Category Archives: Planning

Testing New Outlining Techniques

As I’ve already mentioned (and as most of you probably already know), this month I’m participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. My official goal is 75k, though my real goal was however many words it takes for me to finish my novel. If that’s more, I’ll write more. If it’s less, I’ll write less. I just want to finish this draft.

It’s now 8:30 pm, which means I still have plenty of writing time left before the day is over. I’ve written 36,994 words so far, and I’ve just finished chapter 11 out of 20. I had set another goal to have this novel finished by July 15, and it looks like I’m going to manage that just fine. I haven’t read back over anything that I’ve written yet, but I already know that this is my best draft so far. I’m taking more time with this draft than I have with others, and I’ve planned it a lot more than I had before.

Which brings me to the main thing I wanted to talk about today: my new way of outlining.

I mentioned already in my last post, my outline for this novel was really long – 12,494 words to be precise. My outlines are usually shorter than that, but I was attempting to write a phase outline for the first time. For those of you who don’t know what that is (and are too lazy/don’t want to click the link), that’s basically where you outline everything that happens in your novel, including bits of dialogue. So far, I’ve been averaging 6.1 words for every 1 word in the original outline, with chapters ranging from 3.5 to 12.0 novel-words per outline-word. If it keeps going at this rate, I’m looking at 75k for this novel, which is the number I was aiming for. So that works out nicely.

So far, I’m really liking this way of outline. I’ve actually sort of combined the phase outline method with the snowflake method. I start with a random list of scenes, which I then try to get in order (see my post on outlining with note cards for more details). After I’ve split them into scenes, I group them by chapter and then write a summary for each chapter, going into more detail. Then I take that outline and turn it into a phase outline.

Like I said, I’m enjoying this method. Most of the time I love planning novels but have a harder time writing the novel because it never turns out like the novel I pictured in my head. This way lets me plan the whole thing, which I find so much easier than actually writing it, so that when I go to write the actual novel, it’s just a matter of fleshing out the phases. I can still change things as I write – in fact, I’ve added lots of conversations and descriptions and mini-scenes that I never thought of while outlining – but I still have that outline that keeps me from getting stuck.

Obviously this way of writing and outlining isn’t for everyone. A lot of people find that outlining sucks the joy out of writing for them, so those types of people would probably find the method described here as crazy. Obviously, such people should not attempt it. 🙂 But if you’re like me, and you like planning things, you might want to consider giving this a shot if you don’t already have a method that works for you.

Like always, I’d love to hear more about your writing/outlining process (if you have one)! Are you participating in Camp? If so, how are you doing?

Adventures in Note Carding

As some of you may know, I’ve been planning my Camp NaNo project. I’ve written this story four times before, twice as a screenplay and twice as a novel, and I think I’ve finally learned what I’m doing. I’m taking the planning process more seriously this time, and I’ve decided to try a new way of planning. I’ve always heard other people talk about note cards, but I’ve never really used them myself. I didn’t think I was a note card person. I didn’t want to waste all those note cards when I could just write the same information on a piece of paper. I’m happy to say, though, that I’ve finally figured out what the thrill is.

1. Create Note Cards.
This was easy if time-consuming. As I was reading through the original drafts, I created a note card for every scene or part of a scene that I wanted to keep. If I wasn’t sure I was going to keep the scene exactly as it was, I broke it into smaller parts. I also created note cards for scenes I wanted to include, even if I didn’t know where I wanted to put them yet.

2. General Sorting.
I divided all my note cards into three piles: beginning, middle, and end. This was particularly easy for this novel, as it’s basically split into three parts: before they go to New York, while they’re at New York, and after they leave.

3. Outline Main Events and Sort Cards.
The middle part of this novel takes place over six days. I jotted down a quick list of what was happening each day, what the main event was. Then I created a second, slightly longer outline, where I wrote down all the main scenes I knew I had to include. Then I took the note cards that corresponded to each of those scenes, and I spread them out on the table, keeping each day separate. I also sorted the before trip/after trip cards, which was the easiest part, as I already know what will happen there.

