#Amwriting October 27: Ways to Outline a Novel

If you have been following our NaNo prep series, now you should be ready map out your novel. Yesterday we went over the pros and cons of outlining. Whether you plan to outline or not, it pays to investigate some of the different ways writers organize large amounts of information. One might be the best way for you.

 

 

Tried and True:  Index Cards

The most common way to outline a novel is to write on index cards and arrange them as needed. There are many articles how to do this, including Three ways to plot with index cards.

More modern upgrades include using sticky notes, for example, The wall of sticky notes, How to plot a novel.

You can also use stickies for revising:

 

Sticky notes don’t need to be limited to neat, straight lines. You can plot a rising conflict by adding lines with painter’s tape, then post the stickies around it. If you are on Pinterest, check out this plot planners for writers board. WOW! I like the ones that add photos of characters as they are introduced. I might add setting photos, too.

If you prefer to type, some software offers virtual index cards, for example Scrivener.

Beyond the Index Card

As I said previously, there are as many ways to outline as there are writers. Yesterday we saw Kat use the 3 Act/9 Block/27 Chapter method on a dry erase board.

Gabriela Pereira outlines her novels like a subway map. Rather than indicating locations, the diagrams show the flow of the plot and subplots. If you are used to reading subway maps, this could be incredibly useful.

Another popular method for non-linear thinkers is the Snowflake method. For this one, you start with a single idea and build outward. The author now has books discussing his method. Evernote has a checklist that runs through the steps.

I’ve been attending a number of webinars lately and have noticed a buzz about Plottr. I haven’t tried it yet, but the colors and neat look of the examples definitely attract my attention. Check out the Primer on Medium. Available to try as a free 30 day trial (and no, I’m not affiliated).

The Flashlight Method isn’t about the physical aspects of the outline, but instead consists of planning the first few chapters prior to writing. The idea is once you start writing, you won’t be able to see the entire path, but you will see ahead as much as a flashlight (or headlights) will allow. You basically outline as you go.

If this isn’t enough, Chuck Wendig has a quick list of 25 ways to plot and plan. He mentions a “crazy person’s notebook” where he prints out sections and tapes it into a notebook.

I really like that idea. Maybe into a planner, so it’s a timeline, too. With pictures of the setting and the characters when they are introduced.

Wait, maybe I should write the novel instead.

How do you plan your novel?

 

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

#Amwriting October 26: Outlining Or Not?

For the last few days of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) prep, we are going to consider how to best get your novel onto the page. Today let’s explore whether you want to outline or not.

 

Do you need to outline your novel? Do you want to?

Whether or not to outline a novel before writing it is a highly individual choice.

Pantsers

Some people avoid outlines at all costs. People who abhor advance planning call themselves discovery writers or pantsers (because they write by the seat of their pants). Pantsers find having an outline — or at least knowing the ending — kills their creativity. The advantage of the pantser approach is that the story builds on itself organically. The disadvantages are that pantsers can lose their way and get stuck in the middle, or have to rewrite extensively during revision.

Plotters

Others say they would never be able to finish a novel without an outline. Writers who outline prior to starting a novel call themselves plotters. They develop an extensive plan of how the novel will come together before writing a single word. The advantage is that they can focus on creating scenes rather than the whole story. In fact, with a good outline they can write the scenes out of order and still keep the story growing. They are also less likely to have to revise heavily. The disadvantage is that if they follow a plot structure too rigidly, the resulting novel may feel formulaic.

The two camps sound diametrically opposed, but if you look more closely you will see the two processes have a great deal of overlap. Most pantsers have done some planning, although perhaps only in their heads. Most plotters find themselves rewriting their outlines at some point and sometimes abandoning them altogether.

Here authors Kat O’Keeffe and Alexa Donne explain the differences in their approaches.

 

They both make some excellent points, don’t they?

I’ve started a few novels that I haven’t finished, not because they were bad, but because I lost interest. I am happy to work on them until I figure out a good ending. Once the ending seems concrete in my head, I’m done. The puzzle has been solved. Therefore, this time I’m going to side with Alexa and be a pantser. Perhaps if I can keep the ending a mystery for long enough, I will finish this one.

Exercise:  Are you a pantser? Want to give being a pantser a try?  Pick a bit of backstory that you need to flesh out or a scene that might occur in your novel but you haven’t done any planning for. Use it as a basis to free write for about half an hour and see where it takes you. Anything surprise you? Did you struggle because you didn’t have a plan?

