Outlining Stories (part 1)

Does anyone actually use this stuff? Seriously, how many of you actually use an outline or map out their story visually? This isn’t sarcasm or anything, I’m totally asking right now.

I’ve been writing seriously since I was about sixteen and I’ve never used this method until recently, unless you count academic papers. Which, I don’t. So when I first started using outlines, I started out with trying to write a novel, and I wrote a couple of sentences about each chapter I wanted to write or plans for scenes in my head. Of course, that didn’t help me since I was trying to do something extremely specific with time-lines. So, I then proceeded to draw out how my story was going to progress. It became a map, but then that wasn’t enough.
This is the outcome of my story outline/map.
I think I might have taken it too far.
Insane, right?
In my personal copy, I included one sentence descriptions of what would occur in each chapter. I used a combination of mapping out the story lines and  regular outlining (by words alone).

I think we’re so used to using this thing so much plot graph
that we forget that not all stories don’t actually look like that——->

Even short stories have different progressions, especially when the author wants to shake up the marbles in that head of yours.
Now, I know a few things about outlining so I wanted to discuss them because lately it’s been on my mind.

Outlining: You know this is a bunch of words that summarize/plan out what you are going to write. The thing is, there’s more than one way to do it. You definitely don’t need to do this:

                Beginning           Middle             End
We’re not in middle school folks. We all know full well that stories don’t always work this way. If you want to use an outline then you have two options: Brief or Extended.

Brief outlines consist of one to two sentences of what each scene/chapter is going to look like.Now a brief outline could be like this: “He falls into the demons nest.”
You’re basically writing the bare minimum. And this is perfect for someone who doesn’t want to feel restricted or stifled by past plans. On the other hand,

Extended outlines, you’re basically filling in the blanks, adding far more detail then in a brief outline. “[Character] is shoved as a sacrifice into a demons nest. The ground is wet soaked with blood and as [character] stands he sees lights lining the walls. [character] walks forth, trembling from the cold, and crawls to the end of a tunnel, etc, etc.”
Now, I understand how some writers a re reluctant to use an outline. There’s this idea that you’re not a writer if you have to plan it or that you should be inspired as you write. That’s not necessarily true. Some writers actually like knowing where they’re going. Personally, I like to write when I’m inspired. But if I have to use an outline now, I will.

Here’s why you should use an outline:
1.You know where you plan on going. There are so many scenes in your head that sometimes you’re afraid you’ll lose them. Write them down and you can look back at them to remind yourself, or see where you diverted from if you decide to change something.
2.It’ll help you look back and see where you screwed up (if you did) or just where you started. The nostalgia will consume you!

The only downside I could ever see is if you write an outline, but lose interest because it’s all down on the page already.

I’ve certainly had that experience of suddenly losing interest because I felt like I’d just told the story. I suppose that’s why I myself am reluctant to use an outline, unless I really am stuck. It’s when I’m stuck that I find it so useful, so don’t disregard an outline if you feel you may be stifled by the form and your past plans. You can always take it and look back to see what you originally planned and how you started out. It can act as a reminder of where you headed, even if you went in a different direction there can be things in the outline that you’d still like to do, and are still possible.

And there are plenty of other versions of outlines, like :

Note cards: which you can have virtually (if you download/buy programs like scrivener) or buy a stack of actual note cards and write this down. Note cards essennotecard exampletially are used to summarize a quick scene or major facts about it like plot, characters, setting, etc… It’s absolutely a good way to keep track of your characters, especially when you’ve got more than two or three. (I do it to keep track of what my characters are wearing). There’s also the choice of using it for scenes, mix and match for link stories or hey! If you’re doing a collection of stories and you’re looking for the right tone or mood, use it. You can virtually use this method for anything, honestly.

Truthfully, the list could go on, but these I know the most/best. I’ve used them before, as I own a copy of scrivener, and I’ve messed around with the others in classes and on my own (as seen in my image above). Some are fun, some annoying, but it’s really all about preference. Like most things what works for some won’t work for others.  Now I don’t know all of the million, bazillion methods of outlining, but I do have a link or two below that go into a little more detail than I do. So check them out. And If you’re interested in learning a little more outline tricks check out part 2 for outlining with maps.

http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/2013/09/evolution-scene-outline-final-draft.html

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/choosing-the-best-outline-method-for-you

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Outlining Stories (part 2)

So, we talked about outlines in the last post and a couple of different ways to do that. Well, here we’ll talk briefly about maps.

Mapping: Basically, when all else fails and you’re not sure where your plot/story is going then map it out. Most maps can can take the usual form:
plot graphAnd I really do have to refer back to this constantly because this is what we were always taught when we were younger, right? But stories don’t always work that way. Mine certainly didn’t. Sometimes, the conflict is the very first thing we see. If you’re skilled enough the climax could be first and we just see the aftermath.

