Writing Tips

Public Speaking for Authors

 

Lately, this has been the topic I’ve been tackling in my day-to-day life, so I thought I should tackle it here as well.

Stage-Fright-Holding-You-BackLike most writers I know, I’m an introvert. I prefer to write, read, edit, and generally work behind the scenes. When I go out to network, sell books and meet people, I often find myself needing to hole up and recharge afterwards. It takes a lot out of me. But, it’s also a big part of what I do as a publisher and a published author.

Especially this month. Somehow this month’s schedule got filled with speaking engagements, and opportunities to read my book aloud in public. And all of those opportunities happening to fall within the same week and a half have caused my nerves to fray terribly.

So, how, as an introverted person, do I deal with this?

Be prepared

This might seem like a no-brainer, but picking out what section you’re going to read in advance and/or writing out your presentation or speech beforehand and editing it as thoroughly as you might edit your query letter to a publisher will help you feel more at ease with what you’re doing and it will make you more familiar with what you’re going to be reading or saying.

keep-calm-and-let-s-practice-11Practice

Once you have your words picked out, practice saying them out loud. Read to your cats, or like Murandy did, your baby. Read alone, or to someone you trust. It’s all about practicing in a judgment-free zone until you feel more comfortable.

Try not to dwell on it

Whenever you start thinking about it and you feel that anxiety creeping up on you, try to force it down, or will it away. Find something else to focus on and whatever else you do, don’t wallow in that feeling; that will only make it stronger. Find a friend to distract you, or play a video game or something, it will pass.

Speak confidently and slowly

When you get to the actual moment of reading or speaking start loud and keep that pitch, then make sure everything you say is said with emphasis and that you don’t speed up out of nervousness. Speak slowly and enunciate, just like you practiced.

a076a7851bc423dcd8645975b8d4e2c2Make jokes

If you can get the audience to laugh, you’ll feel loads better. If your subject warrants it, or if comedy helps you feel more comfortable, then use it. Engage with your audience and make eye contact with them when you can so speaking to them feels more like a conversation and less like a speech.

Celebrate afterwards!

Never underestimate the value of rewarding yourself for a job well done. If you got over your fear and accomplished what you set out to do, then go celebrate. You’ve earned it.

Planning for Pantsers

I’m a pantser. What does that mean? It means that I’d rather ‘write by the seat of my pants’ than plan anything beforehand. However, with my latest book Uncharted, written with my co-writer Murandy Damodred, we did more planning than I’m used to and I think it helped us.

Making Notes:kelsey-blog-pic-3-1o07fm8


Since Murandy and I co-write, we use Google Drive to keep everything straight. If you’re not familiar with Google Drive or Google Docs, it’s an open platform where you can share your documents and multiple accounts can work on the same document at the same time. It also serves as a cloud drive, so your work is saved and backed up automatically and anyone you give access to the files can open them up and work on them. This helped us with planning because while writing we always had access to our notes file, which became a living document, changing as the story expanded.

Uncharted CoverSetting and Worldbuilding:

Usually I do a lot of the world building in my own head, but since Uncharted is an adventure story that takes place in a variety of settings and cultures, I made a point of writing down a handful of things to keep in mind about the settings, so I would make sure to include them.

stock-vector-hand-drawn-cartoon-characters-on-checked-paper-broken-divided-group-65099188Characters:

This is where the planning really came in handy. Before we started writing, Murandy and I wrote out detailed backstories for each of our main characters and at least a sentence or two about our minor characters as we invented them. This helped to flesh everyone out and make sure we knew where they had come from and what was important to them because of that.

Plot:

This is where our best of intentions sort of fell apart, but in a good way. Before we started writing, we formed a point form list of plot points then we proceeded to ignore them. As we wrote, we went back and added new plot points to our list and kept adding to that list to stay a few steps ahead of the story, but ultimately this was a form of pantsing more than planning.  

Editing:

Where the notes really came in handy was when I went to write the second draft. All throughout the first draft, instead of going back and fixing things that needed changing, I took notes instead. Then, when I went over the finished first draft, I applied the changes or checked for the problems I’d indicated. It saved me a ton of time and it also meant that Murandy and I could write quickly, without feeling like we were making a mess of things.

pantser-or-plotter-writing
All in all, if you’re a pantser, like me, I suggest trying to apply some planning to your process just to see what you can learn. And if you’re a planner, take a risk and try a little pantsing! Thanks for reading!

