Tag Archives: Writer

How to Orgainize an Outlining Escape

Over the years I’ve learned that certain words, to certain writers, are little more than a nasty noise.  One of those words is “Outline”.  Yikes!  Did I just feel a shudder running through my keyboard?

A lot of writers I know would rather chew off their own leg than outline a novel, or even a chapter, but my experience is that a very brief outline really works.  If you know where your story is going, if you know where your characters need to be at the start and the end of a particular chapter, then all you really need to do is herd them around a bit. 

Knowing where your novel should start, what the character and plot development points are, and approximately when they should happen is not a crutch.  It is a valuable tool that will have you writing rather than scratching your head and staring out into space.  Knowing where you are going keeps you going.

Now, for those who have just been convinced, and those of you who are in the choir being preached at, here’s an idea about how to make your outline a reality.

Do it instead of something you hate to do. 

Image: israelnewsletter.com

For me, it’s waiting in line.  Waiting for a queue of people to move up for me is tedious and irritating.  When I can, I bring a book or play a game on my phone, but unless the game or book will inspire ideas for my novel, I’m just wasting time.

The solution?  Bring a notebook.  Come on, people, you’ve got nothing better to do in that line, right?  Jot down a few ideas.  Imagine where your lead character will be when the book starts, and make a note of it.  Think of when and how you will introduce your supporting characters, your villains, and the like.

The idea is to do a large, loose outline.  You’re not committing yourself to a final form for your novel, you’re just giving yourself a basic roadmap, and permission to create while standing around waiting.

I always take my notepad with me these days, and a lot of good has come from it.  Oh.  One more thing, I do NOT take a novel or anything else that can distract me from the outlining process.   I don’t particularly like it either, but…  to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, “…I hate outlining, but I love having outlined.”

Your thoughts?


Can Your Characters and Dialogue Really Be Real?

 Here is another topic to stir the soul and perhaps the mind.

Should our characters really speak like normal every-day people?  Should they really act like Joe down the street?  Or, do we need a way to give the illusion of such behavior without actually delivering mundane characters?

Oh, and sorry if you’re looking for a definitive answer here.  I wish I had one. 

Regular readers of UhW know that I often harken back to video for cues when building characters.  I do that because as much as I wish books were the primary guide to what is and what isn’t these days, I don’t believe they can even touch the power and the draw of movies and TV

That said, we cannot have our characters being as rude and unthinking as video characters.  Our readers will notice if we never say “goodbye” at the end of a phone message, but rather look meaningfully at the receiver—or the camera—and put the phone down.  Our readers will notice if we always open doors, but never—and I mean (almost) never… check it out for yourself—close doors behind ourselves.  Even the front door of a house. 

For video it is understood, even more widely than it is with literature, that every moment on-screen must move the story forward.  Saying goodbye or closing doors doesn’t really help that much, especially when you’ve got a limited number of minutes to get your story across.

But, with a novel or a story you have more time, more leeway.  The question is, how much of it should you use?

If you listen in on conversations in the grocery store or the food court at the nearest shopping mall, you’ll be dismayed at the flat inanities you hear thinly disguised as conversation.  OK, to be fair, a lot of what you hear is a kind of short-hand developed over the years between friends or family members, but our readers do not have the benefit of that set of understood rules.

This is not to say you can’t imply such a relation between characters.  In fact, I highly recommend it.  It’s just that you dialogue cannot be a long string of “ahs, ums, and other filler sounds.  Each sentence does need to move the story forward.  As does each action.

So, what’s the answer?  I dunno.  But I would guess it is up to the writer—up to us—to find a  way to disguise actions and dialogue which are clear and forward the action, as human, normal, and ordinary.

Why does this all have to be so hard?  Oh, right.  I know.  We decided to be writers.

Your thoughts?

Rebels Without Applause

I’m going to say this again, and I’m going to alienate yet more people.  But, it is one of those things I think needs to be “aired out”.

I’ve just run across another writer who claims that “…I write for myself…”, and yet puts his work out for others to read.  AND he takes offense when someone finds the work weak, derivative or lacking in any way.

I actually think I’ve got it figured out now.  An “…I write for myself…” person  is hedging bets.  Making such a claim—it would appear—is a way to keep from committing your work fully.  You can always fall back and say, “I write for myself, not for you”, or “I write to please myself, not you.” 