Maps are made to keep track of what you’ve done, much like an outline, but you’re looking at a visual instead of a bunch of words. It can actually be easier on the eyes because we see, well, a map. The point of this is to see progression, you want to see how far you’ve gone before you reached the end. And sometimes you can even make a map that shows connections like mine or this. (I included this picture from here because it’s visually smart, and it reminds of the MTA).Mapping Out Your Story

I think maps are fun. I know mine was. (I really need more highlighters). But anyway, there are tons of ways you can go about this. It doesn’t have to follow the train station style or even my weird double helix. You can make a map up all on your own. The shape is supposed to fit your work. The great thing about maps is you can design it, until you think it works for you.

Besides doing it like this, you could also do word association maps and mind mapping. In this case you build a web much like this. They can hold story ideas, character back story, physical/mental traits of characters you’d like to create, setting and connections between events. There is so much you can do with this. Word association can actually be the same. In fact, my fiction professor said once that using word association with maps like this can be really helpful. You keep going with associations until you can’t think of anything. The one you stop at is the one you should write about, because you stopped at it for a reason (whether hesitation or whatever, keep it in mind anyway!)mind map

Anyway, there are so many other reasons why you should do maps or pick outlines, but I won’t be writing them all, because we both don’t want to be here forever. The point is everyone needs help. It’s fine if you don’t want to use it–that’s cool. I think we all have had that point where we deny using tricks like this because “We’re a writer dammit!”
But lets face it, writers are human, and sometimes we need help. Each method we use is based on preference, nothing is perfect. I will occasionally use both, you’ll use none.
Who knows? It’s just always good to learn new things that can help your writing. Even if you don’t use it, keep it in mind as an option. I always do.

Even when I really don’t want to.

You are not a bad writer for using this stuff. Don’t feel guilty or feel like your cheating or silly as I’m sure many who start out do. You’re doing everything you can to get that awesome story out. Use everything you’ve got!

In case you want to see some more examples other than my own, then here are two sites that I found with some good notes/information on mapping out stories.

http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2009/07/18/mind-maps/
http://diymfa.com/writing/mapping-out-your-story

A Short While in the MFA (part 3)

I’ve had a couple of months worth of experience in the MFA to write a few things about it. That’s not to say that I’m an expert because I’m just not. I can, however, say that at the end of my first semester here, I’ve had one helluva time. It may bit have been the most exciting experience, but I’ve enjoyed my days nonetheless.

The transition itself was jarring at first. Going straight from undergraduate to Graduate school can be intense, exciting, or depending on the kind of person you are, a piece of cake. At first I was excited, and a little sad. I used to live on campus, in a dorm and saw my friends virtually everyday. Now, I only have one or two friends in NYC who I can see–and I don’t even get to see them all that often, if at all. Solitude can be disheartening or liberating, depending on how you look at it. But I digress,

The change from on-campus to off-campus, and going back home, was difficult. I cried a lot from stress, visited my friends upstate to calm down, and came back with encouragement to look at things more positively. I tried.

Change is difficult to deal with. I don’t know how many times I can express that. And I understand that a lot more now. I’ve also learned things about this school, my old school, my craft, the business I want to get in, and frankly, it’s a jungle. There are also bits and pieces to publishing and getting published, that I’ve found myself lost. I still do. With this last week of classes, I realized that while time flew by I’ve gotten better at knowing what I want to do and I’ve gotten better at knowing myself, both as a person and a writer. I may not be the best critiquer or blogger, but I try.

I need to keep trying. I took a big step in wanting to continue being a writer. I’m sure I could have been anything else, but I wanted this. Going for your MFA isn’t easy, and loans aren’t cheap. But I think this is something I set my mind to so long ago that I didn’t know how to turn back. Maybe it was stubbornness. I sometimes think it was more stubbornness than courage that took my down this road.

And I begin to see that courage may be a thing that I lack most.

Writers who start out are going to be afraid. Our work is set to be approved by others. We fear rejection despite being told that rejections are just as important as acceptances. In fact, I had a professor in my undergrad who would tell us that we should keep our rejection letters and hang them on the walls. With every rejection is the measure of your progress, your effort. I find that hard to believe sometimes. Then again, I’ve only submitted my work three or four times to magazines. But we have to start out somewhere, don’t we? And I don’t think there’s anything wrong or anything to be ashamed of my admitting that.

There is however, something wrong with not trying hard enough. I have my faults, both as a person and a writer. And as I listen to the things my peers have done in the last couple of years, I feel a bit disappointed in myself. Whether it’s teaching after school, to convicts, acting as a teachers assistant or being an intern at a publishing house, I lack the courage to do those things. But it’s okay. I need to accept that and find a way to get past my fears. This semester has taught me that I am afraid of not just being rejected as a writer, but of being successful as well. There are so many expectations, that you have for yourself and others may have for you. I t can be overwhelming.

