Outlining, it pays off

I’m outlining a new novel idea.

I wrote my first novel with no outline at all. Copious notes for research filled my notebook and Word files. But I wrote… as a pantser… and I don’t do pantser well. It took me three years to complete the rough draft, including several bouts of writer’s block when I didn’t know how to transition from one scene to another. I took a workshop with David Annandale and he said to me some magic words… “Then don’t transition. Skip it and write what comes next. You’ll transition on your re-write.” (or something close to those words) Well, thank you David. Within a couple of months I finally finished my first draft. Setting it aside for a few weeks, I did a second draft. A year later I was still not happy with it. Finally, last fall, I wrote an outline for each chapter and a timeline. I realized I had whole sections of the story out of place. The flow wasn’t right. Things didn’t happen in order. I had to do a major overhaul of re-writing and move entire scenes. After outlining, I knew where these scenes had to move to. And where to make my story stronger. However, it now requires so much work, I feel overwhelmed and anytime I think of pulling it out, I just… well, don’t. However it is one of my goals.

I wrote my second novel using this book:

Ready, Set, NOVEL! by by Lindsey Grant, Tavia Stewart-Streit and Chris Baty

(Available at Amazon.ca and Amazon.com)

I began with an idea in March (2012), purchased this book in about May, spent majority of our driving time on our camping trip to Niagara Falls with this book on my lap (in July) and wrote and wrote and wrote. I followed many of the directions, however, I found that I changed up several of the activity suggestions to create scenes that would more likely show up in my book later. I used it as a guide. When I finished the book, I had outlines or snippets of several scenes written and most importantly a detailed timeline for not only my main character but my secondary characters as well. My timeline included the main plot line plus the subplots and when they come in to the story. Instead of writing the novel in chronological order from beginning to end, I wrote it in scenes. My timeline had them all outlined (and with David’s words of ‘transition later’) I felt free to write whatever scene struck me at that time. I started the first draft the first week of August and completed 30,000 words by mid-September. I then re-wrote it three or four times by November. Since then, I’ve had five writer friends from my critique groups read the entire manuscript and I’ve taken in all of their suggested changes and I’ve re-written it a further six to eight times (including changing the ending). My goal by March of this year, is to be submitting it to publishers. One year… much improved over book one.

I am sold on outlining and timelines. As I start my new novel I am experimenting with yWriter software. (Downloadable for FREE here: yWriter5) It’s going a little slow, as user-friendly as the program is, there’s still a learning curve. And I’m figuring out how it’s going to work for me. But I intend to completely outline this novel before writing a single word into a draft. I like the feeling of knowing where my story is going. With this new story I am thinking of the outline as the first draft. So much easier to move story sections around when it’s all in point form.

I’ll keep you posted about my experience with yWriter. Do you outline? Not outline? What’s your writing process?

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(¸.•´ (¸.•* Suzanne Costigan writes middle grade and YA novels. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada with James, her children, three dogs and four cats.

Suzanne’s first novel, Empty Cup, is an edgy contemporary young adult story about a seventeen year old girl who lives through life’s ultimate betrayal. Suzanne lives in Winnipeg, MB.

When Characters Come to Life

My eyes popped open and my heart was racing – ‘Write! Now!’ pounded in my brain. I peered at the red digital numbers, 3:34 a.m.

The main character of my YA work-in-progress, seventeen-year-old Raven, screamed and pounded on my skull. She needed to speak and morning would be too late. I dragged my butt out of bed, stumbled down the stairs and powered up my monitor. Then, for three hours, I wrote every word she screamed through my fingertips.

It was the first time any character I had created truly came to life and lived through me. (If I sound like I’d cracked, I did wonder that myself.)

For the next two weeks, Raven screamed, yelled, tantrumed. I got little sleep and spent every spare moment obsessively pounding on my keyboard until I reached the end of her story. Only then, Raven stood satisfied, quiet.

I mentioned my experience to writer friends of mine and some knew exactly what I was talking about, and others were curious about the experience. Non-writers chalked me up to nuts. (I could tell from the look in James’ eyes, so I stopped telling non-writers.)

It was fun. I loved it. And I wish it to happen with every story I write. But what is the formula?

     • Raven’s story was the first one I wrote in first person. Usually I write in third.

