and they’re sort of working, and I feel a lot better.

    I had just gotten ready to kill off my great great grandfather and was stalling when December 1 rolled up. I find that it’s difficult to kill an ancestor for whom you’ve invented an entire life, emotional as well as physical.

  46. 46

    @opiejeanne: I love killing characters. Is that wrong?

  47. 47
    stinger says:

    I’m an informal plotter — I have the main characters firmly in my head when I start, and know where I want to end up. I started one story without knowing where I wanted it to end, and had to set it aside. I hope to get back to it once I’ve had time to figure out the plot, and not just the setting and characters. There’s a guy who’s developed a “snowflake” approach to outlining/writing a novel, and I may try it some day. In fact, I may have learned of it right here on this all-purpose blog.

    Otherwise, I write pretty much beginning to end, though if I have a sudden inspiration, I’ll jump ahead in the plot to write whatever it is that came to me.

  48. 48
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Dorothy A. Winsor (formerly Iowa Old Lady): But do you love killing characters based on your great-great-grandfather?

  49. 49

    @Miss Bianca: I never tried. I’d have to see!

    Stinger, I emailed you about a possible meet up date the first weekend in February, weather permitting.

  50. 50
    Brachiator says:

    @schrodingers_cat:

    But aren’t they mostly from a European POV?

    No. And some of the authors are non European. Also Japanese anime and manga and other genres have been huge influences on some writers. There is also a lot of animation with non European POV.

    Even Attenborough’s Gandhi had two American narrators.

    Years ago. And I suppose that the studios felt that audiences, especially Americans, needed a guide to help them understand India and Gandhi.

    More recently, there have been backlashes against “whitewashing,” particularly when non-white characters are suddenly switched out for white actors. Fans were particularly hard on a historical fantasy film, Prince of Persia.

  51. 51
    stinger says:

    @Dorothy A. Winsor (formerly Iowa Old Lady): And paired with the “seized at swordpoint” part, “Let me go” takes on a double meaning. (Which is always good.)

  52. 52
    John Revolta says:

    @Dorothy A. Winsor (formerly Iowa Old Lady): Songwriters use “placeholder lyrics” which they come back to later and replace, or sometimes they don’t. Some great and famous lyrics have been written that way.

  53. 53
    No One You Know says:

    @Josie: @TaMara (HFG):

    I just came back from a presentation on how art journaling helps expedite novel writing: by grouping pictures, photographs and free-form notes into one book with a concepts, characters, and outline section, the presenter, Shea McLeod, keeps all her notes in one place. Then she had writing sprints where, for 15-30 minutes, she writes at speed from her notebook. She doesn’t edit in any way as she’s doing it, or after. She focuses on finishing the “dirty draft” and does her revising after it’s done.

    I’m writing historical fiction, and my color-coded card Deck O’ Data in calendar date order is too thick to manage anymore.

    So I guess I’m a plotter, and I will be trying this tool to see if I can visualize the novel arc better. Right now I’m stuck in an abyss of detail.

  54. 54
    Joyce H says:

    @Miss Bianca:

    Ooh, nice! I’ll have to get a Kindle or some such device as soon as I can afford it, because I would love to read your work!

    Let me take this opportunity to remind everyone that my first Regency, A Feather To Fly With, is available in paperback:

    Feather paperback

    As for Kindle, I don’t own one, but I have the Kindle app on my phone. I do most of my book reading on my phone – some people find the screen too small, but I think it’s quite handy. Just finished reading Fire and Fury on my phone. And the Kindle app is free!

    On the thread topics, I’m a pantser who keeps trying to be a plotter, without much success. I start with a premise and a vague notion of where I want to end up, but getting from start to finish is the problem. My WIP was stuck for ages, about 80% complete, and me with no idea what to do about it. I knew the final predicament, but not the solution to the predicament. With my NY resolution to write every day, I just decided to go ahead and get the characters into the predicament, since I knew that part. Then once they were in it, I wrote their way out.

    I don’t skip around in my writing. I start at the beginning and write the book in order. Sometimes I’ll have scenes fully formed in my head, but I don’t write them down until I get to them. Sometimes when I know the sequence of scenes that are coming up, I’ll make a sort of list of them on a legal pad, but it’s in no way an outline.

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    debbie says:

    @Dorothy A. Winsor (formerly Iowa Old Lady):

    “Intent on helping his sick and troubled father, a boy follows the man into a town being seized at swordpoint.”

    The first couple of times I read this, I thought the man the boy was following was someone other than his father. Also, a “that is” between town and being seized. FWIW.

  57. 57

    @debbie: “follows him” would be better. Thanks.

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    Mnemosyne says:

    @Brachiator:

    I currently use a mind map app for meaty projects. And when I used an iPad, I used a note card/corkboard application.