How to Choose a title for your novel!

First, I would like to note that I usually find this to be an easy task. Or, at least, usually a title comes to me either before the book is written or while I am writing it. However, that’s not the case with the third book in the Mirror World series, which despite being nearly done the first draft, Murandy and I do not have a title for yet! And it’s soooo frustrating.

If you’re trying to figure out a title for your novel, here’s what usually works for me.

The title should be relevant to your story.
This can be something to do with where the story is set, with the theme, a line of dialogue, or the name or title of a character. What’s important is that your title ties into your book somehow. For example, Neo Central, is the name of the only remaining city in my first novel.

The title should be meaningful.frontMW1copy
At first, the title may only have meaning to you, the author, but at some point in the process of reading your novel, the reader should have an ‘ah-ha!’ moment where they understand the reason for your selection. This moment can happen as early as when they read the blurb on the back of your book, or as late as the last line, but there should be some connection made between the title and something within the story.

For example the title, Mirror’s Hope, is chalk-full of meaning. One character goes by the name of Mira and the other, Hope. It’s a romance. Also, there are parallel worlds called, Mirror Worlds, in which everyone has a double of themselves, called a Mirror. So the title has multiple meanings, just by being a play on words.

The title should be memorable.
Essentially this boils down to the title should stick in your potential readers’ minds. It should be short, catchy, possibly mysterious. Whatever you need to make sure whoever sees it will want to read it and remember it for later.

Uncover3The title should try and evoke a sense of genre.
Each genre comes with its own set of tropes and expectations. I’m not saying you have to abide by them, but if your title can evoke a sense of genre, your reader will more easily know what to expect and potential readers may be drawn to your novel more easily. To do this, research some titles in the genre you are reading and see if you can spot some patterns.

For example, Unintended, is a play on the word ‘intended’ which implies marriage in a historical or fantasy setting. Adding the ‘Un’ before it, implies comedy. At least I think so.

Your title should be as original as you can make it.
This is tough because a lot of names have already been taken. A good rule of thumb is to do some research and make sure that no other books, especially in your genre, have the same name. If you do end up with the same name as something else, it could cause problems or confusion down the road which is best to avoid.

coming-soon

So as you can see, coming up with a good title is no simple matter! That’s why Murandy and I need your help! We’re going to be putting out a poll next week to help us choose the title for the next book in the Mirror World series. Stay tuned, or subscribe to this blog to be kept informed of developments!

Thanks for reading and good luck with your book titles!

How to co-write your novel

Murandy Damodred and I wrote our fantasy / romantic comedy novel, Uncharted, together. This is not our first co-written novel. In fact, it’s our fifth, so we’ve got a system worked out. There are lots of ways to divide the work, but here’s our method:

cowriteFirst we split up the characters:

Since we write primarily romance, our stories have at least a male protagonist and a female protagonist, so for Murandy and I what works best is to divide the characters by gender. Murandy tends to write the female main character or characters and I write the male ones. This way, we split up the work and while writing, it’s easier and more interesting to have conversations with each other.

For Uncharted, that’s Meredith as the protagonist and Reginald and Grey as the lead male characters.

We discuss the story and the world and decide where we want to start:

Generally speaking any planning we do as far as coming up with the concept of the story and who the characters are has been done before this point, but now that we know who’s who, we can flesh things out. We bounce ideas off of one another to decide where the story begins and where the inciting incident is.

Ismera copy

In Uncharted, we started with the prologue. We wanted to show the moment that sets Meredith on her journey, as that journey was going to be central to the plot.

I set the scene:

As the narrator, it’s my job to describe the setting and to set the scene for the character(s).

From the prologue of Uncharted:

Noiseless on slippered feet, Meredith darted swiftly to the oversized double doors of the Celestial Chamber. She glanced once quickly over each shoulder to make sure she was still alone in the Great Hall before she gave the wide gilded handle a tug and felt the latch give way. With a grimace of effort, she pulled the heavy door open just enough to allow herself to squeeze into the chamber beyond.