Even though a certain portion of us won’t be doing any serious outlining, over the next few posts we’re going to take a look at how plotters create their outlines. It turns out that there are as many different ways to outline as there are writers.

Start with Kat’s videos:

Kat’s 3 act / 9 block / 27 chapter video 

Kat’s outlining example video

Alexa’s  “I Hate Outlining” video

Have you decided whether you are going to make an outline for your novel?

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

 

#Amwriting October 25: Summaries and Half Scenes

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) starts in seven days. Yikes! Time to get your affairs in order, in more ways than one. Today let’s get our non-writing lives organized, pull scenes together more, and learn about the cement that flows between scenes:  summaries and half scenes.

 

Organization for Life and Novel

If this is your first NaNo, I highly recommend visiting the official website and signing up. Once inside, go to the Writer’s Resources tab, scroll down to NaNo Prep. Half way down the page is a button for downloading the NaNo Prep Handbook. Check it for great suggestions on how to get household chores done ahead of the writing marathon you are about to embark on. Now is the time to organize your space and take care of all the errands. I’ve been vacuuming like crazy — who knows when it will happen again — and stocking up on groceries. Any spare time you can open up by preparing in advance will be well worth it.

The good news is that while you are cleaning and running errands, you can also be planning your novel. Play with scenes in your head. Tell yourself parts of your story while you are traveling. Jot down notes while dusting. It will be time well spent.

Because we’re doing chores today, our lesson will be brief.

Summaries and Half Scenes

Scenes are the main building blocks of novels, but there are other formats that you may not have heard about. Summaries and half scenes can fill in between scenes to help carry the plot along.

Summary

If your story jumps ahead in time or has a series of events that would bog down your novel if you wrote each one as a scene, then it is possible to tell your reader about the gap as a summary.  A summary is a quick overview of what happened (not in real time), rather than the play-by-play drama of a scene.

Example:

During the ensuing five years, Carrie married her high school sweetheart. She still missed John, especially when she went to the movie house on Fifth Street, the one where they had had their first date. But over the years, the pain had faded…

Half Scene

A half scene is a mix of scenes and summaries. It may have short bits of action or dialogue interspersed with sections that tell more than show. Flashbacks often take the form of a half scene.

Walking along the park, the waft of jasmine in the air brought it back to me.

It was my freshman year of college and I was drowning. Few students were as ill-prepared for college life as I was, but then in Chem 101, I dropped my books and he — my knight in shining armor — helped me pick them up …

If you’d like to learn more, writing guru Marylee MacDonald has full articles about half scenes and summaries with some more advanced examples.

How is you preparation going?

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

 

#Amwriting October 24: Thoughts/Feelings in Scenes

For our NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) prep series, we are drilling into each of the components of scenes:  description, action, dialogue, and thoughts/feelings. Today let’s reflect on thoughts as a way to reveal feelings.

For our series, we have already mentioned the importance of incorporating emotions ( emotional content in novels) and that your character should react to events/action (reflection. )  Now let’s delve more deeply into the nuts and bolts of how to accomplish these things in a scene.

You can show how a character is feeling several ways.

1.  Simply say what they are feeling.

“I am sad today.”

However, “on the nose” dialogue is usually undesirable. Also, people don’t necessarily know exactly how they are feeling or don’t want to reveal it.

2. Add body language to the action beats.

“You were supposed to do that yesterday.” Jane crossed her arms over her chest.

Done properly, body language can be effective. On the other hand, it can be open to misinterpretation. According to The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, folding your arms across your chest can be a sign of annoyance or sadness.

“You were supposed to do that yesterday.” Jane crossed her arms over her chest, then stomped her foot.

Now we can clearly see Jane is annoyed.

3. Reveal feelings through thoughts.

“I’m sorry, I meant to do that last week,” John said. Too bad he couldn’t hit a redial button on his life.

A characters thoughts can give away his feelings. John regrets that he procrastinated.

Where do you add thoughts in a scene? In addition to sprinkling thoughts into dialogue (via action beats) or during action, larger snippets can be included in times of reflection.

Example of character naming her feelings in her thoughts.

