Author Archives: Kim Staflund

About Kim Staflund

As a book publisher, Kim Staflund works with businesses and individuals around the world to produce superior quality ebooks, paperbacks, and hardcovers. As the founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG), she has extensive experience with the traditional (trade), vanity, and supported self-publishing business models as both a service provider and an author. Kim built her company from the perspective of the author—taking the best practices from each business model to create a company that puts its authors first, while ensuring a professional, saleable result. Think of PPG as a skilled project manager for self-publishing authors. Using the supported self-publishing business model, the company assists authors in producing truly professional books by guiding them through the entire process from conception to publication. PPG helps both individuals and businesses to publish quality books and provides them with online distribution opportunities throughout the world. In addition to her writing and book publishing background, Kim has a substantial sales and sales management history that includes new business development, both inside and outside account management of all types and sizes of companies, and personnel management and leadership experience within unionized and non-unionized environments. Add her firsthand knowledge of records management, process management, and project management into the mix and you have everything that is required in a professional book publisher to help authors everywhere succeed. Kim’s number one priority in each of these roles has always been, and will always be, to earn (and keep) the trust of each of her clients by providing honest, ethical, and thoughtful customer service that meets or exceeds their expectations.

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Adaptation: From Novel to Screenplay to Film

Judy Sandra – Writer, Director, Producer

These days it’s almost a given that a film will be based on a novel or book of non-fiction.  While I also write original screenplays, I decided to adapt a novel I wrote into a screenplay for a film that I will also direct. The following thoughts on adaptation come from my personal experience of adapting the novel The Metal Girl into the film project “Metal Girl.”

From Novel to Screenplay to Film

Novels and films are such different species that it can feel unnatural to marry them.  After the adaptation, the only thing they will share will be a story, the setting, and the characters. A novel is a completed art form.   One author writes the book, and one reader reads the book one at a time.  If it’s a successful book, many people, even millions of people will read that same book. While each reader will see the story through their own imagination and personal interpretation, the printed words will never change.

A screenplay is the blueprint for a film.  Very few people will ever read the original screenplay.  From the screenplay, the film will be created through the collaborative efforts of the director, cinematographer, actors, and all the creative professionals that contribute to the making of the movie.

The screenplay will evolve over the duration of the actual shooting of the film, with input and collaborations between the director and actors, and it will continue to evolve during the post-production process of the film—through the editing and finishing processes. The screenplay is a fluid and ever changing document.

I emphasize this to call attention to the fact that a screenplay is not a work of art. The film is the work. The screenplay is part of the work, a very significant part, but one that remains mostly invisible. The screenplay is the beginning of a process of the making of a film.

While this may seem an obvious point, it becomes a very important one when thinking about adapting a novel to the screen.  To me the screenwriter, the novel I have in front of me is a piece of writing that I am now going to bend to the medium of film.  The first thing to consider is adapting prose to dramatic writing and the limitations of the screenplay format.

From prose to screenplay format

To adapt the prose into a screenplay, I have to think about the story differently, as a series of scenes in three dimensions.  Also, to accommodate the average length of a film–one hour and forty-five minutes–most working screenplays are between approximately 90 and 105 pages. The narrative of an average 300-500 page novel simply won’t fit. Something—a lot—has to go.

How does one tell a novel length story in a 105 page script?

Efficiently, using the language of film.

What actually happens in an adaptation is that the story of the book gets retold in the language of film. In essence, you will be writing the original story again, but this time, it’s going to be a movie. That’s how it felt when I adapted The Metal Girl.  I was re-writing the novel, telling the same story in the same situations, but this time I was telling it using pictures, music, sound, and color. How would I tell that story, what would it look like, and how would those characters come to life on the screen?

Planning the adaptation: Structure

What elements of the story would stay and which could I cut out? Which characters, events, locations? What parts could I eliminate and what parts did I have to keep to portray the theme of the story and the main character’s journey?

What would change, and what would stay the same? This is not always evident at first. Through all the versions of the script, some events, situations, characters in the novel will be lost, but at the same time, other elements that were not in the original story might be added for dramatic effect. Further changes will occur over the course of the shooting and editing of the film.

The old adage of filmmaking is true: “There is the film you write, the film you shoot, and the film you edit”.  A film is an evolving creative process, but that’s one of the things that for me makes filmmaking so exciting: you never really know what a film will be or look like until the end.

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Beginning, Middle, End

The first consideration is the structure of the film story, which may have to differ from the structure of the novel. Deciding on the best timeline for the events of the story in the film is the first thing to adapt. In film one wants to build the narrative and keep the audience guessing. Surprise is an important element of screenwriting—the twists and turns of the plot—and one of the devices that holds the attention of the viewer.

A novel also has to move forward, but doesn’t have to build on emotion in the same way as a film.  A film takes the audience on an emotional journey. The film must hold you in your seat in rapt attention for one sitting of 90 to 105 minutes. So the screenplay must be structured in such a way as to build towards a dramatic, emotional climax that is resolved by the end. The words on the page don’t need to do that. The book can be of interest and engaging but we can put it down and come back to it later.

For example, in The Metal Girl, one very important event in the development of the main character Charlotte happened in the early part of the novel. But in the screenplay “Metal Girl”, for dramatic purposes, I put off that moment, building up to that point later in the story. When the moment occurs in the film, the audience is ready for Charlotte’s emotional response, and it becomes a turning point for the development of her character and the arc of the story.

Characters—Subtracting and Adding

In the same way that the narrative structure may have to change, in the screenplay you may have to make changes with characters in the story, especially if there are a lot or there are many incidental characters.  For the reasons of character development, the story arc, and the time constraints of a film, incidental characters need to be kept to a minimum.  Some characters in the novel fell away because I didn’t need them as they weren’t a crucial part of the story.  In the novel they may have added another color in the development of the main character or to the texture of the story, but in the film they were unnecessary extra details.

One reason that some new characters may appear in the script is to move the narrative forward, as the film will have a different story arc than the novel. Also, one might add characters and scenes that don’t appear in the novel in order to translate internal thoughts into dialogue. For example, the novel The Metal Girl is written in the first person.  In fact, in the novel, the narrator doesn’t even have a name. Because the entire story is coming from her mind and also describes her feelings about situations that occur, I sometimes chose to create a character that didn’t exist in the book for her to interact with in order to turn her thoughts into dialogue and her internal emotional state into her responses to other people.

Keeping what works 

In spite of what I said above, sometimes what is written in the novel works perfectly well on screen. After all the film is based on the novel and you want to keep as much of the flavor of the original story as possible. In “Metal Girl” some of the dialogue in the screenplay comes directly from the  novel. Parts of the first person narrative in the book were used as voiceover in the screenplay. In the beginning of the film, we hear the main character Charlotte telling us about what we are seeing on screen as we watch the opening scenes unfold before she actually speaks in the film. Other scenes in the film were lifted directly as they were written in the novel. If it works, use it.

The End

The process of making a film, from pre- to post-production, typically takes one to two years. During that time the story has been guided by the director, writer, and producer with the collaborative efforts of the cinematographer and the entire creative team. Shooting every day is magical: how things come together on camera, what the performances will be. Putting the film together in post production—the editing and finishing process—is the final adventure.

