Fiction Writing: Create Flow through Outline and Initiate Helpful Editing

I finished my daily NaNoWriMo word count today and wanted to veer off that topic for my next blog post. I’m sure after the first few weeks those who chose not to participate are ready to hear about something other than reaching a word count.

This is the third installment of my Fiction Writing Series here and here.

The first one spoke to plot and how to gain enough content for a full novel. The second one provided content on character development and good ways to know and understand them before you start.

For this one I have given two final preparations before you start the novel. These will help your story fly and soar to the finish.

Step Three:

flamingos Outline and Edit

Yeah, these two are a strange grouping. Outline comes at the beginning and editing at the end. So why place them together? Well, I consider them both a necessary preparation of a novel.

The Outline

Unless you are a discovery writer (writing until you “discover” an idea and then build your story from there,) you will write an outline.

Answer this question:

How much information do I need to write a complete story?

The beginning, middle, and end are easy place cards to initiate an outline, or main plot, arc, and climax are another option. The outlines most important section is the ending. If you can identify the end then the body and the beginning lead there. Successful books wrap up the plot and sub-plots, especially successful first novels. Established authors can change that up.

After the ending is decided, then look to the conflict. Each scene needs conflict, which is why an antagonist is important to a story. Without conflict readers begin to drift from the book. Something needs to happen and not the same thing over and over. I once read a book where the protagonist went for a run every single day as the important scene and the small amount of conflict came off as repetitive instead of intriguing.

The amount of information in your outline depends on the type of novel you write. A story with many characters, sub-plots, and dramatic conclusions need more detail, yet books with wiggle room for creative development during the writing can have a lot less in the outline.

For me, I write about 12 bullet points and fill in the basic pieces I want to include in the story. As I write I pull from it and expand it as I go. It has worked for me so far.

Editing

Arm yourself with the editing knowledge. My list mostly gives things to avoid.

Editing list:

  • Avoid “to be verbs”: they are linking verbs that can be replaced with action verbs
    • Be, am, is, are, was, were, been, has, have, had, do, did, does, can, could, shall, should, will, would, may, might, must
  • Avoid adverbs: they are usually telling words instead of showing words
  • Avoid too many adjectives: one before every word it becomes too much
  • Avoid common words:
    • Beautiful, pretty, really, seriously, literally
  • Avoid too many metaphors and similes
  • Avoid redundancies: especially common phrases like sit down, stand up, turn around, etc.
  • Replace wordy sentences with action or stronger words
  • Avoid too many propositions
  • Avoid present participles
  • Avoid dangling present participles
  • Make sure your paragraphs and sentences have first word variance
  • Switch up paragraph and sentence lengths
  • Have every scene contain a beginning, middle and end
  • Avoid too much back-story and flashbacks
  • Avoid large amounts of description of your characters: you should show it instead of telling it
  • Avoid clichés

First drafts are much cleaner when you apply editing techniques as you write. Some writers like to type their thoughts down without any restrictions for their first draft, and if you don’t mind re-writing almost every sentence of an 80K – 120K word novel, then go for it.

For me, I want to focus on consistency of plot, characters, and structure instead of a ton of re-writing. For my NaNo novel, I’ve attempted to write cleaner. It takes a little longer, but I know the editing will take less time. I’m happy with the trade-off.

With all the prep in place it’s easier to get started and keep on your way to the end.

How do you like to prepare for a novel? A lot of outlines? No outline? Something in-between?

I would love to discuss with you about this and I love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading my blog.
A.G. Zalens

NaNoWriMo: On Track to Meet the Word Count

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This month is like the bunny hop, pour coffee, write a few hundred words, complete chores, write some more, run some errands, finish the writing goal, and rest until the next day.

For NaNoWriMo my goal is to write and integrate editing techniques.

Such as these 5 Worthy Tips for Effective Editing. For my recent novel I poured words into my document without any real consistency. Once finished I moved on to edit. Luckily, I took the time to read books and articles before beginning. The only thing that saved me was that I thought to incorporate these two preparations: Fiction Writing: Prepare Before You Start and Fiction Writing: Top Character Creation.

After I edited my novel a third of the way through, I decided to change from present tense to past tense. The reason came from many examples, which showed how past tense moved the sentence along faster than present tense. Even though it’s a young adult/new adult novel I decided I liked the past tense style better.

