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Book Review: Outlining Your Novel by K. M. Weiland

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success
K. M. Weiland
PenForASword Publishing, 2011
187 pages. Available in paperback, Kindle, and Audible formats.
Category: Nonfiction, Writing Reference

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.
3. …

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.

Please note: This post contains affiliate links. This means that I receive a small percentage of sales through these links but at no extra cost to you. My editing, design and consulting services are paid for by clients, but affiliate links help me to provide free blog content, videos, and writing and self-publishing resources for all of my readers.

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Give Readers Engaging Fiction — The Editor’s Blog

How can writers make sure that their readers read their stories all the way through to the end? What makes a story engaging enough that your audience will keep turning those pages? Why do readers stop reading 10 pages or 10 chapters into a novel? In today’s reblog, Beth Hill of The Editor’s Blog gives writers tips on why some writing does not engage readers, what readers want, and how to make your fiction more enticing. Join her and find out how to “treat readers well and feed them tasty fiction.”

Some element in every story should pop for the reader, whether it’s the puzzle in a mystery, the threat in suspense, the story world in science fiction, or the relationship in a romance.

Readers have to have reasons to continue to read a book past the first page or two, and you’re the one who has to give them those reasons.

One big advantage for writers is that readers come to books intending to enjoy them, intending to get lost in characters and the events overtaking them. You don’t have to do anything to prime the pump.

Yet you do need to deliver. You’ve got to give readers something more captivating than their real-world distractions.

The reader brings an appetite, but you’ve got to serve up the meal. And it should be tasty. Not too skimpy, not bland, and not overly spiced.

Readers come to your books hungry, wanting to enjoy what you serve up, but that doesn’t mean that you can slack off and serve slop.

Readers want a story that tastes good, that looks good.

Sometimes they may want a light meal, sometimes a full seven-course dinner. But they definitely want more than stale crackers and tepid water.

It’s your job to serve an appetizing meal.…

Continued at Give Readers Engaging Fiction | The Editor’s Blog

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What Is a Beta Reader? (Updated November 2017)

“What is a beta reader?” As a writer and editor, I am a member of many writing groups, both online and off, and I hear this question with surprising frequency.

For simplicity, you can head over to Wikipedia and get this definition:

“[A] beta reader…is a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling…[and give] suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting.”

Beta readers usually, but not always, provide this service free of charge.

Why Do I Need a Beta Reader?

In most cases, a novel will require several drafts before it is ready for publishing. Unless you’ve got plenty of money to spare, you might not want to pay for a professional editor at every stage. Optimally, your novel should be read and critiqued by a small group of people in addition to yourself. A small pool of beta readers will give you a variety of opinions on what can be done to improve your novel, from small details, such as spelling and punctuation mistakes, to big issues, such as flaws in plot and characterization.

What Should I Look for in a Beta Reader?

Having beta readers is like having a small focus group for your novel. Look at them like a small sample of your potential audience. With that in mind, look for beta readers that like to read in the genre or niche where your novel falls. Asking a person who reads only business texts to read your suspense novel will probably not get you feedback that will be relevant to your audience. In addition, dependability and attention to detail are also important.

Where Can I Find Beta Readers?

A few resources include:

1. Writers Groups: Your fellow writers may be more than willing to read your work and give you feedback, especially in exchange for the same favor from you. These groups can be in-person or online. For example, there are many fiction writing groups on Facebook, some of which provide a forum for critiques.

2. Friends and Family: The people that you are close to may be chomping at the bit to get a first look at your story, and even if they are not, they will often be willing to do you the favor of giving you a bit of advice on it. Don’t forget to ask your Facebook friends! This is a time when those overly critical relatives might come in handy, as you don’t want your beta readers to ignore flaws in the manuscript in order to save your feelings.

3. Online Forums: There are many online sources for beta readers. These include Wattpad, Goodreads, and many others.

If you have patience and an open mind to accept their feedback, beta readers can be a great boon to your writing process and can help you improve your novel and perhaps even your future writing.

