I Finished My Draft!

Hooray! Happy day! My space dinosaur story is done!

Well, the first draft is. It will need some work, like most first drafts do. But structurally it’s in pretty good shape, which is frankly a miracle because pacing is not generally one of my strong suits.

I started this draft in November of 2014 (which is the last time I did a real Nanowrimo) and successfully got my 50K for the year, and then the poor thing languished. I like to try new things for Nano projects, and I tried a new structural technique for this story (which has worked excellently, and I have used for later drafts/revisions of other stories) as well as a new chapter structure (un-numbered, labeled by character name, rotating through three viewpoint characters).

After Nano 2014, I went on to revise my YA paranormal–which needs some more tweaking, and I need to do that soon–then briefly returned to the space dinosaur story in the spring of 2015 before getting distracted by, oh, producing offspring and taking the rest of the year off to write short stories.

Then there was City of Hope and Ruin and the revision for book one of my trilogy which took for freaking ever, and then I finally got back to it earlier this year, though I have taken breaks to work on various anthologies and other projects that have actual due dates.

But it is done! How glorious!

Of course, now the revising process starts. I’ll need to find some betas, and go through and make my own notes, and so forth. But that’s for later. I might start gathering betas now, though, with the thought of getting feedback returned early next year.

For my next project, I think I’ll work on my landsquid books. These are going to be picture books, in theory, so we’ll see how they go. Last time I tried a picture book it didn’t get very far, but I’ve done more research this time, so hopefully it will go better. Plus I know Landsquid. I’ve been using him here at the blog for eight years.

Anyway! I’m quite pleased and very happy. See you guys next week!

Types of Outlines (Part 1)

All right, squiders! (Oh no, they’ve changed the blog interface and now I have to figure out where everything is again, argh.) Today we’re going to look at some basic forms of outlining (with examples) to give you an idea of how much (or how little) goes into an outline, and what one might look like. 

Basic Outlines

A basic outline doesn’t contain much information. It mostly focuses on the bare minimum so that the author can get writing as quickly as possible, and often focuses on backstory and character development over plot and story arcs. Let’s look at some different types.

Premise

A premise outline isn’t really an outline, per se. But it is probably the most basic way to plan out your story. A lot of pantsers use this method. Basically, this where you have a basic idea for a story (with speculative fiction, a lot of times this is a premise—something like, what if time travel had been possible for millennia?—but it doesn’t have to be. Some people start with characters, a specific scene, a setting, whatever, and work from there). Knowing your idea, you play around with it until you feel like you have enough info to start (which varies per person) and then you start writing. Back when I pantsed, I tended to have a main character, a starting point, and a vague idea what the point of the story was.

Example: 
I have an ancestor who was knighted by Queen Victoria—one of my Scottish ancestors—and I just think it would be fun to have him fight crime in Steampunk!London.

And then I might go on to do a basic character outline (Sir George Simpson, aged 46, respected doctor, likes tea, helping people, strolling about, does not like noise, technology, hoodlum. Add in a airship pirate character, female, who likes or is everything that Sir George hates, and maybe a rival physician). I would also do a vague plot (Sir George is called in to consult on a series of strange murders) and perhaps come up with a place to start (no reason not to jump straight in–Sir George comes home from one of his wanders to find a royal courier waiting). But again, this varies by person. But with this method, you basically have an idea and some other information, and off you go.

Freewrite

Freewriting is a technique where you just sit down and write without pre-planning what you’re writing about or thinking too hard about it while you’re doing it. The idea is to just let the words subconsciously flow from your fingers, and the idea is that sometimes you’ll get some really good stuff that was otherwise blocked from coming out in a normal manner. To use freewriting as an outlining technique, you just sit and write until you get something usable out of it. I often use freewriting to brainstorm story points and potential plot events if I get stuck on something I didn’t previously outline more in depth.

For example: 
But what is the conspiracy?  What are they hiding?  If we assume that the year is somewhere in the near future, 2040s or something – which works actually, because it parallels the town pretending to be the 1940s – and Anna is a member of this society, she will have some disconnects between her surroundings and her subconscious memories.  I also don’t know how old Anna is.  I kind of want to put her at 18, because then she’s old enough to be able to think on her own, though it might be a little old if I want her to go to high school. 

