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How to outline a Work in Progress (WIP)

I was asked today how to outline a work in progress by one of our new mamawriters. With NaNoWriMo on the way, no time like the present to take a time out and discuss the benefits of plotting, and adhering to an outline.

This is not a formula, per se… but some things you can think on. I don’t think in terms of outline. I do think in terms of prose — so for me, writing a full synopsis from the get go is the best way to find out what happens along the way to the end.

  • Identify theme of story (Man vs.  man, Man vs. nature, Man vs. self).
  • Put your whole story synopsis into a 3-5 page, single spaced tale. Hit the high notes. Think five paragraph essay – introduce your H/H in first paragraph. Introduce their wants. (Hero wants X, Heroine wants Y, Antagonist wants Z).  Make notations as to first glance, first kiss, first *ahem* depending on your book… first cup of coffee or first date or first night together (in mine, it leads up to the ultimate statement of true love… a marriage proposal, whatever – I write inspy, I’m allowed to be coy. My fellow romance writers can explain the differences on importance of other encounters. *ahem*
  • Make sure each paragraph has conflict, and that the conflict builds on something that happens previously, and leads toward the ultimate climax.  Make sure that you’re dropping clues toward your h/h’s journey along the way, how they’re getting what they wanted in the beginning, & what they want in the middle.
  • Toward the end, you’ll have your climactic scene, where the H/H win, they receive what they ultimately desire, and then your denouement, when all settles into a HEA.

NOW, separate your synopsis into a word doc, where each paragraph is a note toward your plot progression. Give each one a Chapter #, and off you go! You should have about 30-40 or so chapters using this method. You can give yourself wordcount goals, or what have you — and if your plot goes pear shaped, you can figure out how to rein your characters back, or revise the remaining paragraphs later. The best part is, each paragraph is a prompt for the next time you pick up the WIP.

Oh, and do your best not to edit along the way. Use the 5 minute editing rule! I’m digging that one, discussed today on www.mamawriters.com

Good luck, and happy writing! 🙂

~Ashley

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You MUST read this book…

This is a question that keeps authors up at night.

How does a book become a “Must Read?” — Following hashtag #FridayReads today on Twitter – brought this oldie but goodie post back to mind. What makes a book a “MUST READ?!”

Is it a catchy title?
Is it a beautiful book cover?
Is it word of mouth advertising?
Is it excellent mechanics?
Is it excelling in english 101?
Is it creating intimacy with your audience…and if it is, how do you do that?

So, intimacy, huh? Are we talking behind closed doors, or sensual intimacy? No. I’m talking intimacy of sharing the details and minutia of your day with your mom or best friend. I’m talking about the intimacy you put in your journal that is shoved in a drawer where no one would ever think to look. I’m talking intimacy of honesty in your writing that makes you believable in every way, shape, and form.

This is how I feel intimacy is developed – please chime in if you have any ideas on the subject…or, call me out if you think I’m way off base! I’m still learning, here!

I believe it’s creating characters that could be your reader’s sister, best friend, lover, crazy ex, or odd next door neighbor that no one ever sees and everyone talks about.

I believe it’s honesty in the writer’s voice…so that your reader becomes enveloped in your story, becomes invested in your characters, and digs their toes into the beach sand or the bed covers, turning page after page until the story is finished.

I believe it is a setting that you know so well, it’s like taking your reader by the hand and on a personal field trip through your mind.

I believe that it’s listening and learning from your editor, taking tips and tricks from successful writers, and weaving them all into your current story, and starting from there – using them when you weave your next tale. This is what will make your next story the best book you’ve ever written.

Plotting, Pant-sing, Character building exercises aside. Us authors need to work on developing our voice, first and foremost – and the only way to do that, is to write. Write every day. Write about anything and everything. And like my friend Dan Harmer said, write like your parents will never read what you’ve written down. (He said something slightly different, but I don’t even like to think about a world without my parents in it – so I’ll say it this way: Write like you’re jotting your story in your diary that NO ONE knows about.)

