Showing posts with label outlining. Show all posts
Showing posts with label outlining. Show all posts

Revision, Part 2: Editing Fiction after a Long Break

Needlepoint art made for me by a friend that faces my computer.
It reminds me  every day to keep on trying, Photo by Linda Wilson

Whatever the reason for a long gap in time while writing your novel, measures can be taken to jump right back in. In the past I've tried writing an air-tight outline, or so I thought; following the plot line on 3 x 5 cards, or simply jotting the story on paper and computer as it came to me.

The magic didn't happen until I laid out the story on 12 x 18 paper. My current story has taken up four of these sheets. What a help to see at one glance the story in its entirety, to back up and make a change in the proper place when a later tidbit needs to be taken out or added in.

If you want to give this method a try, here is what you'll need.

Ready, set . . .

  • A long absence from your story: Mine was four months
  • A pencil: Mine are #2's and an electric sharpener for a sharp point, which makes me feel sharp
  • Color Sharpie or pen: To keep track of the thread of the story
  • The latest version of your story, most likely typed: Useful as a guide
  • 12 x 18 or similar size large paper: Divided into sections for chapters
  • Scratch paper: To work out problems before entry
  • 4 x 6 lined post-it paper: For story basics, i.e., story problem, list of characters, genre, age level, etc.
  • Bulletin Board: To display book title and post-it papers covering story basics
. . . Go . . .
  • Divide the 12 x 18 paper into six sections, one for each chapter. Label each section by chapter number and title, if applicable.
  • Using a past version, notecards, and/or outline, tell your story in bullets chapter by chapter
  • With color pen, include separate bullets listing the thread of your story. My story is a mystery, so I jotted down what mysterious thing(s) happened in each chapter, making these color bullets a separate list to help make sure that the story moves forward
  • At the end, use a section for questions, points not yet made but want to include, illustration notes, etc.
Post on your bulletin board the 4 x 6 post-it papers, which will include:
  • Title
  • Book Basics: Story problem, verb tense, setting, theme, etc.
  • 12 x 18 pages
  • List of characters and their role in the story
  • Include any pictures you have collected of the setting, characters, etc.
Essentially, you've wallpapered your bulletin board with your entire book written on post-its and 12 x 18 paper.

Now what?

Leave this project up on your board while you move on. Once you've worked up the next project in a similar way, leave it and go back to the original project and begin writing or re-writing your story. (My additional projects get taped to the inside doors of my office so I can view each one separately at a glance). When the original project is written, file the posted materials in case you need them again and begin sending the draft out to your writer's group, then begin marketing it. Now, time to move on to the next project, which is ready to go.

On a personal note: I don't know if I'll need to continue this process with more experience under my belt. But I'm happy to have found a method that works for me. And, I think it will work even if I spend less time away.

Please comment: Tell us what method works for you. Have you tried this method? If you haven't, do you think it could work for you?

For Revision, Part 1: please visit An Early Fiction Checklist

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 40 articles for adults and children and six short stories for children. Recently she completed Joyce Sweeney's online fiction and picture book courses. She is currently working on several projects for children. Follow Linda on Facebook.



You think you have an idea for a story or book. But it’s nebulous, fuzzy and feels just out of reach. You stare at the blank screen or paper, depending on how you plan or write. Nothing happens.
We’ve all been there.

As I contemplated Nanowrimo this year I sat inside those shoes. This was the third year I’d be working on the same story concept. Each attempt had evolved into a different story. But none were the right one. None had that spark. In fact, I couldn’t even finish any I’d started so far.

So I sought help. I read books and blogs and thought hard.

Then the story began to coalesce into a real plotline with protag and antag and all of the turning points and climax and and and. I got excited. Finally the story was writing itself, almost, but at least all of the necessary elements were there.

Now that I’ve finished my Nanowrimo with over 50,000 words by November 25th, and I’m into the climax of the story, I’m finally pleased and excited to begin editing and polishing. I finally think I got a good thing written that others will enjoy reading.

Isn’t that the reason we’re in this business?

So now you’re asking, “What did you ask yourself to attain such magnificence?”

I’ll give you some questions to ask yourself in the planning stages. These should guide your thinking and start the ball rolling. They did for me.

PREMISE-This gives you a clear idea of what the story is about:
·         What if?
·         What is expected?
·         What’s unexpected?

For me, it meant: What if Rayna didn’t have red hair? (the cause of all her problems); What if she wasn’t a twin? (another serious issue she faces) and so. What is expected? Rayna will hate the restrictions of living in the Gestortium. Her red hair will cause problems. What is unexpected? (this is harder to predict and I didn’t know until I started writing the story)

So what became the PREMISE for my story after all of my thinking? This:
Hidden away from society for her protection, Rayna is forced into her societally expected role under duress and endangered by the very reasons she was hidden while discovering the truth of her birth, who she is and what her future holds.

Next month, determining your BIG PLOT MOMENTS, aka turning or plot points.

Thanks to K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel

Rebecca Ryals Russell, a fourth-generation Floridian, was born in Gainesville, grew up in Ft Lauderdale then lived in Orlando and Jacksonville with her Irish husband and four children. Due to the sudden death of Rebecca's mother, they moved to Wellborn, near Lake City, to care for her father, moving into his Victorian home built in 1909. After teaching Middle Graders for fourteen years she retired and began writing the story idea which had been brewing for thirty years.  Within six months she wrote the first three books of each series, YA Seraphym Wars and MG Stardust Warriors. The world she created has generated numerous other story ideas including two current works in progress, SageBorn Chronicles based on various mythologies of the world and aimed at the lower Middle Grade reader and Saving Innocence, another MG series set on Dracwald and involving dragons and Majikals. She is finishing a YA Dystopian Romance which has been a NaNoWriMo project for three years. She loves reading YA Fantasy, Horror and Sci Fi as well as watching movies.  Read more about Rebecca and her WIPs as well as how to buy books in her various series at  You may email her at

Are You a Pantser?

You're a pantser if you use seat of the pants story telling, or writing without benefit of an outline. The real question is whether this is a good trait, or whether you should immediately abandon the practice.

There are two schools of thought on the issue. On one side you have Chris Baty's No Plot, No Problem. This philosophy drives the concept of Nanowrimo with it's thousands of writers working to finish a novel each November. Stephen King in On Writing suggests something similar. If you have a great idea, just start writing and see where it takes you. One could argue that much of what happens in Nanowrimo, while good for the individual isn't publishable. However, no once can argue that King isn't a great story teller.

The other side of the argument states that you're basically wasting your time if you don't structure your story and use at least a rudimentary outline. Larry Brooks in Story Engineering states that you need to structure your story in a series of plot points, basically conforming to the quarters of the story, so that you continually draw the reader forward. This is essentially the format used in screen writing.

So what's right. Recognizing that few of us can compete with Stephen King, should we outline before we write? Personally, I think a writer should use whatever method makes him or her comfortable. I can see drawbacks with either mode. If you're a pantser, you may end up rewriting to make your story conform to a plot line. On the other hand, if you plot too tight, you may miss character interactions that would make your story special.

So what's the advice? If you have a good feel for story arc (and Stephen King is apparently one of those writers.) you may do your best work by having the idea and letting your characters tell the story. If you find yourself muddled about a third of the way through the story, not sure of where to go, I'd suggest outlining and trying to fit your story to major plot points.

Whatever kind of writer you are pantser, outliner, or a combination, keep writing. You will find the mode that's most comfortable for you and find that what you write is salable.

Nancy Famolari
Winner's Circle available from 

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