Expecting darkness, moonlight dazzled her senses. The silvery light pooled in the middle of a wide and perfectly round central platform, serving to bring focus to the reason for this room’s existence: an ethereal-looking blue bowl lined with silver and filled with glittering water.

The Celestial Bowl beckoned to Meredith from its place on the solitary stone pedestal in the centre of the chamber. The sound of rushing water from the underground river that surfaced briefly in this room filled her ears as she let the heavy door fall quietly shut behind her.

Murandy decides what her character is thinking, doing, or saying:

In response to the information I’ve given her in my description of the scene, Murandy decides what happens next based on her character’s motivations.

I shouldn’t be in here, a small voice in the back of her mind reminded her, even as she took a step toward the glittering artifact. It’s only that I just can’t help but question if this life is for me. I want a family, a home…and a husband. I owe the Order for what they’ve done for me, but if I stay here and become a Priestess, I can’t have any of those things.

If I can just have a look at my destiny tonight, then maybe the path I should take will become clear. Besides, she countered the nagging sound of her conscience, if I wait until tomorrow’s ceremony to see my future, it will be too late to change it.

I let her know how the world or the characters around her react:

Her decision made, Meredith closed the distance between herself and the bowl with purpose, crossing the small, railless stone bridge spanning a gap over the rushing water beneath. As she neared the bowl, she kept her eyes fixated on the calm, reflective surface of the water within, not wanting to chance missing even the slightest bit of whatever vision it might grant her. Moonlight glinted off the silver interior of the bowl, making the room seem brighter than it actually was. As if in a trance, she lost herself in the beauty of the dancing light and that was when she saw it.

A man, no…only his torso, wearing a dark grey suit coat buttoned over his left breast. He stood with pride in his bearing, but beyond the grey coat and a single purple flower in his lapel the image cut off at the neck and didn’t show his face. Meredith leaned forward, trying to get a better angle.

The vision, if that’s what it was, continued and she saw herself from behind, unmistakeable with her lengthy waves of chocolate brown hair cascading over the hood of her light grey Priestess cloak. The vision of herself flung herself at this man and his arms reached up to hold her. Engrossed now, Meredith leaned directly over the bowl, determined to get a glimpse at the face of her mystery man when the image in the silver-lined water abruptly disappeared.

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And so it goes:

Back and forth, the action and dialogue unfold as control of the scene is passed between us. And when one scene ends, we repeat the process, deciding where to start, setting the scene, adding thoughts, actions and dialogue, and responding. This is what works for Murandy and I, but there are lots of ways to co-write and divide the work. The trick is to work with someone you can rely on, trust, and generally get along with because co-writing takes a lot of compromise and being on the same page.

Thanks for reading! Have any thoughts or questions about co-writing? Have you tried it? Leave your comments below!

Eye of the Storm, Part 1

Remember that opening I shared as an example of how openings are hard to write? (You can read about that here.) Well, with two books currently in the works, I have no plans to do anything about the sci-fi novella I started, so… I thought I would share it with you. If you like this opening bit, let me know in the comments below and I’ll keep posting every week or two so you can see where this story goes (and keep me motivated in writing it at the same time!)

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Chapter 1 – The Rain

The change came without warning, unless you count the rain. It pounded on the window of my battered Oldsmobile, demanding to be let in. I sighed, frustrated. So much for the Weather Network. Wrenching the rusted driver’s side door open, I was drenched in seconds. I scurried across the city parking lot, doing my damndest to avoid the worst of the puddles, though it hardly mattered now. The damage was done.

Inside the bar, the lighting was dim and yellow. Even so, it took a moment for my eyes to adjust.

“Summer!” Debbie ambushed me before I could so much as shake myself off like a dog after a swim. Her dry hair smelled like strawberries and stranded me somewhere between envious and nauseated. “You came!”

“Of course,” I mumbled. “You said it was important.”

Nodding, Debbie pulled back. “Come on. There’s someone I want you to meet.”

This is it, I realized, I’m finally going to meet the new boyfriend Debbie has been going on and on about. Despite this guy being the subject matter of all our conversations over the past few weeks, I really knew very little about him. I think she said his name was Paul…

“Well, if it isn’t Summer Green!”

Wait… Paul? As in Paul Sheffield? It was him, in the flesh. The very, very attractive flesh. Oh, god, what am I thinking. He’s Debbie’s boyfriend now… Not my highschool fantasy crush.