Nova is a super-spy from the future. Nova’s mom has called and says she wishes Nova could come home. Nova responds:

“You know it’s only for three more months. ”
Nova had been proud when the admin picked her for this duty and it turned out she was good at it. If she admitted it, the best in the current year, with a 96% closure rate. The psych team had warned her it would be lonely. She’d be isolated for the most part. But she didn’t feel lonely. Instead she felt guilt, because she liked this streamlined version of her life. Only her work. No distractions. No responsibilities. She missed her daughter, but only when her past life intruded. Like now.

 

Tips for Evoking Thoughts/Feelings in Your Character

1. Trigger a feeling by having your character encounter a sound, smell, or visual signal. It can a direct response to the stimuli.

When I returned home, Todd was baking. I bathed in the soothing scent of cinnamon and pumpkin. Heavenly, All was forgiven.

2. Flash back to a memory that evokes emotional experiences.

The first church bell announced the hour. The loud clang shook me to my core. A fear from childhood. The church bells ringing had meant I was late. When I arrived home, she would be waiting. Angry and waiting.

Writing Tricks

1. You can use syntax and punctuation to further express feelings.

For example, a run-on sentence can show excitement.

“I knew it would be a long shot, but I went for it anyway and they really liked it and I can’t believe that they gave me the trophy.”

Pauses can add the feel of someone holding back their anger.

“You. did. not. do. that.”

2. Interjections are direct expressions of feelings.

  • “Phew, I’m glad that’s over.”
  • “Oops!”
  • “Whoa! I want to see that again.”

Exercise:  Go over a scene you’ve written and see if you can add more emotional depth using some of these techniques.

 

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

#Amwriting October 23: Dialogue

For our NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) prep series, we are drilling into each of the components of scenes:  description, action, dialogue, and thoughts/feelings. Today let’s have a conversation about dialogue.

 

Dialogue is a verbal exchange between two or more characters in written format. We all know how to have a conversation, right? What possibly could go wrong?

Dialogue Dos and Don’ts

1. As with other components of your scene, make sure your dialogue serves at least one purpose. Keep these questions in mind:

  • Is it revealing character?
  • Illuminating the relationships between characters?
  • Adding tension?
  • Advancing the story?

2. Use proper punctuation and grammar. Dialogue has specific rules, such as where to place the commas, where to place the quotation marks, and how to use paragraph breaks.

For example, you should begin a new paragraph every time a new person starts speaking.

“It’s about your brother,” her mom said. Nova sighed. “What is it this time?”“Wasn’t his fault.”“Of course not. What happened?” Nova watched a young couple walk by, a golden retriever in tow. It tried to sniff her, but they yanked it away. “He had this one girlfriend. Rhonda. But then he got interested in another girl. A woman actually. A married woman.” Her mom was silent for a moment.“And?” Nova said, although she didn’t want to hear any more. “The woman got jealous of Rhonda. I think she knew he’d never be hers. Gees, she’s married. What’s she thinkin’?”Nova’s earpiece beeped. “Hold on, Mom. I’ve got an important communication coming in.”

Like this:

“It’s about your brother,” her mom said.

Nova sighed. “What is it this time?”

“Wasn’t his fault.”

“Of course not. What happened?” Nova watched a young couple walk by, a golden retriever in tow. It tried to sniff her, but they yanked it away.

“He had this one girlfriend. Rhonda. But then he got interested in another girl. A woman actually. A married woman.” Her mom was silent for a moment.

“And?” Nova said, although she didn’t want to hear any more.

“The woman got jealous of Rhonda. I think she knew he’d never be hers. Gees, she’s married. What’s she thinkin’?”

Nova’s earpiece beeped. “Hold on, Mom. I’ve got an important communication coming in.”

If you are unsure, there are many article and videos online to walk you through it.

3. Real people don’t all sound alike. Give your main characters differences in their speech patterns. It will make your dialogue more interesting, plus you’ll be able to get away with using fewer dialogue tags because readers will be able to tell them apart more easily.

Do you hear the subtle differences in speech between Nova and her mother above? Nova’s mom is less formal and uses more contractions.

J.K. Rowling gives her character Hagrid a distinctive voice.

“Well, yeh might’ve bent a few rules, Harry, bu’ yeh’re all righ’ really, aren’ you?”

4.  On the other hand, don’t  go overboard with unusual accents.  Uncommon accents can be hard to decipher and can pull a reader out of the story. If one of your characters is from an area known for a strong regional accent, it may be possible to use it moderately at first to suggest the sound to the reader and then subtly back away.