The idea with freewriting is that you let everything out, and hopefully in the process find what you need to start writing. It can be very helpful for figuring out your backstory and plot, as well as adding some depth and twists into your planning.

Mind Map

Mind mapping is a visual technique that works somewhat like freewriting, in that you don’t think too hard about what you’re doing and just follow the flow of your thoughts wherever they happen to go. It can be likened to a visual version of freewriting, but it can be very helpful in organizing a subject into topics. As an example, here’s the mind map for this very book:

We’ll look at additional types of outlines next week. Any questions on the basic types?

Oh, in addition, I’m trying out some new marketing. If you’d like to help me out, I’ve got a coupon for Hidden Worlds at Smashwords that makes it 99 cents. It should be a public coupon, so all you have to do is look at the book’s page for it to work. So if you like meta fantasy adventures and books on sale, there we are!

Guest Post: The Sea of Distant Stars by Francesca G. Varela

Good morning, squiders! Happy Thursday! Today I have a guest post about writing process for you from Francesca G. Varela, who is currently doing a virtual tour for her science fiction book, The Seas of Distant Stars.

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Literary Science-Fiction
Date Published:  August 7th, 2018
Publisher: Owl House Books
 
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Agapanthus was kidnapped when she was only two years old, but she doesn’t remember it. In fact, she doesn’t remember her home planet at all. All she knows is Deeyae, the land of two suns; the land of great, red waters. Her foster-family cares for her, and at first that’s enough. But, as she grows older, Agapanthus is bothered by the differences between them. As an Exchanger, she’s frail and tall, not short and strong. And, even though she was raised Deeyan, she certainly isn’t treated like one. One day, an Exchanger boy completes the Deeyan rite-of-passage, and Agapanthus is inspired to try the same. But, when she teams up with him, her quest to become Deeyan transforms into her quest to find the truth?of who she is, and of which star she belongs to.
Excerpt
It had been so long since Agapanthus had really swam—train-swam, counting her strokes and holding her breath until either her forehead ached or the upper, back end of her throat began to complain. Now she just floated, usually. Maybe a steady, parallel lap from one end of the shore to the other. She wasn’t even sure what she thought, anymore. Part of her had given up on the right-of-passage, but the other part of her wanted to prove it to them. What if she did it? What if she really did it, and she emerged from the small round boat to a feast and cheering crowds, and Leera would cup her chin in her warm hands and say, smiling, “I can’t believe it,” and Pittick would at first rest his hand on her head, but then hug her, and she couldn’t even imagine what he would say. Something about how he was wrong. About how much stronger she was than any of them had guessed. Something about being proud.

Agapanthus looked down at her legs. They were coated completely in red sand, no skin showing at all. She stood and brushed off the clinging particles. They felt like little teeth boring into her. Drops of mist speckled the edge of her cheek as the wind climbed over the Waters. She was going to brush the droplets away, but, instead, she left her fingers splayed over the side of her face as she stared out toward Shre. If anyone saw her, they would think she was odd—just staring with her hand up like that, her other hand wrapped over her ribs, her shoulders fallen, like the Contact’s had been. But no one was there to see. That was the good thing about being alone. One of the few good things.

Guest Post – My Writing Process

A lot of people ask me where I get the inspiration for my novels. Sometimes, a character pops into my head from nowhere—from the ether, it seems. They are real, and alive, and I know instantly that they are the one I should be writing about. Other times, I see a vague image—a quiet, numb sunset on another planet, or a girl looking up at a field of stars in the broken wilderness of some future world. This image is my sole starting point. Other times, I have a message I want to spread; a plea to protect wild places, an invitation to enjoy the connection we share with all things, or a warning to not take this connection for granted.

For the most part, I usually begin my novels blindly. I have an idea where things will go, but I let the writing take me there.

The hardest part for me is getting started. Back in high school, when I wrote my very first novel, I learned that the only way to not to get overwhelmed by the length of a novel is to go word by word. To think of writing 60,000 or more words when the pages are empty—well, that’s intimidating. But to think of writing your first 500 words—that’s achievable.

