Outlining Your Story

Flying high now!

Outlining Your Story

One of the most daunting tasks a writer ever faces is to outline their work. We’ve spent so much time creating the fictive dream, developing our characters, crafting dialogue and description, that to reduce it all to a play-by-play, point-by-point overview of plot can seem an overwhelming challenge.

Somehow it hurts to boil it all down. And, let’s be honest, with everything going on in your story, it’s hard to know what to include and what not to.

Ya Gotta Do It

Still, outlining is necessary. Agents and Editors will thank you for a good chapter outline. It helps them give you notes, and sell your story to others. You’ll need a clear, tight synopsis when you’re querying agents and editors, too, and without an outline, you’ll be stuck weeding through your text page by page.

So, fellow novelists, let’s roll up our sleeves and learn how to outline.

cropped-margaret_mayo_mcGlynn_tiber_1260x240.jpg

Outlining Methods

A Quick Method for Outlining

  • Put each story element on file cards
  • put them in the order you want
  • go through and tell the story to several people. Voila—story feedback without having written one word of prose! (From Robert McKee’s book Story)

Snowflake Method

Source: Randy Ingermannson at http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/

If you have a limited amount of time and need an outline before you write, this is a great method. I used it myself before my first NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

In 10 steps, The Snowflake Method will give you a wide array of useful tools once you’re done. You’ll have an elevator pitch in the form of a one-sentence log line. You’ll have a full page synopsis. You’ll tackle character description, three-act structure, and you’ll really get to know your characters, including your villains, super-quick. Check out Randy’s website above. He also has a full-length book on The Snowflake Method.

Dan Wells’ 7 Points Method

Dan Wells, (author of the John Cleaver series), along with Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, and Howard Tayler, has a FANTASTIC PODCAST CALLED “WRITING EXCUSES.” He also has a useful method for outlining. You can find it on YouTube here. Using a Star Trek Role Playing game manual, Dan worked out how to outline any storyline in 7 points.

I love this one because it’s relatively easy to remember what the 7 points are, and how they work. It gets complicated when you realize that each of the story lines in your novel should have its own 7-point arc.

Dan Wells 7 Points Genres
Dan Wells 7-points applied to various genres

A Brief Breakdown of Dan Wells’ 7-Point Method

Here are the 7 Points:

  1. Hook – The hero has a sad boring life.
  2. Plot Turn 1 – Hero becomes a NEW ROLE.
  3. Pinch 1 – Bad Guy attacks.
  4. Midpoint – Hero learns the truth about SOMETHING and swears to defeat the VILLAIN/ANTAGONIST.
  5. Pinch 2 – Companions fail the Hero, and Hero is left alone.
  6. Plot Turn 2 – Facing VILLAIN, the Hero discovers the power is within him.
  7. Resolution – Hero defeats VILLAIN

Here are the 7 points, using Stars Wars: A New Hope as an example:

  1. Hook – Luke is misunderstood farm boy who longs to be a star pilot and have adventures.
  2. Plot Turn 1 – R2D2 plays Princess Leia’s distress signal to Luke. Luke brings the ‘droid to see Obi-Wan Kenobi, who gives him his father’s light saber and offers to teach him to become a Jedi. The Force is strong with him, and Luke is now a Jedi in training.
  3. Pinch 1 – Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are killed by Imperial Troops.
  4. Midpoint – Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are dead; Luke decides he wants to rescue the princess and join the rebellion and become a Jedi like his father.
  5. Pinch 2 – Obi-Wan Kenobi is killed in a duel with Vader.
  6. Plot Turn 2 – Luke turns off his targeting computer and uses the Force to drop the proton torpedo into the ventilation shaft and destroy the Death Star. The power is within him.
  7. Resolution – Death Star is destroyed. Rebel base is safe. Time to hand out some medals!

Wait, Didn’t A Lot More Stuff Happen in Star Wars?

Now, obviously, there is a lot more going on in Star Wars, A New Hope than the 7 points listed above. There’s Han Solo needing to escape Jabba the Hut. There’s the ‘Droids plot line as they squabble with each other and try to survive on Tatooine, being captured by the Jawas and sold to Luke’s Uncle Owen. There’s the plot line of the Rebels, and the stolen plans for the Death Star. There’s Princess Leia’s plot line in which she is captured and tries her best to save her home planet, but to no avail. Darth Vader even has a plot line of his own, in conflict with the more modern approach to evil represented by Governor Tarkin. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s plot line is important as he faces Darth Vader in an old school sword battle. He represents the entire world of the Jedi Knights. Star Wars was planned by Lucas to be an epic, so its plot lines are sprawling. But you get the idea.