Filmmaking is an unpredictable controlled chaos of creativity. At the end of this exciting, creative, and arduous process, you will have a film. The adapted screenplay will not be a replica of the novel, but hopefully will become a  film that is as special as the novel that inspired it.

Judy Sandra – Bio:

Judy Sandra is a director, writer, producer, and author. The screenplay “Metal Girl” is an adaptation of her coming-of-age novel The Metal Girl.  Judy has received four best screenplay award nominations for “Metal Girl”, including being honored as one of the three screenwriting finalists at the 2016 Nottingham International Film Festival, Nottingham, UK.

In 2016, she made her directorial debut with the comedy/fantasy short film  ”Angelito in Your Eye”.  Judy has received six international film award nominations for the short from international awards festivals, including for Best Comedy Short Film, Best Genre Film, and Best Actor.

LINKS:

Judy Sandra – Writer, Director, Producer
website: http://judysandra.com

The Metal Girl on Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/Metal-Girl-Judy-Sandra/dp/0578038781/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264541453&sr=1-5

Follow Judy and on Social Media:

Facebook:
Judy Sandra Director: https://www.facebook.com/JudySandraDirector
Metal Girl – Movie: https://www.facebook.com/MetalGirlMovie
The Metal Girl – Novel: https://www.facebook.com/TheMetalGirl

Twitter:
@judy_sandra

Instagram:
@judysandra7

 

© Judy Sandra 2017

New Book Series Coming Soon! Book Publishing Shortcuts for Online Marketers

Book Publishing Shortcuts for Online Marketers: Six Weeks to Creating a Book Series that Earns Passive Income from Several Sources

Week One: Outline Your Book

Weeks Two to Four: Write Your Book

Week Five: Refine Your Book

Week Six: Launch Your Book

“Lather, Rinse, Repeat!”

Creating Stories: The Uses Of Setting

Award-Winning Author Hank Quense

The story’s setting gives the readers a sense of time and location. This allows the readers to begin building images in their minds. The scene settings (which are subsets of the story setting) give additional image building information to the readers. But setting does much more than provide image building clues.
These uses are listed below.

1. The setting of the story should give an indication of the type of story the reader is about to encounter and this should be conveyed early to the reader, the earlier the better. Ideally, this should be the opening paragraph in a short story or the first few pages in a longer work. Is it a mystery set in Victorian London? Is it a story of survival set in war-torn Iraq? Are those vicious aliens on their way to Earth? The reader expects and has a right to know this stuff as early as possible. Don’t disappoint the readers. They may put the book down and never open it again.

2. There are two types of setting in a story. First, there is the overall story setting and second there is the settings used in scenes. The scene settings are subsets of the story setting. For instance, if the story setting is the Sahara Desert, then scenes can be set on sand dunes, at an oasis, in a sand storm or at a deserted fort.

3. Consider your characters acting out the story on a stage. Behind the characters, instead of the scenery typical with plays, there is nothing but white panels. The people who paid money to see the play would be dismayed by the lack of scenery, so too your readers will not like it if your story doesn’t have the appropriate setting to back up the characters.

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4. The setting used in your story has to be accurate. Don’t try to set a story in Manhattan’s Central Park if you haven’t been there. Likewise, the French Quarter in New Orleans is unique and shouldn’t be used by anyone who hasn’t walked the narrow streets.

5. On the other hand, if you develop an imaginary location, you can describe the area any way you want. If you use a backdrop of a historical period in the distant past, none of your readers will have been there, but you’ll still have to do research to get the setting accurate. You can’t use St. Paul’s Cathedral with its great dome in London right after William the Conquerer became king of England. St Paul’s wasn’t built yet.

6. An effect of establishing the setting is the placing of limitations on the author and the characters. For the author, a space ship means he shouldn’t have the characters using swords and landline phones since these artifacts are from bygone eras. Your characters are also limited. A character in the Old West can’t have knowledge of computers or smart phones, unless he’s a time-traveler.

As you can see, the setting can have a major impact on the reader, especially if it isn’t handled correctly.

This article is based on material in my book Creating Stories.

© Hank Quense 2017

[NEW BOOK] Puppies: Surviving the First Six Months

Larry Neilson of Konfident Kanines Inc.

NEW BOOK coming soon to PPG from Larry Neilson of Konfident Kanines Inc. … Puppies: Surviving the First Six Months. Watch for details here.

Excerpt from the website http://www.konfidentkanines.com/:

Konfident Kanines does not dominate – We educate
 
Konfident Kanines adheres to a balanced training approach focused on establishing a reliable partnership between you and your dog that is founded on the building blocks of trust, respect confidence and loyalty.
 
KKI will guide you skillfully along a path that will lead to a lifelong partnership between you and your dog.
 
In order to coach you effectively we recognize that a large part of our responsibility is to direct you towards a better understanding of how dogs think and learn. At KKI we pride ourselves in our ability to teach others to communicate with their dog in a manner that makes sense not only to you, but to your dog as well.
 
KKI’s proven methodology will open the doorway to a whole new learning experience while you gain a new appreciation of why dogs behave in certain ways and more importantly, what role you may be playing in contributing to your dogs behaviour.
 
Our philosophy is deeply rooted in the belief that kindness is powerful and never weak. An effective balance of kindness, skill, and years of experience equates to a balanced and structured training philosophy geared towards uniting a dog and his handler.
 

How to Be Your Own Best Writer You Can Be

James Sale

When Kim Staflund, whose ‘How to Publish a Bestselling Book’ is a mini-masterpiece of useful information on the topic, invites you to do a blog for her pages, then you know you have a problem: what could you possibly write that could add to her readers’ knowledge or skill-set that is not already contained in her volume? There is so much she has done already; so perhaps my first piece of advice would be to go back and read her book! But the initial panic subsides when one realises that one isn’t trying to be Kim Staflund; on the contrary, everyone can become truly helpful to others when we just simply become authentic. What does that mean? It means in the first instance we need to address our own experience, and not try to come up with all the regular solutions that everyone else does. On that basis, then, I’d like to share with you some of my publishing experiences over a 35-year period, and to see whether this of use to you, dear reader.

First, so what are my publishing credentials for speaking at all on this matter? I am pleased to tell you that I have been both self-published, and also published by minor and major publishing houses. All my poetry collections (as opposed to individual poems, which have appeared in many magazines in the UK and the USA) have been self-published (check my The Lyre Speaks True: http://amzn.to/2t5L7iy), as have some management booklets, which have been done for marketing purposes within my core consultancy business (www.motivationalmaps.com). But alongside these, going back to 1984 when a 3-volume educational series of books were published by Macmillans, I have had over 30 books published by the likes of Nelson, Hodder and Stoughton, Longmans Folens, Stanley Thornes, Pearson, Courseware Publications, Gower and most latterly, Routledge. My book, York Notes: Macbeth (Pearson: http://amzn.to/2sdZQvu ) has been (and still is, though currently when I looked, ranked #2) an ongoing bestseller, and I have written 4 versions of the book over a 20-year span. Currently, following the sales success of my Mapping Motivation book for Gower (http://amzn.to/2s7iL6H ), I am under contract to Routledge to write 6 more book on aspects of motivation. So it is true to say that, whilst I am not a full-time professional writer, like many readers here perhaps aspire to be, I am a serious writer with a track record to match.