    I hate to ruin your method for you, but … those are outlines. An outline doesn’t have to follow the exact method we were taught in grade school — there are many ways to outline, and putting it on digital or physical notecards that can be shuffled around is one of the most popular ways ro do it.

    This novel that I just finished a rough draft of is the first one I’ve actually seen through to the end, so I think my haphazard “beat sheet + turning points + writing out of order” method worked. I just need to figure out how to make it more efficient for the next book. 🤔

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    Miss Bianca says:

    @stinger: I love double, treble, and quadruple meanings.

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    debbie says:

    @Dorothy A. Winsor (formerly Iowa Old Lady):

    And then the “that is” can be tossed.

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    @Miss Bianca: Yeah, and actually, “let me go” already has two meanings in the story.

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    Mnemosyne says:

    @Miss Bianca:

    You do not need to be a member to attend, but they charge you a little more. Registration starts on 2/6 and I think some information is already up on http://www.rwa.org

    @schrodingers_cat:

    As Dorothy said, diversity and inculsion in all types of fiction is HUGE right now. The book that won the top Hugo (science fiction) award a couple of years ago was written by a Chinese author and translated into English after it was a bestseller there. Now is probably a better time than in most of recent history to write a novel about India from an Indian POV and be able to sell it.

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    Miss Bianca says:

    @Dorothy A. Winsor (formerly Iowa Old Lady): I gathered as much. ; )

    It’s a wonderfully ambiguous phrase, come to think of it.

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    opiejeanne says:

    @Dorothy A. Winsor (formerly Iowa Old Lady): heh.
    I think sometimes you have to. I’ve killed a couple of characters including a child. Historical novel based very loosely on family stories.

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    @PaulWartenberg:

    Just to note about the “Where does my Muse reside” story?

    I think my Muse is hiding out in Hong Kong. And she’s not answering the phone. :(

    P.S.: I may have good news this week. But I gotta work something out.

  66. 66

    @Dorothy A. Winsor (formerly Iowa Old Lady):

    Title idea: A Son On the Edge
    Shadowing Sword
    Hazy Memory of a Troubled Youth
    Whether He Was There Or Gone
    In One Stroke

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    stinger says:

    @Dorothy A. Winsor (formerly Iowa Old Lady): Hmm, I don’t seem to have received the email yet. But that weekend should be fine for me. Weather permitting!

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    Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism says:

    I want to toss in a recommendation for a podcast, Writing Excuses. I’m working my way through Season 12 at the moment, lots of discussion on outlining and structure and how short fiction differs from long fiction. Season 13, now underway, is on characters.

  69. 69
    Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism says:

    @PaulWartenberg:

    I think my Muse is hiding out in Hong Kong. And she’s not answering the phone. :(

    Sitting on a beach sipping drinks with fruit on little sticks.

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    @stinger: Cripes. I guess I’ll watch for you here.

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    @PaulWartenberg: Oooh. Whether He Was There or Gone

    That would be nice

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    Brachiator says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    I hate to ruin your method for you, but … those are outlines. An outline doesn’t have to follow the exact method we were taught in grade school — there are many ways to outline, and putting it on digital or physical notecards that can be shuffled around is one of the most popular ways ro do it.

    This doesn’t ruin anything at all. And being able to shuffle things around or reconnect things makes all the difference in the world.

    I used to write one idea in the top left corner of a piece of paper, another idea on the right hand side, but down a little lower, a couple more in the lower middle, etc.

    The main thing is that I did not want a list or a sequence, or an ordering, which is often emphasized with a classic outline structure.

    And along with this would be notes I kept in my mind, but which I never wrote down.

    If you want to see all this as an outline, fine. But the point is the flexibility, the ability to connect and disconnect, and the point that I don’t spend a lot of time either creating or following an outline, but want something that will help me keep track of essential ideas and themes.

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    West of the Rockies (been a while) says:

    @schrodingers_cat:

    Life of Pi did pretty well.

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    Mnemosyne says:

    @Brachiator:

    It’s kind of a bugaboo of mine that most people who hear the word “outline” immediately assume that it’s the formal, Roman numeraled one that we all learned in grade school. In reality, an outline is merely a way to keep track of story events and the order in which you want them to happen, and the form that it takes is very individual from person to person. Some people jot a few words on notecards; others write entire scenes and call them part of the outline.

    It’s become a weird point of pride for people to say they “don’t outline” when they usually have some kind of story tracker that they use, and I think it confuses new writers, who think they’re somehow doing it wrong or not being spontaneous enough if they write story points down before they start their first draft.

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    stinger says:

    BTW, I love the image at the top of this post (as I have loved all previous WC images). I knew there must be a good excuse for a dusty house!