Typically, my daily goal is 500 words. Once I hit that mark, I feel accomplished for the day. 500 words a day will get you to a full-length novel in only a few months, if you’re diligent. And, even if you take a few days off here and there, or take a break when you’re off on vacation, you’ll still make good time. Using the 500 words a day method, I finished my second novel—Listen—in about nine months, and I finished my newest novel, The Seas of Distant Stars, in about six months.

Once the writing is finished, I take time to edit. First, I read through and fix up any issues with the plot or character development. Then I read it again and make grammatical corrections and changes to the prose. Then, and only then, do I let friends and family read it and give me feedback.

I long ago decided to keep my books a secret until they were finished. So, every time I’m working on a novel, no one is allowed to know what it’s about until it’s done. I guess this is because I want the story to be purely my own for a little while. Some of the best writing advice I can offer is to write like no one will ever read it. Write for yourself. Take chances. Be creative. Be edgy. Get those words on the page. After all, the only way to write a novel is by actually writing it! So, write a little each day, and let your instincts and imagination guide you.

About the Author

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Francesca G. Varela was raised in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. In 2015 she graduated from the University of Oregon with degrees in Environmental Studies and Creative Writing, and she then went on to receive her master’s degree in Environmental Humanities from the University of Utah.

Francesca’s dream of becoming an author began in third grade, and her writing career had an early start; she wrote her award-winning first novel, Call of the Sun Child, when she was only 18 years old, and she wrote her second novel, Listen, when she was only 20.

When not writing or reading, Francesca enjoys playing piano, figure skating, hiking, identifying wild birds, plants, and constellations, and travelling to warm, sunny places whenever she can.

Contact Links
Purchase Links
 

Why Do I Need (or Want) an Outline?

Happy Tuesday, squiders! It is freezing in my house and I can’t find–oh, here they are. Never mind.

We’re continuing to talk about outlining today, tackling why you might want–or need–to have an outline.

What’s the point of an outline?

An outline serves as a guide for you while you’re writing the story (or nonfiction book). It helps you remember what your plan was, keeps all your information in one handy spot, and can help you develop ideas from vague thoughts into something deep and meaningful that will make your story super cool. It can even help you spot problems before you get started.

An outline helps you write your story, simple as that.

Aren’t I trapped?

This is a common misconception that comes with outlining. Many people think that if you have an outline, you’re trapped. The story must happen exactly as you’ve planned it. Creativity is dead!

This is not true at all. An outline works for you, not the other way around.

That’s why, in the intro section, we talked about experimenting with what information, and how much, you need for your outline. And the good news is that an outline is not a static document. 

If you write a scene, and it’s more natural to go a different way than you’d originally envisioned? Great! Update your outline. If your planned ending feels forced? Try something else. There’s nothing that says you have to stay with your outline if it stops fitting the story.

I would recommend updating your outline if you decide to radically change things, but we’ll go into that in a minute.

Additionally, you can outline at any point in your writing process. If you started off pantsing and find yourself in a corner, you can start outlining from that point as a way to figure out how to get from where you are to where you want to be. This is actually how I started, once upon a time–I would pants the first half or so of the book, then outline the end, so I could make sure all my loose threads would be tied up in a logical and entertaining manner.

You can also outline revisions and rewrites. Because you already know the story (and what’s wrong with it), it can help to lay out what needs to be changed and how, to limit the amount of drafts you have to go through in the end.

Outlines are the solution to writer’s block

The biggest pro of outlining is that it virtually eliminates writer’s block.

(There are exceptions, as there are to everything. That’s another subject.)

Have you ever been happily writing along, throwing every terrible thing you can think of at your main character, and run into a brick wall? Things have gotten too terrible, and you don’t see how they can ever get out of it. Or your main character is flitting around from subplot to subplot, not getting anywhere, because you’re not sure what they’re trying to get to?