So what can I advise people? How can I help you become a better, more effective writer? I think the first thing I would say, and which is counter-intuitive to what many readers want, and even reasons for reading Kim’s magisterial work, is this: be really clear about why you are writing! This may sound obvious, but in my experience it is not. The trouble is, I think, that people see writing as an easy way to make money, or worse: simply they do it for money. And that – with many honourable exceptions – leads to dire writing; disposable writing; writing that is here today and gone tomorrow, even when it succeeds in its objective of making money.

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You see, once you get on the treadmill of I need to make money writing, then the marketing takes over the writing process; the writing for the market becomes more important than discovering yourself; the ‘it’s good enough’ attitude supplants the desire to – in that wonderful Eagles’ phrase – ‘take it to the limit’. What I am saying is, of course, very difficult in today’s world where the market dominates everything. But for me, writing is a special calling, and in two special ways.

The first is that writing is a process of discovery, self-discovery. We may intend to write a book about a particular topic, but true writing always reveals more than we thought we knew. In fact, it could truly be said that we don’t know what we think until we come to write it down. Second, the content and the writing itself are both forms of expertise – and becoming expert in both is what is critical. In this expertise there is a deep joy – one, in the element of words, is like a prime dolphin in the element of water, how wonderful to experience that mastery!

And here – as a seasoned consultant and business person – I can bring in my first true marketing point to help you. Namely, what the great American marketer Jay Abraham called the principle of ‘Pre-eminence’. I don’t write to make money; I write to become pre-eminent in the disciplines that I know and exercise. I want to be in the top 4% of poets, in the top 4% of management and motivation writers; these are my playing fields, and these are my objectives. So to establish this is not about simply how many copies of a book can I sell, and what percentage of the turnover do I keep (typically 100% in self-publication and 10% with major publishers); it is much more about my reputation and the collateral benefits that book writing provides. These collateral benefits are considerable; and have always been there in my life: ranging from giving me the edge in job interviews (in ye olden days before self-employment), attracting invitations to speak as prestigious events, facilitating consultancy assignments and etc. To give an example, only last week I was at Regents University in London at a conference called ‘5 Great Minds’, organised by The Chartered Institute of Marketing; it was a day conference (https://www.cim.co.uk/event/83890/ ) with – guess what? – 5 speakers, all ‘great minds’ speaking, and I was one of them. Hype aside, that – THAT – is what is so valuable to my business and career, and writing enables it. And to be clear, I am all for making money – it’s just that writing books can lead to it indirectly (as well as directly), which is why clarity of purpose is so important.

Thus, given the above context, what do I recommend you do to develop your own writing business? What things have I done that have helped boost my reputation as a writer?

First, let’s deal with getting a publishing deal with a major publisher. What is my number one piece of advice? You need to go and find a way to meet the editor personally. That’s it. Like you, I have had hundreds of rejections from submitted manuscripts and proposals. But I have found that when I get out and go for it, and meet the relevant person at some event, and I don’t try to ‘sell’, but simply have a great chat and find out their interests and what they are doing, then – THEN – there is every chance the magic sentence can almost casually come out: “You know, I think I have something you might like’.  Boom! And they say, “Send me it – I can’t promise, but –”

Can you do that? Can you get out and meet that someone? And keep in mind, when you meet them, meeting per se is not enough. For the transaction to take place they need to: know you (hence you turn up), like you (are they going to, or are you going to be a pain?), and trust you (do you listen to them carefully, and are you going to follow through and do what you say?). My key books with Macmillan, Pearson, Gower and Routledge all occurred because I went out to meet the key decision maker, enjoyed their company, and as they liked me, so good books were born.

The question you might ask is: well, how do I meet them? Where will they be? The answer to that question is not as opaque as it might seem. In ye olden days of the ‘80s, things were trickier, but now you find on Twitter especially, but also Facebook and Linkedin, editors going on about conferences, book signings, writers events that they are going to attend all the time. They, too, remember, are in the market.

This leads on to my third point: developing expertise. In Kim’s wonderful book she has a great tip on overcoming writer’s block, but actually the tip is much more important than just writer’s block. She says, “The writers who spend even as little as half an hour per day reading another author’s work often find they are more creative …” Yes, and often more expert too. We need to find not only authors who inspire us, but also what I call ‘home-bases’ – people or sites who share your values, who are aligned with what you do (Kim’s website is just such a place for writers generally) at the ‘field’ level. Learning and expertise through this can become so much deeper.

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What does this mean? It means that being a writer can be a lonely business and we need deep encouragement from others, and others who can support us on the way. Take my own ‘field’ of poetry for example. This is an extremely fragmented and disputatious field. One could never get published if one kept sending one’s work to ideologically-opposed magazine editors. So I identify ‘home bases’ where people are in sync with me, where I share values, and this is like a watering hole (one brilliant home for me is The Society of Classical Poets: http://classicalpoets.org. This is a place that values, especially, form and beauty; it doesn’t want poetry that says the world is a hellhole, there’s no hope, no form, and – hey, subtext coming up – aren’t I a clever little monster for observing all this rubbish; where’s my Pulizter?) So the question for you becomes: where are the value-friendly and vision-aligned publications where you can expect – if they know, like and trust you – to find a receptive audience? Go to work and project there!

My fourth point would be the importance of those two twins: reviewing and blogging. In between writing your actual books, and sometimes mining them for articles as ‘sneak peaks’ or ‘tasty teaser’ copy, there is the importance of contributing back. I really cannot emphasise this enough. Indeed, a subsidiary point arises: namely, it is better to engage in 2 or 3 marketing activities that you really understand and enjoy and ‘work’, rather than trying to deploy 25 techniques and tools from a dozen different marketing experts promising outstanding success if you just only do this … No, really getting behind one or two great ideas is where the meat is; or is the 80/20 Rule in action.

Reviewing is so important because you learn from the books you review, you alert others to them, and critically you demonstrate your expertise. Finally, reviewing can also lead to your making invaluable and prestigious contacts. This is so important. I myself through this process have only just this week been contacted by a leading academic at a top-notch New York university about a project. This is someone I could not have accessed, probably, through any other mechanism, but now it’s happening. And remember, when you support others, they are much more likely to support you; and if they don’t, no matter, move on, and be a moving target. So where are you reviewing? And there’s the thing; it’s rather like publication – think of the self-publication where anyone can start, and also think of the more prestigious magazines where one might gain a foothold. So, to use myself as an example, I regularly review on spiritual and healing matters for the Quaker print magazine, Towards Wholeness (http://bit.ly/2t6busx) and also have now become an official poetry reviewer for The Society of Classical Poets. On top of this I am an active re-purposer! My management blogs I present first on my Linkedin page (http://bit.ly/2t6busx) but then I re-use them on my personal blogging site on Typepad (http://bit.ly/2t6jGZA), so that they can appear fresh a week or a month later; also, I have spent a long time building up credibility on ezine.com, so that now I am a ‘Diamond’ author for them and get top priority with my posts (http://bit.ly/2s6vBC4). There are so many outlets out there, and here’s the thing; they really are desperate for high quality content because – why? – there is so much low quality content around! This is either because the writer cannot really write, or because they are simply peddling clichés and jargon, the sort of stuff you can find anywhere. But if you are a real writer, if you have followed Kim Staflund’s advice, if you are adopting the strategy of ‘pre-eminence’ as I mentioned earlier, then you are exactly the kind of person that editors are looking for: your writing can be a game changer for so many other people, and in the end quality counts. So to return to my earlier point, it’s counting the quality first, and then the money follows, rather than trying to count the money, never mind the quality.