Was this the magic?

     • Raven’s was the first true life experience I wrote about. Usually I write fantasy.

Was this the magic?

• Raven’s was the first story I outlined to death (or maybe in this case, to life!) 

Was this the magic?

I ponder this as I start writing my next endeavour. Will I experience this magic again?

Have you ever had this experience? What magic do you feel when you write? Do you know the formula of bringing your characters to life?

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¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨)
(¸.•´ (¸.•* Suzanne Costigan writes middle grade and YA novels. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada with James, her children, three dogs and four cats.

Suzanne’s first novel, Empty Cup, is an edgy contemporary young adult story about a seventeen year old girl who lives through life’s ultimate betrayal. Suzanne lives in Winnipeg, MB.

Goals

I like routine (sorta) and deadlines (love ‘em!) and goal setting (requires routine and creates deadlines!)

My  goals for 2013:

1)      Write three manuscripts (ms)
2)      Edit my ms that’s been waiting for a re-write for over a year now
3)      Be actively sending out my finished ms for publishing
4)      By August, be sending out my ms from goal #2
5)      By November, be sending out one ms from goal #1
6)      Read 40 books
7)      Be full-fledged raw-vegan by May
8)      Take the dogs to the dog park everyday as soon as the snow melts (I’m a winter hermit)
9)      Have the taxes ready by mid-February (what’s the date today?)
10)   Meditate for seven minutes every morning
11)   Practice yoga twenty minutes after meditating
12)   Attend both CANSCAIP children’s writer’s conferences in September (SK) and November (Toronto)
13)   Keep my desk clean – everyday
14)   Oh, yeah… and quit smoking…

I have a busy year planned. So, how am I doing with all this now that it’s February?
1)      Currently outlining ms #1
2)      Yeah… about that old ms…. Hmmm….
3)      My finished ms is going through final edits with some great writer friends of mine
4)      Well… I do have till August
5)      Should be on track
6)      Currently reading book #8
7)      I bought a dehydrator!
8)      There’s still snow, got a little time yet for this one
9)      I have two days… can still be done
10)   Haven’t quite worked this in yet
11)   ….nor this one…. But I sure think about them a lot
12)   Shouldn’t be a problem
13)   So far so good
14)   I bought a Groupon for a hypnosis session… now, if only I could find a phone so I could call to make the appointment

Goal setting helps me to get things done. I look at this list and feel overwhelmed. Then I realize I don’t need to do everything at once. I mean, I only write one story at a time right, the other two will be later in the year. I read in a book once, sorry can’t remember which one, to break down each task into miniscule tasks. Then only focus on one miniscule at a time. Sounds reasonable, difficult to put into practice though.

Since almost everything requires time, I prefer schedules. (I’m a list person, can you tell?) I have made fabulous use of my Blackberry and Outlook calendars. I write down everything so I don’t have to remember anything – it’s a great concept. When my calendar alarm goes off I check to see what’s happening or where I’m supposed to be fifteen minutes from now.

I’ve also had to learn to be flexi-scheduled. I can slot in that I’m going to write from 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. However, I have four kids, three dogs and four cats, and James. Being a full-time foster parent, I have regular school meetings, social worker meetings, and run kids to weekly appointments. I belong to two writing groups, the planning committee for the afore mentioned SK conference and I have some friends who I like to see occasionally. Not to mention the oh so very important time for family. Sometimes I don’t get to write from 9-12, ok, MOST days I don’t get to write from 9-12, life happens. So, I have started to make my daily schedule each morning, however,  it’s not quite working for me, so I may start planning my day the night before, so I wake up knowing what’s going on. I’m a planner (you could probably tell that), maybe if I stopped planning all together and just became a pantser I’d get more done. It takes a lot of time to plan… Now, that’s crazy talk, me – a pantser – LOL.

So, are you a goal maker? Do you like schedules? Or do you prefer the freedom of running by the seat of your pants?

*´¨)
¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨)
(¸.•´ (¸.•* Suzanne Costigan writes middle grade and YA novels. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada with James, her children, three dogs and four cats.

Suzanne’s first novel, Empty Cup, is an edgy contemporary young adult story about a seventeen year old girl who lives through life’s ultimate betrayal. Suzanne lives in Winnipeg, MB.