As I said before, an outline can be basic. Just knowing what your character wants (and whether it will be a good or bad thing when–if–they get it) can help shape your entire narrative. A little more structure, and you can know where you’re supposed to be at what point (“okay, at the midpoint, she finds out that who she thought was her sister isn’t her sister at all”). Nothing has to be specific–you don’t have to do any great detail–but knowing where you’re going, even vaguely, helps eliminate that flailing feeling where you don’t know where to go next.

NOTE: It can also be useful to outline the next day’s writing when you stop writing for the day. This can help you easily remember where you were and what was happening when you come back, and it gives you an idea of what you need to do for the day. It’s always faster to write when you know what you’re doing versus when you don’t.

(If you’ve ever read one of those books or articles about increasing your daily word count, you’ll know they almost always talk about having a plan for your daily writing. Same idea here.)

Next week, squiders, we’ll start delving into the types of outlines (complete with examples).

Thoughts on outlining?

Library Book Sale Finds: The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie

I don’t think I’ve done one of these all year. Whoops.

(For those who are new, I acquired a ton of books at a few library book sales a few years back, and occasionally I will read one. I like library book sales because I think you’re more likely to buy books you wouldn’t otherwise, so it’s a good place to find a new favorite author–or a book so ridiculous you have to share it with everyone you know.)

I love Agatha Christie so I tend to pick up everything by her that I find. (Because her stories are often republished under different titles, or shorts are moved around, this sometimes means I end up with the same stories multiple times.)

I suspect I bought this one because I’ve always wanted to see The Mousetrap, which is a play Agatha Christie wrote that’s been running continuously in London since 1952. It has a twist ending, which the audience is asked not to reveal (it’s probably somewhere on the Internet, because we can’t have nice things).

At the request of the author, the short story that the play is based on has not been published since the play opened. Luckily for me, this book is from 1949.

(Though, to be honest, we don’t seem to be sticking to that anymore. A simple Google search turns up a bunch of editions.)

(Of course, now I can never see the play because I know the twist. Or at least, I won’t be surprised. It is a VERY nice twist.)

The book itself is a short story collection (the original title being Three Blind Mice and Other Stories), with “Three Blind Mice/The Mousetrap” taking up about a third of the book. There are also four Miss Marple stories, three Poirot stories, and one featuring a Mr. Harley Quin, whom I’ve never heard of before, but am tickled by the name.

Title: The Mousetrap
Author: Agatha Christie
Genre: Mystery/short story collection
Publication Year: 1949

Pros: Everything
Cons: 
Not longer

(Varying dates for the individual stories, of course.)

I don’t have a lot to say about the individual stories–don’t want to give away anything–but it is a good mix, with some nonstandard twists that were very interesting. Miss Marple is my favorite, so I was glad to get so many stories about her (and they were all new to me, yay!) and am also fairly fond of Poirot, so it was all good.

I really enjoyed this collection. I would definitely recommend it, though, of course, who knows if other editions will have the same stories (aside from the first one, of course). Also, if you guys know any modern authors who write in a similar style to Agatha Christie, please tell me.

Have a lovely weekend, squiders! My show opens tomorrow, so I’m a bit in panic mode. It should be fine–it’s in good shape, I know my bits–but it’s a bit mentally taxing.

What is an Outline? (Part 2)

Good morning, squiders! Last week we started talking about the basics of outlining. We’ll finish that up today.

What are the parts of an outline?

Again, this varies wildly from author to author. A basic outline, the one most people think of when they think “outline,” contains the plot. Plot, in this case, is the order of events that happen in a story. Things like “Characters A & B discover a dead body in their garden” and “When they call the police, they discover someone has framed them for murder.”

And, to be fair, this is an integral part of almost all outlines. Even if you’re a pantser, and you just need to know where to start (“In a park, where Character A has just seen Character B, the most beautiful man she’s ever laid eyes on”), there’s still a tiny bit of plot. Having at least a basic idea of the story you want to tell is typically a good thing.

How the plot is laid out again varies, based on the type of outline one is using.

