Monthly Archives: July 2013

On Outlining

I think every fiction writer faces the question: “Do I want to outline, or not?” at some point in their career, and revisit it from time to time. As to the particular style of outlining, they probably revisit the problem from time to time.

I’ve known some writers who write detailed chapter by chapter outlines that are not only long, but include actual snippets of description and dialog. Others write vague lists of major plot points and then free-write their way from plot point to plot point. Still others will come up with a basic story concept, spend time writing character sketches, and then put their characters into their basic story and see where those characters take it through free-writing. There are methods based on a three-act structure, or other multi-point systems, or circular cycles of rising and falling action leading to new cycles of rising and falling action. A simple google search will produce dozens of different outlining systems.

None of these systems are right or wrong. It’s a matter of experimentation to find what works best for you.

For most of my short stories I come up with a basic concept and then free-write until I’m finished. I’m generally happy with the results. On the other hand, when I tried to free-write a children’s fantasy novel, the resulting manuscript was so messy and inconsistent that I’ve had to revise it about five times, and I’m still not happy.

I’ve set that manuscript aside for the time-being, and for my two new works in progress I produced outlines of all the key plot points. I’m currently using the 7-point plot system taught by author Dan Wells in this series of videos, or summarized in this episode of the podcast Writing Excuses. Give it a listen – it might be the system for you. And if not, there are dozen of other systems out there, just waiting for you to try them.

So far I’m very happy with this outlining system. It provides a clear path for each of my major characters, as well as an overarching story to tie all those characters together. But it’s not a chapter-by-chapter or scene-by-scene outline. There is still plenty of room for me to make changes here and there and to free-write my way to better world-building and character development as I work all my outlined plot points together.

What outlining styles (or lack of outlining styles) have worked best for you? Share them in the comments to help other readers find the right fit for their writing method.

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Writing for a Living

Many fiction writers have to hold down day jobs, but most of us would rather write for a living. What does that really mean? Not living off of our fiction income – that’s a rare and special privilege held by a small percentage of writers. No, for most people, writing for a living means writing mundane things for money and fiction in our free time. Here’s a great info-graphic from The Write Life Magazine to help you start thinking about how you might be able to earn a living as a writer.

One word of warning – while writing for a living might give you more personal satisfaction than many other career choices, it might also burn you out on writing while working on your bread-and-butter writing and before you turn to your personal fiction projects each day. If you think you might fall into that trap, consider jobs that require minimal emotional input and/or give you space for daydreaming/project planning.

For instance, best selling fantasy author Brandon Sanderson spent several years as a night desk clerk at a hotel so he’d have plenty of time to work on his real ambitions while also bringing in an income. Not everyone can find jobs like these, or make them work with personal situations, but if you can, this might just be the right work for you.

What jobs have you tried out to facilitate your fiction-writing ambitions?


Writing Snippets Classics: Revision

In this classic podcast, first posted in May 2011, the Writing Snippets Crew discusses how we revise our novels (or don’t in some cases). We also touch briefly on the difference between short story, poetry and article revisions. Please note – the giveaway mentioned in this podcast is closed.

(about 23min.)

Download here (Right click and select “save link as” to download)


Writers group seeking new members!

The Writing Snippets crew is looking to add one or two new members to our monthly writers group. If you live in north Utah County or south Salt Lake County, or wouldn’t mind driving further afield once a month, you might fit the bill.

We meet one Saturday evening a month for anything from four to six hours. We all exchange 20 pages of material 1-2 weeks in advance for critiquing. We spend 1/2 of every meeting critiquing, 1/4 eating and visiting, and 1/4 having our own writer’s support group! We are seeking only serious writers – already published (self-published counts) or actively working toward publication (writing, editing, submitting, querying). If you fit that qualification and feel like that schedule and format would work for you, please email us at writingsnippets (at) gmail (dot) com. Include your name, a short writer’s biography, and any other information that you think would be pertinent. If you sound like a good fit, we’ll ask for a brief writing sample.

Even if this would be your second group, we welcome you to contact us.

And for those who live too far away for our in-person meetings, we are trying to figure out the logistics of starting a supplementary online-only critique group. We’re not sure what format this will take, yet, but we already have two interested writers. If there is enough interest, we’ll try to get something going by early this fall. If you are interested in an online-only group, please email at the above address and put “online writing group” in your subject line.

We can’t wait to hear from you!


Technological Dystopia

Can I just say I love this life?  There’s so much to see, so much to do, that my short attention span (call it ADHD if you wish) is seldom a hindrance.  I can flip from writing (which takes up most of my time) to laundry or dig into research on spinal meningitis.  I can fly with dragons over a distant mountain range and then decide to swim in the deep ocean–all without leaving my home.

The internet is part of this, although I think that even without technology I’d be scatterbrained.  Technology just makes it easier to flip from one topic to another.  And we are surrounded by technology.  Cell phones, internet, cars, even kitchen blenders use tiny pieces that are constantly broadcasting the details of our lives.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if someone could read all those details, from what you had for breakfast to the kind of laundry detergent you use?

In reality, “they” can.  “They” can track what kind of detergent you buy, where you go in your GPS equipped car and how much gas you buy.  “They” can find out who you called and the exact location of that call.  “They” know how much water you use and control your electricity.  “They” control what we watch on TV, what movies are available, and the price of gas.

Do we already live in a form of dystopia?

A modern, technological dystopia would be a little different than the dystopia of earlier ages.  Based on the world around us we already know that it is possible for people to know every detail of our lives.  We accept this.  We understand and accept that “they” can control those details.  We seldom question it.

In our theoretical dystopia, a law is passed (for our protection) which limits the amount of salt used in a day.  The dystopian government (Lets call them the Harks) know that you have 3 people in your house.  They know how often you go out to eat. They know how long it should take for you to use the box of salt you just purchased.  If you use it too quickly, the salt police may show up at your door.

The Harks also know that you’re having a dinner party, since you put it out on social media, and they know who is invited.  They have a good idea what you’re making (ingredients list, you know) and the computer power to put all this information together.  They know that the recipe you’re using (downloaded from the internet) uses more salt than would be allowed for that number of people.

Yourself and all your guests vanish, leaving the food untouched on the table.  Neighbors wonder about alien abductions and go on with their lives.

It is not that far from collecting information to using it.  From using it to abusing it.   Each of these theoretical (dystopian) societies got to a point where someone was capable of using technology for control and chose to act on it.  Each technological step makes that kind of control both simpler and more likely.

That is a world I choose not to live in, so I’ll stockpile salt against the evil Harks world domination schemes.  I’ll put my (lack of) holiday plans out on Facebook and let the world know where I am by GPS.

I’ll celebrate a society where we are still free this 4th of July.