Be sure to click on my Resource Editors for Fiction Writers for more info on finding beta readers and dealing with beta reader feedback.

What is the best thing a beta reader has done for you? Have you had a bad experience with beta readers? Finally, where did you find your beta readers? Help other writers out by leaving a comment below!

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REVIEW: Scrivener Writing Software (Updated Nov. 2017)

In the last couple of months, Scrivener writing software has become an essential tool for me both for writing and business tasks. Literature and Latte, the makers of Scrivener, describe the software as “a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents.” I have found it to be very helpful so far.

Some Reasons that I Love Scrivener

  1. It has the most awesome free trial period ever. Scrivener’s 30-day trial period is unique in that the program code only counts a day used when you actually open the software. I knew within a few days of use that I wanted to buy the program. However, because I didn’t open it every day, it was probably two months before I actually bought it. I couldn’t resist taking advantage of this weekend’s Black Friday sale (if you read this right away, you might still have time to catch it!)
  2. I can store all of my writing “stuff” in one place for each project. For my novel, this includes my outline, the actual manuscript, character sheets, photos of my characters (pulled from lookalikes on the Internet), setting sheets (again, including pictures), and other research, whether in the form of notes or full pages from the Web.
  3. It has various ways to organize and look at your project. You can write in full screen. You can write in split screen so that you can look at your notes or character sheets on one side while you type a chapter on the other. Use the cork board view to see summaries of various scenes and even move chapters or scenes around right from this view. You can look at your whole manuscript at once or look at just one scene at a time.

    scrivener review, scrivener
    Scrivener’s Split View
  4. It is set up to help you self-publish. I haven’t decided yet whether I am going to self-publish my novel or go the traditional route, but the tools are here. Scrivener can automatically compile your book into ePub format (and other formats). I already have plans to help clients by using Scrivener to format their books for electronic publication.
  5. I can set targets for my writing. If I want to write a thousand words a day or if I want my novel to be 100,000 words long, I can set project and session targets, and Scrivener will let me know when I have reached my goals.


It is a surprise that although I have used it for my novel and my blog (yes, I am writing in it right now) for a couple of months, I have only scratched the surface of what Scrivener can do. My only real complaint is that sometimes it is a little difficult to find out how to do something without searching the help file or the Web. So, while the interface could be more user-friendly, there is a lot packed into this little program.

I’m sure I will be discovering more about it as I go. If you decide to try Scrivener, you can go on Literature and Latte’s website or YouTube and find lots of free tutorial videos to get you started. I hope that you like it as much as I do!

Update: November 2017

I’m still using Scrivener two years later and still love it. It even sometimes helps me organize developmental edits as well as my own drafts.

I still adore it for drafting and organizing my thoughts and chapters, but if you want to do any revision, especially with track changes (such as while working with your editor), it becomes more difficult. So, I tend to use it in combination with Word and not exclusively.

I also prefer Word hands down for ebook and print formatting, but I haven’t taken a great deal of time to learn how to best do it in Scrivener.

Dictation also works in the program with Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and that helps, although dictation is still smoother in Word. As a caveat, like many things, this may still work better in Scrivener for Mac.

And we’re still waiting for Scrivener for Android, although Mattias Alvin at Tall Tech Tales did write a tutorial on ways to work around that and using Scrivener on the go.

So, overall, I still recommend it highly, but with some caveats.

Do you use Scrivener? What things do you love? What things do you hate?

Please note: This post contains affiliate links. This means that I receive a small percentage of sales through these links but at no extra cost to you. My editing, design and consulting services are paid for by clients, but affiliate links help me to provide free blog content, videos, and writing and self-publishing resources for all of my readers.



Learn Scrivener Fast
“Awesome! This is a great course. Beautifully made and super-clear. If you want to write better and get organized in the process, Scrivener is brilliant. This course is too!”—Will Roffé, Learn Scrivener Fast Student

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