Tag Archives: outlining

Writing the 2nd Book in a Trilogy

18 Jul

by Kat Zhang

So, I’m almost done with the first draft of my outline for Book #2. Considering I just turned in my edits for WHAT’S LEFT OF ME (eee! New title still makes me all tingly, lol), it may or may not be a little early to be working on the outline, but somehow, I suspect not. Either way, considering I go just a little bit crazy when I don’t have something writerly to be working on (especially when school isn’t in session and ready to distract me with physics and spanish and american politics), I don’t really have much choice in the matter.

The outline will need to be cured of about two or three good-sized plot holes before it’s in a state to be shown anyone. Not to mention the line “I will think of something appropriately sweet and non-cliche eventually, haha” is probably going to be replaced at some point. Yeah.

But overall, I’m pretty darn satisfied with the whole thing, and so very relieved that I am. Of course, we’ll have to see if my agent and editor and the rest of the team at HarperTeen are satisfied before it’s full sails ahead for my starting to write the actual book, but I personally can’t write a book unless I feel a certain soul in it, and I think I’ve found the right one for Book #2 of the Hybrid Trilogy.

To be honest, I’ve never written a trilogy before. So this whole process has been very much a learning experience as I try to figure out what constitutes a good sequel, especially when it also has to serve as the bridge between books 1 and 3.

I decided early on that I wanted to steer away from a common complaint people have about second books in a trilogy—that they’re the weakest ones. The ones with the least excitement. That they often only serve to put things in place for book 3. I hope that this book 2 comes to stand on its own as a story in and of itself—of course strongly connected to the other books, but no lesser than its fellows in terms of plot or characterization or excitement.

This is probably all way early to talk about considering WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is still a good year away from publication, but I’d like to keep a record as I go on writing and editing and outlining this series—both for myself and for whomever else is actually interested. So as of today, the first draft for the outline for Book #2 is just about done. I’ll let you guys know when I actually start the first true words of the manuscript.

I’ll die of excitement. I swear 😉


Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen and her book WHAT’S LEFT OF ME is about a 15-year-old girl fighting for her right to survive in a world where two souls are born to each body and one is doomed to disappear. It recently sold in a three-book deal to HarperTeen. You can read more about her writing process, travels, and books at her blog.


A Musical Secret

8 Jun

By Sammy Bina


We’ve had plenty of articles about the importance of outlining here at LTWF, but today I thought I’d throw one more at you. Something a little out of left field, if you will. Something different. Because when it comes to outlining, I’ve never been a fan. In fact, I pretty openly despise it. Only recently have I been somewhat converted to the monstrosity known as the Detailed Outline (meaning I’ve only done it for one book); in every other instance (including the novel I actually made a Detailed Outline for), I’ve gone about things a bit differently.

My secret? I outline using music.

Writers are inspired by all sorts of things. Maybe for you it’s a conversation you overheard on the subway, or a really incredible piece of art. Maybe your ideas come to you while you’re in the shower, or in the middle of taking an exam. For me, music’s always been my muse. I tend to write my novels as if they were movies — I can see them play out in my head and, more importantly, can imagine the soundtrack playing faintly in the background. Ironically, I can’t write with music playing, but it’s a huge factor in actually getting me to write.

Allow me to explain how this all works.

Step 1: I get an idea for a novel. For realism’s sake, we’ll use my current WIP as an example.

Step 2: I open iTunes. That’s right — before I even open Word, I’ve got to get a playlist started. I even come bearing an example:

As you can see, this is the playlist for SILENCE. It’s still growing, but the initial playlist, before I even began writing, consisted of about 20 songs. Because the story’s very melancholy and quiet, I put together a compilation of songs that I thought would work well to set the tone. For example: William Fitzsimmons, Peter Bradley Adams, and a bunch of instrumentals.

Step 3: Start writing.

Step 4: Add songs to playlist. As new scenes are written, I try to imagine what song might be playing in the background if it were actually a movie. Most of the time the song actually inspires the scene, but sometimes it’s the other way around. For example, I consider SILENCE’s theme song to be If You Would Come Back Home by William Fitzsimmons, which is at the very top of the playlist. It isn’t directly related to any scene, but I always listen to it before I start editing. It really helps me sink back into the story and how I felt when I was writing it. Some people set the mood for a romantic evening at home. Me? I set the mood for a romantic evening with me and my computer.