4. Sort the Rest of the Cards.
Once I had the major events down, I went back and put the rest of the cards in order. This took a bit more work, as a lot of these events were smaller, and they could theoretically have gone several places. I had to really stop and think about what was happening each day and try to find the most logical place for them. I took frequent breaks to discuss the plot with my boyfriend, and he offered suggestions. Eventually, I found a place for each card, and I created new cards for the scenes I came up with while I was moving things around.

5. Sort Cards by Chapters.
After I put the cards in order by place in the book (before, days 1-6, after), I split each section into chapters. This might change later, but for now I’m happy with what I have. As of right now, I have 23 chapter, 4 before they see their family, 16 while they’re in New York, and 3 after they leave.

I’m excited about my note card collection. Normally I just have a brief outline, and I generally end up forgetting scenes that I wanted to add until after I write the novel, and then it’s hard for me to go back and add it in later. This way, I can actually make sure everything has a place, so when I create the outline, I’ll have a better reminder of everything. It’s still too early to say for sure, but I’m fairly confident that I’ve found a new way to plan.

Next step – creating an outline! (Which I was supposed to do yesterday.)

What about you? Do you use note cards to plan? If not, what do you use?

The one where I decide to do NaNo over my own objections

For those of you who have known me for a while, you know that I usually do NaNoWriMo in November. You might also remember that I had a rather difficult month last NaNo. I wrote 242k, but my heart wasn’t really in it. If you go through the archives for all the November 2012 posts, you’ll see that I wrote a lot about all the hate directed at Overachievers – people who aim to write more than 50,000 words in November. I felt alienated from my region and most of the people on the forums, and it just really got me down. The competition wasn’t fun anymore.

So I decided to stop. I took all the NaNo stickers off my laptop. I wrote during the first Camp NaNo, but I didn’t join the cabins or post on the website; I just wrote with people on Twitter when they were writing. I tried to get into the cabin thing for the second camp, but it just didn’t work. I didn’t care about NaNo anymore, and I didn’t want to waste my time supporting something that didn’t seem to want me there at all. I still supported the idea of NaNo, but I swore I was never going to participate in another NaNo event again. I actually almost included that in my last post, but it was already getting kind of long, so I figured I’d write about it later.

Then, October 2, the day after I almost posted about how I would never do NaNo again, I got an email announcing the new forums. I don’t know why I looked. It was 6 am, and I had 20 minutes before I had to leave for school. But I looked anyway. I scrolled through the forums. And that’s when I saw it.

The Beyond 50k forum.

Finally, the Overachievers have a forum. A place where you can complain about how you’re having problems hitting 20k in a day, and people won’t criticize you. I was happy when I saw it, but I still didn’t think I would do NaNo. Once the joy of something dies inside me, it’s really hard to get it back. Or so I thought.

And then I started reading the comments. I saw so many people I hadn’t talked to in a year, people who had made me feel better when everyone else made me want to curl up in a corner and never speak to the world again. And I realized that part of me did still care. It wasn’t as much as it had been, but I wasn’t completely indifferent anymore.

And then I set a goal. And then more goals.

A total of 250,000 words.

A 50k day one.

At least one 50k weekend, possibly two.

Four or five novels, depending on how many I need to reach 250k.

I’ve decided that this is going to be my redo for last year. Last year I failed 50k day one (hit 30.5k instead). I failed my goal of 250k (hit 242k instead). This year I’m not going to fail. I’m not going to let other people get me down. I’m going to stay in my nice, safe OA forum. I’m probably going to avoid most regional events, although there are still some people in the region that I like (namely the ones who helped support me last year).

I’ve spent the last five days trying to figure out what to write. I still want to edit Tilt before the month ends. I’m going to rewrite Degeneration as part of NaNo. I have three other novels that I’m trying to outline. I’d really like one more novel as a backup plan, but I’m going to focus on the ones I already have for now.

I’ve already been doing my school work ahead of time, but I’ve doubled my efforts. I’ve done all but one assignment that’s due in November and that I can actually start early. I’ll be busier than I was last year, but I’m still hopeful that I can get this all done.

Camp NaNo – complete

Another Camp NaNo has come to an end. My goal this month was to finish draft 3 of Tilt Your Head and Smile, my NA novel about a young woman who graduates college, can’t find a job, and struggles to figure out what she wants to do with her life.

