Writing: Planning a Scene

Tea in hand, Google Docs pulled up, Harry Potter soundtracks blaring through my headphones, and a desire to write (and hopefully motivation and inspiration to go with it). This is a common picture of how I start writing on whatever project on any given day. But lately, I’ve found myself sitting down and just staring…and staring…and staring…and then looking at the time and realising that I now have to go to work and have wasted my writing time for the day. I have the desire to write. But my motivation and inspiration have been lacking, especially when it comes to my novel. Which has forced me to take my usual “pantser” self and set it on the shelf, replacing it with a planner.

I’m pretty awful at planning and outlining most of the time, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts. But frequently, I find it to be necessary to get any writing done.

I find planning scenes to be even more difficult than outlining my novel most of the time, which is the exact opposite of what I would expect. However, when writing a scene, you need to be certain that everything that is happening (or not happening) is exactly as it should be so that it can properly support the rest of the chapter, the book, the themes, and most importantly the character development.

I’ve found it easiest to work on particular scenes that fit my mood or my fancy on a given day, instead of trying to write through my book in order (this will most certainly make it rather difficult to edit later on, but hey! You gotta do what you gotta do!). But even when I work on a particular scene, my brain can be going a million different directions and make it very difficult to actually get any words onto the page.

So I thought I’d share my tips for plotting a scene.

 

  • Figure out what theme is important to the scene.

 

Sometimes this is your main theme for the novel; other times, it might be one of the minor themes. Whatever the case, think about what actions and dialogue will help present it to your characters/readers. What are your characters’ opinions about the theme? Do they support what you are trying to portray? Are they against it? Have they ever thought about it before?

For example, if you have a theme regarding the importance of family, you may have one character who’s experienced unconditional love and support from their family. This character may be open to whatever is happening and the lesson that can be learnt from it. However, if you have a character who was abused, neglected, orphaned, or abandoned, they may not be able or willing to comprehend the theme. This character may even try to influence the other characters to agree with them.

 

  • Pay attention to which characters are there and how they interact with each other.

 

Going beyond how the characters may react to the theme and what’s happening around them, look act their personal interactions with each other. Do the characters in this scene get along? Are they soul mates? Best friends? Mortal enemies? Complete strangers? Is one of them hiding a big secret from another?

 

  • Write down the first thing that happens.

 

Do you know the first thing that happens in this scene? Write it down! Get it out on paper as quickly as you can. I like to use telescopic text when writing like this. In other words, I write down the simplest sentences about what’s happening, and then I go back and add detail, and I’ll continue going back with more detail until I’m satisfied. But getting the first bit of the scene out can help you figure out what comes next.

 

  • Write out the end goal for that particular scene/chapter.

 

Now that you know how the scene begins, where is it going? Where does its action end? Knowing the beginning and the ending will help you clarify what can happen or needs to happen in the middle.

 

  • Ask what can go horribly wrong. OR Ask what can go wonderfully right.

 

This is a pretty common piece of advice for writers, or at least the first half is. Sending the characters and plot into chaos is a great way to add drama (and interest) to your story; however, sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming. You don’t want only bad things to happen to your characters…do you? Finding out what can go wrong can you give great ideas, but so can asking what can go well. I personally don’t like deus ex machina for helping things go well for characters; I prefer the characters’ past actions or present decisions to lead to good things happening. Also, finding ways to show the joy and love that characters can experience can help your readers fall more in love with them and, as a result, the story.
I hope these little bits of advice are helpful!
What are some of your tips for plotting scenes? Let me know in the comments below!

Writing: Creating an Outline

There are countless ways to approach writing an outline for your novel. Sometimes it takes multiple forms to get just one outline put together.

I recently finished my first “complete” outline for a book that I’ve had in my head for three years. I did so by combining three of the outlining styles I’ve heard most about over the last few years, and I thought it might be a helpful technique to others who are trying to start writing a book but have no idea where to begin.