But isn’t that life? Writing is a challenge. If we were weren’t up for it, then we wouldn’t have…well, anything really. It’s why so many of us take it up.

I suppose I’m writing this to tell you that I am afraid just like many of you are. And writers are in fact human, in case some of you thought we weren’t. I mean, sure we come up with crazy stuff, drink lots of coffee/tea/alcohol, and are up most nights–don’t mind us we’re just creating an entire universe by pencil– but we are individuals. Often times, rejections scare us, talk away any confidence we may have built up in ourselves. Sometimes, success does that too. And I’ll be the first to admit, I’m afraid of both.

So, at the end of my first semester I say to you: keep writing and keep dreaming. Close your eyes and click that submit button.

I’ll be sure to do the same right beside you.

Happy writing everyone.

Braided Story: Human Touch

1.

“There are waves in your hair.”

“Waves?” Deep brown eyes stare up at him in confusion.

He slips his hand into the curls and sniffs the ends. They smell of strawberries and kiwiis.

She leans closer to him as the tresses fall from his thick fingers.

“And you think that lines going to get you a girlfriend?” He slaps the hand away, smirking as he leans against the window pane. “You suck at flirting.”

His hand sweeps his hair across his head, the auburn strands falling over his right eye. Almond shaped eyes stare back, the corners of his lips curling in pleasure.

2.

“You shouldn’t bite me.” You wag your finger in her face, steel blue eyes staring innocently at it, as it moves from side to side.

Her tongue, pink, slowly slips out, licking his nose as you finally notice.

You take that same finger, touch your nose, and then slowly reach it toward her own.

Her tail wags and you watch as his muscles tense. You touch its tip, slide it down his lips and under his chin. She doesn’t move, a canine statue.

Your eyes lock with hers and you watch one another, locked in an endless battle. Your finger brushes against soft fur beneath her chin and rubs against the bone. Her mouth opens and her hind legs scratch at his side.

“Good girl.”

3.

“It’s just so…pink.” Jaime looks around the room as her niece runs around it in ecstasy.
“Isn’t it great!” Macy spins around in a circle, stops, and slowly smooths out the corners of her comforter, a highlighter pink.

Her walls are pink, the carpet beneath her feet bubble gum pink, and her shelves–the ones she begged her father for–are hot pink. She has everything pink, her bed, her books (covered in a pink book cover cloth), her shoes and of course her pencils.

“Isn’t this adorable.” Aunt Jaime reaches out for a pink styled teddy bear which Macy tie-dyed in the bathtub for three hours to get the right tone.

“No!” Macy screams at her Aunt, shocking her. She runs to the teddy bear and stares up at her Aunt after bumping into the rose pink dresser on which the teddy had been placed. “I didn’t say you could touch him.”

Sharing is Caring (part 2)…I think

It’s actually been some time since I’ve gone up and shared some links to sites that I thought had some really interesting information or fun things to see. In the last couple of days alone, I’ve seen some really good material that I thought would be relevant to writers–whether you are starting out, looking for a good book or just finishing up with some in progress work. I know a lot of the things up online can be total drivel. I’ve seen enough of that every where.

This session of sharing is caring is all about some of the sites I’ve come across as I’ve been looking at literary magazines, Facebook, twitter, etc. I really enjoy reading advice, reading short stories and genuinely just staring at my computer for an stupendous amount of hours.

Today, I am going to share let’s see..one…two…six websites that I thought would be interesting to share with you fellow readers/writers. I’m sure some of you may know these sites, and some of you may not have a single clue where I got this stuff. And that’s okay. Finding new things to read and check out is always fun. I never get tired of finding new things about writing to look at.

So, here’s the first set of sites that I visited and thought would be cool to share. I’ve divided them into sections so you look at them clearly and based on what would be interesting.

Section 1: Advice on Writing

The first site I wanted to show you isn’t altogether the whole site, but an article that I thought was interesting. I don’t know if I would follow all of the rules given, but I definitely have heard them around from my professor’s. Aerogramme Writer’s Studio invited Teju Cole to write some of his rules on writing. (I actually read some of his work in my Landscape course this semester and it’s interesting, to say the least). I think a lot of what his rules pertain to are no so much the act of writing itself, but the writer themselves. This isn’t so much a list on structure, but a list on how to persevere and do things the way any writer nowadays would want, in order to be clear, multifaceted and produce a strong narrative.