Pivotal scenes often get more than one song. In the first chapter of SILENCE, the main character has a flashback to the night her parents died. The scene initially starts with a song from Yann Tiersen’s Amelie score, but as the tension grows, it turns into a song from Mansfield Park. Different instruments lend themselves to certain feelings, and in some cases, instrumentals aren’t even good enough. Sometimes you need lyrics. My soundtracks are so random and mismatched, but somehow, it just works.

By the time I’m done with a story (written and edited), the playlist is usually between 30 and 50 songs. It really depends on how scene-specific I get. SILENCE is a bit more like that, while my playlist for THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD is more generic and mood-setting than anything. It all depends on the story. All I know is that this is the only real way I can outline. I start associating songs and lyrics with specific scenes or characters. The first novel I wrote had a pretty short playlist (short being 25 songs), but every time one of those comes up on my shuffle, I’m still reminded of scenes I wrote nearly a decade ago. Music sticks with you, which is why I think it’s been such an effective tool for me. So for those of you who are like me and are having trouble outlining, maybe give the musical route a go. If anything, you’ll get an awesome playlist out of it!


Sammy Bina graduated with a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and interned for the Elaine P. English literary agency in Washington D.C.. She is currently editing her YA dystopian, SILENCE. You can follow her blog or find her on twitter.

Building Plot from Character

17 Jan

by Susan Dennard


Last Friday’s QOTW was about avoiding a contrived plot.  At the time, I took this to mean a copy-cat plot, but the responses of Mandy and Julie made me see what the question could have meant: how do you avoid a forced plot — a turn of events in the story that doesn’t feel natural.  Julie said, “if a seemingly unsolvable problem is solved by a character conveniently having an ability that was unknown before the crisis moment, the solution feels contrived.” Mandy mentioned “it’s the decisions the characters make that effect how the plot plays out.”

I wanted to take both of these fantastic answers a step further.  To avoid that feeling of “what a coincidence!” or “this feels out-of-character“, you can focus on building your plot from a character.  Whether you a plotter or a pantster, it’s important to keep in mind that in most stories character dictates plot.  Even the most plot-driven stories are affected by the heroes — think of Indiana Jones or Lord of the Rings where quests are the main force behind the story but characters also affect how that quest plays out.

Ultimately, convincing stories boil down to the decisions and actions a character takes feeling natural to that character (just like Julie and Mandy said).  The best way to show what I mean is to use my favorite stories as examples.

Plot-driven Stories

How would Star Wars: A New Hope have differed if Luke were a different type of person?

Luke is a reluctant hero — though he wants excitement and change, he’s unwilling to leave behind his family on the whim of his old pal, Ben Kenobi.  In fact, Luke is kind of a whiny baby.  For him to have willingly accepted Ben’s request to face Darth Vader from the beginning would have felt wrong.  Why?  Because it’s not in his character to actually face excitement and change fearlessly.  It’s not until his family is killed that he decides to set out on his quest and face the major nasty, Darth Vader.

What if Luke had been a braver, more aggressive character?  He’d have been gung-ho over facing Darth Vadar from the get-go.  We’d have found it weird if he’d been reluctant.

What if Luke had been a downright coward?  Well, no way in hell he’d have joined Ben Kenobi — dead family or not.  The quest just wouldn’t have happened.

The plot has to fit the characters.

Character-driven Stories

How would Napoleon Dynamite be different if Napoleon were a different type of person?

Well…you wouldn’t even have the same story!  If Napoleon didn’t call home for chapstick or draw hideous portraits of his prom dates, you simply wouldn’t have the same movie.  In other words, everything in a character-driven story is decided by the main character.  To have even the slightest out-of-character action is much more obvious, and to force plot events on a character will instantly alienate readers/viewers.

Again, the plot has to fit the characters.

How to Build Plot from Character

I foolishly messed this up with my first draft of The Spirit-Hunters — I made up a series of events I thought were über cool, threw some random characters in to act it out, and BAM!  I had a completely wretched story that was utterly unconvincing and took a year of heavy revisions to salvage.

Mandy offers great advice in the QOTW: “This is why I always reccomend that if you have a book idea, the first thing you do is figure out what kind of character would create the most conflict– whether that means a bossy Type A character who loses control, a fashoinista who ends up stranded in the woods, a socially awkward girl who ends up in high society, etc. If you truly think about what kind of characters will naturally create the most conflict, chances are the plot won’t feel forced.