  1. Write down the overarching theme and/or goal for the book.

Aside from three particular scenes in my book, I’ve not really known much of what would happen, and I didn’t know how to piece those scenes together. But I have always had an idea of what I wanted the recurring theme of my book to be. Sometimes that is the perfect spot to start. Having an idea of what you want your work to say, how you want it to make people feel, and why you want to create it is, in my opinion, far better than having a thoroughly planned plot without knowing the meaning of it all. It can be something complex, like wanting to help young women feel empowered and important or revealing some of the “hidden” realities in our societies, or it can be as simple as wanting to make others laugh or getting rid of an emotional burden that you’ve been carrying for years—not that it’s simple to do so. But having a goal for how the novel should impact the world (whether it’s your own life, a community, or the globe) could help the plot come together and give you ideas for specific scenes.

  1. List smaller themes and goals for sections of the book that support the main goal.

This might seem a bit much to some, but I truly enjoy when I can find specific themes running throughout entire books. I take even more satisfaction when those are focused on in more detail in certain chapters. Doing this can give you a better idea of how to organise your scenes, introduce your characters, and even incorporate foreshadowing into your book.

  1. Separate the hero’s arc into the sections.

Here, I took what I knew would happen to my main character throughout the book and the monomyth, or Hero’s Journey Arch, and compared them to the goals I had set for each section of my book. As of right now, I have four sections with sixteen chapters divided among them. I love the idea of having sixteen chapters for some reason, but with the scenes I have planned and a few ideas I have, I may need to add more chapters to the book or find incredibly clever ways to transition between some of the scenes. But I’ve been doing my best to make sure that each chapter and scene will support the theme of that section. That isn’t to say that some of the chapters or themes won’t overlap into other sections. I am actually hoping that those overlaps come smoothly in my work. But taking the general patterns of storytelling and applying them to your outline can help you arrange your scenes and fill in the blanks. These basic patterns can be referred to as the Hero’s Journey Arch, which consists of twelve stages that were identified by Joseph Campbell.

  1. Ordinary World, in which the main character, world, and everyday life are presented to the audience.
  2. Call to Adventure, in which something upsets the balance of everyday life in the character’s world and presents a challenge. The character is then given a choice between two (or more) conflicting calls to react to the challenge.
  3. Refusal of the Call, where the character decides against the call because of insecurities, risks, abilities, or some other reason.
  4. Meeting the Mentor, when the main character interacts with someone who provides wisdom, insight, training, tools, and/or encouragement.
  5. Crossing the Threshold, when the character takes up the call and decides to face the challenge.
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies, in which the main character encounters trials, attempts to discover who can and cannot be trusted, and tries to prepare for what will come later.
  7. Approaching the Inmost Cave, where the main character gets ready for the central crisis or challenge that will be faced, in which the character faces their biggest fear.
  8. The Ordeal, where the character enters the central crisis, which has two outcomes on opposite sides of the spectrum (life or death, love or breakup, success or failure).
  9. Reward, in which the character achieves the main goal after surviving the central crisis.
  10. Road Back, when the character decides to complete the journey, returning to the ordinary world even if it’s difficult to do so and encountering trials along the way.
  11. Resurrection, when the character encounters the greatest crisis, which transforms or redeems them, and they gain something from it.
  12. Return with Elixir, in which the character takes what has been gained during the greatest crisis and shares it with others, particularly those in the ordinary world.

As I went through and aligned the themes and the monomyth through my outline, I added more and more detail of the story. The plot quickly grew from incredibly vague and disordered to feasible and understandable. As a result, it’s also a lot less intimidating to work on writing it.

  1. If you have chapter titles or scene ideas, organise them.

I already had sixteen chapter titles chosen and a few scene ideas, but I didn’t know where anything happened throughout the book. Thankfully, setting the themes, goals, and broad plot outline helped me to figure out where each scene and chapter would fit best. For my current work in progress, each of the sections have four chapters. For another book I’ve started planning, I have 23 chapters split into 7 sections.