In terms of advice, I really do like reading the occasional article from here. Not all of their stuff interests me, but sometimes I will find something good. And I really enjoyed reading this one, especially since I’ve had time where I couldn’t write a single word–sometimes writer’s block and sometimes not so much. This site is called Writer’s Relief, and they offer services to help writer’s publish or edit. However, if you go to the “Leads & Tips” tab you’ll find their blog which is extremely helpful for writers who are starting out. Please read it and enjoy it.

The truth is, sometimes we have a problem writing and we get so many rejection letters or we haven’t even tried at all because we lack confidence. This is a career, one you love and sometimes will hate. Nothing is ever perfect. The point is that we try or best and keep trying to move forward, get our words out there because as long as one person can see it, we’ve done our job. There’s always going to be a part of you that wants to stop; hope has suddenly abandoned you and you think you’re no good. Admit it and shove that thought clear out the window. This is the choice you made, now push that sucker out and grab hold of your muse and get him/her/it to work!

I think we as writer’s are the type of people who crave affection. We want people to love us for our creativity, or words, who we are deep down and what powers we have to create. I’m not saying we want worshipers, I certainly don’t. But i do like to share what I know. If someone can hear and understand early on what I know now, that would mean they wouldn’t make the same mistakes.
Anyway, read the article. Maybe, it’ll help you find that bit of focus to start up again.

The third site here is called Neon Literary Magazine and they seem pretty cool. I think it’s helpful that they have this section in order to help future writers with submission formats. No matter what, of course, some literary magazines have their own formats, some will change margins, others fonts, etc. But for the most part these guys are giving you the standard format for the industry as well as helping you figure out what places are best for you to submit your work to, if you are at the stage. There’s also links to international literary magazines which I think speaks volumes to the type of people who run it. They aren’t at all self-centered, I think they genuinely want to help writers get their stuff in order and get it out there.

I am currently checking out their blog and submissions pages, too. Also, if you have some time check out their archives, maybe you’ll like some of their stories. Who knows? The one piece of advice I always take when looking at online literary magazines is to see what they offer for free so you can check out their work. You want to look at the things they produce to make sure your work is compatible. Always. If you don’t, then you’re just insulting them and making yourself look dumb.

The final site of this lovely section is from a blog I recently discovered. I am still looking at it for any more interesting tid-bits to take to heart, but for now check this out. The article produced is called “Why Your Character’s Goal Needs to Be 1 of These 5 Things.” The main focus of this article, I think, is characters motivation. You want to know what your character wants and needs to do. There’s a distinct difference, and identifying that difference can mean the world to how you write your character, develop him/her, even kill him/her/it off.
I thought this article was insightful and really helpful in regards to creating multifaceted characters. You really don’t a static characters, who you have little description for and who doesn’t seem to have any motivation to do anything in the world you placed them in. What would be the point? Even if they are searching for their motivation, that’s okay to. But a reader who can’t feel what the characters feels, get an idea of what they want–it’s a wasted piece of writing with little life. And you’ve just made your reader hate your guts.

More than anything, a writer’s job is to rip out a reader from their present reality and slam them into the pages of the book. You want them to feel pity, pain, joy, sadness, empathize with your characters, sometimes villains and protagonists equally. If you don;t do that, then you have a serious problem: you don;t care about your readers.

Section 2: Book, Literary Magazines

This first article/post I found is a list of literary magazines for those of you who are currently unpublished and looking. I personally am scanning this sucker like crazy and checking this sites out as much as possible. Some of them I’ve heard of in school and some not so much, but they look professional and some will even offer critique even if you’re not accepted which is a major plus for you. So check it out and see what might fit you. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find your next favorite author here. It always happens.

The second site of this brief second section is Penguin Random house which I follow on Facebook. And quite frankly I love their little memes about writing and the picture-quotes they post are so cute. But this I thought was an intense list of books from their blog, containing short stories and just plain good reading lists. Some of you may be against the whole amazon thing, I know that much, but you don’t have to necessarily buy the books om the site if you don’t want to. Amazon is still pretty popular in terms of sales on books, so take a look. It won’t kill you, I promise. And besides, GooodReads is also on this list, along with Hudson Booksellers, The Huffingon Post, and The New York Times.

There are a number of subjects, ranging anywhere from Fiction to non-fiction, fantasy to memoir. If you’re looking for a good book to buy this year, look here.

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I hope that you guys do check these articles, lists, etc, out as I thought they were really useful. If not, then that’s okay, too. Thank you for reading this post, anyway.

Don’t hesitate to send me something via Facebook or Tumblr or even Twitter if you have something that might be cool. It can totally be your own blog or something you read. I’m always looking for interesting things to share, read and discuss. I’m sure there are plenty who want to see it. I sure know I would.

We are a community of writers, everyone wants to be heard.

Thanks for listening/reading everyone.