This set me way back in my editing. I started the edit over and re-wrote just about every sentence. My biggest disappointment was that I waited until I finished to research editing for fiction.

I hope I learned my lesson. So far the prequel I’m writing incorporates what I’ve learned. It takes me a little longer to write. I think of a sentence, and then rewrite it in my head before I type it out. However, I expect this will save me a lot of time and effort when I start my edits.

I’m excited that I’ve kept pace with the suggested 1,667 words a day. Day five and I have 8,579 words written. Several of those days have been hard. I only wrote a little all day and barely finished before I went to bed. However, I think of this Winning Strategy to Beat Editing Blues and now I’m getting into a groove of finishing before noon.

The choice to write the prequel has helped a lot. I’m filling in scenes mentioned in my novel. It’s working out beautifully. I have subplots and fun characters. The twitter account @NaNoWordSprints has also been a huge support in this endeavor. Their prompts and time frames give me that pressure I need to speed up my writing.

I expect to keep up my productivity until month’s end.

Have you found any techniques that help you write? Let me know about your thoughts! I’d love to hear any NaNoWriMo stories, or any writing challenges you have experienced.Thanks for visiting A.G. Zalen’s blog.

Fiction Writing: Top Character Creation

This is the second installment in my Fiction Writing Series and it’s all about characters.

“He’s such a character.” A phrase people say to endear a quirky action by someone they like, and a wonderful way to understand what to include in our fictional characters. Readers need those attributes to inspire a fondness for the overall story, like the ugly duckling who turns into a swan. Many times when a reader anticipates the next scene he or she will skip the description and move to the dialog. The setting can wait while we find out what happens to the character.

Step Two:

SwanCharacter Development

A book reviewer, who references the fictional character as if he or she is a real person, gives the biggest complement to an author. The author made the writing decisions, but the reader attributes those decisions to the character, and it shows how well-developed they are.

As writers we should look to other authors as motivation for those times the writing gets hard. We need to remember they are normal people just like us who struggled with their writing as well. I like to read or watch author interviews as a reminder and it seems to help me move forward with more confidence.

Reading is another great way to see what works in a character and why people love or hate them enough to recommend the book to other people.

Answer this question first:

What are your characters?

In most cases the answer is human, but there are other choices in fiction writing.

  • Human
  • Witch/Wizard
  • Mythological character
  • Werewolf
  • Space alien
  • Vampire
  • New unique creature

Once you decide it becomes easier to decide their characteristics. For the non-human characters develop a list of characteristics that differ from humans. Their speech patterns, the way they walk, their interactions, and anything else you can think of to make them real.

Next, answer this question:

Who are they?

Each character will be identified by their everyday lives. An interesting plot puts some disruption into their normal routine and takes them forward into the story. Decide what each character does. Are they in school, or police officers, thieves, painters, ranchers, businessmen, fire fighters, serial killers, or any other profession you can image?

Once you know what they do every day it’s easier to keep track of their interactions with others, their speech patterns, and for world building.

Then, answer this question:

Where do they come from?

A wealthy character will react differently than an orphan. Someone who just went through a loss acts different from someone with no major losses. Every unique culture has differentiating opinions, taboos, norms, and motivations. The knowledge of a character’s background gives a writer what they need to make big decisions in a story.

Not every character needs a ton of details, but the main characters need that extra development. Also, when you have uncertainty about the actions or dialog you can go back to the background to make those choices.

Finally, answer this question:

What are the specifics?

This is where you decide the gender and names of your characters. With gender you have two options. However, the name choices are extensive. The internet and resource books make it a lot easier. You can go to baby name websites and search for definitions, first letters, nationality, or other criteria that will help you decide.character meme

The one rule to remember in choosing a name: unique names are more difficult for readers to keep track of and remember. The more common or short the name the more likely the reader can relate to them and recall it when they review the book or tell friends about it.

In order to decide how your character will react in many situations you could fill out personality quizzes and answer the questions as your characters. Tons of websites offer quizzes from Facebook to teen magazines. Other avenues for questions are media interviews, Reddit’s AMA (ask me anything) with celebrities, or twitter ask hash tags. Just take the questions and answer from your character’s perspective.

Of course, the best way to develop a character is to incorporate personality traits from people you know. The exact replica isn’t necessary, but if you know how someone will react in life then you can decide how your character will respond in your story.

What are the best ways to develop interesting characters? Is it important to know about the character before you begin writing? How do you tackle this process?

