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Effective Outlining: First Steps

Knowing where to begin with an outline can be daunting. A story idea may form in the middle of the story, with a character idea, a what if, or various other types of ideas. To build around that beginning idea, here are some guidelines:

Develop a clear beginning, middle, and end. This may only be general plot points, but it is important to have a concise path between these points.

Storylines should not be lopsided (front- or end-loaded), and should have a balanced arc. Consider using the three-act structure to create the roller coaster-like pattern of rising and falling action. Make sure all the action or revelations are not crammed together in one section of the story.

Identify the main plotline and subplots, and make sure all have a full arc. Every arc, whether story or character, should have a purpose. Determine what that purpose is and the steps required to fulfill that purpose.

Dangling subplots leave questions and frustrate readers, so make sure that every subplot is not only relevant to the story, but complete and satisfying. Those that cannot be completed satisfactorily should be removed.

Develop strong character arcs that have beginnings, middles, and ends. A character should change throughout a story, and those changes should make sense and provide the reader with a sense of satisfaction by the end.

Underdeveloped characters leave readers unfulfilled. Ask whether or not a character has reached his or her full potential dictated by the events of the story. Everything that happens to a character should have an effect. Consider effects individually and in total.

Develop a strong ending that makes sense and wraps up the storyline. Readers who feel unsatisfied when a book ends are unlikely to read that author again. A strong ending fulfills all plots and subplots and provide interesting development for the characters.

Flat, confusing, or illogical endings deflate the entire story. Endings that are wrapped up too quickly are likely lacking something. Make sure the ending links back to the beginning and the characters’ goals and desires, and that in some way those goals and desires are met, have changed in a way that makes sense, or have reached a satisfying conclusion.

Make sure you have enough story to fill an entire book. Don’t force content into a story just for the sake of length. Cut what isn’t relevant to the story. The story should not be stretched to fulfill a word count. Either write a shorter story or develop more pertinent subplots and character conflict.

Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Effective Outlining: Outlining Methods

There are a variety of outlining methods, and which one works best depends on individual preferences and organization styles. Here are four of the most popular methods to try:

The Synopsis Outline

This is a 1-2 page document that roughly sketches the structure of the story and leaves room for flexibility. It hits all the major plot points but does not go into great detail on scenes or character arcs. This method creates a loose framework that can be further developed while writing.

The In-Depth Outline

This is a comprehensive chapter summaries that break up individual scenes. It includes detailed timelines, character details, plot points, and subplots. Scene-level description is usually not included, but full character and plot arcs should be developed with major pinch points noted and the scenes they are included in pointed out. Particular attention should be paid attention to flow between scenes and pacing of the overall arcs.

The Snowflake Method

This method begins with a one-sentence summary of the story idea, then builds into a paragraph, which is then used to create character descriptions and storylines. The structure remains fairly loose and branches into different story aspects. This may be especially helpful for storylines which are not fully fleshed out yet and are in need of brainstorming.

The Bookend Method

In this method, you begin by plotting the beginning and end of the story and the main characters, leaving everything else to be develop during the story writing. It is important to consider how the beginning and ending relate to each other and whether there is a meaningful link between the two that is believable and achievable. While this method does not detail out the steps between the beginning and end, you should have a sense of what steps will be needed to bring the two together.

Regardless of which method you employ, stay focused on creating a strong flow from beginning to end and pacing that will maintain the interest of the reader.

Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing thoughts

Author Interview: Boshra Rasti

Today I’d like to welcome author Boshra Rasti to the blog!

Boshra Rasti

Q: When did you begin writing stories?

It’s a really embarrassing thing to share, but I began writing out of childhood jealousy. There was this girl in grade 1 who was just what you would classify as the “perfect North American girl”. This was in a time in the 80’s, in small-town Canada, where there weren’t very many people like me: a dark, Middle-Eastern immigrant. So, this girl was just the best at whatever she did. She was the teacher’s pet, she had normal parents, her eyes twinkled every time the teacher would call on her or praise her (and that was often). I was the odd one, the girl who had parents who couldn’t speak proper English, who didn’t have many friends, and the friends I had were weirdos like me. So, I just felt so rejected that I plotted to write a poem for the school writing competition to spite her. The contest theme was: Mother’s Day. I basically took the template for a poem we were reading in Grade 1 that was about a cat. It went something like “Some cats are pretty, but my cat purrs the most beautifully” and it went on and on for several stanza’s purporting this and that about the writer’s cat. So, my poem went like this: “Some mothers’ are beautiful, but my mother is most beautiful…” etc. I still laugh at myself to this day, because the intention of the poem was to one-up her. Long story short, after 30 some years, me and this girl are friends of Facebook.