The 'Ah ha' Moment

I’ve seen The Hobbit three times in theatres (so far). I’ve read Tolkien’s fantasy adventure a few times over the years and after seeing the movie I am now reading it again, to my nine year old foster son.

The Hobbit movie poster

The first time I watched the movie I was too busy thinking ‘they added that bit’ or ‘they added a Lord of the Rings tie in’, etc. I finished the movie and knew I just had to see it again, now that I knew what to expect. The second and third viewing I sat back and got lost in the adventerous grandeur.

I learned something crucial about my own adventure story; my first novel, written for 9-13 year old boys. The first few critiques of its raw beginnings have been favourable, ‘very saleable idea’ an editor told me – which is great news! However, I know it’s nowhere near ready to be submitted, it requires substantial editing. While watching the movie I was smucked up the side of the head with the blaring error in my book. Every time our little hobbit friend, Bilbo, turns around the next mountain pass, tries to save a pony, or answers another riddle, he suffers another near death experience. My fantasy story is full of exciting experiences, a new land filled with creatures, even a new humanoid existence… but only one near death experience. My characters get stretched and show growth, but they don’t get worked to their absolute limit.

 So, thanks to a wonderful movie (based on a fabulous book), I know where I need to transform my story from just a meager ‘exciting’ to ‘edge-of-your-seat page-turner’. But first, I need a bowl of popcorn.

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Suzanne Costigan writes middle grade and YA novels. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada with James, her children, three dogs and four cats.

Suzanne’s first novel, Empty Cup, is an edgy contemporary young adult story about a seventeen year old girl who lives through life’s ultimate betrayal. Suzanne lives in Winnipeg, MB.

Penny Thoughts on My E-Reader

A typical bedtime–> James comes to bed, pries my Kobo from my fingers and places it on my nightstand. Then presses my hands down from their clenched position and adjusts my blankets… I’m sleeping. [James’ insert: She means “snoring”!]

This morning, I woke up to thoughts about my e-reader. I love it. I love that I can purchase books at a reduced price. It’s convenient to have my books in one place. When I read, I can get comfy and cozy with my plush moss green blanket, and never and have to turn my wrist to read the other side of the page.

Of course, there are downfalls of an e-reader.

I read the funniest line ever in Allan Stratton’s Borderline. I wanted to read it to James, however, it was during my morning reading and he was the one sleeping [James’ insert: Note – I don’t snore!] (Yes, he does!) Anyway, I read all morning. When he woke up, I spent ten minutes paging back…

and back

and back…

until I found the line I wanted to share with him. In a paper book, this would have been much faster, flip back and then scan the few pages till I found the line. I figure two minutes tops. There are eight minutes of my life I’ll never get back, never mind the additional five minutes of paging forward to where I’d left off reading.

I’d gladly quote the line for you’re here, however, that would mean an additional several minutes to find it again… trust me – it was about farting and a character’s butt cheeks getting windburn, it was hilarious!

So, downfall one: not so easy to flip through.

Downfall two: I’m a visual reader. The closer I get to the end of the book the more time I’ll find to sit down to read it (other than my habitual before and after sleeping) [snoring!] (hush now, they get it!). With my Kobo, I can’t get a sense of how long the book is before I start reading, and don’t have the visual, ‘oh, I’m half way now’. I miss this about a paper book.

And my third woe is I can’t pass along what I’ve read to others. (Let’s be clear, I mean other’s in my home. I’m rather hoard-ish about my books.) I read many of the same YA novels that my son reads. And I often recommend books to him. He doesn’t have an e-reader right now so I find I read the e-reader version and then buy the paper version. The thought of just buying him his own e-reader has crossed my mind…

Perhaps my e-readers woes are trivial and certainly not big enough contenders to revert me to reading paper books all the time. However, I like to think I’ve saved a few trees…

Do you have pros and cons about your e-reader?

*´¨)
¸.· ´¸.·*´¨) ¸.·*¨)
(¸.·´ (¸.·’* Suzanne Costigan writes middle grade and YA novels. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada with James, her children, three dogs and four cats.

Suzanne’s first novel, Empty Cup, is an edgy contemporary young adult story about a seventeen year old girl who lives through life’s ultimate betrayal. Suzanne lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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