Aside from plot (and subplots), outlines might also include:

  • Character information (names, ages, appearance, personality, history, etc.)
  • Setting information (helpful to have all in one place for consistency)
  • Theme(s)
  • Arcs (internal, external, relationships, plot, character)
  • Target word counts (“this chapter should be about 2000 words”)
  • Goals (“this scene introduces Love Interest B”)
  • Bits of prose or dialogue (to remember to include)
  • Premise
  • Chronology (if you’re mixing timelines or telling a story out of order, or in a specific pattern)

Getting started outlining

Last week we touched briefly on how to know how much of an outline one needs before they start writing. While experience is the best teacher here, I find that the best way to feel your way out if you’re just beginning is incrementally.

Start with your premise. A premise is the idea of the story, like “What if Hamlet only pretended to die?” or “Romeo and Juliet, but told in space with pirates.” This is your starting point, in most cases, the idea that popped in your head that you want to try out.

Stop. See how you feel.

Next, try out a basic plot OR characters. Most authors write either plot-driven or character-driven stories, so a lot of people find one or the other comes to them first. If you need some inspiration, feel free to go through the Story Ideas section of the blog.

You don’t need to do a lot of work here. Your character can be “Carrie, 27, newly arrived on the orbiting station.” Your plot can be “Recently-graduated engineer arrives at her post to find it completely deserted.”

(Hm. I kind of like that one.)

Stop. See how you feel.

The temptation can be to do a ton of work up front. And to be fair, sometimes you need to. If you want to write about a subject you know nothing about, research is essential, and can help form your plot and characters moving forward. And some people need five pages of notes/outline for each chapter of their story. You might be one of those.

But I want to warn you about a phenomenon I call Plot Death. I see it in conjunction with NaNoWriMo a lot, where there is a set starting date when people can begin writing. Since they can’t write, they plan. And they plan. And they plan, plan, plan.

And they overplan. And they lose all interest in the story.

Most people have a general range of information they need to start writing. Too little, and they get stuck, unsure where to go. Too much, and the story has lost its magic. What fun is writing if everything’s already planned out? Where’s the magic of discovery, of creativity?

(Again, as a disclaimer, some people love–and need–that level of detail. But it should be something you work up to, not start out with.)

So do a little at a time. Plan out your basic character. Feel like you need their backstory before you start? Add it in. How do you feel? Ready? Still need more?

Start with a basic plot. Feel good? Go. Want more structure? You can plan out the first couple chapters and try that, or hit your major plot points, leaving the spaces in between up in the air. Now how do you feel?

At some point, the story is going to start coming to you. You’ll get an idea of side characters, or scenes, or conversations. (Write these things down so you don’t forget them.) And then start writing. See how it goes. Do you find yourself struggling to think of what comes next? It might help to outline a little more (maybe adding in other viewpoint characters or side plots). Words flowing? Keep going.

Adjust as necessary.

As time goes by, you’ll start to instinctually be able to tell what information you need, and how much of it. For example, I don’t need to do a lot of prep work on characters–they come easily to me–but it’s helpful for me to check my structure and my plot points because my pacing gets way off without that. You’ll learn what’s best for you.

Next week, we’ll discuss why you need–or want–an outline.

How are you doing, squiders? Thoughts on getting started outlining?

Mars Trilogy Readalong: Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Ugh, guys, I’m sorry this took me so long to get through. I don’t really have any good excuses, except I should have started more than a week before we were supposed to be talking about it, especially since it’s almost 600 pages.

To sum up, as I told my dog last night: this is not a hopeful book. This is a book about how humanity is stupid and self-destructive.

I mean, I hope we eventually get into a hopeful phase, but who knows!

Red Mars came out in 1992 and won the Nebula in 1993. It covers somewhere between 35 and 40 years of time, starting with the colonist selection process on Earth and following them through the trip to Mars and approximately 30 years on Mars itself. It’s told in eight sections, with a different viewpoint character for each section (though Nadia and Frank each get two), and each viewpoint character is a member of the First Hundred, as the first colonists are called over time.