“Paul!” I didn’t manage much more than awkwardly saying his name before my nerves shut down my vocal cords. Leaning on a barstool, his elbow up on the bar, Paul was as drool-worthy as he’d ever been. Maybe more so. It had been years since I last saw him, but I remembered the day clearly. It had played in my mind over and over again to remind me of just how pathetic I was. Our last of of high school, Paul had left his group of much cooler friends to come over and give me a goodbye hug and I was so shocked I’d garbled any useful words that could have come out of my mouth in that instant. He’d walked away, a confused and sympathetic expression on his face and I just waved awkwardly and let him leave, instead of being suave and asking him to hang out over the summer like I’d planned.

In my fantasy, that summer would have led to a fabulous romance. In reality, I spent that summer working in a greasy 50’s themed diner, which was where I’d met Debbie. We were as opposite as people get, but somewhere along the line we became inseparable.

Speaking of Debbie, she’d managed to fit herself under Paul’s muscular right arm, her thin frame fitting far better there than my plumper one could have managed. She was looking up into his clear blue eyes, her own green ones twinkling. My slight envy from earlier came back with the same ferocity as the storm raging outside the building, developing into full blown jealousy.

“Paul and I are getting married!” Debbie exclaimed, looking to me for my reaction.

My eyes widened and my breathing became laboured. Face with them both and their sickening perfection, I suddenly became very much aware of my bedraggled and water-logged appearance. The nice white top I’d chosen for a night out with Debbie had been soaked through and was likely showing off my breasts, not to advantage like I’d planned, but more in an indecent sort of way. And my jeans, once form-fitting in a comfortable sort of way now just stuck to me in places where I’d rather they didn’t. I took a subconscious step back from the scene before me, wanting to be anywhere but here, but was stopped by a combination of the squashing sound my sneakers made and Debbie’s sudden frown as she began to realize I didn’t share her elation.

“That’s…great…” I tried to save face and failed.

Debbie pouted. “I know it seems unexpected and sudden,” she allowed, “but it makes sense when you think about it. Paul’s a dual citizen and is living and working in Michigan. If I want to be able to move in with him, we’ve got to get married. It’s just part of the immigration process.”

Whoa, immigrating? ‘Just part of the process…?’ I know Debbie moves fast, but holy hell.

I kept my thoughts to myself. “No, I’m sorry, I’m happy for you. I was just caught off guard, that’s all.”

Debbie beamed, assuaged. Paul smiled, that oh-so-cute lopsided smile of his that used to make me weak in the knees. Now it just made my stomach do uncomfortable flip-flops. “I get it,” he said. “You’re Debbie’s best friend, so it would stand to reason that you’d want to get to know the man she’s going to marry. Lucky for us, you and I go way back.”

“Yeah, lucky…” I mumbled. “If you’ll both excuse me, I’m going to go get myself a drink.”

***

Let me know in the comments below if you’d like me to continue sharing this story and if I get enough comments, I’ll put part two up on Thursday, next week! Thanks for reading.

My Love Affair with Writing

I am often confronted by the question, ‘why do I write?’ and I don’t feel the answer is one that is easily put into words. Yet, despite not having an easy answer to this question, I know for certain that I have to write. I would feel incomplete without it.

So why is that?love-of-writing.jpg

Well first, being an author has always been my dream. I remember as a kid wandering through bookstores and libraries, I would often imagine seeing my own name on the shelves listed next to my favorite fantasy and YA authors. There’s also the thought of wanting to leave something behind; to make my mark on the world. I’ve never wanted children, but I sometimes think ‘when I’m gone, who will remember me?’ I’d like my work, my stories, to live on after me.

So that answers the question of why I strive so hard to publish and reach my audience, but it doesn’t address why I chose writing as my medium or what drives me to type out page after page. I think the answer to that has something to do with the concept of ‘Flow’. I first learned about Flow in a university course about the creative process and I was fascinated by it. A term used in psychology, Flow is defined as the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

A state of flow, otherwise known as ‘being in the zone’ can be achieved doing any task, but in my experience it happens more frequently when doing a task that you are good at, passionate about and interested in.