Q: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

A few years ago, a Canadian writer visited the school I was teaching at and afterwards at lunch we were talking about books and writing. She said something that has stayed with me for quite some time now. She said, “writing is a verb, it is an action. It isn’t a noun. We can’t call ourselves writers because to write is an action word, an engagement that someone partakes in.” I really like that and have adopted it as my motto too.

Q: COVID impact? On writing, on creativity?

It’s a double-edged sword. There are so many things that are being swept under the carpet. So many wrongs with our political systems and our treatment of people that are brushed to the wayside because of the threat (real and perceived) by COVID, that I can’t really say it is a blessing worldwide for all writers, but I can say the moments of lockdown have been a catalyst to make something beautiful out of this mess.

Q: What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?

Probably taxidermy. I am from Canada, so you often see monuments of some man’s over-production of testosterone hanging around on the walls. In Qatar, I’ve seen people keep exotic pets (although officially against the law) in Qatar. A few years ago, a tiger escaped and was roaming the highway. It’s funny in a dark way. Such a symbol of our absolute irreverence of animals.

Q: What’s your elevator pitch?

An 18-year-old girl against a database; but will those behind the algorithms get her before it’s too late.

Q: Why is storytelling so important for all of us?

Humans are storytellers. The whole reason we have a frontal cortex that is so developed is probably due to story and imagining the light in times of darkness. I really believe without story; we’d be the most debased form of dust and clay that has ever been envisioned or invented.

Learn more about Boshra and her writing online at:

Facebook

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Website

Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Effectively Outlining: The Purpose of an Outline

Strong planning can help create a strong storyline.

What is a story outline?

An outline includes planning information about:

  • Structure
  • Plot
  • Characters
  • Scenes
  • Events
  • Conflict

Outlines provide a skeleton or map of the full story.

Having skeleton or map can help writers visualize the big picture of the storyline, organize story details and keep the story on track, create full character arcs, plan scenes and structure them in a way that keeps the story moving.

Outlines can also help improve writing efficiency by preventing writing blocks, dead-end plot lines or subplots, and allowing the writer to research needed aspects beforehand rather than during the writing process.

Questions and outline should answer:

  • What is the main contract made with the reader?
  • Are all promises resolved by the end?
  • What pressures are working on the characters?
  • Does the pressure grow more intense as the story progresses?
  • What is at stake for the main characters?
  • Are those stakes high enough that failure inspires stress or anxiety for the reader?
  • Does the ending make logical sense and fit with the rest of the story?

When a question can’t be answered by an outline, dig deeper or step back and consider why a certain question has no answer. Does the storyline need to be altered, or is there an issue with the character that prevents an easier answer? Unanswered questions are prompts for additional development and can provide a writer with new avenues to explore!

Apologies for disappearing from the blog for the past couple months. Writing graduate school and getting through the holidays were kicking my butt and I needed to take a step away.

Posted in books, writing

‘Getting New Mexico’ by Rhenna Saint Clair wins New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Fiction

I’m so excited to share that a lovely friend on mine was recently recognized for her wonderful book!

“Part love story and part comedic hero’s journey, the story is filled with quirky and diverse
characters and unlikely situations right out of real life. A fun read from start to finish.”
—Anne Hillerman, author of the Manuelito, Chee and Leaphorn mysteries.

Getting New Mexico by Taos, New Mexico, author Rhenna St. Clair has won the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Fiction, presented by the New Mexico Book Co-Op.

A comic novel about second chances, redemption and finding latein-love love, Getting New Mexico tells the story of Aaron Schuyler, a drunk, cheat, exploiter and — worst of all — a lifelong New Yorker, whose life and character is transformed by the quirky, anti-elitist culture of New Mexico.

After his alcoholism and wayward behavior lose him his family, livelihood and home, Schuyler is forced by his formidable Winston Churchill-worshipping mother to move to Santa Fe. Schuyler finds himself in a culture where self-reliance and compassion counts more than power or status. Stripped of his former wealth and reduced to wearing clothes from Walmart, Schuyler finds that people no longer excuse his bad behavior. With his survival depending on keeping a real job, Schuyler is forced to develop new habits of responsibility and sobriety.

Along the way, Schuyler meets unconventional people unlike any he’s ever known — the enigmatic Indian artist Lone Goose; his aloof landlord who was the lover of Schuyler’s beloved uncle; the blue co llar Sam’s Club workers who accept him as one of their own; and above all, the beautiful and no-nonsense Anita Chatterjee, HR director at Sam’s Club, with whom Schuyler is immediately smitten. For the first time in his life, Schuyler wants to be a better person — and shaking scorpions out of his boots seems like a fair trade.

Upcoming Book Signing

I will be signing copies of my award-winning novel, Getting New Mexico, at Amy’s Bookcase in Farmington, New Mexico on Saturday, November 27 from 10:00 a.m. to 12 noon.