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    Sab says:

    @schrodingers_cat: Does Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy ” count as historical fiction? I loved that book, and didn’t it make the sort list the Booker Prize? I remember being embarrassed at the time that it was my first time reading a book about India written by an Indian.

    Lata at the train station feeding the monkeys.Western writers don’t even notice there are monkeys in India. That’s like America with no squirrels.

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    @West of the Rockies (been a while): The trailer didn’t make me want to seek it and watch it. Seemed like they were exoticizing India/Indians as spiritual and mystical, a trope that I am not a great fan of.

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    @Sab: I haven’t read Seth’s book. What I had in mind was something like Hillary Mantel’s books, based on actual historical events.

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    Sab says:

    @schrodingers_cat: I hope you write such a book. I would certainly be interested.

    I am often skeptical of historical fiction, since I feel that modern authors are trying to totally remake the actual historical person into a totally different person that they can appreciate ( i.e. what Caleb Carr did to Teddy Roosevelt in “The Alienist.”) I loved Mantel’s books because her characters seem so close to the historical figures as I always pictured them.

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    Sab says:

    @schrodingers_cat: I hope you read Seth’s book sometime. I’d love to hear your perspective on it. I admit it is huge. I only took it on because I loved “Golden Gate” so much (love story amongst yuppies in San Francisco in the 1980s written in rhyming Pushkin verse. It’s amazing technically, and also incredibly touching.)

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    Brachiator says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    It’s kind of a bugaboo of mine that most people who hear the word “outline” immediately assume that it’s the formal, Roman numeraled one that we all learned in grade school.

    Bugaboos aside, not only was I taught the formal outline method, when we wrote papers, we had to submit the outline and were graded in part on the “completeness” of the outline. And later I encountered teachers and others who relied on this form of outlining and insisted that there was only one way to do it.

    Hell, I sometimes have to submit a formal outline for classes I am developing. I once sent a PDF of a mind map and confused the shit out of some of management.

    Again, terminology isn’t the point. It’s finding a flexible tool that assists writing. I have creative writing friends who would get hung up on formal outlines because that’s all they were ever shown, even by other professional writers.

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    Miss Bianca says:

    @Sab: Now I’ll have to read this author. “Golden Gate” sounds wild.

    @schrodingers_cat: I would read something like that. I still can’t get Mantel’s “A Place of Greater Safety” out of my head. Anything that captured the spirit of the birth of modern India like that book captured the birth of modern France would be something.

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    Miss Bianca says:

    @Mnemosyne: All right, all yez bastids talking about different form of outlining, here’s my outline for tomorrow – one sentence:

    Writing prompt for Monday 22/01:

    She is still laughing when the youngest sister comes out of the closet – literally.

    Look what you made me do! I hope you’re happy now!

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    Sab says:

    @Miss Bianca: I thought it was wonderful. Utterly constraining format with strict metric and rhyming requirements, yet it was vivid, touching and often hilarious. I actually cried in parts, and I am not a particularly emotional reader.

    I believe he wrote it to distract himself from the utter boredom of writing his Ph.D thesis on some aspect of Chinese economics or economic history.

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    Mnemosyne says:

    @Miss Bianca:

    One technique that was in the Novel Intensive workshop I just took was to write a logline of your story first as a focusing tool (and it’s also helpful for when people say, “So what are you writing about?”)

    A logline is something like:

    A bullheaded cop travels to Los Angeles to visit his estranged wife, only to have her be taken hostage by terrorists.

    Or

    A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder.

    It’s really just characters + situation, but it at least gives you a direction to head towards.

    @Brachiator:

    I don’t think we really disagree, but terminology is important, IMO. People need to get over their fear of “outlining” and break away from the rigid way they were taught.

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    Joyce H says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    It’s become a weird point of pride for people to say they “don’t outline” when they usually have some kind of story tracker that they use, and I think it confuses new writers, who think they’re somehow doing it wrong or not being spontaneous enough if they write story points down before they start their first draft.

    Huh – I experience more of the opposite, that writers who DON’T outline are looked down on as non-serious amateurs and that the real professional writers always have an outline of some variety. We must be running with different crowds.

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    Mnemosyne says:

    @Joyce H:

    Huh – I experience more of the opposite, that writers who DON’T outline are looked down on as non-serious amateurs and that the real professional writers always have an outline of some variety. We must be running with different crowds.

    Maybe it’s regional? It seems like most of the writers I run into here in LA say they’re pantsers unless I meet them at something that’s specifically about story structure.

    I come from a screenwriting background, so I had to become comfortable with outlines and structure pretty early on. You pretty much can’t get anywhere in screenwriting without one.

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    Sab says:

    TaMara,

    I love the picture at the top of this post.

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    GregMulka says:

    @Dorothy A. Winsor (formerly Iowa Old Lady): What’s the point of being a god if you can’t rain down fire and brimstone?

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