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So what is true of reviews is true of blog and blogging: you demonstrate what you know. And here again is another important principle in action that needs to be fully grasped, embraced even. Namely, the key point of blogging is to give away free and significant information – note, to give away. This means, then, what not to do: not to act like some consultant who has key information regarding a solution to a pressing problem, but only hints that they have the solution, and that you will have to contact them – and pay – to get the full works. People hate this niggardly sort of transaction; and not only that it always reveals, in my view, that the author has a very limited set of ideas, which is why they are so parsimoniously doling them out. When you are a deep-knowledge worker/writer you can give away a 100, a 1000 ideas for free, why? Because you really do have the abundance mentality; you understand that in the world of ideas, everything is limitless – there are 10,000 more and that the human mind the more expert it becomes, the more it realises the more there is to comprehend, and the more driven it is to encompass just such further knowledge. Thus, there will always be more! As the Dalai Lama said: “Generosity gives rise to a creative mind”. You are fueling yourself when you give to others: awesome or what?

These, then, are some core ideas that have emerged for me as I have pursued my writing career and am now a senior in the digital age! But I don’t yearn for the good old days. Yes, they were good, but I think things are even better now precisely because of the ability of writers to determine more of their own destinies; we can produce, we can distribute, we can market, much more easily; and we can keep the rewards of our labours. But that doesn’t mean self-publication is the only choice. As I said at the beginning, be clear about what you want to achieve from your writing. Be open, then, and be flexible; look for opportunities, especially in the form of good contacts. Give to others and commit to the work. There is a deep joy and calling in being a writer, so now seize that moment and get your stuff out there! I hope some of you may let me know how successful you have been following some of these ideas.

MAPPING MOTIVATION  by James Sale for Routledge on Amazon

The Lyre Speaks True by James Sale

www.jamessale.co.uk

www.motivationalmaps.com

James Sale on Linkedin

© James Sale 2017

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

Michael LaRocca of MichaelEdits.com

There are no rules to assure great writing, but there are ways to avoid bad writing.

That’s from the introduction to The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. It’s also the focus of the book.

Lukeman presents examples of what not to do. If you see something in them that reminds you of something you’ve written, then you know what you need to fix.

I feel like adding that you should be grateful to have something written and fixable. The empty page is the worst.

Anybody who’s been in this business a while has seen thousands of manuscripts from all over the world. Remarkably, writers everywhere are doing the same things wrong. If you read tweets and blogs from most editors, you see a whole lot of snark about it. But Lukeman decided to group these mistakes into categories, set forth definite criteria for rejecting manuscripts, and write one of the most helpful books I’ve ever laid my hands on. Hence this review.

Lukeman also acknowledges something I’ve been saying for years. We don’t always need five pages. We might shoot down a manuscript within the first five paragraphs. Does that sound cruel? Well…

Agents and editors don’t read manuscripts to enjoy them; they read solely with the goal of getting through the pile, solely with an eye to dismiss a manuscript — and believe me, they’ll look for any reason they can, down to the last letter.

I do this. By starting his introduction this way, he hooked me. Absolutely. I was reading to figure out why my work in progress wasn’t going so well. But once I found the answer, I didn’t put this book down. I enjoyed learning from all of it.

I could list his criteria, but that’d be kinda like stealing. Read the man’s book. I got mine at the library. If you can’t do that, Amazon comes to mind. So does my favorite, Better World Books.

People send me manuscripts, wanting me to evaluate them. I’ve told more than one author to go read The First Five Pages and then get back to me. Yeah, I’m turning work away, but that’s because some manuscripts require too much of it. Lukeman will teach you how to do that work yourself, if you’re willing to learn. If you’re a real author, you’ll enjoy learning. If not, that’s a valuable lesson too.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to return to my regularly scheduled snarking.

Technical editing since 1991. Business editing since 2006. MichaelEdits.com

© Michael LaRocca 2017

The Ins and Out of Outlines: Plotters Versus Pansters [PART II: PANTSERS]

Jennifer D. Foster, freelance writer, editor, and content strategist

What an honour it is to be able to share this article from
Jennifer D. Foster that was originally published in 2016 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published. There is so much information here that I’ve split the article into two separate guest posts. This second one deals with what Jennifer describes as “pansters.” Enjoy the read!

* * *   * * *   * * *

Behind every successful novel or short story is an outline, right? Maybe. Some authors swear by a detailed plan (they’re known as “plotters”), while others, namely those fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants  writers  (known as “pantsers” or “SOPs”), despise outlines. New York Times best-selling author Joseph Finder, for example, believes that “writing without an outline is like doing a high-wire act without a net. Some people can do it, but wouldn’t you really rather have a net? I would.” New York Times best-selling author J.A. Jance, however, says she “met outlining in Mrs. Watkin’s sixth-grade geography class in Bisbee, Arizona. I hated outlining then; I hate it now. I do not outline.”

What exactly causes this great divide?

By examining this question of process via authors who do and don’t outline—and why—and via key insights from a selection of those working directly in the world of publishing, including authors, agents, writing instructors, editors, and publishers, we’ll get front-row seats to this age-old debate. For those looking for practical how-tos, tips on creating an effective outline will help send you on your writerly way.

PLOTTERS VERSUS PANTSERS: THE GREAT DEBATE

Pantsers: The Cons of Outlines

For those who love to hate outlines, the writing process is viewed as more organic and free-flowing. Weiland believes many authors are “so talented and so able to hold the entire novel in their heads. They simply don’t need the tools that help the rest of us achieve that same end product.” Key West, Florida-based Meg Cabot, a number one New York Times best-selling author, is one such writer. “Because writing a book, to me, is like taking a trip. I know in my head where I want to go. I just don’t write out an elaborately detailed itinerary. Because the fun part—to me—is figuring out how I’m going to get there, and checking out the interesting sites I see along the way.” Author Harlan Coben is another New York Times best-selling writer with a similar mind-set. “I don’t outline. I usually know the ending before I start. I know very little about what happens in between. It’s like driving from New Jersey to California. I may go Route 80, I may go via the Straits of Magellan, or stop over in Tokyo … but I’ll end up in California,” he says. In an interview for the U.K.’s The Telegraph, he clarifies further: “E.L. Doctorow has a wonderful quote on writing where he says that it is like driving at night in the fog with your headlights on. You can only see a little bit ahead of you, but you can make the whole journey that way. I concur, except that I know, in the end, where I’m going.” And, interestingly enough, for Coben, “there is no ‘why’ I don’t [outline]—you just do what works for you as a writer.” Sims believes that memory plays a role in why some writers, like Coben, don’t outline—they can hold seemingly endless amounts of material in their heads before turning it into a book. But she muses on the impact time may have. “I sure wouldn’t tell him to change, but I wonder how that method will work as he gets older and the brain cells get a little less efficient!”