Most sections cover a decent amount of time, sometimes years, and there is also usually a time jump between sections (though section 8 follows directly from section 7). The book sets up characters on various sides of different issues, such as terraforming (the greens “let’s do this as fast as possible” vs. the reds “leave Mars alone–what right have we to meddle?”), colonization, emigration, corporations, government, etc. Genetic engineering is also present, but aside from its relation to terraforming (they create specialized algae that can survive on Mars’ surface), at least in this book, it’s treated as a uniformly good thing (i.e., no characters are presented as against it). I will be interested to see if that changes as the books go on.

There may be SPOILERS moving forward, so be aware.

The plot of the book is fairly chronological rather than action based. While we do open somewhere in the middle, subsequent chapters and sections start from the beginning and run straight through. The First Hundred are selected, leave for Mars on the Ares, an immense spaceship with some artificial gravity, gardens, farms, etc. (even birds) to try and help with mental states on the long voyage. On the voyage, we see the first signs that people have different plans for the planet and different ideologies, and that some people lied throughout the selection process.

They arrive at Mars and get started building up the infrastructure necessary to produce air and water, build habitats, and start exploring. Things are good. But eventually those ideological differences pop back up, especially in relation to terraforming and whether or not they need to get Earth’s permission before they do things. And a large section of the First Hundred disappear, becoming the Lost Colony, without any warning.

As time goes on, more people arrive from Earth, different factions with different goals, and without cohesive goals or leadership, tensions start to rise. Big corporations start sending a ton of workers and “security,” sabotages start happening, people disappear–and Earth is no help, because Earth is also falling apart, due to global warming and increasing numbers of wars.

Eventually the “revolution” happens–a number of rebel factions, not coordinating with each other, attack, destroying towns (reliant on thin domes for their atmospheres) and killing people. The “security” forces retaliate, shooting down from orbit. There is mass chaos, with all these factions working for themselves and the Earth forces (mostly these corporate security forces as well as some UN-approved ones) trying to lock everything down. The space elevator is destroyed, crashing down to the planet. Phobos is destroyed. The First Hundred become targets–Earth is trying to peg them as scapegoats and ring leaders–and they manage to escape to the Lost Colony at the end.

SPOILERS over.

This was actually a fairly quick read, all things considered–depending on whose point of view the section is in. I found Nadia the easiest to read and Frank the hardest; I’m sure other people would feel differently. Even when the characters spend forever building habitats or exploring the vastness of Mars, the book never feels slow (though I admit I occasionally skimmed sections with a lot of place names, which just didn’t mean anything to me). It does a great job of showing what life might be like on Mars, and a great job presenting a number of characters who are obviously different from each other. I would recommend it if you like hard science fiction, especially near future stuff, or space exploration.

Also, apparently the first person walks on Mars by 2020, and colonizing by 2026, so we’d better get on it.

Did you read this with me, squiders? What did you think?

Green Mars is next. Let’s do the end of January for it, so we can get through the holidays without going crazy.

Landsquid Sketches

Sorry, squiders, no Red Mars discussion today. We’ve had a really bad week, personally, around these parts, and I’m just not done.

(I’m close, but I don’t see any way it’s going to happen today, around everything else that’s going on. Plus each section has a different point of view character and I’m super not digging being in the current one’s head, especially after [spoilers].)

So, instead, I’m going to share some landsquid sketches. I think I told you guys that I’m trying out a few online courses on drawing, coloring, and shading, with the idea of doing children’s books (both picture and chapter books) with illustrations. I did a digital coloring class last week (you can see the results of that over at the Turtleduck Press blog), and this week I’m doing digital sketching and character design.

I have a wacom tablet that my spouse got me several years ago. I used it for a bit (you might have seen the results here on the blog), but when I switched to my current two-monitor set-up, the graphics drivers couldn’t seem to manage the tablet correctly, and I had to stop using it.

But I’ve plugged it back in, and since I had to get a new computer about a year ago, apparently this one can handle both the dual monitors and the tablet, so hooray! We’re back in business.

Except, of course, that I find there’s a bit of a learning curve drawing with the tablet. See for yourself.

landsquid sketches

(They’re light because the class recommends sketching in a light color so they’re easier to “ink” later.)