The instant you’ve got your Shiny New Idea, sit down and sort out the best character for it — be it the kind of person who will create the most conflict (a reluctant Luke Skywalker) or the kind of person most likely to be up to these sorts of challenges (an always ready Indiana Jones).  If you’re writing a romance, what traits in the hero will most conflict with the heroine?  Thinking about characteristics and the conflict that can arise from such personalities will let you tap into a whole new (and convincing!) slew of plot events!

Have you made this same mistake in your own writing?  Have you seen it done in any movies/TV/novels?  Or can you think of a story that would be totally changed if the protagonist were a different sort of person?


Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, The Spirit-Hunters, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her writing process, crazy life-thoughts, and crippling cookie-addiction on her blog or twitter.

The Snowflake Method of Drafting a Novel

5 Jan

by Julie Eshbaugh


If the idea of methodically building your novel appeals to you, then the Snowflake Method, designed by Randy Ingermanson, might be just what you are looking for.  (A link to Ingermanson’s site can be found at the end of this post.)

The Snowflake Method contains ten steps.  These ten steps will take you from your concept to a completed first draft.


Step One – Write a one-sentence summary of your novel.  The best summary sentence is one that includes a reference to the character who has the most to lose and the thing he or she wants most to win.  The one-sentence summary for Suzanne Collins’s THE HUNGER GAMES would be something like this, “A girl tries to stay alive in a fight to the death against twenty-three other teens that is aired on live television.”

Step Two – Expand your sentence into a full paragraph.  In this paragraph, you should include the story set-up, each disaster, and the ending.  You can decide the cause of each disaster, whether it is internally caused or brought on by external circumstances, and include those details as well.

Step Three – Next, your characters.  For each of your major characters, write a one page summary sheet that includes the following:

  • The character’s name
  • A one-sentence summary of the character’s storyline
  • The character’s motivation (what does he/she want abstractly?)
  • The character’s goal (what does he/she want concretely?)
  • The character’s conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?)
  • The character’s epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?)
  • A one-paragraph summary of the character’s storyline

Step Four – Expand each sentence of your summary paragraph from step two into a full paragraph. All but the last paragraph should end in a disaster. The final paragraph should tell how the book ends.

At the completion of step four, you should have a fairly concise one-page skeleton of your novel.  (Don’t sweat it if it’s longer or shorter than one page.   The point is that you are taking your seed of a story from step one and growing and expanding it.)

Step Five – Write a one-page synopsis of the story from the point of view of each major character.  (For more minor characters, you may want to write a half a page.)  This step may seem tedious (and it can be time-consuming if you have a lot of major characters,) but it will really get you into the heads of the people who will give your story life.  You will begin to see where they agree and where they clash.  While plot is always important, honestly drawn characters are what make us lose ourselves in a novel.

Step Six – Take a fresh look at your one-page plot synopsis from step four and expand it into a four-page synopsis.  One way to approach this would be to expand each paragraph from step four into its own page.  This step gives you the chance to find the complexity in your story, discover new plot ideas that may have been inspired by your character explorations in step five, and weave in subplots.  By keeping it to four pages, you can also easily identify plot holes or problems with the story’s logic.

Step Seven – Expand your character summaries from step three into full-blown character charts.  Make sure that you not only know each character’s motivations and goals, but also the smaller details, such as the one thing they would grab before running from a burning house, or the person who has been the greatest influence on them.  This is the step where you make sure your characters are fully alive in your mind.

Step Eight – Take the expanded synopsis you created in step six and make a list of every scene that needs to be written to tell your story.  If you’re adept with spreadsheets, creating one for this task will allow you to use the columns for details such as setting and POV character.  For those of you who like to hold your writing in your hands, index cards will work just as well.

Step Nine – Using the scene list, write several pages of narrative for each scene.  If you choose to add in dialogue, that’s fine.  By the end of this step, you’ll have a miniature rough draft of your book.

Step Ten – Write your first draft!

So what do you think of the Snowflake Method?  Do you think it would be helpful, or do you think it would hold you back?  Please share your thoughts in the comments!

For more information about Randy Ingermanson and his writing theories and methods, you can visit his website, here.



Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.  She is also a freelance editor. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.


The Write Way to…

2 Dec

I used to have a Way I Write, and I was more or less proud of it. I was not a plotter, I wouldn’t touch an outline with a ten foot pole, and I never separated my story into chapters until the entire thing was finished. I also wrote my stories out of order, writing the scenes I could picture perfectly at the moment and then going back later to connect them and flesh things out.