Each book and its organisation will look completely different, and maybe dividing your book into sections (whether noticeable to the reader or not) isn’t something that you’re interested in or that will really work with your novel. But I’ve found it incredibly helpful in plotting and writing.

Good luck on all your outlining and novel writing adventures!!

What are some of your tips for outlining you stories? Let me know down in the comments!

Anxiety and Outlining

When it comes to my blog posts, I plan really far in advance. I know it isn’t exactly an outline, but it works as one. Then there are my short stories and my novel. For these, I’m usually a “pantser,” writing everything that comes to mind as it arrives. But I’ve learned over the last year that I can’t write a novel like that. Short stories? Maybe. But a novel? That ain’t happening.

So I’ve spent hours continually going through the vague idea in my head, attempting to create a tentative outline, and it stresses me out to no end. But overall the idea of finishing it and actually working on the book has been inspiring. At one point, amidst my excitement and motivation, I messaged Azelyn to tell her how determined I am to finish the first draft of my novel this year and that I was actually trying to create an outline, which obviously surprised her. What she didn’t expect was a stream of messages over the next few days (or weeks, really) complaining about the process of outlining a book that I’ve been wanting to write for years now. I wasn’t even complaining about the process as much as I was about the fear of not being able to create the themes I want to flow through the book.

I kept telling her I would finish the outline and send it to her for months. Then one day, I forced myself to sit down with a cuppa, a container of Cheerios, my computer, and Facebook Messenger and type away. I set goals for the book and then for each section. After that, I thought about every major thing that I wanted to happen, and I tried to organise it and fit it into the sections and then into chapters. I finished my outline.

After months of procrastinating, complaining, and staring at a blank screen, I finished it.

But here I am, actively writing a book, still freaking out about my outline.

Will I even be able to use it?
Will the lessons I want to teach through it ever be realised?
What if something I don’t expect happens to the characters? How will I work that in?
How will I be able to fit all of these scenes together?
Is there even enough stuff here to make a story long enough?
Or is there too much?

I’ve already thought of some scenes that I had been so excited to write that I now have no idea how to fit into the outline, and that scares me.

But that’s the thing about an outline: It isn’t set in stone. You can change it.

Don’t let your fears or anxieties stop you from outlining, but more importantly, don’t let them stop you from writing. I know it can be stressful, overwhelming, and confusing, but it’s worth it. You’re worth it.


Are you a “planner” or a “pantser”? How do you handle your anxieties about outlining and plotting? Let me know in the comments!

Setting Goals

I think everyone knows the struggle of setting goals. Whether it be writing, exercise, reading, creating, or monetary goals, we can’t seem to stop ourselves from creating giant mile markers in our lives. We usually set the goals when we’re feeling on top of everything and ready to tackle the world, but we don’t often take into account that once that motivation starts to fade, the things we’re enjoying and planning to accomplish tend to become the same things that stress us out to no end and are put on the back burner because life just gets in the way.

My writing goals for 2016 are a great example.

Goals Accomplishments
Screenplay(s) for Eragon

(because everyone knows it needs to be redone)

It hasn’t even been started.

…but I did reread the book.

Novel It has been started, but it is only at 4187 words out of a minimum goal of 65000.
Ten short stories Three shorts stories were plotted, but none were finished.
Twenty poems Eight poems were written.
YouTube scripts (one a week) Only about ten YouTube videos were written, and only five recorded.
Blogs (two a week) Well, this went well for a few months, and then everything went awry, and I’m just starting back up (yet again) with a goal of one post a week.

Originally my goal was to finish my novel and the screenplay by June on top of half of the other goals as well. What I didn’t account for was my motivation or stress levels. I quickly encountered problems with that blog of mine disappearing, trying to balance part-time fast food work and a few full-time level freelance gigs, trying to find new roommates, looking for steady work, and traveling.

