Category: Writing Craft

Outlining – Method 3 cont: From Sticky Notes to Proper Scenes

Category: Story Structure, Writing Craft, Outlining

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So you’ve outlined your novel into a Wall of Sticky Notes or a Corkboard of Cards. Congrats, stuff happens! But stories are not just stuff happening. Stories are a series of scenes. Is each note/card a proper scene? Not sure? Take this test:

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Outlining – Method 3: The Wall of Sticky Notes (aka “The Board”)

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure, Outlining

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If you’re a visual person, Outlining Method #3 is for you! I call it The Wall of Sticky Notes, because that’s how I build it. Others create a Corkboard of Cards. In the business of screenwriting, it’s simply called “The Board.”

Click here to read the full post, including 5 Story Problems The Board Reveals, at Writeonsisters.com


3 Simple Tips for Finding Your Story

Category: Writing Craft

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Some writers’ stories just come to mind, fully formed. Lucky them. It’s more likely that snippets of a story streak through your brain, like a naked drunk criss-crossing the football field, and when you chase it down to determine whether this tale is hot or not, it evaporates into thin air. Or maybe there’s a whole group of streakers on the field and you don’t know which one to tackle first. Or you’re on the screenwriter team writing cartoons and it’s hard to get out of that headspace, ditch the fart jokes, and write deep dark stories for teens. That last one was me.

It took years to develop my story, mainly because I didn’t have a handle on what I wanted to write, except that I wanted it to be in the broad category of YA. I was excited to have the freedom to write whatever I chose, especially after freelance television writing where the world, characters and general story were already established for me. But I was unprepared for the overwhelming amount of choices at my disposal. Consequently, I spent four years creating various stories that just weren’t “right” for me. At least I learned from the experience, and can pass on the knowledge to you…

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Outlining – Method 2: Active Beats (aka “Show Don’t Tell”)

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure, Outlining

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I learned this method of outlining at Ryerson University. My screenwriting professor called it a Step Outline. He instructed us to write a scene-by-scene outline and ONLY describe actions, i.e. what the characters physically do. No dialogue. No narration. Like turning the sound off a movie. The test: could the audience get the gist of the story just from the characters’ actions?

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Story Edit Using The “Save The Cat” Basic Beats

Category: Story Structure, Writing Craft, Outlining, B-Stories & Subplots

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Whatever your writing process, whether you outline or dive straight into prose, there’s one step we all must do – story edit. There are innumerable things to edit in a manuscript, but let’s start with the bones of the story. After all, adding metaphors and sensory descriptions won’t matter if the story is weak.

So bring out that handy Basic Beats chart. Fill it in. Even if you used this to outline your novel, things probably changed when you were writing, so update it.

Just filling in The Basic Beats will reveal missing or flimsy story elements. Bam! You’re already editing!

Once you have all the elements, start asking questions. The first one I usually ask is: “Did this story change the protagonist’s life?” Start to answer by comparing the Opening and the Final Moment…

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Basic Story Beats of The Hunger Games (based on the “Save The Cat” beat sheet)

Category: Story Structure, Writing Craft, Outlining, Theme, B-Stories & Subplots

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I picked HUNGER GAMES as the first novel to break down into Basic Story Beats because I knew it had all the elements in chronological order. After all, I’d read the novel thrice and was familiar with the story. Though I was shocked to find that the Debate didn’t actually happen on the page, but rather in my mind. The Set Up was so well written that I was essentially in Katniss’s head, weighing the options for her in that split-second before she yells, “I volunteer as tribute!” Amazing.

Without further ado, The Hunger Games’ Basic Story Beats:

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Outlining – Method 1: Basic Story Beats

Category: Story Structure, Writing Craft, Outlining, Theme, B-Stories & Subplots

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Just as there are many ways to write a novel, there are many ways to outline a novel. You can use all the methods, one of the methods, or none of the methods. The choice is yours! Go nuts with the freedom! Myself, I use all of the outlining methods I will explain in the next few posts. I treat them like stepping stones, each step preparing me to write that novel. Kind of like psyching myself up to jump off a cliff! I start by hopping into the shallow end of a pool, then I cannonball into the deep end, then I dive off the diving board, and finally, when I’ve gotten the basics down, I head to the lake, find a wicked high cliff, and jump!

But even if you prefer to write on the wild side and just jump, the following outline method is handy during editing to figure out what might be missing from your story or how to make your story stronger.

Now without further ado, the first outline method: the Basic Story Beats!

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5 Reasons to Outline Your Novel

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure, Outlining

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There are writers who come up with an idea and just start writing and see where the story takes them. There are writers who mull over a story in their minds for months or years before they start writing. There are writers who write short stories and use those to create a novel.

Then there are writers who outline.

In film and TV, everybody outlines. It’s how we’re trained to write. Heck, it’s part of the paycheck! Before you are paid for that 1st draft, before you even write that script, you are paid to write an outline. Why? So everyone involved (producers, story editors, broadcasters) can read the story and make changes before the writer has labored over a script.

Now that I’m writing a novel, I don’t have to consult anyone about my story. So why do I still outline? I’ll give you 5 reasons…

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A Novel is a Hamburger (aka The Difference Between TV Scripts and Novels)

Category: Writing Craft, Story Structure

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When I left TV to write a novel, I really believed I’d be done in a year. Why not? I already knew how to put together a story. Yet as an episodic freelance screenwriter, I’d only been working with the “meat” of a story, not the whole hamburger. That’s right, I’m going all food analogy on you. Whatever. It’s the long weekend and I’m in a barbequing kind of mood, so here we go…

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