A Fancy Spreadsheet For You!

I have used Dan Wells’ 7 points to create a Google Sheet. In it you’ll find the 7 points for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Star Wars: A New Hope, The Wizard of Oz (the movie), Pride and Prejudice, Othello, and The Telltale Heart. This shows how the 7 points can work for all genres. The only major genres missing here are Mystery and Suspense. At some point I’ll add those in.

Download the Spreadsheet HERE.

Chapter Outline Technique from the Editor of Harry Potter!

The chapter outline is a useful tool for when you are submitting a final manuscript to an editor. It will help them track all kinds of information in your story, from ages, to dates, to conflicts, to plot points. It will make the editor and the copyeditor your friend. You can also use it as a tool to refine and polish your manuscript before submission.

Plot like this on a spreadsheet:

Column headers:

  • Name of Chapter
  • POV Character – only one.
  • Location
  • Day, Date and Time
  • Conflict
  • One-line synopsis
  • Chapter Question – what question keeps the reader turning pages?
  • Key Plot Points Revealed

Fill in each of these for your chapters, one chapter per row, or, if you have complex chapters, one row per scene. Then go back through. It’s going to be easy to see if you don’t have enough conflict going in a chapter or scene. If you don’t, think about summarizing that section of the story, and saving the scene for the more dramatic moments.

For more on this method, see Arthur A. Levine Books Harry Potter editor Cheryl Klein’s Second Sight and her podcast (with knowledgeable screenwriter James Monoghan), the Narrative Breakdown. Cheryl is a rock star editor, and this podcast has wonderful stuff on all aspects of storytelling.

Best of luck plotting your stories! Do you have Outlining methods you recommend? Share them in the comments below!

Happy reading and writing!

–Margaret

Horror, and Character Ghosts

I love Horror.

I must thank my Dad for cultivating a fascination with the genre in my sisters and me. Dad was for a time a criminal defense attorney and a Deputy District Attorney in Newark, NJ, so if that part of his life had been an episode of Law & Order, he would have been played by the hot girl who was there for maybe two seasons working for Sam Waterston until she scored a gig as the next Bond Girl.

The Ring's terrifying ghost
The Ring’s terrifying ghost

But that’s neither here nor there.

Dad loved movies like A Clockwork Orange. I remember the summer he read Helter Skelter and geeked out about it.

I think I read The Exorcist when I was eleven, which is way too young, but wow, what an incredible read! I found it lying around the house. Thanks, Dad! No, really. I am so happy I grew up way before the era of helicopter parents. I still treasure the freedom I had to get into a little bit of trouble.

The Exorcist
The Exorcist – You know, for kids!

The Wonder of Horror

In terms of lasting impact on the reader/viewer, few genres beat horror. My favorite horror films include Silence of the Lambs, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Exorcist, Carrie, and Don’t Look Now. The psychological horror of Silence of the Lambs is particularly fun—who can forget those lovingly photographed scenes in which Clarice stares into Evil, and he also stares into her.

The Terror of The Ring—Delectable!

There’s a genre of Japanese filmed best exemplified by Ringu. The American version, called The Ring, was also incredibly terrifying and, for me, one of the scariest horror movies in recent decades. The inciting incident sequence has one of the most terrifying shots I’ve ever seen. There’s this corpse girl in the closet who has been scared to death by the main antagonist, the ghost. Oh, the slow pan around the closet door, and then, the moment you see her face, and the music shrieks at you!

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen The Ring, don’t read on!

The protagonist, whose personal ghost is a child she lost (for which she blames herself), tries to find the death spot of the ghost, who was a young girl. She attempts to heal the fury of the ghost by giving it mother’s love in a climactic scene that also heals the heroine’s wound. The heroine and her boyfriend think they have succeeded.

Now comes the Lovecraftian twist: love is not enough. The ghost is pure evil. I adore this point, at which the entire moral argument shifts. Yes, love heals, but there is also evil in the world that is unstoppable, and infinite. The little boy who knows the ghost best of all says of her, “She never sleeps!”

Writing Excuses

I came across a great podcast called Writing Excuses that is hosted by several published genre authors, including Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells.