Pronovost looks at it this way: “Instinctive writers sometimes hold a book’s architecture in their mind—essentially, the outline for them is something private, maybe even sacred, and speaking it out loud or commit- ting it to paper can feel counterintuitive or even rigid.” Deborah Grabien, author and editor at Plus One Press in San Francisco, California, is in full agreement. “As  both a writer (eighteen published novels and music journalism) and an editor of other peoples’ work (two anthologies of short fiction), I loathe outlines. I find working with an outline the functional equivalent of trying to dance in a straitjacket or having sex while wearing a suit of armor. My mantra is, ‘A writer writes, period; just tell the damned story.’ An outline is rigid and, for me, unworkable.”

Embracing the Serendipity

Many writers simply love the serendipity and unpredictability of writing that comes without an outline. They don’t like what Finder calls being “constricted by the steel girdle of an outline.” Hiyate agrees. “The biggest flaw is, you can write yourself into a corner, and the characters are fighting where you want to go with them. Or, because you’ve planned too much, some of the spontaneity—and suspense—might be lost.” Cabot concedes: “Story ideas don’t come along often, and when they do, you have to treat them with care. Outlining them too thoroughly—even talking about them too much over coffee with a friend—can actually ruin them, because it can make you feel as if the story is already told. And when that happens, if you’re like me, you’re dead.”

MacKinnon explains it this way: “Some authors might be less inspired to start writing if they think they have the story all figured out. They find the story as they write it. Maybe they need the excitement of finding the characters’ motivations and the plot as it unfolds to them as well.” J.A. Jance is such an author. “I start with someone dead or dying and spend the rest of the book trying to find out who did it and how come. Knowing what the end will be would make it impossible for me to write the middle,” she says. “I think if I knew what the ending would be, my motivation to write would disappear, as would the sense of discovery. I write for the same reason people read—to find out what happens—and I have never read the end of a book first.” Her reasoning? “This way, I discover the answers at the same time the characters do. This morning, at 60 percent of a book, I just found out that a character I thought was dead isn’t. If I had written an outline, would that even have happened?” Finder, a big fan of outlines, agrees in this case: “That’s just the kind of unpredictable twist you want, because if you didn’t expect it, your reader won’t either.” And that’s exactly why, says Cooper, the biggest hazard of outlining comes to those who refuse to deviate from their meticulously plotted course. The story may have decreased energy or mystery or sense of surprise—for the reader and for the writer. Writing without an outline or with only a loose outline ideally allows the story to unfold like a movie as it’s being written.”

Sims, who has worked on both sides of the outlining fence, can relate to Jance, Finder, and Cooper. With her Rita Farmer mystery series, she’s had to put together a very detailed outline for each book for her agent. But, she says, “the more detailed I got while outlining, the more frustrating the process, because my natural inclination is to figure out a lot along the way. Things come to me, answers to difficult plot questions appear as I write chapter after chapter. And, of course, as I develop characters, I get to know them better and better, and they themselves suggest action, plot points, resolutions, and so on.”

Remaining Surprised

For Black, despite her attempt, outlines do not work. While she’s not against them and “envies” people for whom they do work, for her “they are a little deadening,” and here’s why: “With the first novel I wrote—one I wrote, sold, and then withdrew because I saw its failings all too well—I used a pretty detailed outline. But I found that my ‘knowing’ what was going to happen took out some element of something like a romantic, if rocky, relationship with the book. I wasn’t intrigued by it. The process was a bit like paint-by-numbers for me, and finally I realized that the product was a bit that way as well.” So for Black, spontaneity and what she calls “openness” are imperative. “One of the great benefits of winging it—or making it up as I go along—is that I feel fluid not only about such things as what is going to happen but also about the deeper meaning of the story. I like being a little stupid about my own work as it’s in process, so I don’t fight too hard against its natural process of evolution.”

Green, a creative writing professor at Western University, cautions against outlines in terms of their relationship to the organic processes of change and revelation inherent in writing. “If one is a micromanager in terms of adhering to the outline, the pleasure of discovering that your character is going to do something that you didn’t know he or she was going to do (like a real human being, your character is unpredictable) seldom happens, and formula fiction often rears its head this way. If writing is discovery (and often self-discovery), the fully outlined and adhered-to story can become a ‘product’—albeit a professional one.” When it comes to writing, Green has “found it more valuable to keep a charted summary of each segment or chapter after it’s completed than to try to chart it in advance (like a journal of the novel; Steinbeck did this).” The purpose? The summary “lets me review it each morning and see clearly what has gone before and what I should be addressing next. Then comes the actual writing that day, and often (in best case) the sense of wonder at what has been created at day’s end. And repeat the next day. And the next. In that sense, it’s a kind of reverse outlining and progression, tied into what has come before.” 

In her book Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True, Chicago, Illinois-based, New York Times best-selling, and award-winning author Elizabeth Berg says, “there are two kinds of writers: those who start with a plot and those who end up with one. I am one of the latter.” Berg says the few times she tried to plot a novel, “it was as though the book rebelled—it went another way entirely, and then all those notes I’d taken to follow the ever-so-neat sequence of events I’d planned were in vain.” Like Jance, Black, Sims, and Green, for Berg “part of the joy in writing fiction is the surprise of it, the discovery of things I hadn’t known were in me or that I wanted to say, or, more likely, the way those things chose to be said.” Berg starts her novels only with a strong feeling of something she wants to say and/or understand, and the novel helps her do it. “I find almost nothing more enjoyable than to be working on a novel and wake up not having any idea what’s going to happen that day. It keeps me interested. It keeps me excited. If I had to write what the plot told me was ‘up’ next, I’d be bored—it would feel too much like homework.” Like other pantsers, for Berg “the magic in writing fiction comes from taking that free fall into the unknown and, rather than making things happen, letting them.”

Mockler, who outlines depending on the project, shares Berg’s overall sentiments: “I’m not a fan of obsessively outlining every scene because, for me, it kills my desire to write the story. Writing is a process of discovery, and you can miss great nuggets and details if everything is pre-planned. Too much focus on the structure and not enough on the characters and details and themes can make the writing seem formulaic and flat.”

FINAL FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The reasons why some writers outline and some don’t are as vast and varied as the creators themselves. Bottom line? Use whatever structure, or lack thereof, works best for you, without judgment. “Explore and experiment, and figure out what best unleashes your creativity,” says Weiland. Writing is a highly individual and personal process, a journey of finding balance and what works best. And the tools and techniques that work best for each writer are always based on “personalities, backgrounds, and circumstances,” emphasizes Weiland. If you choose to go the outline route, then remember, she says, that outlines are “about discovering your story and organizing it, so you will then have an accurate road map to follow when writing your first draft.” But, stresses Wiese Sneyd, remember not to become too attached to your outline. “Outlines need not be written in stone, but in sand. And don’t buy into the idea that an outline is essential to writing. It’s not,” she stresses. “I know many writers who sit down every day and write into the dark, so to speak. They allow the story and the characters to carry them rather than relying on an outline to do so.”

Regardless of your path to the finished product, keep this quote in mind, from Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, for inspiration: “Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.”

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Watch for Jennifer’s feature in the upcoming 2018 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market in mid-September 2017.

Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto, Canada-based freelance writer, editor, and content strategist. She’s been in the writing and editing business for two decades, and her company is Planet Word. Jennifer’s clients are from the book and custom publishing, magazine, and marketing and communications fields and include The Globe and Mail, Art Gallery of Ontario, D. F. Plett Historical Research Foundation, Greystone Books, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Canadian Children’s Book News, Dundurn Press, Ontario Dental Association, and Firefly Books. When she’s not busy spilling ink for her first novel, walking her greyhound, Aquaman, or reading, Jennifer enjoys travelling, antiquing, gardening, camping, and yoga. She’s a long-time mentor to novice editors via Editors Canada and novice writers via the Professional Writers Association of Canada. Jennifer is chair of Editors Toronto and administrative director of the Rowers Reading Series. Find her online at lifeonplanetword.wordpress.com.

© Jennifer D. Foster 2017

The Ins and Out of Outlines: Plotters Versus Pansters [PART I: PLOTTERS]

Jennifer D. Foster, freelance writer, editor, and content strategist

What an honour it is to be able to share this article from
Jennifer D. Foster that was originally published in 2016 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published. There is so much information here that I’ve split the article into two separate guest posts. This first one deals with what Jennifer describes as “plotters.” Enjoy the read!

* * *   * * *   * * *

Behind every successful novel or short story is an outline, right? Maybe. Some authors swear by a detailed plan (they’re known as “plotters”), while others, namely those fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writers  (known as “pantsers” or “SOPs”), despise outlines. New York Times best-selling author Joseph Finder, for example, believes that “writing without an outline is like doing a high-wire act without a net. Some people can do it, but wouldn’t you really rather have a net? I would.” New York Times best-selling author J.A. Jance, however, says she “met outlining in Mrs. Watkin’s sixth-grade geography class in Bisbee, Arizona. I hated outlining then; I hate it now. I do not outline.”

What exactly causes this great divide?

By examining this question of process via authors who do and don’t outline—and why—and via key insights from a selection of those working directly in the world of publishing, including authors, agents, writing instructors, editors, and publishers, we’ll get front-row seats to this age-old debate. For those looking for practical how-tos, tips on creating an effective outline will help send you on your writerly way.

PLOTTERS VERSUS PANTSERS: THE GREAT DEBATE

Plotters: The Benefits of Outlines

Elizabeth Sims, Florida-based author of the award-winning Lillian Byrd crime series, says her favorite method is to “jot down some basic ideas for a plot, focusing on what I call ‘heart-clutching moments,’ then work out the rest as I write the book. Beyond that, I’ll often look ahead two or three chapters and write a paragraph for each one that simply says what has to happen in that chapter.” And she prefers to use the term story  map, disliking the word outline. “The term outline seems to connote rules and distasteful work. Story map brings to mind discovery, adventure, and getting somewhere,” emphasizes Sims, who’s also a contributing editor for Writer’s Digest. Lynn Wiese Sneyd, owner of LWS Literary Services in Tuscon, Arizona, refers to outlines as “tracks,” and Mary Lou George, a Toronto, Ontario-based mainstream romance novelist, likens them to a “road map,” stressing that her willingness to “prepare them is the only thing that separates me from the animal kingdom.”

Regardless of what they’re called, outlines, for those who prefer them, are a godsend. “For me, the outline is crucial,” says George. “A good outline helps me plot and pace the work. It can keep me on track and help me identify weaknesses in my story. I can see where I’m going to run into trouble before I start writing, and I can structure the story accordingly.” How does an outline help her? “I map out what’s going to happen in each chapter. If my story involves a mystery that needs to be solved, I highlight the clues, misdirection, etc., just to keep track. I list each scene. That way, I can get a feel for high-tension points in the story and pace accordingly. Once I’ve mapped everything out scene by scene, I know where I want to introduce a love scene, a confrontation, some mystery, or a funny bit, just to keep them wanting more. I get a feel for whether it’s all going to work to my satisfaction.”

Sims feels that “an outline is well worth the trouble when writing a mystery.” So does Kathryn Mockler, Toronto, Ontario-based publisher of The Rusty Toque (an online literary, film, and art journal); senior editor at the literary magazine Joyland: A Hub for Short Fiction (Toronto); and creative writing lecturer at Western University in London, Ontario. “If you are writing genre fiction or screenplays, you pretty much have to have a tight structure, and outlining can be helpful for that.” Nita Pronovost, editorial director at Simon & Schuster Canada and a former senior editor at Penguin Random House in Toronto, Ontario, agrees, adding: “Often, genre writers have more practice using the outline as a technique and tool that guides their creative process rather than stifles it.” Jennifer MacKinnon, a freelance editor in Newcastle, Ontario, and a former editor at Scholastic Canada, concurs. “Mystery novels need to have very specific events happen for the story to work in the end, [and that’s why] it may help writers work out some plot holes and structural and pacing issues beforehand, which would mean less editorial revisions later.” Finder feels the same holds true for his novels. “Thrillers have too many moving parts. They’re all about plot. They’re almost always too complex to write without doing some sort of outline in advance.” For his novel Power Play, he took his writer friend Lee Child’s advice and “brazened” his way through it, sans outline, which “wound up taking me several months longer than usual, simply because I wasted a lot of time on plot and on characters that I ended up cutting out.”

Unleashing Creativity

No one knows how long the controversy over outlining has been around, but it’s a bristly debate with deep roots. One thorn of  disagreement stems from the notion of creativity: Plotters feel outlining is advantageous and part of the whole process, boosting creativity. Pantsers feel outlining squelches their creative flow. “If you feel like you need an outline in order to write or feel that an outline releases your creativity, then you should use an outline,” says Wiese Sneyd. MacKinnon believes that “even with an outline, the author has thought creatively about the story and the plotting and the characters.” And Toronto, Ontario-based award-winning author and freelance editor Janice Weaver stresses that new writers should be mindful not to “adopt the mind-set that the outline is somehow the enemy of creativity.” George agrees, adding that an outline is “there to help me, to enhance my creativity. That’s its reason for living. I don’t look at my outline as written in stone. I created it; it’s mine to morph into whatever I choose. It’s as adaptable as I want to make it.”

Sims says, for her, the greatest benefit of a story map is “anxiety reduction. You get up and grab your materials, and you can start that next chapter knowing at least basically what you have to get done in it.” Wiese Sneyd concurs. “As you venture into the storytelling and the manuscript, an outline can ease the anxiety of creating that which has never been created: unique characters acting within a unique story. It can shed light on a writing process that otherwise takes place in total darkness.” Philadelphia-based non-outliner Robin Black, author of the novel Life Drawing and the short story collection If I Loved You,  I Would Tell  You This, expands on this notion. For her, one of the downsides of not outlining is that “it is definitely a less secure process—emotionally, I mean. When I wrote my fully outlined novel, I knew what I was doing every day. … I enjoyed the lack of panic that nothing will occur to me next, or that I’ll take some giant wrong turn.”