If it is only for you, why do you put it up on a public forum

Make no mistake, there is absolutely nothing wrong with writing for yourself.  In fact, there is a name for it.   It is called Journal or Diary writing, and if it is truly for yourself, it should be kept that way.

I admit some people who say they write for themselves are competent writers, but I still don’t understand why, given their stand, they would post their work.

Maybe they’re missing the point.  Maybe I am.

The writers I know who have taken their craft public, and do not hedge their bets, are those who care about the reader.  They are writers for whom the reader is more than an unnamed person out in booksville.  For them the reader is actually like a character in the novel or story.  It is how they reach their audience.  It is how they involve the reader so deeply in the story that the reader forms the third leg of a the tripod of Imagination and skill: audience.

Go ahead.  Get your torches and pitchforks.  Call out the guard.  I can take it.

Do not claim to be a novelist and claim to write for yourself.  That is insincere and cowardly.  Instead, step up, ask for review, ask for a critique, and have the courage to face what people say.  It is, frankly, the only way I know to improve your work.

Guest Blogger – Karen Smith Gibson

Allow me to introduce Karen Gibson, long-time friend and fellow writer from back in the WeBook days.  I had the pleasure of watching her novel, Chasing SANE grow from a first few tentative sentences to a fully realized, and now published, novel. 

She joins us today as a guest blogger with a topic near and dear to the hearts of all of us.  Karen?

The Pickle I’m In

Does this sound familiar? You have drafted, rewritten and had the next great American novel edited. You have spent days coming up with a witty, well-written synopsis. You have chosen 101 publishers to send your work to and emailed what you could and snail mailed the rest. After weeks of waiting, the rejections come pouring in; those publishers who bothered to open your queries and respond, of course. Some are uber-polite and gently rebuke you saying, “We appreciate your query, but are only accepting children’s stories at this time”. However, most respond with, “We are not accepting any non-represented works at this time”. 

Image: Karen Gibson

But of course, you chide yourself. As with anyone peddling their craft, I need an agent to knock on doors for me. What WAS I thinking? Back to that list and out goes some tweaked paragraphs to literary agents. Cutting back on the enthusiasm of before, only fifty agents are chosen. Yes, fifty lucky agents will get the chance to represent the next great American novel. Slowly, the rejection letters trickle in. One email or letter after the other states, “We are not representing new or unpublished authors at this time”.

But…I sent…so…I need…but, they won’t…what? The publisher isn’t taking unrepresented work and the agents won’t represent you unless you have been published. I see. So, basically a new writer cannot be published or represented? Is this really the case or is this the standard response to queries from unknown/unpublished writers? Is there a writer’s DaVinci code to getting represented or published?

Like the pickle on the deli plate beside the pastrami on rye, we are often overlooked. We know how tasty we are. We know we compliment that special world of deli sandwiches. Maybe someone will notice us and decide to bite in and see just how juicy we are. Until then, we will have to find a way to make that pickle on the side hard to pass up. Such is the plight of the unpublished writer.


Thanks, Karen. 

If you want to read more of Karen’s work, check out her blog at: http://karensmithgibson.org/

A Real Editor is Hard to Find

As a writer for any length of time, when showing  your work around to people, you will have noticed a couple of interesting phenomena.

1. Everybody you show your work to knows that they, too,  could write, if they only took the time to do so.  “I should write about my life.  People would be thrilled and fascinated with all my adventures.”  This is often followed by something like, “I could take a week or two off work and whip out a novel.  Piece of cake.”

2. Everybody claims to be an excellent editor.  But they aren’t.  “I’ll go through this and clean it up for you.  I’m great at this.”  “Your story?  Yep, I’ll be getting to it shortly.”  “The story you gave me to *read* last year?  No.  Really, I’ll be working on it tonight.”

What a disappointment.  Or is it?  Showing off your writing to non-writers (often non-readers) is like juggling in front of a group of 4-year olds.  Every one of them knows that they could do that, too, if only you’ll let them have the juggling balls to play with.  Practice not required.

I’m sure we can agree on this, but that isn’t really why I invited you all here today. 

Coaching is a two-way street, more, it is a gift.