Getting New Mexico was a winner in fiction, and was a finalist for Book of the Year.  I hope to see you at Amy’s!

About the Award and Author

New Mexico Book Co-Op is New Mexico’s largest not-for-profit volunteer organization serving authors and publishing professionals, the New Mexico Book Co-op numbers over 1,200 participants. Since 2004, the New Mexico Book Co-Op has executed its mission to showcase books, authors, presses, and related professionals; to promote literacy; and to raise public awareness of quality books produced in the Southwest. In 2007, the Book Co-op launched an awards program for excellence in books, which is now one of the largest and most prestigious programs in the Southwest, attracting entries from across the region as well as from major national presses.

Rhenna St. Clair, a Portland, Oregon, native, arrived in New Mexico in 1992. Fascinated by the beauty of the land and its history, the archaeological sites and the mix of cultures, she “can’t imagine living anywhere else.” A retired acupuncturist and Doctor of Oriental Medicine, St. Clair has traveled in China as well as in India and other parts of Asia. She now resides in northern New Mexico. Her poetry has been published in Perspective(s) Magazine, the literary journal of San Juan College. Getting New Mexico is her first novel.

Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Storytelling: Narrative Modes

Narrative modes are individual elements used to relay a story to the reader, and include dialogue, action, description, exposition, thought and scene.

Dialogue

Dialogue is the talk that is exchanged between characters. It is spoken communication and is punctuated with quotations. Dialogue can be used to impart information to the reader, show a character’s personality and unique qualities, or progress the story.

Action

Action is events portrayed as they happen in a story. Action takes time to develop and happens in a specific place at a specific time.

Action is not a “report” of something that happened. It should be described “blow-by-blow” and not as a summary. Action should have meaning and purpose. It should serve to progress the story in some way.

Description

Description is details about how something, a place, or a person looks, behaves, or functions. Description should always have purpose and not be superfluous filler. It should develop setting, characters, situation, and time period.

Description should not be self-serving or irrelevant to the situation or story. It should help orient readers in the scene. Only give the reader enough description to make sure they can accurately picture the image you want them to picture. Leave the rest to the reader’s imagination to fill in.

Exposition

Exposition is the telling of the story through the act of relaying information. It is used to explain, transition between scenes, and offer narrative summary in order to skip details of unimportant but necessary events such as average day-to-day activities like hygiene or traveling to and from locations.

Too much exposition or exposition instead of showing how a character experiences an event is referring to as “telling.” Not every part of the story should be told as exposition.

Thought

Thought, or internal dialogue, is character self-talk or the inner thoughts of a character. It may be only thoughts, or actual talk (self encouragement or disparagement) that a character tells him or her self.

In third person narration, thought is italicized to mark it as different from dialogue. First person wording (“I”) is also used in thoughts. In first person narration, thought is woven into the exposition and narration.

Scene

Scene sets the stage for a particular part of a story or event. It informs the reader of the situation the story section will take place in and offers pertinent details that help develop or provide context for the events taking place.

Special attention should be paid to the opening and closing of each scene so it does not begin or extend beyond what is relevant.

Choosing Which Mode(s) to Use

Every story has a unique balance of narrative modes based on which ones create the most appropriate feel. Modes should be varied. Stories that rely to heavily on one or a select few become monotonous.

Vary modes used to open and close scenes. Break up big chunks of dialogue with action. Avoid long sections of thought. Space out action scenes to give readers a chance to reflect and anticipate what comes next. Keep description to what is relevant and helps develop the story, setting, or characters.

Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Storytelling: Elements of Narrative Voice

There are three elements of narrative voice that can impact the way a story is told.

Attitude

Attitude has to do with emotion, values, beliefs, worldview, and feelings about a particular person or situation. The attitude of the narrative voice reveals how the narrator speaks, the narrator’s body language, his or her reactions, and the actions taken in a specific situation.

Attitude adds uniqueness to the narrator’s voice and provides deeper characterization. Consider how the phrase, “I can’t believe you two met online!” could change depending on who says it. A friend of the couple who is of a similar age and understands that various facets of online dating might say it with pleasant surprise, happy that their story worked out. An older relative who distrusts the internet might say it with derision and eye the boyfriend/girlfriend skeptically. In both cases, the reader is given further insight into the speaker.

Tone

Tone isn’t just what is said but how something is said, and it can completely change the meaning of the actual words. The phrase, “I’m sure you could,” can be supportive and kind when said in a soft and loving tone, or snarky and dismissive if the “sure” is emphasized in a spiteful tone followed up by an eye roll or huff of annoyance.