The thing is, though, that if I had taken a few things into account and simply structured my goals and my schedule better, I could have easily accomplished these goals.

  • Set aside specific days to work on specific projects.

I’m far more likely to work on them and reach my goals, even if I’m still not very good at sticking to it. I’ve been trying to write blog posts on Thursdays so that I can have them ready to post on Mondays. Although I’ve been awful at it for the last few months, when I push myself to do it, I can easily whip out a blog and put it up on the editing page that Azelyn and I use.

Now this technique looks different for writing my novel and all my other projects. Starting in January, I’ll be aiming to write a minimum of 2700 words a week for six months. I’ll be trying to split that throughout the week, but I will be setting aside the most time on Sundays and Fridays to work towards this goal. I’ll be planning like this for my other goals as well.

Here’s what my average weekly writing schedule now looks like:

SONY DSC

Now this might seem excessive (it certainly does to me), but if I routinely follow this schedule and manage my time, it should be relatively easy to follow. I’ll definitely be allowing myself to work ahead on any/all project if and when I like, and I’m quite excited to do so.

  • Set smaller goals at different increments that will help you reach your larger goal.

As you can see in my planning chart above, I’ve come up with specific goals for each week, and even each day. Obviously, nearly every day has overlap, but I vary the degree of difficulty/time commitment from day to day. But the most important factor is that I have a minimum goal for every week.

I’ve found that having weekly goals helps me most, but some people prefer daily, monthly, or quarterly goals. Having the weekly goals, but a daily plan gives me some leeway on what I should/could accomplish in a given day. I’m already aware that there will be days or weeks that I cannot finish the tasks I’ve marked. My schedule and the goal to work slightly ahead will help when those times arrive.

  • Work ahead when possible.

I know this is something I tend to hate thinking about, just like many of my friends do. But sticking to a schedule and getting ahead of the original plans can not only help reduce stress in the future, but it can also help your creativity become an integral part of who you are and get you in the habit of working on your projects, even when you don’t feel like it.

  • Find someone to help keep you accountable.

This can occur in so many different ways. I’ve tried several systems, and each has worked in its own time. Currently I use a combination of a couple accountability techniques: inquiring, nagging, and punishing.

Azelyn and I already talk on a daily (or as close as we can get) basis. However, amidst our regular conversations and fangirling, we still constantly ask each other how our projects are coming along. Largely, this is just because we’re curious, nosy, and each other’s number one fan. But also, we do it to ensure we’re actually being productive. The nagging is very rarely towards Azelyn, and it’s usually just about getting her post on our editing page earlier so I don’t have to edit it super early on Sunday morning. It’s a whole other matter for me. Azelyn is constantly nagging me about any and every project I’ve set before myself because I am the queen of procrastination…which is one of the reasons we’ve added punishments to our accountability. Right now, this is specifically meant for our blog posts, but once the new year hits, it will also include my videos and my novel word count. We’re still working out how those punishments will work out; but for the blog, every day that I fail to write a blog post past its deadline, I owe her a dollar. (Right now that’s up to $13. *oops*)

  • Reward yourself for reaching your goals.

Now I have no idea how I’ll do that this coming year yet, but I have a few ideas in mind, given that I have the money. This could be as little as eating a cookie when you reach your weekly word goal or as big as taking a vacation when you finish your novel. But whatever it is, don’t make the goals too small and the rewards too big. Make sure you actually have to work in order to be rewarded; then the victory will taste even sweeter.

What are some techniques you use to help set your writing (or life) goals?
What are some of your favourite reward systems for reaching your goals?
Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: The Boston Girl

Anita Diamant’s The Boston Girl is a wonderful coming of age story about a Jewish girl growing up in Boston at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s told from the perspective of Addie Baum when she is old and telling her life-long tale of adventure, woe, determination, and love.