Brandon Sanderson was on a terrific Fantasy panel at ComicCon 2015. Nuggets like Writing Excuses are why I will continue to attend that overcrowded hyperstimulation fest (ComicCon). Also, because, who knew Hugh Dancy was so funny? Fannibals Forever! Get that man a big Romantic Comedy movie, stat! (RIP, Hannibal—Unless!)

Anyway, Writing Excuses has got rich material on all aspects of writing, and practical exercises. They started their 10th season, a master class on writing, this past January. Unfortunately the audio quality needs work, but the content is worth dealing with that.

If anyone from Writing Excuses is reading this post, just turn down your levels, man! Get the audio out of the red zone. And if that doesn’t work, maybe invest in better equipment? Others have told you so. Please listen. Your podcast is too awesome to snap, crackle and pop like that!

Here’s a link to the Writing Excuses episode on Lovecraftian Horror.

What are your favorite horror movies or books and why? What makes horror so damn gripping? Let’s discuss in the comments below!

 

Show Don’t Tell

 

SHOWING NOT TELLING

“Show don’t tell,” is common advice to aspiring authors, but what does it mean? What is showing and how does it work? Is telling always bad?

“Showing is like watching a scene in a movie. All you have is what’s on the screen before you. What the characters do or say reveals who they are and what they’re feeling. Telling, on the other hand, is just like you’re recounting the movie to a friend. Which renders the more memorable experience?”

James Scott Bell, Revision and Self-Editing for Publication

“Readers have high expectations. They don’t want to be told how a character feels; they want to experience the emotion for themselves.”

—Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, The Emotion Thesaurus

What does it mean to show and not tell?

  • Show, don’t tell is a technique often employed in various kinds of texts to enable the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and physical manifestations of feelings rather than through the author’s exposition, summarization, and intellectualized labeling words.
  • James Scott Bell talks about Jurassic Park the movie—scene when Sam Neill’s character first sees the living dinosaur “in a story you would describe it…[like this]: ‘Mark’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped. He tried to take a breath, but breath did not come…’ The reader feels the emotions right along with the character.” Compare that to this: “Mark was stunned and frightened.”
    • In the first passage, the writer describes what the character is doing and experiencing in his body, and lets the reader draw their own conclusions about what the character is feeling.
    • In the second passage, the writer tells the reader what the character is feeling, which prevents the reader from experiencing that feeling directly.

So, what’s the difference? Showing leaves room for a reader to inhabit a character, to walk a mile in chafing army boots or wobbly platform shoes, to live vicariously (without the interposing narrator buzzing in the reader’s ear).

Lamps
Lamps

Showing

  • actions
  • words
  • thoughts
  • body sensations
  • immediate
  • immersive
  • takes more gradual steps

Telling

  • filter words, aka, “the Frame” that puts the reader outside the experience, watching the character go through it: she saw, he heard, she mused, he felt, she wondered, he realized, she thought, he surmised, he concluded, etc.
  • emotional labels: angry, shocked, terrified, alarmed, irritated, etc.
  • exposition
  • summarization of events
  • distant and distancing
  • a shortcut

Why Show and Not Tell?

Why is it more compelling to show and not tell? Why does it give a more direct experience?

  • Showing is more impactful because of how human beings experience our lives.
  • When something happens that matters to us, we feel bodily sensations and we think thoughts about what’s going on.
  • What we don’t do in the moment is say to ourselves, “Gee, I’m angry.” or “Hey, I’m scared.” Putting a label on our feelings is an intellectual exercise we usually do later. It is generally not helpful in the moment. Rather than thinking, “I’m alarmed and very angry at Sheldon now,” we think, “I’m going to punch him in the face. But I can’t. If I do, I’m fired. Oh, but it would feel so good!”
  • We come to any text with skepticism. If there’s too much telling, we don’t buy into it. We want to be shown. Showing builds trust with the reader.

Margaret Mayo McGlynn Books on Writing

When is it OK to Tell?

We actually need both showing and telling to make a seamless narrative in fiction or memoir.

  • It’s OK to tell when you are summarizing.
  • Remember in our Scene Structure topic we talked about the difference between Scene and Summary?
  • Writers summarize events the reader needs to know, but that are not dramatic enough or important enough to put in a scene. Summary is Telling.
  • Also, it’s OK to tell, just a little bit, in mid-scene, to give the reader information they need to understand the action, aka, exposition, but a very little goes along way.

