Going from Outline to Manuscript

Writing ToolsIn developing a story, you will often hear the advice that outlining organizes your thoughts and makes the story more coherent.

This advice is valuable.

However, how do you get from the outline you’ve created to the manuscript?

Here are five tips I have for you writers who struggle to go from the outline to a full manuscript:

1. Follow the Outline.

This is basically step one. You should have added enough to the outline so plot threads you introduce actually have conclusions. If you follow this outline well enough, you will not forget about certain characters or plot elements. It drives me crazy in stories when authors forget about entire characters!

At the same time, don’t let the outline redirect you from creative ideas! Let ideas flow naturally, but let the story read naturally as well. It’s a tough balance.

2. Write Like You’re Reading.

When I say this I don’t mean skimming details. I mean, “write like you’re reading the story word for word”. If it’s quick and the pacing is wrong, slow down. If it’s too slow, speed up! Outlines aren’t much help for this kind of thing.

Your outline won’t have any concern for word count either (though it helps!) so make sure you pay attention to how much time certain story elements take. A quick action scene shouldn’t take ten pages of descriptions about a space ship!

3. Keep Your Folder Nearby.

I think you know what folder I mean. When you start writing a novel, you collect your ideas in a book or folder to keep them all organized. Mine would always look like a packet of mismatched papers!

Look at this folder every time you write. Your outline will guide you, but this folder will flesh out your world. These little touches build a world!

4. Develop a Plan for Each Character.

Getting each character where they need to be is part of your outline (rather, it should be part of your outline). If you are missing this in your outline, then you need to go back and figure this out. Don’t forget about a single character!

But overall, the outline might be missing those specifics that make your characters unique. Your folder from above should contain a quick summary of your character for you to reference, something that you can glance at and remember how you imagine the character to be.

If they change over time, that’s fine! But make sure it’s believable. Why are they changing? What are they responding to?

Creating a world in fiction is one thing, creating a person is another. However, they both spring from the little things.

(But ask yourself this: do you want believability or memorability?)

5. Find Time to Write.

This sounds so simple, but for those of us with careers, it’s difficult.

If you can’t write daily, then write every other day. If that won’t work, then write twice a week or once a week.

Time constraints are generally the only thing keeping your novel constrained to your mind.


I really hope that helps you! I found these tips specifically useful to me when I write. So if even one person gets some benefit from this list, I’m glad.

Keep writing!

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2017 and Never Feeling “Done” With a Story

I fall into this problem often: I never feel like I’m really done with my story. Recently it’s been the NaNoWriMo novel I made, but it’s happened with shorts in the past. I have no good advice for it, because I still wrestle with it, but maybe you have some suggestions for me?

Beyond that, I wanted to mention my outlook for 2017:

  • July – I’m planning on attending the Cleveland Writing Workshop, but can’t promise anything yet. It sounds like a great time!
  • September – I’m planning on going to Dragoncon this year, mostly because my wife wanted to go to Georgia. I would have also liked to go to Worldcon, but it’s in Helsinki and I can’t afford to go overseas.

I should mention I would have loved to attend more events but I have children and still work full time. A ten day conference or six week writing workshop won’t work for me, just yet.

Writer’s Burn Out and Getting Over It

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“Burn out” can happen to anyone. NaNoWriMo was that way for me. It was my first year doing it, but because of the stress and strain of everything during November it was extremely difficult.

As a result I didn’t feel like writing anything after that. I’ve played with some concepts, writing little bits down here and there and ultimately outlining a short story. But the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo has just been sitting there, untouched, since I finished.

I wanted to add a little more to it; it doesn’t feel complete or even good for that matter.

But I’m back at it. I’m sitting here working on the blog and on that novel. Once I’m done with it I’ll use what I learned to focus my efforts on a novel I’m exceedingly excited about. A novel I won’t be forced to complete in one month! I’m more excited about that than anything.

As a result I’ve learned a few things about getting over burn out:

1. Take a Break.

You have to take a break from these things or risk losing your excitement for them in general. I almost lost any desire to write, but gained it by stepping away for a few weeks from solid writing of any kind. I played some video games, read some books, and really stepped away from “writing” as a discipline for two complete weeks. Then…

2. Ease Yourself Back In.

It’s important to start getting back into it. Most likely you read, or else why would you want to write? Find something you enjoy reading and read it during this time. Make minor writing efforts, like working on a short story or poetry. Something creative that you can do without too much effort. We’re not looking for short stories from Mike Resnick, here, just simple things you may not even want to submit in the future. This is for you.

3. Find a Project You Can Be Excited About

This is the big takeaway for me. Find something that brings back that old excitement that got you into writing in the first place. Something that pushes you into doing what you love because you love the idea. I’m very excited for my newest science fiction novel idea, and it pushes me to want to write it this year.

I’ve found what works for me. If this helps you, then I’m glad. I just hope you can also learn how to get over writer’s burn out. Who knows, you  may suffer a similar fate come November 2017?

Finding a Home for Your Writing

once-upon-a-time-719174_960_720Submissions can be nerve-racking, tedious work. Even when you think you’ve done everything right you’ll get a rejection letter (or email as is more common these days) telling you that your story wasn’t published.