I was excited to read this, but I honestly didn’t have very high expectations, largely because I didn’t think I would be able to relate to the characters or situations as well as I could with other books. I also haven’t been much in the mood to read lately, so I didn’t want to force myself through another book. Reading the first five pages, I thought I was right and might end up trudging through the story, but once I got used to the writing style and to Addie’s voice, I found it to be easy and enjoyable to read. It’s rather fast paced the entire time, and Addie’s unique thought process and experiences as well as her form of story-telling made it fun and exciting to read.

I actually fell in love with this book and its characters, far more than I could’ve imagined. Addie’s determination to experience the world in a different way and to be educated reminded me of myself more than I would’ve dared possible. As I saw her pursue her education and becoming independent, I saw my own failures and successes. I cried with her, I laughed with her, I feared with her, and I cared with her. The amount of simple and blatant emotion that Diamant was able to pack into Addie’s interview with her granddaughter was overwhelmingly well done; and the creative wording, imagery, and simplicity of Addie’s life and way of talking about her life are beautiful and occasionally comical.

I sincerely didn’t want to put this book down or for it to end. From its terribly sad scenes to possibly the best meet cute in history, I was reliving Addie Baum’s life with her, celebrating new jobs, mourning the loss of loved ones, learning about child laborers, and pondering what it means to be oneself.

One of my favourite (many) favourite lines: “I thought I’d never fall asleep, but I was gone the minute I closed my eyes. I guess falling in love makes you tired. Or maybe it was all that walking.”

Rating: 5/5

How to Be a Book Nerd without Books

There are many common misconceptions about book nerds. One of the biggest ones is that they are constantly reading. I mean, in a sense they are. They may be reading short stories or articles or magazines, or they may be like me and be “currently reading” a book for a month or so without really picking it up at all. A great example of this for me is Les Misérables. I started reading it back in June because I was just too excited and couldn’t wait. But here I am in September, about 100 pages in, and I’ve barely started. I love the story. And I love reading. But sometimes I just get tired of reading or find myself turning to other modes of entertainment, like Netflix and Solitaire.

july-wrap-up-2
My July wrap-up photo, featuring the wonderful Erik, one of my best friends.

I read six and a half books in July. Before that, I had only finished one book in June and had been very slowly reading through two other books. Because of reading so much while on holiday, I got a little burnt out at the beginning of August. But I’ve also been incredibly stressed and busy since I returned to the States and don’t have any of my books with me, let alone the books that I truly want to read, because all my stuff is still in storage and I’ve been living out of a suitcase for nearly three months. So here I am, longing for my books and wanting to read, but without the means to read what I’ll be able to focus on. If you’re in a similar situation in any way, these are my ideas of how to be a book nerd without your books.

 

  1. Fandom Merch

So I can’t really talk about owning fandom merch, especially when it comes to book-related fandoms. However, there is so much you can have! From artwork and posters to graphic tees and pins, bookstores and websites are constantly coming out with more book-inspired gear. Right now I am showing off my book-nerdiness by having a Hogwarts crest pinned to my book bag and a Winnie-the-Pooh tsum tsum figural clipped to one of the pockets. I’ve not read any Winnie the Pooh in ages; but growing up, I loved the Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh, and I really wish I still had that book so that I could reread it now.

  1. Following Booktubers, Book Bloggers, and Bookstagramers

There are so many wonderful people who are actively involved in the book side of social media, and I’ve made some amazing friends by getting involved in these communities, even if I’ve not been active lately. These wonderful men and women range from taking beautifully posed photos of books and rating and reviewing their latest reads to recommending books and discussing the writing process. And there are always more book nerds getting involved.

Here are some of my favourites:

Booktubers:
Olivia’s Catastrophe
I read books in nightclubs
Read by Zoe
Jesse the Reader
Little Book Owl

Book Bloggers:
Word Storm
Olivia’s Catastrophe
The Book Lover’s Guide
The Halcyon Days of Summer

Bookstagramers:
Olivia’s Catastrophe
Maru Books
The Halcyon Days of Summer
Bloomsbery
Chez Melodie
A Boggus Life (Well, I might as well, right?)

