Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.


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.


Writers Supporting Writers

Hi, my name is Jocelyn, and I’m a burned out writer.

This is essentially an introduction that I could use at every one of my writing group meetings, and the other members feel the same way. Yes, we come for the critiques. We all need and value the critiques. But what I’ve discovered over my years of participation is that the support, encouragement, empathy and camaraderie are even more important.

Writer’s are odd ducks. We devote a great deal of our mental and emotional lives to people who don’t actually exist. Our occupation is solitary and often isolating. It’s easy to feel detached from reality at times, or frustrated that reality continues to intrude on our ability to flesh out the worlds in our minds. And then comes the frustration and hopelessness that sets in when we’re trying to sell the stories that we’ve poured our hearts and souls into, and we have to face the harsh reality that the children of our mind are now mere commodities that we have to pitch to potential buyers. Buyers who might not love them as much as we do.

If anyone needs a regular support group, it’s writers.

Though our group only meets once a month, it’s an occasion that I always look forward to and always benefit from. Before, after, and sometimes during critiques we vent our frustrations, air our concerns, rant about the industry and the challenges we all face both in our bizarre vocation and in our relationships as they are impacted by our writing. This chance to speak openly in an atmosphere of understanding and acceptance is one of the most valuable things in my life.

Because of our once a month schedule, we often have to look for secondary sources for more frequent critiques, such as online beta partners. But the interactions with online critique partners are never as uplifting or rejuvenating as those monthly “support group” meetings.

Even if you have several wonderful online critique partners, I highly recommend that all of you writers out there search for a local in-person writing group, or at least a few writers that you can meet with socially on a regular basis. The value of this mental and emotional support cannot be overstated.

If I didn’t have my group, I don’t know if I’d still be writing.

By Jocelyn Nash Carlin


Networking

I’m a plant freak.  That doesn’t mean I’m a freaky plant (either vegetative or the spy variety) but that I love plants.

This week it’s strawberries.  Strawberries are interesting little critters.  They’re invasive, but sneakily so.  During the summer, under the guise of spreading out their leaves to soak up the sun, they put out runners that move into places where strawberries are not supposed to go.

They’re very strong and can survive things that kill other plants.  Part of the reason for this is all those runners.

The parent plant puts out runners not only to perpetuate itself but also because the baby strawberries send nutrients back to the parent plant once they put down roots.  In reality you have not one plant but a colony, all interdependent and interconnected.  If one plant grows in a place where there’s lots of water, and another is usually dry but has plenty of nutrients, the two can trade and each fill in the gaps in the other.

Eventually all those runners dry up, when the plants are strong enough to survive on their own.  

As writers we’re much the same, or at least we should be.  One writer alone has weaknesses.  I might not be able to see the problems with my plot, while another person doesn’t understand grammar.  Standing alone, neither of us could do what needs to be done.  Working together we’re both stronger.

I’ve also heard of successful authors who mentor others, who in turn mentor others, creating a support network that is seldom found in any other career.  Those sneaky little runners go out, feeding the baby authors until their roots are strong enough to survive on their own.

But unlike strawberries, those runners don’t dry up.  The network just continues to grow, authors helping authors through the generations.  

If we used that network to its capacity, the author community would have everything.  Like strawberries, we already have everything.  We just don’t know it yet.


Tips from Pixar

By Jocelyn Nash Carlion

I’ve always admired the Pixar movie studio – not just for the brilliant animation, but for their wonderful storytelling. Pixar films consistently win more critical praise and more awards than any other animation studio not just because of their technical expertise but because of their focus on telling a good story, and telling it well. In my opinion they not only tell better stories than most family films, but better than most Hollywood films, period.

So, even thought it’s about a year and a half old, I was delighted to find this list of storytelling tips from senior story artists at Pixar, as compiled and tweeted by former Pixar story artist Emma Coats.

Here’s the complete list:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Not all the tips will apply to you and your writing at this exact moment, but there are enough gems of wisdom on this list that something on it will probably resonate with you. Numbers 8 and 17 really speak to me right now. Which tips speak to you?


Demolition

By Lauren Ritz

I am sitting here in my office, listening to the sound of demolition ten feet away. It’s a beautiful day (which means no sun and it’s slightly cool) so of course the door is open.

Sledge hammers, saws, and other tools of destruction are in the process of demolishing the old deck so that a new one can be put in. It won’t be much different—prettier maybe, more sturdy. The old deck is about twenty years old, the boards warping and turning when people try to walk on it.

I find myself in exactly the same place with one of my stories. I still love it, but it’s old. When I wrote it I was just starting to write seriously and had learned nothing about characterization, plot, and the million other facets to writing. I thought I knew, but I didn’t.

So now I get to demolish it. Break it apart, piece by piece, learn what can be saved and what needs to go. Restructure the plot so that it’s more of a cohesive whole than a series of unconnected events. Put in foreshadowing and make sure that the real villain shows up early in the book—in the original version, you only find out what’s really going on (and that there’s another villain) in the last few pages when the real villain kills the villain that we thought was the bad guy through the whole book.

Demolition is sometimes necessary.

Even with a new deck, sometimes you learn that there are problems with the construction only after it’s been in for a while. The color’s wrong, or the contractor made the deck wrong so that it slopes to one side. Then you have to go back, do it all again.

The interesting thing for me to watch is people whose deck (their story) is essentially sound. But they don’t like the color, or the boards are slightly too narrow for their aesthetic sense, so they tear the whole thing up and start again. Worse yet are those who wait until all the furniture is in place and tear up the deck because one of the plant pots is the wrong shape.

I have never written a story that I didn’t like. If I don’t like them, they don’t get written. Tearing up the deck because the grass needs to be mowed is the epitome of self-defeating behavior.

If demolition is necessary, that’s fine. Take the time, do it right. If it’s the fence around the yard that’s bothering me, I don’t go tearing up the deck and rebuilding it to match the fence.


Recharging

by Ava Mylne

I’ve been praying for rain.

In a semi-arid climate, sometimes it gets so dry that the heat reflecting off the bricks of my home makes it almost impossible to keep things alive. Sometimes we get a good rain and my plants look visibly happier, but usually I have to drag out the hose and do it by hand. I also love the sun. Sources close to me have, on occasion, called me “solar-powered”.

I’ve discovered I write in the same way. Sometimes I can’t sleep for the stories running manic circles in my head, and other times I can go months without wanting to even check my e-mail.

I’m in a dry spell right now. How do I sit down and meet my writing goals when there is nothing in my head to write? When I don’t even want to write? When those times come, I find myself panicking, thinking, “Are there no more stories left for me to write? I something I love so much just over?”

So often I have seen friends do something they enjoy until it becomes a chore instead of a love, and it would break my heart if I ceased to love writing. I am also—fortunately–not in the position of having agents or editors breathing down my neck for the next installment. I have friends in that position as well. Is it blasphemous to say that right now I’m not sorry to be unpublished?

I’ve heard this state of literary inaction called “recharging”, and I have to agree with that assessment. I still love my stories. I still get way too excited about my characters, and talk about them ad nauseum to long-suffering friends and family. My characters still live and breathe in my head. But for now I won’t panic. I’ll just recharge. It’s part of the writing process. I’ll enjoy the dry spell in my head, and I’ll enjoy the heat of the sun, and when the rain comes back to douse my whole soul in limitless words, I’ll enjoy that too. And if enough time goes by, maybe I’ll get out the hose and do it by hand.