Slightly before four o’clock this morning, I wrote the last sentence of the manuscript. I was four hours late finishing, but I still finished before I went to bed, so I’m counting this as a win. Here are some statistics:

Word Count: 105,897
Chapters: 25
Hours Spent Writing:48.5
Average Words per Chapter: 4,236
Average Words per Hour: 2,183

Now, the hours spent writing number is only the time spent actively writing, not the time I spent staring at the screen doing nothing or reading Twitter or playing stupid Facebook games. But I’m still happy with what I accomplished this month. This is the first NaNo I’ve done in grad school when I actually had a bunch of homework to do, so I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t have enough time to write. I’m glad to say that my fears were unfounded. Of course, it helps that I only had school for half the month – although it was an intense half a month.

This morning was the first day in a long time that I didn’t wake up feeling like I was supposed to be doing something. It was nice, but now I’m just sort of sitting on the couch wondering what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ll probably end up spending the day reading. I’ve started reading a non-fiction book that I feel will help me plan the next book I’ll be working on – my political dystopian novel.

Right now, my plan is to spend the month preparing for the next draft of Alone (the aforementioned dystopia). I’m not sure what I’ll do after that. I have three different novels that I want to edit (not counting the one I just finished). I also have several other novels that I’ve never actually managed to finish. I guess I’ll just take this one step at a time and see what I want to do after I figure out Alone.

Anyone else participate in Camp NaNo? If so, how’d you do? If not, did you accomplish anything else fun this past month?

A “series” of problems

When I hear the word “dystopia,” my mind immediately jumps to the novels I loved in high school: Brave New World. 1984. Animal Farm. I think that’s part of the reason I’ve been so critical of the YA dystopias that are so popular today – I’m always comparing them to what I consider the classics, and they never stack up. I want novels that critique society, not stories about girls who are trying to decide which guy she most wants to date. That’s not to say that there can’t be romance also, but I don’t want that to be the main focus (at least not without a good reason).

I would consider my current WIP a New Adult dystopian series. It does have romance, but the romance is necessary for the plot to work. It’s definitely more social commentary than romance. I’m not saying it’s as good as the classics, as it’s definitely not, but those are the novels that I’m using for inspiration. And there’s where we start to run into a problem. The classic dystopian novels all ended in a particular way. They weren’t happy. They weren’t even hopeful. Yet they were appropriate for the novel.

When I first came up with the idea for ALONE, it was a short story, and it had a very unhappy ending, the sort of ending I was used to reading about in high school. This was actually the short story I wrote for my final project in college. It went through so many drafts before I finally settled one, and I still can’t quite remember if it had a happy, sad, or hopeful ending.

Now that I’m writing it as a novel, I’ve had to reconsider the entire plot. I made the main character younger, and I’m focusing a lot more on other aspects of the world, not just the way women are treated (which was what sparked the idea for this novel). Suddenly, I realized that this story would work best as a trilogy, as there was much more to the story than I originally though. My original ending was a cop-out so I didn’t have to worry about what would happen after a particular series of events transpired.

So now I’m trying to figure out what will happen next, and I’m running into a problem. The classic novels all had pretty realistic yet grim endings. The current novels all feature an eventual overthrow of the oppressive government. The latter idea is so much more fun, but it requires the characters to stand up and act in a way that I don’t think would ever really happen.

I guess I’m just a pessimist at heart. I think humankind in general (or at least in America) is pretty horrible. I think corporations are taking over the country, and I don’t think regular people will ever win, partly because they’re not powerful enough but largely because I just don’t think people care about anything, at least not enough to really do anything about it.

This is the same problem I had when I was trying to plan my “fantasy” (read: medieval-ish setting without magic or any other fantasy elements) series. The government was evil and needed to be stopped, but I couldn’t imagine a realistic scenario when that would actually happen.

Maybe I’m overthinking this. I do that a lot. Maybe I need to have more faith in my imaginary people. After all, if you push people far enough, they’ll eventually break and fight back. Right?

What about you? Ever had conflicting emotions about the believability of your work?

17 days until NaNoWriMo!