5. Use dialogue tags and action beats to avoid “talking heads”.

Dialogue tags are the words that tell the reader who is speaking and how.  Action beats are short sentences that come before, between, or after dialogue. They tell us more about what the character is doing, feeling, or thinking. In the quote below, the dialogue tags are marked in red, the action beats in blue.

“You take the bus?” Nicky asked.
Lauren’s perfect posture slumped a tiny bit. “My parents took away my car.”
“Bummer.” Nicky wasn’t surprised. Lauren did have a reputation. “Why don’t you get one of those ride services?”
“They took my phone and allowance, too.”
“That sucks,” Nicky said.
Lauren’s manicured eyebrow twitched as she studied Nicky for signs she was making fun. Apparently appeased, she said, “Tell me about it. I hate my parents. They’re never there when I need them, only when I don’t want them.”

6. Mix things up from scene to scene.

It can be easy to fall into a rut when writing dialogue. You might do exactly what you did in the last scene, which can get repetitive and boring for the reader. You can change:

  • The amount of dialogue you include per scene — shorter is better.
  • How you break the dialogue up on the page.
  • Up the tension between characters
  • Use more subtext (what is being left unsaid)
  • Cut small talk or greetings/goodbyes
  • Change the pace. Use short sentences in an action scene, longer sentences when one character meets another for a first date.

A great video about subtext

7. Avoid “on the nose” dialogue, which is stating the glaringly obvious.

Example:

“I’m really sad my cat died.”

In fact, most people are more likely to withhold information during a conversation than overshare. Play with that instead.

8. Also avoid “maid and butler” dialogue, aka “as you know.”

Sometimes an author needs to explain something to the reader that the main characters would already know, such as how to use a specialized piece of equipment, what happened at a party last week,  or what the effects of a certain disease might be.  For example, avoid having  one doctor say to another, “As you know, Bob, diabetes can cause eye damage.” Instead, have the doctor explain the details to a patient (or medical student) and allow the patient to ask questions as a stand in for readers.

All in all, don’t get too caught up in the dos and don’ts. Writing dialogue can be a fun change of pace.

Exercise:  As a way to discover how much you can actually leave out of dialogue and have it still make sense, try this modified version of an exercise from Writing Excuses podcast:  Either take dialogue that you’ve already written or write a scene that is heavy with dialogue, then remove every third line. Does it still make sense? Can you fix any problems with an action beat or two?

Do you enjoy writing dialogue?

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

 

#Amwriting October 22: Writing Action

For our NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) prep series, we are drilling into each of the components of scenes:  description, action, dialogue, and thoughts/feelings. Today is action.

 

Action Is All About Verbs

The action part of a scene occurs when someone or something acts. They do something. It is all about verbs.

Action doesn’t imply, however, that your characters must be fighting, kicking, or running. They can drop a spoon, pet a dog, or kiss. That’s action, too.

Verb Are Complicated

I have a huge pet peeve about how writers talk about verbs. I cringe when I hear people who should know better say you should use “active” verbs and not “passive” verbs when they really mean “strong” versus “weak” verbs.

Why is calling verbs active and passive incorrect?

There is actually a case when active/passive is correct. In grammar, active and passive have specific meanings. If you do something, that is active voice. If something is done to you (by someone else), that is passive voice.

Example:

  • Active:  Janie hit the ball.
  • Passive:  Janie was hit by the ball.

Although passive voice does have its place, your main character should be as active as possible.

When is active/passive incorrectly applied?  The meaning gets stretched when it is applied to any verb with a “to be” form and -ing ending.

Wrong:

  • Active: Janie hits the ball.
  • Passive: Janie was hitting the ball yesterday.

Those verbs are not active and passive, but instead reflect the time when the actions occurred. Those verb forms are called tenses.

  • Simple Present: It happens today.
  • Present Perfect: It has happened before.
  • Simple Past: It happened yesterday.
  • Past Perfect: It had happened before yesterday.
  • Future: It will happen.
  • Future Perfect: It will have happened before tomorrow.
  • etc.

When the action is ongoing for a length of time, we use a “to be” verb plus -ing ending:   It is happening today.

My suggestion is that we call these verbs strong/weak instead. Whenever you use a “to be” verb or a “to be” verb plus -ing ending, that will be called weak.

  • Strong:  Janie hit the ball out of the park.
  • Weak:  Janie was hitting balls yesterday and is tired today.