Well, the last bit is still true, anyway. The others have slowly but surely changed over the last few months.

I’ve seen posts encouraging people to find their own way of writing and to not ever let someone else telling them they’re doing it wrong. In many ways, I agree. If it works for you, go ahead and do it. I love hearing about different people’s ways of planning and executing a story simply because they are often so very different.

But I think we need to remember, too, that just because you have a Way to Write now doesn’t mean it can’t change. I know I got so caught up in defining the ways that I write that I didn’t let myself explore other people’s methods as much as I could have. Who knows? You might find a new way of writing, one that works even better than the last.

Here are some methods I’ve encountered. I don’t use all of them, but I’ve tried most of them!


  • Outlining using flash cards, one scene per card
  • Outlining using colored sticky notes, one scene per note. One color for plot events, one color for character development milestones, etc.
  • Outlining chapter by chapter in summary form
  • Outlining like an ADHD goldfish with a love for shiny things (scribble down a three page outline. Realize three pages into story that you are going to be diverging from your outline. A lot. A lot a lot.) …in other words, how I do it 😀

Character development:

  • Fill out character forms (Adventures in Children’s Publishing has some great, very detailed ones) <— I love the idea of this, but have NO patience for it…
  • Write up tons and tons of backstory that fills up entire binders and is longer than the book itself
  • Interview your characters (I would do this, but my MC for HYBRID would clam up and my MC for the wip would look at me like I was crazy and then just…leave)
  • Write 1st POV snippets from all your character’s POVs, even the minor ones (I do this for characters who don’t have the POV but need to have their voices fleshed out)
  • Write present tense biographies for all your characters and read them in your head with all the solemnity of those History Channel guys with the deep voices (guilty)


  • Stare at a blank page and write down, stream of consciousness, whatever comes to mind that’s even vaguely related to the story (it works, too!)
  • Read other books in your genre until you’re inspired (done and done)
  • Bug your CPs on gchat until they agree to brainstorm with you. You’d be surprised how the ideas start flowing more easily once you’re talking to someone else about it (*raises hand*)
  • Write where in the story you are at the top of a blank page, write where you need to get at the bottom of the page, and try to build a bridge of events from one point to the other (works even better if you get fancy and start doodling actual bridges)
  • Watch TV and vegetate (heck, I’ve done just about every kind of brainstorming there is to do!)

Well, I think that’s enough for now. Hope some of these ideas catch your eye and help next time you need a new way to tackle a problem. Any other issues you’d like me to write up a list of methods for? 🙂

Any methods for tackling the above that work for you?


Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She has recently signed with literary agent Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.


Outlining: The Best and Hardest Planning Tool

4 Oct

by Savannah J. Foley


Before you read this article, you should know the definition of an Outline. It’s very similar to a synopsis, but with more structure. A Synopsis is a shortened version of your story, about two pages, that describes all the important plot points and characters. An Outline shares your plot chapter by chapter, and looks like this:


Mary Sue and her boyfriend John Smith are driving home from a party when they get in a car accident. Mary Sue wakes up in the hospital, with no one around and blood lining the walls. As she makes her way back out into the world, she is attacked by a dirty man who won’t stop walking towards her, even when she hits him with a plank of wood. As Mary peers over a hill and witnesses an ambling, undead crowd, she realizes that she is one of the sole survivors of a zombie apocalypse.


Blah blah blah…


For me, the outlining process started out complicated and ended simple. ANTEBELLUM had been on submissions for a year, and I had edited the next book in the series and sent it to my agent for review, just in case any editors wanted to see it. She wrote back with pages of problems, not necessarily about the manuscript itself, but the entire concept.

Previously, we’d received rejection letters from houses that loved the story, but had to regretfully pass because they couldn’t figure out how to market it. ANTEBELLUM had a hazy audience and genre, stuck between YA and Adult, Fantasy and Dystopian. My agent recommended an outrageous and gutsy idea: Combine all three books in the series into a single, 120k word YA.

When I saw that, I grew excited and afraid. Excited, because I knew it was the right thing to do. Afraid, because it meant giving up my beloved trilogy, several sub-plots and characters, and performing a complete and intensive rewrite. I decided to do it.