Less than three weeks until NaNo! I still don’t have complete outlines for either of the novels that I plan on writing, but I have a much better idea of where I want them to go, so that’s something. I’m actually looking forward to working more on the contemporary YA one than the dystopian one. I still really love that idea and want to write it, but I don’t have as much of the plot figured out on that one. I think there’s just so much stuff going on in that one that it’s hard to make it all fit, and there are certain things that I need to figure out before I start writing.

My right wrist is also currently in a brace. I finally went to the doctor, and they think it’s the early stages of carpal tunnel. Not happy about that, especially with NaNo right around the corner. The good news is that they’ve taken me off the camera at work and made me a helper, so I’m not putting new strain on my hand/wrist. I have to go back to the doctor on Oct. 26 – I’m hoping it will have gotten at least a little better by then.

Sundays I’m hosting a write-in at a little coffee shop near campus, and several people have already said they’re planning to attend, so that’s exciting. I’ve also matched up one newbie with a mentor so far. We have five other newbies and twelve other mentors signed up, but I’m waiting to see if any better matches show up first.

As far as school is concerned, I’ve done all of the assignments that I can do at this point. The rest I have to wait for further instruction. Well, at least for one of my classes. The other class involves a bunch of group work, so I have to wait and see what the other members of my group has come up with. It looks like I really will have most of November wide open, which means I will have plenty of time to write. As long as people are in the chatroom having word wars, this should be simple.

Now I just need to finish those outlines!

29 days until NaNo!

I can’t believe it’s October already. Only 29 days until NaNo ’12. I’m so excited! I haven’t done as much as I would like to have done by this point, but I’ve still made some progress. For instance, I finally feel like I’m starting to grasp the plot of my novel. I’ve known what the overall plot is for years, but I didn’t know the specifics. I’m much closer now. I have the major plot points down – or at least a lot of the major ones. I’m still a bit fuzzy on, well, everything, but at least I have blurry images to work with. That’s much more than I had this time yesterday. My drive to work this morning was very helpful. Apparently waking up at 4:30 and driving to a school an hour and a half away can actually be good for something. Who knew?

I’m also doing well on the homework front. When I first started grad school, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to write a lot because I’d have too much work to do. I’m glad to say that that doesn’t seem to be a problem. I’m 2-3 weeks ahead in all of my classes, which means I should be able to do the rest of my work in October so that I don’t have to do anything in November, or at least so I don’t have to do that much.

It’s probably good that I’ve gotten so much work done ahead of time, as the new NaNo forums are up, and I’m probably going to spend a lot of time cruising the forums. I’ve also agreed to run the Adopt-a-Newbie program for NaNoLanta, so hopefully soon I’ll be busy matching new Wrimos with mentors. This is one of the reasons I love my region – there are so many ways to get involved in the community.

Another reason I love them is because there are already two weekly recurring events on our regional calendar, not to mention several different kickoffs, the Ikea write-in, and Atlanta’s very own version of the Night of Writing Dangerously, which our wonderful MLs have named the Evening of Writing Wildly.

The more I think about it, the more excited I get about NaNo. If I had an actual outline for my novel, I would want it to be November 1 right now. Since I still need to work out a few details about my novel (such as, you know, the main character’s name), I think I’ll settle for NaNo still being 29 days away. 🙂

How about the rest of you? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Are you prepared? What do you still need to do before November hits?

45.5 days until NaNoWriMo 2012

Holy crap. How did that happen? Two weeks until the NaNo forums are cleaned in preparation for the new year. It’s crazy. I don’t know how the time passed so quickly. What have I been doing with all my time? I was supposed to be working on the first draft of Let Go and finishing the first round of edits for Tilt Your Head and Smile, as well as working on outlining my NaNo project(s) – not to mention all the homework that I want to have done before then.

What have I actually accomplished so far? I’ve managed to stay a week and a half ahead of my classes as far as the homework is concerned. I’ve added about 11k to Let Go. I haven’t even looked at Tilt Your Head and Smile since July. I’ve added some more notes to my main NaNo project, but I’m not really much closer to figuring everything out than I was last month.

On the plus side, I have gotten more writing done this weekend. We left the house yesterday and hung out at the coffee shop down the street. I managed to write about 3k while I was there. I finished chapter 10 and started chapter 11. I’ve only written about 800 words so far today, but I’m a little over the halfway point for chapter 11, and chapter 12 should be really easy to write. I think I just needed to get over that little hurdle with chapter 9 (which was a big turning point for two of the characters). Now I’m feeling better about my novel again and am starting to get more into the NaNo spirit.