Sometimes you need to use the “weak” verbs to be precise about the timing of events and that is perfectly okay. Avoid, however, overusing them throughout a scene when the stronger forms of the verb will work.

Rant over.

Exercise:  Write a paragraph reflecting action. Check your verbs to see if you can make them stronger. Also, look for synonyms that may make your verbs more precise.

 

Example:

A collision had snarled traffic on the freeway, making Neri Clausen more than twenty minutes late on her first day as a deputy U.S. Marshal. As she dashed toward the Federal Building in downtown Dallas, something squished under her shoe. No time to assess the damage. She sprinted across the street, through the glass doors, and headed for security. After she skidded to a halt behind the man with the enormous white cowboy hat waiting to pass through the metal detector, a bad odor assaulted her. Dog feces. A brown smear encircled her mirror-polished black Chelsea boot. The brand new one she had paid a nonexistent paycheck for because she needed something both stylish and practical.

Crud. Literally.

The elevator doors closed behind her. She peeked at her boot again. The brown goo went deep into the detailing on the toe. It wasn’t going to be easy to wash off. She had seconds to decide whether to present herself to her new boss wearing fetid shoes or with the battered flip-flops she carried in her bag for a trip to the swimming pool later. The two other people in the elevator wrinkled their noses in disgust and inched away. Flop-flops it was.

 

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

#Amwriting October 21: Description in Scenes

Now that we are working on scenes for our NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) prep series, let’s spend the next four days drilling into each of the components:  description, action, dialogue, and thoughts/feelings. Since a new scene often starts with description, let’s tackle that first.

 

Description:   The Definition

To make sure we’re all on the same page, the description component of a scene allows the reader to picture a place, person, or thing (or feeling) in their mind. Ideally, it should excite all the reader’s senses with concrete details. It is painting and sculpting with words.

How much description to include and when to include it will depend on genre and your personal style. The common advice is that a thriller will have a lot of action and little description, whereas a literary novel will often revel in description.

Examples

Regardless of genre, some writers make their descriptions sparkle. For example, in her essay, “The Map of How to Write,” Mary Sojourner uses description to take us on an intense emotional odyssey. Her personal style is to use amazing, surprising descriptions throughout her work.

“The sun is a platinum disc trapped in a web of dark branches on the surface of the water. A breeze moves over us. Sun and water-trees shudder.”

Typically, a mystery novel would have sparser descriptions, but ace novelist Raymond Chandler makes his descriptions into intriguing poetry. The beginning line of The Big Sleep:

“It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. “

No cliché “It was a dark and stormy night…” for him.

The next paragraph describes the entrance to mansion he’s visiting.

“Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn’t have any clothes on but some long and convenient hair. The knight…was…not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up and help him. He didn’t seem to be really trying.”

Although it seems like he’s engaging in some playful, offhand remarks, this paragraph mirrors later themes of his main character rescuing people in trouble. It is golden if your description can serve two –or more– purposes.

Upping Your Descriptive Writing Game

How do you write memorable, vivid descriptions?

1. Stomp out all clichés.

Instead of:

  • Shiny gems
  • Armed to the teeth
  • Black as coal
  • Bird’s eye view
  • Crack of dawn

Try:

  • Fish scales reflecting sparks of sun
  • More weapons than brains
  • An ebony cat on a moonless night
  • Drone view
  • Salmon pink glimmer at the horizon

2. Get into your character’s body and describe what he/she/they experiences through all their senses. Be as concrete as possible.

A character having a bad day at the gym:

Her leggings were too thick, trapping the heat of her body as she moved in rhythm with the rest of the class. Perspiration gathered at the small of her back and trickled across her skin. She caught a whiff of garlic and panicked that she smelled as bad as she felt, but it was the boy next to her. The ache in her head worsened as they spun left, then right. Where did her teacher get those hiccup sounds she called music, the bargain bin?

Revisit our post about setting in layers, which discusses what a given character will observe.

3. Don’t be afraid to pull out similes, metaphors and other literary devices. In the second Raymond Chandler example above, he used the personification of a stained glass window to great effect.

4. KISS: Keep it simple and keep it short.

We’re writers. We love words. As much fun as it is to write three paragraph descriptions, too much wordiness bogs readers down. If readers dislike the descriptions too much, they will start skipping those paragraphs and may miss out on some vital parts of your story. Write with your reader’s comfort in mind.

