Over the last year or so, K. M. Weiland has become one of my favorite resources for writing advice and information, and it all started when I read her book, Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success.
When I decided to purchase this book, which promises that “the outline is one of the most powerful weapons in a writer’s arsenal,” I was trying to rejuvenate a story that I had started to write years ago. I thought that an outline would get me on track, like a carrot on a stick. If I had an outline, I would always know where to go next.
The problem was that the only thing that I knew about outlining was the old “I, II, II, A, B, C, i, ii, iii” method that I had learned in high school over two decades ago. I hadn’t found it useful then, and I still don’t. An Amazon search and hundreds of ratings with an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars convinced me to give this book a try.
Weiland’s goals in this book are stated clearly on the cover. Among other things, the book is designed to “help you choose the right type of outline for you,” “aid you in discovering your characters,” and “instruct you in how to use your outline.” Weiland promises to help authors prevent dead-end ideas and provide foreshadowing while dispelling common, crippling misconceptions of the outline in terms of fiction writing.
She delivers on her promises by attacking those misconceptions first thing, covering why outlines don’t require formal formatting (that old I, II, III) and how they can actually expand instead of limit your creativity. She goes on to provide the many benefits of outlining versus my old standby, “pantsing” (in writer speak, flying by the seat of your pants or winging it).
That is all well and good, but I wanted proof, and Weiland delivered. I could tell by Chapter Three that I was going to like this book. After covering the types of outlining and the possible tools that one can use for outlining (from a pen and a spiral notebook to yWriter software), Weiland offers step-by-step, practical tools for creating an outline that works. Some of her steps include:
1. Craft your premise (”But, Ma, what’s a premise?!” Don’t worry, she covers that, too.).
2. Use general sketches to summarize your scenes and explore motive, conflict, and theme.
While I won’t list everything in the table of contents here, you get my drift. Weiland introduces a concept, defines it, and then gives examples of how to apply it. Surprisingly, she shows the reader not only how to outline the plot and scene structure but also how to use the outline to manage backstory, develop characters with depth, and use the setting to bring “to life not just the scenery but also the characters themselves”—all in a manageable format and a length of only 187 pages.
As a bonus, between the chapters, Weiland includes interviews with different authors with descriptions of their own outlining processes, the benefits and pitfalls of outlining, the times when pantsing might be the best way to go after all, and the biggest contributing factors to successful outlining. The benefit of these sections is to show us as readers—and writers— how many different ways outlining can be used and how various authors have twisted the process to their own ends in so many flexible ways.
If you are anything like me, when you are finished reading this book, you will find a place for it close to your writing station with your other treasured reference tomes, subscribe to Weiland’s blog and maybe even her YouTube channel, and refer to this book over and over again as you develop your own stories.
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Today’s reblog comes from Annie Neugebauer at Writer Unboxed. In this post, she explores how “really going there” allows us as writers to get the most out of our writing by taking risks and “letting it all hang out.”
Because I am also an editor, this is hard for me in my own writing process. As I write, I want to go back and edit, make it perfect before moving forward. Sometimes, it takes a real act of will to move forward at all. However, in writing, especially fiction writing, sometimes, you have to turn off the editor and let the story, the creation, flow. Let it run wild. I think this is essential in the first draft.
There will be time for perfecting the details later.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 version of The Shining is on Netflix now, so my husband and I recently rewatched it. It had been over a decade since I saw it last, and I was a little worried it wouldn’t hold up. (Don’t worry, horror fans; it holds up.) Despite Stephen King expressing dissatisfaction with this movie version of his novel, I think we all know that it’s the best version, plain and simple, and there’s really only one reason for that: Jack Nicholson’s performance as Jack Torrance is stellar. Outstanding. To this day, it remains one of the most chilling roles in cinema history.
When my husband told me about a YouTube video he’d come across showing behind-the-scenes footage of Nicholson pumping himself up for the infamous bathroom scene (aka ‘Here’s Johnny’), I knew I had to find it. The relevant pre-scene footage is only half a minute long, and necessary for the point of my post today, so I hope you’ll go give it a quick watch: “Jack Nicholson Prepping for The Shining.”
My husband’s commentary? Something along the lines of, “He’s acting like an actual lunatic. Can you imagine being on set with him?”
Yeah. That’s what struck me, more than anything else: to get that iconic scene, Nicholson was willing to make an absolute fool of himself in front of his support staff, coworkers, and bosses. He was willing to really go there, because that’s the only way, I’m convinced, we can get to deeply authentic art.
My next thought was: Thank goodness that, as a writer, my art happens alone. Thank goodness I don’t have to embarrass myself in front of other people to really go there.
That thought has been haunting me for a week now, because it’s a lie.…