Example of Telling that works: Chapter 1 of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Our house is almost at the edge of the Seam. I only have to pass a few gates to reach the scruffy field called the Meadow. Separating the Meadow from the woods, in fact enclosing all of District 12, is a high chain-link fence topped with barbedwire loops. In theory, it’s supposed to be electrified twentyfour hours a day as a deterrent to the predators that live in the woods — packs of wild dogs, lone cougars, bears — that used to threaten our streets. But since we’re lucky to get two or 6 three hours of electricity in the evenings, it’s usually safe to touch.

Why does TELLING work here?

  • The details are visual and give us a series of snapshots like a little collage: the gates, the scruffy field, wild dogs, cougars, bears. This engages our visual sense.
  • In this case, the author needs to establish quickly that the story takes place in a world unlike our own. (Necessary in all Fantasy and Science Fiction.)
  • It establishes the character of the heroine—her dispassionate voice about these things shows her bravery and practicality, her survival skills.
  • The details imply a dangerous and difficult world, which amps up the drama.
  • It (and the rest of the exposition that follows it ) sets the stage for the next little scene, which is below:

In the woods waits the only person with whom I can be myself. Gale. I can feel the muscles in my face relaxing, my pace quickening as I climb the hills to our place, a rock ledge overlooking a valley. A thicket of berry bushes protects it from unwanted eyes. The sight of him waiting there brings on a smile. Gale says I never smile except in the woods.

But wait—that first and last sentence are also telling, right?

  • Yes.
  • Not so cut and dried, is it?
  • Maybe she didn’t need that sentence? So why did she put it in? Maybe because the audience is YA and generally wants to see a potential love interest early on?
  • Either way, Showing and Telling is a balancing act. Collins uses telling as a shortcut here, but she already has a set of compelling questions going that keep the reader plunging forward.
  • Whether you are showing or telling, what’s important is including small details that suggest a larger picture. That is an art, not a science.

writer_author_YA_Fantasy_books_travelHow to Show: EXERCISE

Write 1-2 paragraphs about a single incident with a high emotional charge, according to the specs below. Be disciplined. Don’t let yourself veer away from the requirements.

  • 1-2 Paragraphs
  • about a single emotionally charged moment
  • First person
  • No adverbs – instead choose a more active verb
  • No adjectives (except factual ones like colors, size, shape)
  • Only describe information that comes through your senses (not your evaluating mind)
  • Not allowed to say “I felt…” Instead, describe the physical sensations making up the emotional reaction, e.g, “My cheeks were hot,” or “my stomach lurched.”
  • Express no opinion, no judgment, just describe what happened and how you reacted physically.

SUMMARY

  • Remember, showing directly immerses your reader in the experience of your characters by directly portraying action, thought, and reaction right there in the dramatic events of the story.
  • Telling, on the other hand, gives information, but in a non-immediate summarization.
  • Show in your scenes; tell in your summary sections.
  • When you tell, include interesting, unexpected details that paint a picture of a larger world, process or character.
  • Showing is more immediate. Use it for the dramatic parts to really hook your readers.
  • Telling helps get your readers from point A to point B in your story, and gives them key backstory that will help them understand your main character’s struggle.
  • Showing bonds your reader to your characters in your story.
  • Showing is why your reader picked up your book.
  • Telling can help your reader skip the boring parts in your storyline and get right to the dramatic parts.

Point of View

Oak Alley One Point Perspective

The point of view you choose for your novel will affect the way your reader sees your story. How do you decide which point of view to choose? And once you’ve chosen one, how do you keep it consistent?

Below I lay out the kinds of Point of View writers use, and at the bottom I give examples.

What is Point of View?

“A position from which something is considered or evaluated, a standpoint, or a place of perception.” — Jill Elizabeth Nelson, author of Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View

Point of view (POV) is the framework through which the reader experiences your story. To keep the reader within the fictive dream (aka, hooked in your work) choose a POV that enhances the tone and style of your story. Then, stick to it.

The first person narrative of Poe’s “The Telltale Heart” enhances the intensely fearful atmosphere of the story. It’s as if the POV character has reached out and grabbed the reader with shaking hands. Take a look at the opening lines of the story below.

“The Telltale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe – First Person POV

True!–nervous–very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses–not destroyed–not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily–how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

Lamps
Lamps

How Many Kinds of Point of View are there?