But instead of just leaping in and mucking about, I decided to try this ‘outlining’ thing I’d heard so much about. Outlining seemed like a great tool for people like me who enjoy lists and charts. I wanted to be able to physically see my character and plot arcs, and have each chapter planned out before I began writing.

How hard could it be? I wondered. I’ve been living with this series for 6 years. I KNOW this world, and the characters. Outlining would take about a week, if I was only half-paying attention to it. Two months later, I had learned a valuable lesson: Outlining is both incredibly difficult, and incredibly worth it.

I wish I’d researched the process more before I began, because perhaps then I wouldn’t have spent so much time avoiding it and feeling guilty because I was completely stuck. So here’s my story, and my advice to you for the next time you need to outline:

Outlining is not a solitary process.

I completely forgot that I had some wonderful CPs, and tried to go about this outlining business alone. I had to create a completely new plot line, and I was trying to do it while staring at my computer screen in the evening and resisting the urge to just surf the net and forget all my problems.

Finally I complained about my lack of progress to one of my CPs Kat Zhang, and before I knew it we were discussing plot options and developing awesome and dramatic new ideas for events down the road. From then on, when I was stuck, I sought out somebody to chat with, and worked it over until I knew where to go from there. There’s something about the act of talking about it with someone that really makes your brain put out.

Outlining is not a one-activity process.

Even when I had an idea for what a chapter should accomplish (thanks to my brainstorming sessions with friends), I was having a really hard time describing it in such a way that the flow of the scene came across. I wanted my outline to be descriptive of all the major points in the chapter, like the example above, and not a one-sentence ‘Mary Sue realizes she’s now living in the zombie apocalypse.’

But, again, I had that problem where I’d stare at my computer and think, ‘how in the world can I figure out what’s happening in this scene without actually writing it?’ And remember, I had promised that I wouldn’t actually start writing until the outline was finished. Well, apparently that was a bad idea, because as soon as I started writing really, really rough drafts of scenes, I was able to orient myself to the chapter. When actually writing it, I could figure out the flow of conversation, how people would move about the room, and what everyone’s face would look like.

I didn’t write complete chapters, just snippets of speeches and actions. It helped me figure out the flow way better than trying to summarize it from the sterile perspective of an outline.

A completed outline is not set in stone.

I finished the outline and sent it to my agent. A few days later she wrote back to tell me I had done a great job with it, and to go ahead and get writing! Yes!

Then, I realized my first chapter was going to take 9,000 words to tell instead of a more-acceptable 3,000. So I had to split the first chapter into three chapters. But that was okay, because later I found some chapters I had outline were way less than 3,000 words, so I combined them with surrounding chapters. More recently, I realized that it would make more sense in the flow of the story if two outlined chapters were reversed in the order they were to happen.

So it’s not like I had to stick to the outline, or else. A drafted outline is a tool to guide you through the story, not a concrete plan. There are many ways to reach the same destination, after all. An outline just gives you a map.

Right now I’m 25,000 words and 7 chapters (out of 30) into the rewrite. I hope to be done by January 1 so I can go back out on submissions with a new, genre-defined manuscript. And I seriously doubt I could have done it without my outline.


Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.

QOTW: Plotting a Story

7 May

This week’s QOTW comes from Alexandra Axellson who asks:

When you’re writing, how do you plot out how your story will be written? Do you come up with things as you go or write down everything in a list or plot list?


I’m a fly by the seat of my pants sort of person. It’s more fun for me to discover the story as I go. There’ve been projects where I wasn’t even sure how I wanted it to end until I got there. There’s a saying that “writing a book is like driving a car at night– you can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” And that’s me– when I’m writing, I only know as far as the chapter or two I’m working on, but eventually it becomes a whole book.

Of course, the “business” side of writing has changed that quite a bit. Now a days, I get to sell books on proposal, and then write them under contract. That means I have to know up front where I’m going so that I can submit the book as a partial (50-100 pages) and synopsis (5 pages detailing the beginning, middle, and end to my story.). So I guess I’ve learned to brainstorm the projects in advance, but if I had it my way, I’d just sit down and write, write, write, until I figured out how it would unfold.

Although, either way, I do like to brainstorm the next scene as I fall asleep at night. It makes it easier for the words to flow as soon as I sit down the next day.