Exercise:  Write a description of a place you enjoy visiting using all the senses you can pack in. Now pare it down to only a few sentences. What can be combined? What can be cut?

Share the result in the comments.

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

#Amwriting October 20: Brainstorming Scenes

If you have been following our  NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) prep, you should have at least a few characters, setting, an inciting incident, and a timeline started. Let’s move the story forward by brainstorming three different ways:  orally, visually, and by putting pen to paper (tactile).

 

1. Oral

Storytelling is an oral tradition, so why not brainstorm by telling your story? Yes, actually speaking out loud. Get the speech and hearing parts of your brain  activated and see where it leads.

Find a private place, like your room, the garage, the car, anywhere you feel comfortable. Start any way you like. Try “Once upon a time…”  The aim is to hit the high points. You don’t need to go deep into details.

You can simply talk to yourself, but if something golden crops up, it might be better if you record it.  You can use a tape recorder, a digital recorder, or the recorder on your phone or computer.

 

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If you have Google Drive and a Smart Phone with a microphone, you can even convert the audio to text. This is how it looks on my phone:

When you open a Google Drive document on your phone and start to edit, look for the microphone symbol. Selecting it will give you the option of adding text via speech.

Note:  If you pause for a breath, the translating app may stop. Glance at the text regularly and tap it to start again if that happens. Also, it won’t be a perfect translation.

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When you are telling your story, don’t aim to go smoothly from beginning to end. You might find yourself starting with backstory rather than the beginning. Go for it. Last night I discovered my protagonist’s secret backstory that I had no idea about. It completely explains her behavior later in the story.

You will probably hem and haw, repeat yourself and stumble a bit. That is fine.  If your story quits flowing completely, though, you might want to think about why that happened. What pieces aren’t working? What do you need to add or change? Think about it some and try telling your story again another day.

Drawing/Making a Storyboard

Do scenes come to your mind like video from a movie? Investigate a technique that comes straight from film making.

Start by drawing one scene from your novel on a piece of paper. Add colored pencil or markers.

The novel didn’t get written, but the storyboard was fun.

If you like how it moves the story ahead, consider a full storyboard the plot.

Wave.video Blog has an article that gives details on how to storyboard a video, and many of the ideas apply to novels as well. According to the article, a storyboard can help you get organized, save time, and identify problems in advance.

They suggest starting with how you want the audience to feel. Awesome idea!

 

 

Putting Pen to Paper (Tactile)

We are so used to creating on the computer, we forget that writing with a pen on a piece of paper gives us an entirely different tactile experience.

Pull out some three by five cards or even some large sticky notes. Start writing scene ideas, 1 per card or note. Add the setting, which characters will be present, the characters’ goals, and what conflicts will occur. Later you can order your scenes on a board or add them to your Scrivener file.

 

Hope you find one or more of these methods helpful. Which did you choose?

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

 

#Amwriting October 19: Scene Basics

If you’ve been preparing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) with us, time to consider scenes.

 

What is a scene?

As a reader, you probably already know what a scene is instinctively.  As a writer, however, it pays to have the nuances clear in your mind.

A scene is often defined as the basic building block of plot. What does that mean exactly? Envision a scene as a mini-novel. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end, during which a action/incident/reaction occurs that moves the entire plot forward. In addition, there’s generally a concrete setting, point of view, and cast of characters. When one or all of those things change, the story is moving to a new scene.

Scenes can be fluid and different authors handle them in different ways, but they often follow a general template:

The Scene Beginning

Like the beginning of your novel, at the beginning of each scene you need to orient the reader, and perhaps give a quick summary of what has happened since the previous scene.

Make sure the setting, the characters, and point of view are all clear right up front. As a reader, I have read a few multiple point of view (POV ) novels where it took a long time to figure out which character was narrating a particular scene. If I have to skim ahead or look back to figure out whose voice I’m hearing, it takes me out of the flow. If I have to do that more than once, I’m likely to go find another novel to read.

With a little crafting, you don’t have to be obvious to show who is narrating. Make sure each character has a unique enough voice and circumstances to stand out once you have dropped a few clues. Also, be sure to introduce any new characters in the scene clearly and precisely. Make them easy to remember with a few carefully-chosen descriptive details.

All in all, make sure the character(s) have something they want to happen. Do they want to get a job, find a clue, or have dinner with their mother? What is their objective or goal?