This is nowhere to be timid. This is your opportunity to confront your subconscious. To drag those deep, dark, scary, sensual, inspirational, and/or devotional thoughts into the light of day. Fillet your soul and let the world see what you bleed… And that is what I feel makes a must read:

True Intimacy.

Plotting

For the next few weeks, I’m digging deep into the craft, working on that elusive concept of plotting. And, I’m very interested in how my process varies from other writers…how do you plot your tales? weave your universes?

I’ve asked the writers and readers in my Yahoo Publisher’s Group on what types of reads they were most interested in. Short, “quickies” if you will – fulfilling stories you can read in 10 minutes or less (frankly, for the mother of toddlers, this is an awesome idea).

Personally, and the general consensus is – that the full length novel is still our over-arching favorite. To read and to write. But in either case, you must give way to plot. A conceivable, believable plot that will draw your readers in from sentence #1, and keep them turning pages late into the night.

If you’re like me, you have a trunk full of stories that you’ve been writing since you could hold a pencil. Most of them are unfinished. Un-plotted. Written by a plotter who was writing like a pantster.

Okay – what’s the difference? A plotter knows basically where the story is headed. A pantster writes “by the seat of their pants” – giving life to their characters and letting them go and do as they will.

Writing like a pantster for the past two weeks, working on a short, has been an excellent exercise for me. Allowing my organized self to just let it go and see what happens. Of course, once the bones are there, then the plotter goes back in, fills the holes, revamps the ending, and ties up all loose ends in a nice, neat little bow. We’ll see if the latest submission has any merit soon. Hopefully. Perhaps what I’ve written is actually a first chapter and not a short story, as one of my writer friends mentioned. Aye yai yai. Too late now.

So, with regards to plot – here is what I do when laying one out:

  1. Pour a cup of coffee
  2. Pick up a yellow note pad
  3. Write a quick scene, off the top of my head, introducing me to the hero or heroine I’ve been chewing on (if no one particular is in mind, I’ll add someone into the scene and ask them who they are…)
  4. When the mind clicks, (authors, you know what I mean), I give the hero/heroine a problem, and then introduce them to each other. Do they like each other? Have they ever met before?
  5. Write out the storyline for the two to solve their problem together.
    If all of the above clicks, you have a story to write through to fruition. If none of the above works, it’s back to step 1 tomorrow.

Now – though I’m a plotter, I’m vicious with my stories. I am known to hack my darlings to pieces if I don’t believe what they’re up to. Often, I’m surprised by what happens. I mourn when someone dies. I laugh with them, cry with them, and lose myself – much to my family’s chagrin. Even Rachel now “writes books” at her little student’s desk in my office, telling me, “Mommy, read what I’ve written here!” – okay, voices from MY past – I did the same thing to my mommy. Ha.

If they aren’t going anywhere, back in the WIP pile they go. I flip flop from story to story until I fall in love and can’t let go. Historical Romances are slightly different, as my plotting process depends a great deal on historical events, research, and finding believable voices and points of view.

I would LOVE to hear your plotting schemes – how your story arch comes into play. Feel free to comment!

Have a blessed day!
~Ashley

Where do the ideas come from…?

I’m in a think tank meeting, and I was just realizing that I am one of those people. Those idea people who think, why not? Why can’t we do this? instead of that? And what’s more… Where do all of the great ideas come from?

I think that most great ideas must stem from people being ticked off in one way or another. Wondering why something doesn’t work as well as it should. Or why there isn’t a better way to do something. Quicker. Faster. Cheaper. Better. Or maybe that’s just me.

I’ve been thinking about agendas and organizing and planning, and really – I make fits and starts at it – but the question of the week is – what is your 5 year plan for writing?

That one has kept me up at night. So here’s the deal with my writing background. I have always written. I used to dictate to my mother and she would read me back my elaborate tales. I fabricated great stories about riding on fire engines, or seeing a gorilla jump up and down on a policeman. (Some call this fibbing or – lieing. I call it a stellar imagination.)

so, I’ve always written. Since I was a child and could put pencil to paper. When I hyphenated words after consanants. When I misspelled everything. Okay, so I still need to edit myself – but who’s asking. The point is, writers write. Because they have to. Because it is in their blood. Because they need to have that fix. Create that universe. Live in an alternate reality. It’s who we are.