If someone cares enough about your work to actually step forward and make suggestions, that’s a true gift.  Unless it isn’t.  OK, so there are mean-spirited people out there who’s lives and self-worth are dependent on putting other people down–but we’ll leave those for a RANT one of these days.

Coaching is like a back rub that does more than soothe sore muscles.  Someone once told me that half the value of a back rub is that someone actually wants to give it to you.  The same can (and should) be said for coaching.

I think that the better reviewers are people who actually spend some time saying more than “hey, good”, “LOL”, or “Can’t wait for more”.  This is not to say that those sentiments aren’t nice.  They’re certainly more uplifting than someone patting you on the head and running off, but how do you as a writer grow from such sentiments?

Good critiques and coaching doesn’t always feel good.  If you want unconditional love, buy a puppy.

1 Way to Keep From Offending Your Readers

My title is a bit misleading.

It suggests that there is more than one way to keep from offending your readers.  Amazingly enough, there really is only one way to keep from offending 100% of your readers. 

Don’t write.

Yeah, sigh.  That’s the trick.

The truth is that anything you write will offend someone.  It won’t matter how good your intentions are… it won’t matter how careful you are with your craft, for one reason or another what you write is bound to offend some readers. 

On the other hand, the quickest way to be sure to offend is to use humor.  Humor is subjective, and is easily  the quickest way to alienate your audience.  But wait, you say, what about people like Dave Barry, and the late Douglas Adams?  They are funny, and they don’t offend me.   Yep.  They don’t offend you.  Trust me, reader, there are people who find their brand of humor insulting, childish, predictable and… oh, yeah.  Offensive.  This is why a “golden rule” for writers doesn’t work.  Can you imagine believing “write unto others as you would be written unto“?

Email and texting have taught us how easy it is to misunderstand the printed word.  “Smilies” were designed to take the sting out of words which were not accompanied by facial expressions or tones of voice.

It is sad.  There seems to be no real lingua franca when it comes to writing.  There is only an approximation, a “best intentions” attempt at communications.  And as we have all seen, best intentions make excellent paving blocks, but they don’t serve very well for much else.

So, what do we do?

We write on.  We do our best.  We write with the sure knowledge that a percentage of readers will get what we say, and get it without finding personal insult in it,  and we can but hope that those who are offended are never so much offended that they stop reading all together.

Chances are that this piece will offend some readers.

Running on Empty: Daily Writing Challenge

Perhaps it would be better to ask, how much sleep do you, as a writer actually get?  Do your characters nudge you out of a sound sleep at two in the morning, or are you still plunking away at the keyboard when dawn breaks?  Do you find yourself lying awake wondering how to turn the story around?  Do obvious logical errors in the plot nag at you in bed? 

And, if you are a blogger—and these days, chances are good on that account—are you finding yourself losing sleep over keeping up your blogging schedule?

I’ve heard it said that “writers are people, too”, and I suppose that’s so.   The thing is, I know writers of different ages, skills and temperaments, and one thing that seems to be true is that writers aren’t like other people.  Think I’m making that up?  Look around.  If you are reading this site you read other writing sites.  You read books about writing, you know and talk to other writers, and, in the company of writers you might find you fit in pretty well.  But if you are only in the company of writers you may have missed out on the fact that non-writers are not driven the same ways you are.

There.  I’ve said it. 

How much sleep does a writer actually need?  A study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society suggests that older people actually need less sleep each night to support their health.  “But wait”, you say, “I’m not old!”  (Give it time and luck.  You will be.)  But that’s not the point.

What I wonder is this:  Do writers have different needs when it comes to sleep?  Do their minds actually work differently?  Does a brain that constantly looks for new things to say, and new ways of saying them need more (or less) sleep?

I used to hate the idea of naps, for instance.  If I laid down in the middle of the day, if I fell asleep during daylight hours, I would wake up with a headache so bad I couldn’t think.  These days, however, as I’m up late and usually out of bed by 5 or 5:30, there are days when I”m exhausted by 9 in the morning.  Oh, yes.  I’ve taken a nap at 9, and felt better the rest of the day.

What about you? 

What about those of you who have jobs, kids, an active social life…  Do you need more or less sleep than non-writers, spouses, friends or acquaintances?  Are you getting that sleep?

Sorry.  Did I wake you?

Today’s challenge is to take a look at your health and sleep requirements… and at those of the people around you. 

Your thoughts.