There are three basic POVs you can use in your story or novel, and each will lend your tale a different flavor. These POVs each go by the term ‘person.’ a term referring to verb conjugation in English. See the quick examples below.

  • First Person—”I do this. I do that. I did this I did that.”
    • The voice of a first person narrator should not be bland. First person is a great opportunity to establish a strong voice and personality for your main character.
    • Narrative distance is close.
  • Second Person—”You do this. You do that. You did this. You did that.”
    • This POV can be edgy, which works well for urban, in your face, New Adult novels like BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY. If you choose to write in this POV, make sure your story will benefit from this slightly avant-garde tone.
    • Narrative distance is close, and can feel aggressive—in your face.
  • Third Person—”He does this. She does that. He did this. She did that.”

Third Person Options

Third person breaks out into two subcategories:

  • Objective, aka Limited—the story is told from within a single character’s consciousness and perception at a time. You can switch POV characters, but if you do, it’s usually best to make a section or chapter break.
    • Be careful the narrative distance isn’t too great. Take extra care to give the POV character a strong vivid voice.
  • Omniscient—the narrator isn’t in any one character’s head, and the narrator knows everything in the story. This POV is like a crane shot in a movie, or as if God was telling you the story. It can be hard to pull off. Technically, you could switch from showing one character’s thoughts and feelings to showing those of another within the same scene, but this is usually jarring to the reader—this is what’s known as head-hopping.
    • Third Person Omniscient has the grandest scope, and it can feel old fashioned.
    • It is typical of 19th Century novels.
    • It has the greatest narrative distance.
    • You may want to compensate by keeping the tension and stakes high, and focusing on shocking events in your characters’ lives.
carved wood screen
carved wood screen

Narrative Voice – Giving POV Shades and Color

No matter which Person you choose for your POV, you can select from the various narrative voices below:

  • Stream of Consciousness—based on the William James’s psychotherapeutic technique of having the patient blurt out whatever comes to mind. This style of POV puts the reader right inside the POV character’s head, privy to every passing thought and feeling, whether these thoughts make objective sense or not. Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and Marcel Proust used this technique. At worst, this technique produces dense impenetrable walls of text. It can be hard to not to make this approach seem pretentious, especially when you are a writing newbie.
  • Character Voice—The way a character sounds is his or her ‘Voice’ as he or she tells the story to the reader. Voice should be as specific as possible. A unique voice makes a protagonist more vivid and forges a bond with your reader. How do you get specific with your voice? Use words and phrases only that character would use. That gives your character an unmistakable way to express him or herself. And if you switch POV to that of another character, switch voice so that the reader knows they are now inside someone else’s head.
  • Kinds of Narrators
    • Reliable—This kind of narrator tells the truth as he or she knows it.
    • Unreliable—This kind of narrator may lie or withhold key plot points, keeping the reader guessing (Amy and Nick in Gone Girl).
  • Epistolary—a story told through a primary document, rather than through narration, e.g. letters, social media status updates, diaries, and text messages (Bram Stoker’s Dracula). The sections of Gone Girl that are Amy’s diary are epistolary. ‘Epistle’ means a letter.
foliage
foliage

Narrative Time – Tense

You can say it happened, or you can say it’s happening, just keep it consistent, or you may lose your readers.

Past Tense—It Happened

Past tense is the mainstream convention for telling a story. Think of “Once upon the time there was…” We’ve grown up with stories told in past tense. A past tense story feels as though it is happening in the present.

Present Tense—it Is Happening

In present tense, stories feel immediate, as in blow-by-blow sports coverage, or water cooler gossip. Present tense is often how we tell stories from our lives to our friends. “So I go to the office this morning and I get in late…”

tree
tree

Narrative Distance

Narrative distance is the level of closeness that your readers feel to your narrator. The closer your reader feels to the experience of the POV character, the more the reader is hooked by the story.

In most cases, closer is better because the reader is immersed in the POV character’s experience. There are times, though, when a bit of extra narrative distance can help you tell a story. In Gone Girl, Nick keeps the reader at a distance, which clues the reader in on his unreliability. Gone Girl is essentially a who-done-it in which we, the readers, rather than a detective character, work to solve the mystery. So, when Nick drops a few bombs on us in the second act, we are not completely shocked.

Many novels begin from greater narrative distances, the literary equivalent of a helicopter shot, and then later, zoom in on one character’s internal and external experience. Often starting with a greater narrative distance gives room to establish the broad scope of the story, and the world in which it unfolds.