Taking Control of the Process

Another benefit of outlines, according to plotters, is being in the driver’s seat. “It partly has to do with control. It feels good to know ahead of time where the story is going and how it ends. The blank page can feel very unsettling,” says Wiese Sneyd. “I’ve heard some authors say that their out-line consists of a beginning and an ending. Their job is then to fill in the middle.” For Wilmington, North Carolina-based Wiley Cash, New York Times best-selling author of A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy, “the greatest benefit is that it offers you the chance to see the totality of your idea. I’ll typically outline a novel once I know who the main characters are, so that I can get a sense of how I see their lives unfolding and how their lives will flow with and against the narrative.” His rationale? “Each character has a tiny plot evolving inside him or her, and it’s important to keep that in mind before you try to develop the arc of the broader narrative.” Cash says he won’t look at the outline for months while he’s writing, “but it will always be there in the back of my mind. It’s like the map in the glove box that you’re hesitant to get out and unfold because you think you may recognize a landmark around the next bend in the road. But the map definitely gives you some peace. It’s there if you need it. For me, outlines are the same.”

Pronovost also agrees with the outline-as-map benefit. “The initial outline is a kind of map. I can sometimes spot narrative problems right from the outline, which means that the author is saved the aggravation and time of falling into a potential black hole in the story.” For her, outlines provide “clarity of thought, organization, direction … an architecture to a story, and it helps the author (and editor) retain a kind of muscle memory of the framework long after the outline has been put aside and the work on scenes and chapters begins.” And, she says, “what an outline can do, especially for new writers, is save them from becoming too involved in the journey and becoming lost in the maze of superfluous narrative.” Weaver concurs: “Outlines are especially important for new writers, because those are the people who sometimes lack the discipline or the critical distance needed to see the problems with their manuscripts.” Pronovost also stresses that “the outline provides a way for the author to think from the point of view of the creator and from the point of view of the readership.” How, exactly? “The outline creates awareness in the writer of the techniques they are using to tell the story: what each chapter covers, what the main actions are, how each segment opens and closes, where the major turning points occur, and so on. That’s taking care of the reader’s experience, something an author should always consider.”

Treating the Outline as a First Draft

Scottsbluff, Nebraska-based K.M. Weiland, author of Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and the fantasy novel Dreamlander, has an interesting theory about the pros of outlining. “Many authors who don’t use an outline are actually using their first drafts as an outline of sorts—from which they then figure out the story’s problems and use it as a template to write a better second draft.” So, she says, “outlines are my rough draft. And then when I actually go to write the first draft, it’s actually the second draft. Since I already know what’s going to happen, it’s where I get to fine-tune those ideas, smooth them out, and explore them further.” For Weiland, “outliners do most of the major revising in the predraft process, which allows for much faster (and, dare I say, more fun?) first drafts and much less revision time afterward.”

Karen Wiesner, genre author of more than one hundred novels and of First Draft in 30 Days and From First Draft to Finished Novel, agrees. She used to be a pantser, but after writing sometimes twelve drafts of a novel to finally get it right, she decided to give outlines a try. “With the right preparation, you can create an outline so complete, it actually qualifies as the first draft of your book and includes every single scene of your book. You can see your entire novel from start to finish in one condensed place. An outline like this … contains every single one of your plot threads, unfurled with the correct pacing and the necessary tension, culmination, and resolution from beginning to end.” For Wiesner, the outline is “the place to work out your story settings, plot conflicts, and in-depth characterization before starting the actual book. This allows you to focus on scenes that work cohesively together and advance all of these. Additionally, tension, foreshadowing, dialogue, introspection, action, descriptions, etc., can best be done within the outline, building strength while adding texture and complexity.” The best part? “Creating an outline like this puts the hard work of writing where it belongs—at the beginning of a project. If you work out the kinks in the story in the outline, you ensure that the writing and revising are the easy parts.” Wiesner’s analogy cements her argument: “When I write a book based on a ‘first draft’ outline, pure magic happens because I watch the skeleton—the framework of the book contained in my outline—putting on flesh, becoming a walking, talking, breathing story.”

Like Weiland, Pronovost, and Wiesner, Weaver believes an outline can save a writer both time and frustration. “Ideally, it will force you to think through the events of your novel before you ever put pen to paper, and in doing so, it can reveal potential pitfalls, uncover creative opportunities you hadn’t considered, and give you a broader perspective. An outline can condense that process and minimize the wrong turns, and that makes it more likely that you’ll finish what you started.” Sally Cooper, Hamilton, Ontario-based author of Love Object and Tell Everything and creative writing professor at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario, agrees with Weaver’s thoughts. “A good outline helps me think through the story ahead of time, so I avoid writing myself into an unresolvable corner. Outlines also create direction, signposts, or goals to look forward to and meet.”

Kathy Lowinger, Toronto, Ontario-based author and former publisher of Tundra Books, says that, “oddly enough, a detailed outline can be of most use to those who write beautifully. For them, it is easy to write a great sentence or paragraph or even several pages without benefit of a good skeletal structure. Eventually it becomes apparent that the plot isn’t well thought out, but good writing can hide the plot flaws for a long time.” She also believes that for writers who claim to be smothered  by an outline, “I always think that they don’t understand what an outline is. It can be changed if it isn’t working, but,” she cautions, “the author has to understand that a single change should be looked at in the context of the whole work.”

Speaking of the whole work, Weaver has a fitting metaphor regarding outlines. She likes to compare a manuscript to a jigsaw puzzle. “Your job as the writer is to make all the pieces fit together to form a complete and pleasing picture in the end. The outline is the photograph on the puzzle box—it’s a guide to remind you what picture you’re ultimately trying to create. Sometimes you’re contending with a puzzle that comes with extra pieces that don’t quite fit. A big challenge for most writers, in my experience, is recognizing that those extra pieces don’t belong, and having the courage to let them go. An outline can relieve you of some of those decisions by making it clear when something doesn’t fit.”

A Word to the Wise for Plotters

Even pro-outliners caution against following an outline blindly. “If you get extremely detailed and rigid about the outline process, you can rob yourself of the chance to stumble upon something awesome,” says Sims. “An outline can and should be fluid. Be okay with throwing an outline away and starting over or slicing and dicing and adding in new stuff—even if you’re halfway through your book. If you get a gut feeling you ought to try something drastically different, give it a go.” MacKinnon concurs. “The outline is just a written guideline. Most authors I know would never let an outline get in the way of a good story. If inspiration hits in the middle of writing, and the characters or story seems to be going in a different direction, they follow their instincts and go with the story rather than the outline.” Cash holds the same theory, stressing that “the greatest drawback is that there’s always the risk of being shackled to your outline. Trust me, you won’t disturb the universe if you don’t follow it.”

Pronovost feels the same. “Just because a writer has a plan doesn’t mean she has to dogmatically stick to it. There is always room for creativity in any structure, including in an outline. A rough, flexible, dynamic outline—one where change can occur throughout the drafting process—is a very practical tool.” Kevin Morgan Watson, publisher at Press 53 in Winston–Salem, North Carolina, agrees. “An outline should be, to borrow a phrase from the movie Ghostbusters, ‘more of a guideline than a rule.’ A writer should always be open to new ideas that present themselves during the writing process. When that little voice says, ‘What if my character does this or goes there instead of following the outline; I wonder what would happen?’ I think writers should listen to that voice and take the detour.” He cites the “wise words” from American poet Robert Frost as further evidence:

“No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

Shaping the Story

For Sam Hiyate, literary agent, president, and co-founder of The Rights Factory in Toronto, Ontario, “outlines are essential for helping shape a story. You wouldn’t start building a house without blueprints. Why start a novel without one?” For Hiyate, who’s also a creative writing instructor at the University of Toronto and a publishing instructor at Ryerson University, “the most important thing is to write an outline at the level of detail that makes you comfortable. Some writers might have one [outline] that is two pages, whereas some might want ten to fifteen pages. If you have it in bullet points to start, you can still enter a chapter or scene with a lot of possibility, as long as you know where it will quickly go.” For him, it’s all about “writing with the level of detail that will keep your writing spontaneous and fresh.”

