Outlining Your Novel: Hitting the Beats

So far, in the Outlining Your Novel series, we’ve explored character arcs, the three act structure, death, and the turning point in the middle. As I said when the series started, outlining is not about creating a chronological order of events. Outlining is about taking a large project and breaking it into small chunks.

Now that we can see the novel as a big picture (the character arc is maybe the biggest part of that), we can begin breaking it down. We do that by hitting important beats, or moments of change, for that main character of ours.

Here, it helps to think of your story as a linear timeline. At the 10% mark, the status quo is interrupted in some way. This is a small disturbance. At the 25% mark, your main character encounters the big problem that makes up the primary conflict of the story. At the 50% mark, we have the change in the main character that we brainstormed during the discussion on the turning point. At 75%, we have the dark moment of the soul–the point in which all seems lost for the main character. At the 90% mark, we have the ultimate climax, where good triumphs over evil, and for the remaining 10%, the loose ends are all tied up.

That’s it!

Well, okay, it’s not it. But you’ve done the hard part. All that’s left is to brainstorm chapters that fill in the spaces in-between the beats, remembering your three-act structure. I find Scrivener to be one of the best writing tools out there for breaking a story down into chapters before actually writing. I also highly recommend Googling and reading about the beats and plot points that should be included in the genre you’re writing. That’s not to say you have to include every single turning point. But it provides a great framework to start with.

So go on–get outlining!

Smack Dab in the Middle – A Blog for All Things MG

I’ll get back to the series on outlining your book next week. For now, I wanted to highlight my MG blog, Smack Dab in the Middle.

I’ve been the administrator of the blog for years–since The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky was in development (and that book released in ’14)! To begin with, the site was a group of MG authors blogging about our work and the writing life. Bloggers have come and gone over the years; recently, we’ve been adding teachers, librarians, and even an aspiring (rather than already-published) writer. In one case, we’ve got three generations of the same family blogging at the site, all writers and teachers. The love of literature runs deep, as many of us know–often, it’s in our roots!

Please do head on over to Smack Dab and get involved in the discussion. The aim is to hear from MG nuts who have a wide variety of points of view–I’d love to hear yours as well!

PS: If you are a teacher, librarian, or an author yourself–especially one who is about to see the release of a book–please do get in touch: hollyschindlerbooks (at) gmail (dot) com. We’ve still got some open spots left!

Thankful for Readers – A Play It Again Cover Reveal!

This Thanksgiving weekend, I’m so incredibly thankful for my readers. It’s been such a rough year for all of us, and I can’t tell you how truly amazing it is to hear from you. I have so enjoyed receiving your messages about the Ruby’s Place Christmas Collection. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your reaching out to shoot me a message. And, I am thoroughly enjoying hearing from some of you about Play It Again!

I don’t have an exact date of release yet, but since I’m getting a few questions, I did want to share a bit of the book with you…the cover art!

It’s so much fun to spend time with these characters. I can’t wait to share this new installment with you!

Outlining Your Novel: The Turning Point in the Middle

In my ongoing series on plotting your novel, I’ve addressed character arcs, the three act structure, and death. This week, we’re looking at the center of the book.

That might sound a bit odd. We’ve done plenty of brainstorming, but now, we’re jumping right into the middle? Without addressing the beginning of the book?

As I said before, the idea of outlining is to take a big project (writing a novel) and break it into manageable chunks. That doesn’t mean meticulously plotting from beginning to end. For me, it means gathering all the pieces of the novel and then sliding them into the appropriate place.

So. The turning point.

I find this beat in any novel particularly interesting, and have ever since I encountered James Scott Bell’s WRITE YOUR NOVEL FROM THE MIDDLE.

The idea is that every main character encounters a turning point in the center of the book, after which their attitude and behavior begins to change. They have a mid-point epiphany. Or something life-changing happens. They may realize something about their enemy (perhaps they realize they’ve been chasing or blaming the wrong person). At the mid-point, they change direction.

What I really love about this strategy is that it plays right into creation of the character arc. Writers always use the term “character arc.” Not character line. Character arc. Picture an arc in your mind. Has the same shape as a rainbow, doesn’t it? Right in the center, it has a…

turning point.

(!)

In order for the full character arc to be believable, something drastic needs to happen to your main character in the center of the book. Remember, no one ever changes their mind on a whim. Something has to happen to a person to change their mind. They have to have some sort of experience that changes them.