-The Writer and Literary Agent Working on a Book Deal


My plotting is a bit haphazard, which works sometimes and doesn’t others. At the beginning I always try to be organized about it–I outline, create character profiles, keep a list of dialogue/descriptions I want to include, etc–but eventually I wind up getting really disorganized.  The happy medium I’ve found is writing what would look like a Sparknotes summary for my chapters: a few paragraphs explaining the main events. “X then goes back home, only to find his wife cheating on him, and lashes out in a rage. In his anger, he kills the family dog and flees the home when his wife dials the police,” for a rather short example. In fact, this is how I outlined one of my fanfics back in the day, but sadly I lost the book I kept the plans in, which was extremely frustrating since they were so detailed. (This is where the new program we linked to in our mash-up, “Evernote” should hopefully come in handy!)

I write out the events exactly as you would see on Sparknotes, in dry paragraphs that are mostly just explanations of the action. Occasionally, I’ll add in something specific if I don’t want to forget it, like a great piece of dialogue.

This planning only works for so long, though, before I get tired of it. Eventually I get too impatient to start writing, bullet point a few major events, and get started; unlike some of the other girls here on LTWF, not knowing where I’m going is more exciting than hindering to me, though it makes writing good endings a bit tough.

-The Writer Interning at a Local Newspaper


I think I’m a bit of a weirdo when it comes to planning out my stories. Usually, after I get the initial spark of inspiration, I figure out two things: the beginning and the end. Once I know those things, I’ll plan a little bit, but then I’ll just let the story take me where it wants to go (while herding it towards that ending). However, I try to figure out the details of my characters and world before I begin writing, though I always leave some room for new stuff, and always remind myself to be flexible.

Until QUEEN OF GLASS sold, I never outlined–for some reason, it seemed like it would kill the surprise of a writing story. But the circumstances under which my book sold required me to produce a fairly detailed outline to my editor, and I quickly changed my tune. My outline was SO useful–not just in keeping track of what I needed to accomplish in every scene/chapter, but also in getting through the manuscript quickly and efficiently. It really makes the writing process much smoother.

-The Writer With Her First Book Deal!


Of all the LTWF contributors, I am probably the most obsessed with outlining.  Before I begin my first draft, I create a skeleton of the story that consists of a breakdown of each chapter made up mainly of bullet points.  I may also include bits of dialogue or some description.

Like Sarah, it’s important to me that I know my “world” before I begin to write.  Even before the outline stage, I create characters and setting.  If the setting requires a fictional history, I’ll work that up as well.  These character studies and histories become something resembling miniature essays.  It’s surprising how, once I’ve gone through this creative process, the story seems to come to life on its own.  The outline is easy to write once I know all the background.  I just throw obstacles at the characters and they react, and before I know it, the outline is written.

Having an outline also helps a lot when it’s time to begin a new chapter and I can’t get started.  When that happens, I just copy and paste the bullet points from the outline and begin fleshing things out from there.  It puts words on the page, and sometimes that’s all I need to kick-start a chapter.

-The Other Writer Out on Submissions


I tend to not really do much plotting, believe it or not. I write as I go. So long as I have something to work from, be it a character who pretty much demands to be written, or a place I can clearly visualize in my mind, and a rough sense of where the story might go, I’ll just start writing. Sure, I take a while to let it sit in my head before beginning; but I could never sit down and plot out my story. For me, it makes everything feel more forced. Sometimes, I don’t even know where I’m going with the story! I just write as I go, and end up surprising myself! Of course, this also means I end up having to revise a lot afterwards, but it’s just the way my brain works. It likes to keep secrets even from me! But it certainly makes the writing process extremely exciting.

-The Writer in Publishing Working on her First Book


When I’m writing something new I tend to know the beginning and the ending. I liked to also have a few scenes in the middle though I’m not always sure where they fit. I don’t do much by way of outlining, and when I do outline it tends to be more a list of important events in order so that I know who to move towards. I like being surprised when I write and coming up with new situations as I go. This tends to lead to long and sometimes meandering plots that have to be heavily edited to get them in order, but it’s a fun way to write. They way I write it still evolving so I’m trying to be better about outlining, which lets me cut superfluous scenes before I take the time to write them. This isn’t to say I make up my world as I go, I have maps, a sense of history, and which real and fantastic animals inhabit certain regions (I had to do some research on desert species before writing PRISCILLA even though they don’t get much mention in the book). If I know where I am and who I’m dealing with the story tends to fall into place.