I also found out that one of the people I work with knows about NaNo and is planning on doing it this year. That was exciting. Most of the people at work just look at me like I’m crazy when I talk about NaNo. I’m hoping I can encourage her to go to write-ins or at the very least hang out in the NaNoLanta chat room, as that’s really what helps me during November. Because, despite what it looks like on this blog, I really can write a lot when I sit down and focus. I’ve just let myself get too distracted with other things for the past, you know, eight months.

But that’s going to change now. I have 22 chapters left to write for Let Go. I have 17 chapters left to edit for Tilt. I have at least one novel to outline for NaNo, though I would like to have two planned, just in case I actually manage to write as much as I was hoping to this year. I also have all of my big assignments for both classes due throughout the month of November. I’m going to try to do most of those in October, but I can only do so much ahead of time.

My goal for today is to finish writing the next chapter and a half of Let Go and to finish next week’s reading for my Foundations of Education class. I only have one chapter left to read, so it shouldn’t take me too long. Then I should really write my review for The Fault in Our Stars, which I finished a few days ago but haven’t gotten around to reviewing yet.

“Afternoons and mornings, I threw them all away…”

My summer is coming to an end, and I suddenly feel as if I have wasted all of my time off. I got a text from my team lead today seeing if I was coming back to work in the fall. I, of course, am coming back. It’s the only job I have, and it’s not exactly like it’s that difficult. Besides, it often leaves with free time between classes, so it’s actually a great job to write at, especially now that I have my Nook and can write/edit while away from my computer.

I also got into grad school. I found out a few days ago and am waiting for my admission packet to show up in the mail. Classes start August 20. I’ll be working on my Masters of Arts in Teaching degree with a focus on Secondary English … which basically means that two years from now, I should be certified to teach high school language arts, assuming everything goes to plan. I’m excited to be going back to school, although I’m starting to realize that I’ve decided to take on rather a lot this fall. I’ll be waking up around 4-6 a.m., working from 6 a.m. until 2-4 p.m., and then I’ll have classes three days a week from 5-8 p.m. Plus, there’s NaNo in November, and I have already volunteered to help the Atlanta MLs run the Adopt-a-Newbie program. Fortunately, work tends to slow down towards the end of October, but still…I’ll be rather busy.

That’s part of why I’ve been working on Keep Going so much. I still don’t really like that title, but I’m going to keep it for now, if only because it’s less pretentious than its original title, Ascendance. I’ve been trying to learn from my mistakes, and I think I finally know what I should be doing. I always start out with these great ideas for what my stories should include, and then I get to writing and forget about them. I’m hoping that having a more detailed outline will help with that. My current outline is six pages and a little over 4,000 words long. I also have six and a half more pages of notes on events and characters. My outline is separated by month, with subsections in each month for each of my three main characters.

My next step is turn that outline into a chapter outline. A lot of it should just be copy and pasting from my month outline, but I’m also going to try to work on transitions and filling in a few of the plot holes that I still I have. Most of the plot holes have already been fixed, but there are still a few that I need to work on. Hopefully I can finish that up this week. I’m torn between waiting until the August edition of Camp NaNo starts and going ahead and starting now, before work starts, when I have more free time to write. I guess I’ll wait to make that decision until I actually have a finished outline.

[Subject title comes from the song “Time” by Chantal Kreviazuk.]

Older but not wiser

Today (yesterday, if you want to get technical, since it’s after midnight) was my birthday. I’m 23 now. Been out of college for a little over two years. Been out of high school for a little over five. It’s a weird feeling, especially considering I haven’t really done anything with my life so far and am still living with my parents, but I suppose this isn’t the place to complain about my life. It is, however, the place to complain about my writing, so I guess I’ll settle for that right now.

I still don’t have a completed outline for Keep Going yet, but I’m making progress. I understand the characters more, and I know what the overall plot is going to be – I’m just working on the details. It helps that I have two started drafts of this one already. I first attempted to write this novel for NaNo 2008. I hit 10k and stopped writing. Then I tried it again in 2010 as a sort of pre-NaNo exercise. This time I got to 4k and stopped.