I’m trying out different eyes, obviously–the center one is the way I’ve always drawn landsquid (for almost ten years now–wow!) but I’ve always found it a bit hard to do expressions. Any preferences on the eyes? I kind of like the anime-style ones (far left) but I’m not sure they’re any better expression-wise. But the ones with pupils look weird to me.

I don’t know. Even when I was using the wacom before, I never found it as natural to use as just drawing on a piece of paper. So we’ll see if it gets better.

Anyway, thanks for understanding, squiders. Red Mars on Tuesday even if it kills me, and more outlining on Thurs–wait, Thanksgiving. Um, Friday.

What is an Outline?

Okay, squiders! Let’s dig into outlines.

What is an outline?

In the most basic terms, an outline is a plan you make before you begin a story.

You’re probably familiar with the form they teach you back in elementary school (five paragraphs, intro, three body paragraphs–strong, weak, strongest–and a conclusion), with the alternating letters and Roman numerals.

This is indeed an outline–and you’ll see something similar if you go into an outline mode in any word processing software–but that’s only one type of outline, and really more of a style than anything else.

(If you are writing a technical or nonfiction document that requires an outline, this is what you’ll want to include. But fiction works differently.)

You’re welcome to use that if it works for you, but, seriously, an outline is just a plan. Any plan. And how much, and what’s included varies person to person and story to story.

Some people pick a main character and a starting situation and jump feet first into the actual writing. Other people write hundreds of pages, outlining dialogue, characters, theme, arcs, plot points, relative word count, etc.

Most people fall somewhere in the middle.

Some people jot down a few ideas on a napkin. Others use Scrivener, or Word.

But basically, you need something to start writing a story. And whatever that something is is part of your outline. You may not call it that. It may not feel like that. But it is, nonetheless, essentially an outline. Even without the indents and Roman numerals.

Plotter vs. Pantser

If you’ve been around writing communities, you’ve probably heard the terms “plotter” and “panster.” A pantser is a writer who write by the seat of their pants. They require very little starting information before they jump into a story. A plotter is a writer who painstaking plots everything out before they begin writing.

(NOTE: It is interesting to note that a pantser may still have an outline for a story. It won’t be a “this happens, then this happens” sort, but they may still flesh out characters, world, theme, and general arcs in a less official format.)

Most writers fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Some may pants some types of projects but prefer to outline others. And those writers that do outline may do different levels for a short story versus a novel, or between one genre and another.

In my experience, most writers start off as pantsers and move toward plotters as their careers progress. This is not always true; Stephen King famously does not outline, and neither does John Scalzi, as examples.

How do I know how much outline I need?

You’re not going to like this answer, but–experience. As you write more, you try new things, and you learn what works for you and what makes you want to jump out a window. And eventually you find a process that works best for you (or maybe a few, if you write multiple lengths/genres).

If you’re just starting out, however, next week we’ll talk about how to get started with outlining, and how to try out different levels of outlining to find a good starting place. You’re not going to find your perfect outlining process on the first time out, but you can probably triangulate an amount of information that will work, even if it’s not perfect.

Any thoughts on outline basics, squiders? Agree that your outline is essentially your plan, whether you call it an outline or not?

Outlining Introduction

So, my darling squiders, I have gone through my nonfiction book ideas, and there’s only ONE left for the series.

Madness, I know. Thank you guys again for coming along with me on these book posts! After this one is done, the idea will be to consolidate the posts off the blog, add new information/sections where applicable, and release them as ebooks.

But, for now, let’s talk about outlining. Or talk about the fact that we’ll be talking about outlining.

Outlining can be scary for many new writers. There are a lot of misconceptions about what an outline is or isn’t, what the point of it is, and why you even need one. We’ll tackle all of these concepts, as well as types of outline and how to tell how much outlining works for you personally, in the coming weeks.

If you have any questions about outlines that you would like me to address, please drop them in the comments!

I’m excited to get into this subject because while I am not that detailed of an outliner myself, the whole process appeals to the analytical side of my brain. And the poor analytical side needs some exercise every now and then.

We’ll start whatever day next week ends up not being Red Mars day. See you then!

Books by Kit Campbell

City of Hope and Ruin cover
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Shards cover
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Hidden Worlds cover
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