Examples of Narrative Distance

Far – John Steinbeck’s THE GRAPES OF WRATH

To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth. The plows crossed and recrossed the rivulet marks. The last rains lifted the corn quickly and scattered weed colonies and grass along the sides of the roads so that the gray country and the dark red country began to disappear under a green cover.

Close – Veronica Roth’s INSURGENT

I take Tobias’s hand. The wind picks up as we stand at the edge of the car opening, like a hand pushing me back, toward safety.

But we launch ourselves into darkness and land hard on the ground. The impact hurts the bullet wound in my shoulder. I bite my lip to keep from crying out, and search for my brother.

Tips about Point of View

  1. Stick to one POV per scene. No “head hopping,” i.e. switching POVs mid scene. Yes, Hemingway did it in THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. Are you Hemingway and is it 1951? Head hopping disorients your reader and gives him or her a chance to lose interest in your story. There is a way to do it skillfully, but it is a pet peeve of many literary agents and editors and can make your work look amateurish.
  2. No Narrative ESP. Avoid showing sensory details and knowledge the POV character could not know. A POV character can’t see her cheeks flush if she isn’t looking in the mirror. So if you write “Susan’s cheeks got pink.” and she is the POV character, if she can’t see her cheeks, you’ve broken your POV.
  3. Keep your tense consistent within your scenes. Make it clear when you go into and come out of a flashback, which will, in general, take you back one tense, e.g. from present to past, or from past to past perfect.
  4. Stay aware of your narrative distance. In your most intense scenes, keep your reader close to the action. But if you are establishing a new setting, or en entirely new world, it’s okay to start wide and then zoom in.
pink flowers
pink flowers

Examples – Points of Views in Literature

First Person Past – THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

First Person Present – THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

Second Person Present – BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY by Jay McInerney

You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head. The club is either Heartbreak or the Lizard Lounge. All might come clear if you could just slip into the bathroom and do a little more Bolivian Marching Powder. Then again it might not.

Third Person Omniscient Past – George R.R. Martin’s A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE

“We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. “The wildlings are dead.”

“Do the dead frighten you?” Ser Waymar Royce asked with just the hint of a smile.

Gared did not rise to the bait. He was an old man, past fifty, and he had seen the lordlings come and go. “Dead is dead,” he said. “We have no business with the dead.”

“Are they dead?” Royce asked softly. “What proof have we?”

“Will saw them,” Gared said. “If he says they are dead that’s proof enough for me.”

Will had known they would drag him into the quarrel sooner or later.

Stream of Consciousness (First Person) from James Joyce’s Ulysses 

a quarter after what an unearthly hour I suppose theyre just getting up in China now combing out their pigtails for the day well soon have the nuns ringing the angelus theyve nobody coming in to spoil their sleep except an odd priest or two for his night office the alarmlock next door at cockshout clattering the brains out of itself let me see if I can doze off 1 2 3 4 5 what kind of flowers are those they invented like the stars the wallpaper in Lombard street was much nicer the apron he gave me was like that something only I only wore it twice better lower this lamp and try again so that I can get up early

An Invisible Frame

In this post I have laid out a lot of technical jargon and information about something that ideally should be invisible to your reader. The reason you choose a POV and keep it consistent is to enhance the reader’s engagement in your story. Ideally the POV should be invisible to your reader because they are fully immersed in your story, eager to find out what happens next.

Thanks for reading this post! This content was composed for the Pasadena Writer’s Group by Margaret Mayo McGlynn and Cody Sisco.

I welcome your comments. Please feel free to ask questions and share your ideas about POV here!

New Year, New You—Writer’s Edition

New Year New You Writers Edition

Yes, I’m a few days late on this one, but I thought I’d share with you what I’m about as a writer this year.

My Resolutions

  • Writing Comes First
  • Go to Conferences and Events
  • Voraciously read Hero Author’s Blogs
  • Work with a Critique Group
  • The 365K Challenge: This means I write at least 1000 words/day (Excluding NaNoWriMo, in which it is 1667k/day during April, July and November. Does this sound crazy? I know I can do it!
  • Finish Reading Save the Cat, for Goodness Sake
  • Do a Deep Dive into Wonderbook
  • Draw Stuff!
  • Make Music!