So here I am now, trying to figure out which parts of each draft I want to keep and work into the new one, and I can’t help but notice that my writing was a lot better back then. I knew what the characters were doing with their lives. They interacted with other people. Sure, Samantha spent most of her chapter scowling at her boss and thinking of ways to kill him, but she was still out of her apartment. Chloe was at an acting class and then picking up her sister from school. Natalie was complaining about her English teacher (which was so not a passive-aggressive way for me to get back at my incompetent TA, no, not at all). Is it perfect? Of course not. I’ll have to take out Natalie’s whining scene completely and tighten up Chloe’s chapter a bit, but as a whole I still really, really like what I have.

The same goes for the version I started in 2010 (or 2009 – I honestly have no idea anymore). I like the opening chapter so much more for that one and will probably end up keeping that whole thing (except for the line about the Vikings game, as I have no idea what sport they play but I don’t think it’s played in March, when that scene is now taking place). That version opens on election night 2008, and that would really just require a bit of tweaking to fit with my new plot line – or at least the bits of one that I have planned thus far. The characters are amusing and interesting (at least in my opinion), and I think my writing there could actually stand up to some of the books I’ve been reading lately.

And yet the stuff I’ve been writing lately isn’t anything like that. The stuff I’ve been writing lately is pretty horrible. Yes, there are parts of Degeneration and Tilt Your Head and Smile that I like, but for the most part, they need serious work. As in I probably need to rewrite most of them, or at least add another 20k to each so that I can show who the characters are more.

I really just need to figure out what changed between then and now. I was a good writer a few years ago. Now I’m just mediocre, and I don’t really know what changed. I lost it somewhere along the way. Maybe I’m just trying to be too serious. The further I get into this blog post, the more I’m realizing that that’s it. Keep Going is about a group of roommates who get to know each other and confront their problems. There’s serious stuff happening in there, but I still manage to have fun with the characters.

I don’t do that with April and Adelyn. I think I put too much of myself in them to be able to distance myself from the novels and just enjoy myself. I was trying to show how much unemployment sucks with April, and I was trying to show why you shouldn’t automatically respect people just because they’re family with Adelyn, and somewhere along the way I got too caught up in the bad and stopped making the characters interesting. There’s divorce and abuse in Keep Going, too, but that’s not all that the characters are about. They learn about themselves and each other along the way.

April and Adelyn don’t really learn anything. Well, April learns that she could have tried harder and that she’s mostly to blame for her unemployment, but that’s about it, and even that I just sort of ghost over near the end. I rarely show her interacting with people. I just show failed interview after failed interview. I got so bored writing them, and then I wonder why it’s not fun to read.

I keep thinking about those writing classes I took in college. They all focused so much time and energy talking about what you were and weren’t allowed to write about. You couldn’t say that someone was a jerk – you had to show them being a jerk. So for the last two stories, I haven’t summarized anything. I showed everything that happened. My characters don’t just get up from the table and fix themselves a cup of coffee. They get up. They get a cup from above the sink. Then they pour themselves a mug. Then they add the cream and sugar. It’s ridiculous. I know I’ve talked about this before, but apparently I haven’t fixed it yet. It’s like I’m so afraid that someone’s going to read over my shoulder and tell me that there’s not enough detail, so I put in too much, as if that’s better.

It’s like I’ve forgotten that you can also get to know a character by listening to their thoughts. While it’s important to show that one character likes another character better and not just say it, it’s all right to say it sometimes, too. There needs to be a balance. I knew what that balance was in 2008. I just seem to have forgotten it. My boyfriend got me two writing books for my birthday – perhaps one of them can help me get back to where I used to be.

In other news, I got a huge ice cream maker for my birthday, so that’s pretty exciting. What’s not so exciting is the fact that Script Frenzy has been canceled. Most people probably already know that (I think I got at least three emails telling me that, not including the one they sent out to the MLs), but I figured I’d mention it. I decided to get a Script Frenzy shirt and keychain now, while they still have them. They came in today, which was a nice little birthday surprise. I’m sad to see it go, but it’s not really much of a surprise.