Here, you want to brainstorm an event that can happen right at the center of your book, one that will change your main character for the better. The change won’t happen in its entirety in this moment–it will continue to take place for the rest of the book. But the trigger for the change to occur happens here.

Go on–get to brainstorming!

Free Book Alert: Christmas at Ruby’s

I love me some Christmas movies…Christmas books…Christmas stories…

I’m definitely in the Christmas mood this year. I’m already looking for my ugly sweaters and digging through the attic for the decorations.

To celebrate, my book Christmas at Ruby’s (the first in The Ruby’s Place Christmas Collection) is free at all outlets!

Amazon

B&N

Kobo

Apple

Outlining Your Novel: How Death Can Help

Okay, so maybe I took that title just a wee bit far. Then again, as you’ll see, maybe not…

As I’ve been saying, the point of outlining is to break a big task or idea into increasingly smaller chunks. First, we looked at creating a character arc, which gives a writer the big picture of the book. Then, we made the first breaks into smaller chunks by dividing the book into three acts.

Now, we need to begin brainstorming the scenes that will take place in those three acts. Don’t worry about the exact order of events. Just think about which scenes would help make up each one of those three acts.

What makes a good scene?

One way to help come up with dramatic scenes is to think about–yep–death.

There are different kinds of death to help brainstorm:

  1. Death-death. Physical death. Pushing up daisies death. Is your character in physical danger? Is their life on the line? Or are there physical dangers for those the character loves? Physical danger–maybe even being on the run–can help provide for all sorts of dramatic scenes throughout the book.
  2. Professional death. Is your main character’s job on the line? Are they a coach with only one last season during which they could possibly turn a team around? Are they a drunk lawyer with a terrible courtroom record? I also think of professional death as a loss of any kind of title. In my book Playing Hurt, both of my main characters are former small-town athletic superstars. When they are no longer able to play, they lose a big part of themselves. Thinking about or putting your character in a situation in which they could potentially lose their external selves can help add depth–or even eccentricity–to your main character.
  3. Emotional death. Is your main character’s heart on the line? Could they potentially lose someone or something they love? What threatens it?
  4. Psychological death. This one isn’t necessarily negative. This is an internal change. The character changes his view of self or the world. This one goes right back to our original character arc. In fact, if you’re building a book around that character arc, I’d argue this kind of death is actually built in!

You’ll likely find additional or different types of death if you look elsewhere. This is a good place to start. Really, what you want to do is ask yourself what’s at stake? What can your character lose? That can help add drama and drive the plot of your book.

Happy Halloween! (The Psychology of the Horror Reader)

I’m taking a breather from the outlining series because it’s Halloween this weekend–the greatest holiday of all time.

Part of having a successful book is understanding the reader you’re writing for. Arguably, readers gravitate toward certain types of books because they’re seeking a certain type of reading experience. To simplify, readers of all genres will find a “good guy wins” scenario the satisfying one. The main character finds love. Or solves the mystery. The perpetrator finds justice.

What does a horror reader want?

For me, what makes a horror novel satisfying is often that the main character has horrible, often impossible to understand circumstances forced upon them, yet survives. The main character finds an inner strength. Maybe a special power. But in some ways, the best horror novel is a struggle to conquer not just an external force or foe but also internal hangup or fear.

Often, thinking about the psychology of a specific genre’s reader can help guide your own book. It can be helpful in the early stages of outlining, especially when you’re thinking of your own main character’s arc.

Outlining Your Novel: Three Act Structure

Last week, I discussed getting started with novel outlining. Now that you’ve decided on your character arc (and general plotline), we can move on to the next step—actually dividing your work into a few smaller chunks. Three chunks, to be specific.

As I stated last week, the purpose of outlining is to break an enormous project (a novel) into manageable chunks.

Here, we’re breaking the novel into three acts.

You don’t have to use a three-act structure. Some novelists prefer four (or five!) acts. But when first learning the task of outlining, I think the three-act is the simplest. And the simplest description I’ve ever run into is in 2K TO 10K by Rachel Aaron:

ACT I: Put your characters in a tree.

ACT II: Light the tree on fire.

ACT III: Get your characters out of the tree.

That’s it—no worrying about turning points, etc., which you often encounter in descriptions of even the three-act structure.