It’s frustrating, especially when you look up to the places you submit to.

But don’t despair! Being a writer means having to deal with critique and rejection. These elements of the path of writing are required before success.

A suggestion would be to find a place for your writing. Where would what you’ve written fit? Where would readers benefit from your perspective?

You wouldn’t submit a horror story to a high fantasy magazine, so why would you submit something about grand war strategy to a publication known for individual emotions?

Know where you’re submitting to before you submit. Find a home for your tales; there’s a place!

Writing as Therapy

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It’s obvious to some, and completely alien to others, that writing can be an act of therapy. I often use my writing to deal with situations that I’ve experienced in life. Not necessarily trauma, but unhappy or upsetting memories. We all have them.

It is important to not dwell on these things, however. And that’s the benefit of writing. Through writing you create something, then leave it for a while to simmer, and come back to reread and fix it. The dish must not get cold, but likewise it shouldn’t be prodded repeatedly throughout its natural course. A skilled chef prepares these dishes with purpose and intention, flipping when it is appropriate, and seasoning with the right flavor profile. So too a skilled writer can create something beautiful from 26 letters and assorted symbols.

I’ve dealt with situations in anger and shock that I now churn into a usable prose, words that express some meaning to me and convey the emotions I felt. I’m by no means a master writer, and I will never consider myself one, but I am a writer nonetheless. These words arranged on white provide more color to me than anything else I could create.

Write What You Know, and What You Don’t

It sounds exceedingly simple: write what you know. In practice, the ability to write is something that takes time. However, the knowledge behind what you’re writing is something else entirely. It’s almost like the difference between knowledge and experience.

You can write about the Congo, but if you’ve never been, you’re writing about something you’ve never experienced. It’s a figment of someone else’s memory.

This isn’t to discourage you from writing something you’ve never experienced, in fact quite the opposite. I feel the idea that you should ONLY write what you know to be a fallacious argument. Just because it’s better for someone to write what they know doesn’t mean they can’t write what they don’t.

Speculative fiction makes its business out of writing what it doesn’t know. Are there actually aliens bombarding Earth right now? Have vampires sucked your blood recently? There’s certainly a difference when you write general fiction, but genre fiction isn’t bound by those rules.

Write what you know, of course, but also don’t write off what you don’t! Learn from everything, and translate it through your words into your writing.

Writing When You Don’t Want To

It’s easy to tell you to write every day. The problem is that you sometimes don’t feel like it.

Earlier tonight I came home from work having gone out with coworkers to network. I still wanted to write, though, so I left right when I was supposed to. The problem is, I felt exhausted.

It’s hard to push yourself to write when you just don’t feel it. I find it hard to even focus on the task, even though I love doing it.

Don’t push yourself to write if you’re going to write terribly (but sometimes I write well when I feel crappy). It takes some getting used to, but eventually you can tell when you’re actually productive/creative and when you’re failing to be coherent.

Learn how you can write when you feel poorly, and start to use that. Sometimes it won’t work, but if you know yourself, you know when you’re able to write.

I try to write every day, but some days I have to skip. Some days it just wouldn’t be productive!

 

Edit: grammar and spelling.

Finding Time to Write

It’s hard when you work and have a family to find time for your writing. I struggle with it daily, but I’ve committed to doing at least something every day. The trick is spending a little bit of time on it.

I’ll write for half and hour, then help my kids with something, then go back to writing for another half an hour. In total I did an hour of writing, or editing, or reviewing, or something. Ultimately what matters is that I spent the time to do it.

Just make sure to spend time doing other things as well. Family’s important!

Consistent Writing

When you write you typically have an idea of how you sound and what you’re saying. I mean, that’s obvious, right?

The consistency in your writing is typically found in yourself. You’re the person writing so everything you write should sound the same, right? Well, not always. Oftentimes you’ll begin to write and realize that your style shifts part of the way through. I notice this with my own writing. I go from very plain and utilitarian descriptions to almost poetry in the same chapter. There’s nothing wrong with either, but you need to make sure you’re consistent.

 

Inspiration vs. Creativity

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I’ve heard the argument before: inspiration is misleading and can lead you to thinking ideas are more creative than they are.

But how true is that?

I would argue there is some truth to it. One of the things I like to do is keep a notepad by my bed in case I have interesting ideas before sleeping. These are raw, unfiltered inspirations taken from random pre-sleep delirium. The next day, when I look at these ideas, some of them are usable and some are not. It’s important to remember that raw inspiration can be useful if you filter it.

It would be a mistake to try to transform every idea I had before bed into a story. In the same vein, it would be a mistake to ignore every idea I had before that time.

The word “creativity” assumes some value in what is produced, while “inspiration” does not. You may receive inspiration for a specific idea, but filter it and try to process it with this question: is this usable? 

In this case, we’re talking about writing. If your idea is outside your current skill for a story, that’s one thing, but if it’s a sharp left turn in a story you’ve been developing, it’s not usable. All ideas may be usable in some manner, just don’t let your feeling of inspiration cloud your reason.