-The Archaeologist Currently Querying


I kind of plan… I always have a general idea of where I want the story to go, and I always have an ending in mind. I’ll think of certain events I’m sure I want to have happen, and sometimes the order of the events changes, but I’ve never been able to plan from start to finish.

But, I do start planning when I’m well into whatever I’m writing; usually something like a third of the way through. By then I’ll have a clear vision of exactly what I want and the idea will have been explored, the characters fleshed out, and the plot probably radically different than what I initially imagined. I’ll plan the rest just to organize my thoughts and (try to) get rid of any plot holes.

It works for me. Even though the plot ends up different, it’s always better than what it used to be, and so far I haven’t been disappointed. I need as much spontaneity as organization, the latter so that I don’t end up screwing myself over with multiple gaps, and the former to keep myself from getting bored with the project.

-The Writer Revising Her First Novel


I don’t like writing a story without knowing where I’m going. That’s why for my first and second book I outlined the major points in each chapter. I haven’t gotten far with my second book so I can’t say much about it. But for my first book outlining helped me a lot. I would plan out the major points in each chapter and add or omit certain points as I went along. Of course, looking back on that outline, I haven’t followed it at all. However, it was like a map to me, telling me in what direction I should go to get to the major scenes. Also, another reason why I like to outline, is that outlining helps me view my story in a more objective manner. I can keep a better track of the story’s pacing and the character’s development.

The Writer Who Got A Full Request


For my first five books I wrote as it came to me. I could always tell when an idea would ‘stick’ because it felt different… more real in my head. Then things would happen in my life that could instantly link to my story and it felt like magic. Writing that way was purely magical.

But, it can also be slow, fraught with distractions, and detours. For my sixth book, A Clear and Beautiful Lie, which I stared after a 2-year hiatus of not really working on anything, I decided to try this outlining business. And I loved it! I really wrote more of a synopsis, and right now that’s with my agent waiting on approval. I’m enjoying having it so far because now I don’t have to wonder and worry where I’m headed; I can just enjoy the journey. There are still enough gaps in the story that I’ll fill in when I get there, so its not like a synopsis took all the fun out of it. 😉

-The Writer Waiting on Submissions


How do YOU plot out your story?

Question of the Week: Waiting Before Writing

23 Apr

Hey all, just a quick reminder, we are still having a Comedy Contest, the deadline for which is May 1st. We’ve got some entries already, so crack open your arsenal of hilarity and crack our ribs in the process!

And another reminder for the fantabulous Book Cover Contest which is also still running! The deadline is May 1st as well, so break out the coloured pencils and flaunt your visual art skills!


This week’s question come’s from Landon, who asks:

When an idea for a novel first strikes you, how long do you stew over it before actually writing?


It depends. Sometimes, it’s months–maybe years. I wrote the first chapter of what would become HADES during my senior year of high school–and then I let it sit on the back burner for…five years. With A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES, I came up with the idea one random day, and then two or three weeks later, I began writing the first book.

Right now, I have at least eight different stories brewing–some of them have been brewing for years, others for months…but none of them are ready yet. It’s hard to tell WHEN they’ll be ready–I usually just wake up one morning utterly excited to write it, and realize that it’s time for me to get them down on paper. That’s not very sound advice, but I think that feeling of knowing when it’s ready comes from a combination of getting most of the concrete details down, as well as just getting that spark of excitement/inspiration.

The Writer Still Excited About Landing Her First Book Deal


It’s never the same for me. I never start writing right away, although if I think of a great line or scene, I’ll jot down some quick notes. But I like to let it work itself out as much as possible in my head before I go about getting it down on paper. For the most part, I’ll wait till I have a good sense of who the characters are or what the plot is; and even if I don’t know everything that will happen, I tend to surprise myself as I write and go a different direction anyways.

For my current YA MS that I’m writing, I let it stew around in my mind for around 5 years; which, really, is turning out to be more difficult than if I had just let it swirl around my mind for a couple of months. The reason? I’ve rewritten the story so much in my head over the 5 years, that I find myself wondering if I should bring back certain elements from past “mental” revisions as I write. Now, I was always just too busy to even get around to writing it, which is why it took forever to start it; in all honesty, I was ready to start writing it years ago. I have one idea that’s been developing in my mind for 6 years now, and that story hasn’t really changed much; but I know that I’m still not ready to write it. Another is one I just came up with a few weeks ago, and it’s getting to the point where I know that soon, I’ll have to start writing it. Some stories only took a couple of weeks to begin writing, and others a few months. My advice is, start writing when your characters start demanding it in your mind; when you wake up just itching to write it. Just go with your gut; you’ll know when a story is ready to write.