So, my 5 year plan for my writing is – to be the best writer I can be. To never give up. To write as many stories as I can. Enter contests. Publish multiple titles in e-book and print. To hone my craft. And, to learn how to juggle the important things, and let the little things drop where they may.

I have a few quotes from the prolific Nora Roberts that really made me understand my craft. And what I need to do to get to the next five years.

(I’m paraphrasing – but this is what I remember from her interview…)

“Write. Write the best story you can. Write what you would want to read. Enjoy
your characters. If you don’t enjoy them, no one else will, either. Don’t play
favorites. And remember, there are 88 keys on the piano – and think of all of
the beautiful and different songs and types of music.”

(This is me again) Every story and character is a unique universe. And with regards to my process, I guess you could say that I write with my heart. I write what I have loved to read, or love to read now. Sometimes it’s historical. Sometimes it’s a mystery. Sometimes a thriller. But there is always a love story at the heart, because I’m a hopeless romantic. As my daughter Rachel reminded me the other day…

“Every story should start with Once upon a time and should end with …And they lived happily ever after…

We only have a limited amount of time on this earth – and personally if I read a book, I want to be entertained. To escape for awhile. To fall in love with a place. The sights. The smells. To miss them when I close the cover. And that, my friends, is how I want to write everything I pour my heart into.

Author Page Up on The Wild Rose Press

Well, ladies and gentlemen…I’m officially “in the garden” as they say. I have my author’s link up on The Wild Rose Press website. View it here…

I’m also meeting some fantastic fellow authors – the ladies in the garden are most prolific. It’s actually most exciting and gives me a great deal of hope that All or Nothing will be more than a single title for me. Those who know me well know that writing has always been my heart’s desire. And, wow. Here we are in rewrites.

Speaking of rewrites, here’s a note as to progress:
I’m up to page 87 of 304. I feel really good of about 80 of them. (The page number/total changes as I rip scenes out, rewrite the POV, and I have to admit – some I mourn the loss of and others I can’t believe I ever clung to as if a liferaft in a stormy sea!)

My overwhelming issue has been with my supporting cast, if you will. Yes, it’s interesting to know who they are and how they think and feel, but as Elizabeth has reminded me again and again, the story is about RuthAnne and Bowen. And come to think of it, I’m a glosser over myself when I’m reading chapters such as these. AND when you gloss over your own chapters, that would be a big warning bell I would think.

The Online Writer’s group I’ve joined is really neat. So far, I’ve “met” an author/cover artist from San Diego – and Canada – and various other well wishers who all lend phenomenal support. I’ve evaluated my character’s opinions about me… (yikes. Never suspected Bowen would consider me a gossip!) and all of that. Crazy. Now I am looking to consider my writing process. Well, fits and starts seems most appropriate these days.

I have a stack of half finished plot outlines, WIPs and scraps of paper with ideas that I had at 3:45 am – which apparently is when my brain wakes up with creative fervor! my body however, flings a pillow over my head and forces me back into a restless slumber. That is, until I’m summoned by two year old Ellie to soothe a nightmare, fetch a cup of water, and now for heaven’s sake! take her to the potty. She’s 2! she potty trained herself and doesn’t even use her pull up at night! must limit her fluid intake prior to bedtime. MUST. *sigh* Maybe I’ll finally get the hang of motherhood by the time they go to college.

Of course, last night – my inspiration is this love of time travel romances that is flitting through the garden. I have one in my drawer – in need of a rewrite since many elements from that one migrated to All or Nothing (my stories are by no means monogomous in their pre-published formats).

SO – perhaps this one – Working title “The Hawk and the Raven” – a 3:47 am inspiration – might get my attention next. I will say this. Seeing all of these amazing women working on multiple projects, juggling family, career, life, the universe, and everything is incredibly inspirational. I finally feel like I’ve found where I belong.

Until tomorrow!