The Scene Middle

Here’s where the character runs into trouble. Some sort of obstacle gets in their way, making it difficult to achieve their objective. A crisis becomes a bigger crisis, which causes reaction or change. The change might be something like they discover or learn how to use a tool that allows them to progress against a bigger problem coming up later. On the other hand, it might be an argument between boyfriend and girlfriend that drives them apart.

The Scene End

The author has the most flexibility with the ending. Generally, the scene ends when something changes, like the characters split up, the setting changes, or the action jumps to the next day (time changes), etc. The story is moving on. You can wrap up things and set up the next scene, or you can leave on a cliff hanger, with a question that will be answered at a later time.

No matter which ending you chose, try to end on your strongest line. Hook your reader to turn the page and keep reading.

Scene Nuts and Bolts

A typical scene is 750 to 2,500 words, but you control the length of your scenes.  Some authors suggest that shorter scenes make the pacing quicker. Others suggest that shorter scenes work better for readers using electronic devices. If your scenes average longer, don’t worry about it. Some readers prefer a slower pace. You can also mix up the length from scene to scene. Your voice and style is your own.

Another way to individualize your scenes is by controlling the amount of action, description, dialogue, thoughts and feelings you include. One scene might be largely action, the next heavy with dialogue. Keep in mind what is appropriate for what is happening overall. If you are at a climax in your story, action is probably going to work better than long pages of mostly dialogue.

Hopefully, you have a clearer understanding of what a scene is and how you write one.

Exercise:  Go to a scene you have written in the past and analyze it for the components we discussed. Do you have a clear beginning, middle, and end? How did you handle the ending? How much description did you include? How many lines are devoted to action or to dialogue? Did your characters reflect on what happened and formulate a new plan or did they move on?

Now that you have studied it, would you change anything?

Tip:  Analyze a scene or two from your favorite novel for the same components.

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

#Amwriting October 18: NaNo by the Numbers

If you are going to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year, you are going to write 50,000 words during the month of November.  Let’s check the numbers.

 

Slow and Steady

If you plan to write each and every day, then that is 1667 words for 30 days.

How much time you will need to set aside every day depends on how fast you type. Note that I didn’t say write, but type. Even if you’re feeling creative and the words are flowing like magic, it takes a certain amount of time to set them down on the page. If you are a slow typist like I am, it will physically take you longer than someone who can type fast. That is why I never win sprints or word wars. I – type – slowly.

Let’s do the numbers. I can type between 500 and 600 words in an hour. That means I will need three hours every day to achieve that goal. That doesn’t seem like much if you are thinking the average work day is eight hours, but I already have a busy life. Things are going to have to go.

Exercise:  Keep track of how many words you write per hour over the next few days. Then calculate how many hours you will need per day to write 1667 words. Make a schedule now for setting that time aside.

Tip:  To be even more organized, write the exact hours you are setting aside for NaNo on a calendar or into a planner.

Reverse NaNo

November is a tough month because of the holidays. There’s a lot going on at the end. If that is the case for you, consider doing a reverse NaNo. Start piling on the words at first, with roughly 3000 words a day for the first week, then gradually taper off (link shows exact number you will need per day). So, for me, that’s roughly 5 to 6 hours a day for the first few days.

Even if you don’t do a full reverse NaNo, piling on the words at the beginning may make it easier to achieve your goal.

The Scenic Route

Let’s take this number crunching one more step.  If the average length of a scene in a  novel is 750 to 2,500 words, you will be writing on average 1 to 2 scenes per day. That ends up being roughly 30 to 60 scenes over the full month.

At this point you probably know whether you are a pantser (discovery writer) or if you outline ahead of time (planner or plotter). At the very least, you’ve probably heard proponents of both camps. The reality is, however, writing that many scenes is a daunting task, so a bit of planning now makes it more likely you will succeed.

Dear Plotter,

I’m not worried about you. Charge ahead with your outline. You probably had your outline written last month, right?

Dear Pantser,
No need to be scared. Don’t call it an outline, call it a plan. As you know, plans can change. Or call it a recipe. You always tweak recipes when you cook, right?

 

Exercise:  Get a calendar for the year(s) your novel covers. Start a timeline of events both during backstory and after the novel begins. Being able to picture the events unfolding over time will help keep the words flowing. Plus, you won’t end up with eight day weeks (has happened in real novels) or pregnancies that last three months.

Time to map out that novel!

 

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

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