– The Writer Writing Her First Book


Great question! For my first few books, I wrote when inspiration struck, after maybe a day of outlining. But after I began revising my book for publication, I became a bit of a technical writer. Just a bit: the melodramatic, emotion gushing writer is still in me. Somewhere. Now, I do have a new book in mind. But I’m still trying to get to know the characters. I need to know them before I can get writing, otherwise…I get stuck often. Also, I need to come up with a great ending that will be like a compass to me, directing me through the rest of my story. This last bit (about needing a good ending) is the factor that has ALWAYS got me through my projects. I need that exciting final scene at the end to keep me forging onwards from chapters one. I would have probably started this book by now had I not been busy revising my current manuscript. I have to send it back to an agent. But as soon as I do, I’m going to start planning out my new book right away. Yes. I need a plan, just as a man needs a map when in the wilderness to find his way back home.

The Writer Who Got a Full Request


It depends for me as well. When I got the idea for Priscilla the Evil I knew I had to write it right then, so I got to a stopping point in my WIP and just sat down and wrote it. Other ideas stew for much longer. I usually start with a character and a situation but sometimes I just have a character floating around and I can’t really start writing until I know what she’s going to do. That’s the point I’m at right now; I’m revising my last WIP and trying to figure out a plot for a character I’ve had hanging around for years. Until I know what’s going on I can’t begin.

The Writer Querying Agents


I’ve found that if I start writing immediately I lose the story. I get so eager to capture the particular feeling I want that I write weird plot lines and fuzzy characters, and then the idea gets ruined because they’ve already imprinted on these bad plots. Ideas are like baby chicks that way :-).

I try to give it a few weeks to let things sit around in my head before I start seriously writing. I take a few notes, maybe write a short description or a few lines of dialogue if something is really beautiful to me, but I leave the major plotting for when I’ve had a while to really work out the details. Also, I’ve started using Synopses, and they are SO great, because they help me map out the plot before truly beginning, and I’m less likely to feel stuck or mired down.

-The Writer Waiting on Submissions


I’m constantly thinking up new ideas, and I almost always think each new idea is the best idea I’ve ever had.  Of course, I’m almost always wrong!  My love affair with a new idea usually lasts about twenty-four hours.  During that period of time, I make sure I type up enough notes that I won’t be able to forget where the idea was going.  If I was inspired by something specific – a song lyric, for instance – I’ll add that into my notes, too.

Sometimes, just that simple exercise of getting the idea down on paper is all I need to show me that the idea doesn’t work.  But if the typed notes still hold my interest when I re-read them the next day, I’ll start to describe the idea to the people closest to me.  Many times, just talking about an idea out loud will be enough to show me that it isn’t going anywhere or that I’m not truly in love with it.  For me, it really comes down to the question, “Could I spend the next two years of my life developing, revising, and hopefully promoting this story?”

If I’m still answering these questions with, “YES!  YES!!!”  I start outlining.  Then I flesh things out, and then flesh them out more.  I do character analyses and work up the back story.  All of this background work could take a month or more.  If I get through all of that, and I still really believe in the idea, I start the actual ‘writing.’

-The Newest LTWF Contributor Who is Already Out on Submissions!


I wait. A plot is obviously important in a story, but for me, when I’m just starting out, it’s more important to have dynamic characters. If my characters aren’t realistic, then I won’t want to explore them, and the plot will flop by association.

It’s like when a boring person tries to tell a story. Nobody wants to listen to them; they’re boring. I’m the same in the writing sense, where I won’t want to write them because they’re just not interesting. I have to really have a good sense of what kind of characters I want them to be. Then I can take those personalities and think, “What might happen if I put this person in this situation?” and they actually help me shape and define the plot. By the end, almost always, the story arch will have taken crazy turns, simply because the characters have become entities of their own and won’t have always bent to my will. I don’t mind though, it generally turns out a lot more intense than the initial idea :).

Another reason I might wait is because I’m not, for lack of better words, “mature” enough to write what I want to write. I don’t believe I have the right life experiences to portray the story and people in the most realistic way possible. There are a couple of those floating around in my head, and I can see them, but they’re just out of reach.

-The Writer Editing her First Novel


Do YOU wait before writing?


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