Bookstagram photo.jpg
My photo for my favourite book to movie translation in the #booklovershowlingjune challenge.
  1. Fanfiction

Whether you like to read or to write, fanfiction is a wonderful way to keep fangirling over your favourite characters, stories, and worlds. I don’t tend to read much fanfiction and I’ve never written any, but I am still aware of how wonderful of a community it can be. I’ve come close to writing fanfiction a couple of times, but my stories always come to be their own completely unique tales and never seem related to the original stories at all. But if you or I were to write fanfiction, there are so many sites that make it easy to spread our work and, more importantly, our love for these fandoms. Most fanfiction sites have a search engine that makes it easy to find the fandoms and types of stories you most want to read. So have some fun and take a dive into the community of readers and writers.

Fanfiction
Archive of Our Own
Reddit

  1. Libraries

For those of you who don’t live near libraries, I’m so sorry!! Libraries have always been some of my favourite things. The library I’m staying closest to doesn’t have a wide selection at all, but it does do inter-library loans, and many other libraries are doing the same thing more frequently now. If you don’t have books but want to actively be reading, check out your closest library.

Loads of libraries also have classes and events on a regular basis. Just last week one of our local libraries had its second annual LibraryCon. It was so much fun! There were loads of people cosplaying, people creating and selling things, a life-size TARDIS, authors and artists, and various panels. My friend and I went to two panels. The first one was about nerdy books that are the librarians’ favourites and book that are about to be released over the next few months to year (including X-Files: Origins!!!!). It was great hearing about the books and why the librarians loved them so much, and I added around twenty books to my TBR (because I totally needed more) just during that panel. The second was an author panel. We got to hear six different authors discuss their writing habits and process, ask questions, and hear about their books. We even stopped by an author’s table afterward so Katie could buy a book, and we found out about some opportunities to write some short stories have submit them to published.

Go see what books, events, and classes your library has to offer!

  1. Bookclubs

Now I really need to start taking advantage of these. I’ve not been in one since high school; in other words, it’s been over six years since I sat down with a group of people (outside of a class setting) to discuss a book. And goodness, do I miss it. I know the library system here has book discussions, and I would love to get involved with those, but I want to be a part of a proper book club. I might just have to start one myself, and I’d definitely be okay with that. But there are websites that exist that can help you find online and real-life book clubs. I’m certainly going to join one.

Reader’s Circle
My Book Club
Meet Up
Goodreads
How do you get involved with the book nerd community and share your bookish pride? Let me know in the comments below!

Boone County Library

The slightly distant beeping and clunking of musty, bound pages and their covers being checked in and out at the “L” shaped counter is just as loud as the quiet turning of thin leaflets of dead trees worked into pieces of art. The exhilarating thrill and calming peace that accompanies these sounds is only intensified as I slowly step through shelves, worlds, and cultures while looking with a quick pulse, my eyes sparkling, and the right corner of my mouth pulling back into a bit of a smile. Even though I’m not allowing myself to check out any books for the fear of never accomplishing what I must, I allow myself to become lost in the sweet smell and the wonderful words. I carefully rummage through the copious amounts poetry, perfect selection of Charles Dickens, the modest array of languages books, the various world history collections, and diverse folklore.

There is a young man typing on his computer near an oddly placed window in a comfortable chair, watched by the cheap bust of an elegant women. The bust depicts her too poorly for her features and imagined stature. Another young man, who works at the library, continually slips in an out of a door marked “Employees Only” with a look of both irritation and elation covering his square, tan face. More beeping and clunking sounds as another patron retrieves books to temporarily name their own. This sound is my own reminder that I cannot do such today and that it is my time to leave the wondrous smell, feel, sound, and appearance of the library and books. I slowly and reluctantly leave the ever-used, two-story building which is overflowing with its marvellous fare.