ACT I: Describe the world of your novel. Introduce us to the characters. Even introduce the catalyst for change. Give us some hint of what’s about to send this world into chaos.

ACT II: Here is the crux of the action of your novel. Where the problems absolutely explode.

ACT III: The resolution to the problems. Get your characters to safety. OR: get your characters to extinguish the fire (this will make your characters heroes, because no one else in the world will face the same danger).

This portion takes more than a sentence. It might not even be something you accomplish in a day. It will take some exploratory writing. Play with this. Try out some passages. Imagine some scenes. But the key word here is play. That’s exactly what it is—play. Try things out. Some you’ll keep, some you’ll discard. And that’s okay—in fact, that’s what you should do. It’s a lot easier to try out ideas while brainstorming (and wind up discarding them) than it is to devote 20k words or so to an idea that you wind up scrapping. That’s the point of outlining, after all—to save you time and work!

Outlining Your Novel: Character Arcs

I’m a big proponent of outlining books before writing them. I think it can cut serious amounts of time out of the drafting process—months, in most cases! Most people agree they’ll try anything to cut time out of drafting, but most who are new to outlining often don’t really know where to start. Or they see in their mind a kind of top-down outline that moves through the book in a chronological order.

In my experience, true outlining has very little to do with chronological order. In fact, that’s something I do at the very end of the process. Actually, outlining (at least, the way I outline a project) is about whittling. Taking a big idea and breaking it down in to increasingly smaller chunks.

That’s why I’m starting a series here on outlining.

This week, I’m focusing on the very first step in outlining:

The character arc.

This is arguably the most important part of any book. Even action-driven books.

What is a character arc?

It’s the internal journey your main character goes on in your book. This main character will not be the same person at the end of the book that they are in the beginning. They’ve had a revelation (or several). They’ve seen the world in a new way. They see their role in the world in a new way.

The physical journey they go on—which is the actual plot of the book—facilitates this change. It allows the character arc to take place.

Maybe one of the best examples of a journey that directly facilitates a change occurs in Dickens’s Christmas Carol—Scrooge sees the error of his miserly ways because of his encounters with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. He’s a different man as the book closes.

But the change occurs because of his physical journey. Nobody changes their mind sitting on the couch and binge-watching Netflix. They change because they have an adventure out in the world.

*Your main character will undergo a fairly radical internal change. This change will be the direct result of the physical journey they go on, which will be the plot of your book.

The first step of outlining, then, is deciding who your main character is. And how they will change. And how that change will take place—what will happen that will allow that change will take place. Don’t worry about order of events. Don’t worry about the finer points of plot. Put this part together in a single sentence. Use Scrooge as an example:

Scrooge sees the error of his miserly ways because of his encounters with he ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

That’s it. One sentence. That’s all this step requires.

But it’s also one of the most important steps. In many respects, this is will form the basis or your hook or pitch when you prepare to submit the book.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Don’t worry about hooks or pitches right now. Just write your sentence.

Sending Large Files To Your Kindle Fire

Now that I’ve got my office cleaned and organized, I want to get back to some writing and publishing tips. Really, what is there about a clean office that makes you feel like you’ve somehow organized your mind? It had been so painfully long since my last deep clean. I think as many as five years!

I posted the before and after pics on Instagram:

~Before~

~After~

Ahhhhh…

Anyway, the tip I really wanted to share today was on sending large files to your Kindle Fire. I’ll be honest–I always found the Fire to be the most troublesome file-sharer of all my ereaders (I’ve had several Kindles, as well as a Nook tablet and a Kobo reader). Putting compiled files on my readers has become a regular part of my copyediting process. And with so many students and teachers and work-from-homers depending so much on their digital items and file sharing, I thought this might come in handy:

Don’t Email It

This is the advice I always run into for sharing files to my Kindle. It never really worked all that well for me. It was more reliable to plug a Kindle reader into my computer and just move the file manually. But the Fire never let me do that, and for the most part, my files are just now too big to be emailed. I’d mostly been using my Nook for copyediting. But I really wanted to see how my .mobi files compiled, and didn’t want to rely on Kindle previewer.

Ta-Da! Send To Kindle

Download the Send to Kindle app. Once it’s on your computer, just find the file you want to send, right click, and follow the instructions. Works beautifully.

I wish I’d known about it sooner.