I would love to discuss with you about this and I love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading my blog.
A.G. Zalens

Book Reviews: Who Needs Them? Authors Do!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWriters start out as book lovers, long before we pick up a pencil or write a sentence. Readers find value in books. Writers find value in sharing our thoughts and ideas. Reading and writing complete each other. We can’t do one without the other. Writers have no profitable value without readers. Readers have no fun value without writers (okay maybe that’s just me!)

It’s personal to open a book and give it our quality time, interest, and attention. Plus, the money spent on the book increases its worth. Readers understand this evaluation of a book.

Book Reviewers

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Book reviewers have an increased value when they add that extra step. Serious reviewers will take notes on the book, follow the POV, pay attention to details, and then write a thorough review about their experience.

Books are worth a lot to a reader, especially book reviewers.

Positive Reviews

It’s no wonder readers are zealous about their books. For the stories that inspire passion, the book reviewers are a writer’s best customer. Many reviews written are over-the-moon, enthusiastic, engaging, flashy, and emotional pieces of praise every author dreams of receiving.

A potential buyer who sees these reviews will want that same experience and will purchase the book. If they feel the same way about the book, they’ll add their own positive reviews and spread the word. This is an important way to make a book successful, and one enthusiastic review by a popular reviewer can spur a book to higher heights.

Negative Reviews

What writers may not realize is that those same reviewers, so loved for their positive reviews are also known for their undesirable reviews. If they believe a book has wasted their precious quality time, money, and effort they will write as much passion into their negative pieces as they do their positive ones. They don’t spare anyone’s feelings, but write from their heart.

Authors fear these reviews more than any other step in the process. Some writers won’t even release their books if they anticipate negative feedback. If any book struggles to launch big, and then receives a 1-star, did not finish, hate-this-book review from a popular reviewer, it may hurt book sales, but not always.

negative reciew

There is hope though. Many reviewers won’t write-off an author just because of one negative experience with a book. They know that even the authors they adore will write one or two books they won’t like. They may not like one, but it’s possible to love another. It’s not career ending.

Authors Respond

Unfortunately, this is where some authors make the mistake of challenging the book reviewers. The book enthusiasts take their reviews as seriously as authors take their books. It’s personal to be corrected, lectured, and disrespected by an author for a review. The reviewer is the customer of a product and they don’t get paid for their efforts. They write reviews because of their love for books and they don’t expect confrontation from an author.

Most reviews give helpful critiques, good or bad, that readers can use as a tool to decide to buy a book. It’s also clear when a review focuses on personal attacks and unfair assessments. Readers ignore overly cruel reviews, or at least disregarded them as irrelevant. The author intervention is unnecessary. Trust your customers.

Authors are like small business owners, many of which go out of business if they offer a product no one wants and they refuse to adapt and produce a product people do want. It isn’t the customer’s fault for not liking the product. It’s the nature of business. An entrepreneur puts themselves out there and the customer decides their business fate, the owner needs to adjust. Blaming the customer only ensures any future attempt is tainted by the customer’s bad experience with the owner.

Things to remember about book reviewers:

  • Books are more valuable than the money spent
  • Their reviews come from their heart and passion
  • It takes a lot of effort to write a review
  • Writing a review is serious
  • They won’t always give up on an author for a negative experience
  • Every reader is a customer
  • Customer experience is important for future purchases
  • Expectations for liking a book are high
  • They love books and want to voice their opinions

Authors who don’t respect reviewers will have a hard time selling their books. Every positive and negative response is an opportunity to grow and develop as writers.

What do you think about book reviewers who write harsh and negative criticism? Should they be stopped or given opportunity to voice their opinions?

I would love to discuss with you about this and I love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading my blog.
A.G. Zalens

Fiction Writing: Prepare Before You Start

Writing a fiction novel is doing something fun and creative, which fulfills the advice to do what you love. Yet, the storms come when a writer starts a novel without the necessary background in place.

This gave me the idea to blog about what I’ve learned during my journey to write a novel and I’ll spread out the steps and how to incorporate them over several posts.

My first step started with the concept.

Every minute spent on the prep and outline of my novel supported me during the process. I developed a complete concept and plot, and I managed the story to the end.

Step One:

CloudsDecide Your Overall Concept

Years ago, my first attempt at writing a novel centered on two characters perfect for story building. After a lot of notes and careful character description, I wrote the first pages. A few hundred words later, I stopped. All the big decisions wrecked my momentum. I never plotted the story and the writing stalled.