Isn’t it amazing how we try to remake ourselves every New Year? You should have seen how packed my Weight Watchers meeting was tonight!

Let’s year it for hope and positive feelings. Now for the daily discipline!

Top Five Reasons to Do National Novel Writing Month (aka Nanowrimo)

NaNoWriMo 2014 Shirt

You may have heard of National Novel Writing Month, an international phenomenon in which hundreds of thousands of writers make a pact with themselves and others to write 50 thousand words of a novel in the month of November.

If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, this is a great way to go. If you are ready to dive in, why not go take a look at the NaNoWriMo site right now, then come back here to finish reading about why I think NaNoWriMo is an awesome thing for aspiring novelists.

Go ahead. I’ll be here. Waiting. For you. To come back.

This way to your dreams! British Museum
This way to your dreams!

1. Support Can Be Beautiful

If you’ve tried to write a novel, or even a short story, you’re probably well aware that one of the biggest challenges any writer faces is the solitariness of the process. It’s scary facing that empty page all by your lonesome. But there is help available.

  • The NaNoWriMo website has a great forum section where you can commiserate, ask for help, get encouragement, get research or plot, or title, or all kinds of other help, and, most importantly, know you’re not alone.
  • Published authors write Pep Talks with great tips on how to reach your goals. Check those out. You may find your favorite author has left you pearls of wisdom that can help you on your way.
  • NaNoWriMo has local chapters that host all kinds of events where you can hobnob with your fellow wizards and participate in write-ins that will help you keep to your daily goal of 1,664 words. One of the coolest involves riding a train from LA to San Fran (see below).
Flying high now!
Flying high now!

2. Critical Mass

  • Somehow just knowing there are so many people out there fighting the good fight every day, flexing their imaginations, and trying to make their dreams come true during NaNoWriMo inspires me.
  • If you can’t make the various local write-ins and events, you can use the forums or work with your local guides to set up a Skype or Google Hangout session with your fellow writers.

3. The Great Train Escape

I’ll describe what it is—you take a train from LA to San Fran with other WriMos (NaNoWriMo participants call themselves this). As you go, more and more WriMos get on the train with you. Apparently the train conductors find you all fascinating, as if you are some species of rare bird with bright feathers. You write and party in San Fran for a weekend and come home. Go here to read more and let the enchantment, and maybe some shots from North by Northwest or Murder on the Orient Express or Risky Business unfold in your imagination…

nanowrimo20144. Accountability

It’s just a personal page on the NaNoWriMo site in which you track your daily word count. It’s got a nice looking bar graph, too, but for me, on each day of the two NaNoWriMo months I have completed thus far, it became a daily obsession. Doing your daily word count and tracking it is simply such a great way to feel good about yourself. And no matter how the rest of your day is going, you have this. You did your daily 1664.

Come on in. The water's fine.
Come on in. The water’s fine.

5. Swag, Discounts, the Tally and the Winner Badge

NaNoWriMo has online badges, special discounts on writing software and other goodies for those who finish, and many other little perks that add up to a big inner grin when you finish your fifty thou. You will feel hella good.

You get a deep discount on Scrivener, both the best and the worst novel writing software I know.

When I finished my first NaNoWriMo I wasn’t even halfway done with my first draft, which ran to 140 thou, but I had a massive feeling of accomplishment, and I knew I would go on to finish the whole dang thing.

So that’s my plug for the wondrous NaNoWriMo. I hope it’s helpful to all of you soon-to-be novelists out there!

 

 

Book of the Day: The Little Prince

Notre Dame, Paris, France, Margaret Mayo McGlynn

“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves and it is rather tedious for children to have to explain things to them time and again.”

The Little Prince
The Little Prince

It is the rare book that breathes loving kindness from its pages. The Little Prince is such a book.

I didn’t read it as a child. I read it, or rather, heard it, as a twelve year old at summer camp in the Adirondacks, at a Girl Scout Camp called Eagle Island, which occupied the grounds of an old hunting compound built by one of those wealthy adventurers who fancied himself another Teddy Roosevelt. The main building had a lodge with a high pointed roof and criss-crossing beams cut rustically, the walls packed with mounted antlered heads of dead animals that had moldered there for half a century.

I was in the Sailing unit, with the older girls. We slept in canvas tents attached to wooden platforms on metal beds with a mesh of springs. My sleeping bag at night was either too hot or too cold, and bugs landed on my face, making sleep scarce. I remember the coolest most popular girl in our unit had actual boobs, wore high-waisted jeans, and somehow, even though we had no electrical appliances, was able to make her hair look like Farrah Fawcett’s every single day. To me, she was another species.