Speed of speech, loudness or quietness, word choice, emotion behind words, and physical actions accompanying words all affect tone. Keep in mind that not all body language and connotations are universal, so make sure that what you’re trying to convey with tone is understood by most readers.

Personal Style

Personal style (of the narrator not the writer) includes vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar and technical aspects, cadence, and personal preferences. This can be developed for each character to highlight uniqueness.

Be careful not to over do it with too much slang, jargon, or colloquialisms that reading the narrator’s dialogue or thoughts becomes a chore for the reader. Give just enough that the voice is recognizable to the reader when you switch narrators.

Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Storytelling: Narrative Tense

Narrative tense tells the reader WHEN a story is taking place, such as present or simple past tense.

This does not necessarily limit verb tense entirely, but it means a large portion of the story relates events in that tense.

How to Choose the Right Narrative Tense

What narrative tense a story is told in can greatly affect how events are related and how easily a reader can connect with the storytelling. Consider each tense carefully before choosing the best fit for your story.

Present tense:

Present tense tells the story as if it were currently happening. This provides immediacy for the reader. It is, however, less common and requires an adjustment period for readers, and some readers dislike it regardless of the story or characters.

Using present tense can make the right story seem more unique or novel, when done well. It creates a level of intensity that can be hard to achieve when using past tense because the reader feels as though they are experiencing or watching events in real time more easily.

Believability, however, can be more difficult because the writing has to convince readers that the events could be happening right then.

Simple Past Tense:

Simple past tense tells the story as though it has already happened.It is the most common tense and is easily accepted by readers. Because it is so common, it requires no adjustment period for readers to acclimate to the style. It’s also accepted in most genres.

It does create more distance between character and reader, because the events have already taken place. That distance can be a good thing for particularly intense subject matter. Some readers simply do not want to feel they are in the story as it is happening, as with present tense, and like having the distance.

Other Tenses:

There are three other narrative tense, which include past continuous, past perfect simple, and past perfect continuous. These tense, however, are not typically used to write an entire story or novel, but are used in particular instances when they are needed.

Past continuous describes action in progress, such “They were walking.”

Past perfect simple describes action that occurred before a character entered the scenes, such as “They had walked.”

Past perfect continuous describes action in progress that occurred as a character entered a scene, such as “They had been walking.”

While it is important to know these tenses and use them appropriately, they are not typically a factor in choose the narrative tense for an entire story or novel.

Posted in books, creative writing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Storytelling: Second Person POV

Second person point of view is the least most commonly used point of view in fiction.

Second person POV is written in present tense and addresses the reader directly, using the address of “You.”

This POV makes the reader the protagonist. The narrator often uses detailed description, shares psychological insights, and tries to anticipate reader reactions.

This in uncommon in teen or adult fiction and is mainly used, though there have been authors who have used it successfully.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Second Person POV

Advantages of second person are limited. It is very difficult to do well and most readers find it jarring and difficult to connect with while reading.

One advantage is that you can create a different feel to a story, and can speak to the reader directly. This story has to be a good fit for this type of narration.

The disadvantages are more prevalent, partly because this style of narration can feel too personal. It can give a juvenile feel to a story if not done well.

Second Person POV Considerations

Before committing to a whole novel in second person, try writing a single scene and getting feedback from other writers and target readers.

Study those few examples of well written second person POV stories, such as “Bright Lights, Big City” by Jay McInerney.

Posted in books, contemporary romance, creative writing, ebooks, memory's edge, new release, reading, romance, self publishing, writing

New Release: Memory’s Edge 2

It’s taken me years longer (literally) than I planned to finish this book and get it published, but it’s finally available! The second part of the Memory’s Edge Duet completes the series!

Memory’s Edge Series

PART TWO

Most people only have one life-changing experience, but John and Gretchen are on round two of having their lives sent into utter chaos.

After a year of living with Gretchen after being attacked and left for dead with no memory of his former life, John’s memory returns when his wife and children find him. Leaving Gretchen weeks before their planned wedding breaks both their hearts. Being reunited with his family is a balm to that loss, but John quickly realizes the old adage that you can never go home again is even truer when you still don’t remember huge sections of your former life. A spotty memory compounds family infighting, a risk of financial ruin, and having no idea how to step back into a marriage that is complicated by his lingering love for Gretchen.

Even though Gretchen was the one to release John and step aside, going home to her friends and family and the curiosity and pity of an entire community quickly overwhelms her. Friend and neighbor Carl has been in love with Gretchen nearly since the day they met. She knows he would be more than willing to help her forget the pain of losing John, but diving into a new relationship is the last thing Gretchen needs. Feeling lost, broken, and confused leaves Gretchen floundering to figure out how to move on.

As they both face starting over, again, the pull to fall back into the familiarity of each other’s arms weighs heavily against facing the struggle to move forward.

Memorys Edge Maybes