For number one New York Times best-selling author John Grisham, outlines are the Holy Grail of productivity and structure. “The books are carefully outlined before I ever start. Chapter by chapter, from beginning to end. And usually tedious and boring and even painful—but it’s the only way to make sure the story’s going to work. Usually the outline is fifty pages long. And the longer the outline, the easier the book  is to write. I have started several books and put them aside—and a couple of times I’ve gone back and been able to finish them.” This level of planning for an outline on the part of the author could be an example of what novelist and short story author Terence M. Green refers to as “the micromanager, who plans the whole story out in advance before the actual writing. I think it’s fair to say that the writer who benefits the most from the micro-planning is the one most concerned with plot, and plot intricacies and twists.”

George sees an outline as a life-enhancing literary safety net. “If you run into trouble, it’s never too late to create an outline to help you along. It can be as detailed or as sketchy as you’d like. Sometimes, when I’m having a crisis of confidence, I will hone the outline in order get reassurance that my story has merit. That, alone, can get me writing again.” And George stresses that the outline may be for the writer’s eyes only. “Remember that no one else needs to see the outline.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to update it or stay faithful to it—it’s so unlike a spouse in that way. In fact, my relationship with my outline is probably the best I’ve ever known.”

Best Tips of the Trade

Looking for some writerly inspiration not only to create but also to nail an effective outline?
Our industry experts weigh in with these helpful tips.

“If your book were divided in pieces, what would they be called? How many pieces
(acts or parts) would there be? What would happen in each segment? Summarize in
only a few sentences, not in a thousand pages. Does your outline have a climax? If
not, why not? Does your outline have a clear beginning, middle, and end?” —Nita
Pronovost, editorial director at Simon & Schuster Canada, former senior editor
at Penguin Random House

“Don’t confuse your outline with a summary of your novel. Keep your outline brief.
It doesn’t even have to be comprised of complete sentences. Don’t be afraid to
change it or move things around, and consider putting it away once it’s completed.”
Wiley Cash, New York Times best-selling author

“Know your characters. Think in terms of scenes, like a filmmaker. Include thematic
and symbolic beats, not just plot points, and be open to throwing the outline out the
window if the story takes a promising turn.” —Sally Cooper, author and creative
writing professor at Humber College

“Outlines are a great way to think through a story, to envision a story, much like a drive
across the country or a family vacation: You can plan it down to the hour of every day,
but it’s in the detours along the way where the better story, the better adventure,
may be hiding. And what’s the harm in taking a detour to see what is there? If you
work from an outline, make it a loose guideline. Give yourself permission to veer off
course and explore.” —Kevin Morgan Watson, publisher, Press 53

“The outline is simply a tool; don’t let it intimidate you. Use it as an aid to pace your
novel well. Read it over from time to time. Your outline can help you identify slow
points in your story. It can remind you that you’ve forgotten something and, if so,
then how necessary is that something? Or maybe it was key, and you can’t neglect it.
The outline will help you make decisions.”—Mary Lou George, romance novelist

“Be flexible. Think of an outline as a collection of puzzle pieces. At first you think a piece
might fit well here, but then you see it fits better there. Keep moving the pieces around.
Don’t be afraid to toss some and add new ones.” —Lynn Wiese Sneyd, owner of
LWS Literary Services

“Think of your outline as the bird’s-eye view of your manuscript. It’s meant to show
you the best path to take—and to reveal any roadblocks long before you get to them—but it shouldn’t prevent you from taking the odd side road on your way to your destination. An outline can take many different forms, and if one technique is too restrictive or makes you feel too constrained, try another. One bad experience with outlining doesn’t mean all outlines are bad.” —Janice Weaver, award-winning author and freelance editor

“Don’t be afraid to make a mess. Writing is like life: glorious, unpredictable, full of
passion, woe, and joy. Be okay with ambiguity as you map your story; you’ll figure
it out. And be open to making parts of your outline rough and other parts very detailed.
Don’t worry about following any particular form.”—Elizabeth Sims, award-winning
author and contributing editor for Writer’s Digest

“Start out with what your central quest is; give your protagonist a series of trials of various
flavors (by that I mean level of difficulty, mood, etc.) to overcome; and put the resolution
in the protagonist’s hands. And make sure that the protagonist is marked by
each trial in some way. This holds for almost every novel, whether the quest is something
intangible like acceptance or tangible like the Holy Grail.” —Kathy Lowinger,
author and former publisher of Tundra Books

“Use the outlining phase as an opportunity to build story structure. The single most
important factor of a story’s success and salability will be the strength of its structure.
The outline is the place to start figuring that out so you will be able to place the important
plot points and other structural moments at exactly the right place to allow
them to achieve their utmost power.” —K.M. Weiland, author

“When writing a short story, I’ve found it useful to take a sheet of paper and divide it
into three (usually Intro, Body, and Conclusion, the Body being the substantial part
of the page). By filling in these sections with ideas and details, the story can come to
life in a general way. The actual writing of the story is where it can come to life in its
particulars. For a new writer of fiction: Know the ending of your story. If one has this
in mind, the goal is clear, the path straightens itself.” —Terence M. Green, creative
writing professor at Western University, novelist, and short story author

… to be continued

Watch for Jennifer’s feature in the upcoming 2018 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market in mid-September 2017.

Jennifer D. Foster is a Toronto, Canada-based freelance writer, editor, and content strategist. She’s been in the writing and editing business for two decades, and her company is Planet Word. Jennifer’s clients are from the book and custom publishing, magazine, and marketing and communications fields and include The Globe and Mail, Art Gallery of Ontario, D. F. Plett Historical Research Foundation, Greystone Books, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Canadian Children’s Book News, Dundurn Press, Ontario Dental Association, and Firefly Books. When she’s not busy spilling ink for her first novel, walking her greyhound, Aquaman, or reading, Jennifer enjoys travelling, antiquing, gardening, camping, and yoga. She’s a long-time mentor to novice editors via Editors Canada and novice writers via the Professional Writers Association of Canada. Jennifer is chair of Editors Toronto and administrative director of the Rowers Reading Series. Find her online at lifeonplanetword.wordpress.com.

© Jennifer D. Foster 2017

Coming Soon to PPG! Smoke and Mirrors: Life in the CFL with Richie Hall

Smoke and Mirrors: Life in the CFL with Richie Hall
Watch for it in 2017! 

Smoke and Mirrors: Life in the CFL with Richie Hall … coming soon to PPG! Watch for it here!

COMING SOON!

Non-fiction (Sports, Biography)

Smoke and Mirrors: Life in the CFL with Richie Hall
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-9958193-1-3
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-9958193-0-6
Copyright 2017 Guy Scholz and Richie Hall, All Rights Reserved