We learned the parts of the boat, how to capsize safely, how to come about, trim the sails, and jibe, all in Sunfish and Lasers. After working hard to memorize the names of all three corners and edges of the sails, tie complex knots, to sail along all of the reaches, after passing a written test, and undergoing a live sailing examination, we were ready. The counselors jerked us awake in the middle of the night, tied around our necks turk’s head necklaces each one made of a single marble and string dyed navy blue. They told us we must never take them off. They chanted and dubbed us Sisters of the Sea, aka, S.O.S. This was my first actual initiation rite, and it retains in my memory the solemnity, terror, and glee of a Secret Society ritual.

But on normal nights, the C.I.T.s read books to us. No television for miles around, and so we engaged in the petty intrigues that girls get up to during the day, and at night, the unsullied pleasure of hearing a book read aloud. Some volumes they read were more grown up—this was around the time that Jaws was published, and I think I first heard it read aloud at Eagle Island. But one counselor, the sweet chubby one who wore her wiry black hair tucked under a red bandana like Baba Yaga, decided to read us The Little Prince.

“People where you live,” the little prince said, “grow five thousand roses in one garden… yet they don’t find what they’re looking for… 

They don’t find it,” I answered.

And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose, or a little water…”

Of course,” I answered.

And the little prince added, “But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.” 

Even then, just a few paragraphs in, it made the tears well up in my eyes. Every sentence conveys what it feels like to be a child of around three or four, when all you can do is ask about everything you see and hear, “Why?” That sense of wonder, of hope, possibility, and joy, of everything being new and sacred and so clear it almost hurts. How did Saint-Exupéry do this? It is a bonafide magic trick. I will never forget it—this book that made me nostalgic for childhood when I was still only twelve.

If you haven’t read this book, it’s time. Get a copy and go somewhere nice, perhaps where you can look at water, or flowers, but nowhere too far from a patch of open sky. Leave your phone behind.

Read it.

Please let me know what it does for you.

Thank you for reading my blog. Be bold and add your comment below! Comments are welcome!

Book of the Day: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The way it looked when I read it

I don’t think it was one book, but many, that saved my life as a child. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle was surely one of them. It made me want to be a writer.

I was quiet, sensitive and imaginative. We moved to a new town where the houses were bigger, the families richer and more status conscious, and the kids more cruel. By second grade all of the kids in my class already had friends, or at least other kids they traveled with that could protect them from the truly sadistic kids at the top of the heap. I walked into class on that first day with no armor and no allies. I dreaded the unstructured time of recess and walking between school and home. I never knew what kind of mean things the kids I passed would say, but I knew they would say something. For reasons I still don’t fully understand, it didn’t get better until seventh grade. That year I started junior high, a new school with a new group of kids who didn’t know I should be treated as an untouchable.

But in second grade, the picture books gave way to longer books with characters I could spend hours with all on my own. Book by book, I built a safe space inside myself where I could journey and be free.

Meg Murry, the heroine of A Wrinkle in Time, was awkward, wore glasses, and felt like a disaster just like I did. And her faults, it turned out, were her strengths. She was like me, which helped make it okay to be me. She had my name, too, a name I’d come to hate for all the ways other kids used it against me. Meg helped me take it back. She traveled to other planets, met magical beings, and found courage she never knew she had in order to save her family. I am pretty sure the minute I finished this book, I went back and read it again.

If anything I write does for one person what A Wrinkle in Time did for me, I would be happy.

Here’s how it starts:

It was a dark and stormy night.

In her attic bedroom Margaret Murry, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of her bed and watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind. Behind the trees clouds scudded frantically across the sky. Every few moments the moon ripped through them, creating wraith-like shadows that raced along the ground.

The house shook.

Wrapped in her quilt, Meg shook.

She wasn’t usually afraid of weather. —It’s not just the weather, she thought. —It’s the weather on top of everything else. On top of me. On top of Meg Murry doing everything wrong. 

This book was probably my first science fiction book ever. I still remember trying to wrap my mind around the idea that you could somehow fold space and time into pleats. I’ve loved time travel stories ever since.

Thanks for reading my post! Were there books that saved you as a young person? Which ones? Comment below!