To avoid my mistake make certain to craft a concept, which will move the characters to the story’s end.

Answer this question first:

What type of genre will keep me interested while writing thousands of words?

The books we love to read come to our minds. However, a historical suspense, though fun to read, involves a lot of research and strategy. Those who love to read, study, and search history may choose this genre, but if that doesn’t describe you then you might pick a genre you want to research.

Many lists of genres exist ( Book Genres from The Guardian) and you can pick something general or specific. It depends on your approach to the story. A plot that includes the paranormal may need room to evolve and bring in other concepts and creatures. Stories based on a real situation may benefit from a specific genre to keep it on track.

Next, answer this question:

Where and when do I want my characters to live?

Look back at the last question and decide what place you want to research. The place and time you’re willing and eager to devote time and effort on fact-finding.

A town, city, farm, outer space, new universe, new planet, anything you can describe and use to give your characters somewhere to live, visit, or explore. The past, present, or future gives the story something to describe and bring substance to the characters and their journey.

Then answer this question:

What is the purpose of telling this story?

If your story has no purpose than the readers will wonder why they spent so much time reading it. At the end the conclusion should resolve something in the story.

An emotional reaction at the finish gratifies the reader, allows them to find closure in the story, and anticipate the next book. Any novel, which stops with loose-ends and a “to be continued” better conclude at least one main aspect of the story. A hook for the next book in a series only works after the plot’s resolution.

What is your process before you write the first word of a story? Do you have any advice for those who struggle with this?

The next section is character development, and I will write out the way I developed my characters in the next installment blog post.

I hope you enjoyed my post and look forward to talking with you!

Thanks for visiting my blog,

A.G. Zalens

5 Worthy Tips for Effective Editing

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My definition of editing: read through a paragraph, re-write, read out loud, approve, move on, find self-editing source, reread paragraph, see a problem, re-write, approve, move on, and repeat.

I misjudge the time frame for editing my book, by quite a lot. Yet, I’ve learned that strong writing is required for progression, so it will turn out best for me later on.

Since my brain has run on words and their appropriate order for a while, I thought I would share some things I’ve learned.

1. Clean sentences move the story forward.

Most often people advise to shorten sentences. However, I find it more helpful to say clean your sentences. A clean straightforward sentence gives all the information while using strong independent stand-alone words. This can be achieved with both short and long sentences.

For example:

Jenny is so happy to be running down the street with the crisp warm sun beating down on her heard and all of the other runners keeping pace beside her.

The sentence gives pertinent information, but several words muddy the point. Trimming words moves the reader along faster and makes the point sooner.

I might change it to:

Jenny ran beside her competitors, a smile stretched her lips, her eyes squinted, head down, shielded from the warm determined sun.

It isn’t much shorter, but it gives the same information in a more concise manner that shows the action.

2. Reduce metaphors and similes

I read a book once that had so many metaphors and similes I wanted to trash it instead of finish it. After multiple metaphor riddled paragraphs, I figured the purpose could only be to up the word count, because they didn’t enhance the story.

Metaphors should be used to clarify unusual experiences most people can’t relate to, or to make something more specific.

3. Overused words

Here are a few such words: literally, pretty, interesting, beautiful, ridiculous, awesome, great, good, seriously, nice, like, and feel.

I’ve included every single one in my writing, which has tacked on time and effort in this editing phase. These words are useful placeholders, but they are vague words most readers pass over. Words that can mean something different to every person won’t express the character’s experience. However, they do make for more authentic dialog when used sparingly.

4. Telling words and phrases

Some include: start/began, knew, could see, the sound of, heard, felt, and realize.

It’s better to state the action instead of telling about the action.

For example:

Brook started to walk when she heard the sound of a car, and she realized it might hit her.

It’s more dramatic to cut the telling words.

A car’s engine roared. Brook sprinted toward the building. Her feet hit the curb, as a forceful wind passed behind her. The car tire’s squealed to a stop.

5. Redundancies

Most redundancies are common words and phrases, so they’re difficult to spot.

A short list includes: stand up, sit down, lay flat, jump up, turn over, end result, enter in, and repeat again.

Once we cut the redundancies, our sentences are cleaner and more efficient.

I hope my list has helped. I would love to read your comments and thoughts about your editing experiences.

Thanks for reading my blog!
A.G. Zalens