When in a state of flow, some or more of the following things are experienced:ca27d20b95c49679195e5c81f016ea1f

  1. An Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  2. A Merging of action and awareness
  3. A loss of reflective self-consciousness
  4. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  5. A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
  6. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding

 

As a creative person, for me, achieving a state of Flow is the purpose; it’s what makes the experience meaningful. I’m also a person who thrives on a sense of achievement or feeling productive and writing gives me that. With writing, unlike any other vocation, I’m able to purposefully achieve a state of flow and at the same time produce something meaningful that I hope to one day leave behind as my legacy.

So that’s my love affair with writing, put into words. Thanks for reading.

Why do you write? Let me know in the comments below and happy V-Day, everyone.

From Blurb to Pitch, how to describe your novel.

Answering the question, “What is your book about?” can be hard to do. You feel put on the spot, at a loss for words, or maybe when you do try to answer the question, it doesn’t sound as interesting and engaging as you know your book to be.

There is a simple way to fix this and the answer is to prepare your response in advance and then practice it until it sounds natural when you say it. That way when asked what your book is about, you’ll answer instinctively in exactly the right way to get the person you’re talking to interested in reading your book.

That one-sentence version is called your elevator-pitch. It’s the same one-sentence that you would presumably give to an agent or editor to get them interested in your book. You could do this in person, say, in an elevator, or like most people you can use it in your Query Letter. You can also use it to tell readers what your book is about so they want to read it.  

elevator-pitch

So how do you come up with that crucial 1-2 sentence pitch? Well, I start with the blurb, or what I like to call the BOB, the Back Of the Book.

This is assuming you’ve already written this. If you haven’t, you might want to check out our last post: How to write a good blurb.

But say your blurb goes like this:

Destiny is not matter of chance, it is a matter of choice.

Fated to be a Priestess of Saegard, Meredith dreams of leading a normal life with a family and a home of her own, something she’ll never have if she swears her life to the Order.  A chance encounter with a stranger in the sacred Celestial Chamber sends her previously well-ordered life into a tailspin of adventure and mayhem as she is blamed for the theft of a legendary artifact. Now a fugitive, Meredith must join forces with Captain Reginald Lawrence, the son of the man who initially brought her to the Temple, and his enigmatic business partner,  the charming yet at times infuriating, Grey Rhodes, to find the Celestial Bowl and clear her name. From the cosmopolitan capital of Saegard to the coast of Ismera and back again, Meredith’s journey will reveal the true nature of her past, present, and ultimately, her future.

By the way, this blurb is from Uncharted which is set to launch April 17th. For more information on Uncharted, click here.USSConstellationVsInsurgente

In order to make your pitch, you want to distill this down as much as possible, preferably to one or two sentences at maximum. You don’t have to do this in one step though. You could take your blurb, trim it down to size, and then adjust the results or you can list the crucial aspects of your story and then try to form your pitch from there.

Let’s try it, shall we? You want to make sure to include your main character(s), your setting, your inciting incident, and a hint of your theme.

For Uncharted, that’s:

Characters: A priestess, a Captain and his business partner
Setting: A fantasy realm, a navy ship
Inciting incident: becoming a Fugitive and stowing away
Theme: Destiny is choice

The Pitch: A fugitive priestess alters her destiny by stowing away on a ship belonging to a naval officer and an ex con man.

I added the ‘ex con man’ part to give more of a hook, but essentially I’ve covered all the crucial bits of information and arranged them into an enticing pitch. I hope this makes you want to read Uncharted when it comes out on April 17th!

What about you? What’s your book about? Let me know in the comments section below!

 

How to write a good blurb

Summarizing a 300+ page novel into a few paragraphs is hard and it’s not something that usually comes naturally to us novelists. It took me a lot experimentation to get good at it, but here’s how I learned to do it.

I read the backs of a whole pile of books, and then I emulated them, practicing narrowing my book’s crucial aspects into 2-3 paragraphs.

At least for fantasy/sci-fi there seems to be only a few styles when it comes to the blurb. But no matter what genre you write in, I recommend finding bestsellers within that genre and critically breaking down their blurbs to see what makes them so successful.

For our purposes, I’m going to break down the two most popular styles in sci-fi/fantasy that I’ve come across. The Plot-Oriented style and the Character-Oriented style.

The Plot Oriented Blurb

Example: Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon.

Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another…

First, we have a powerful statement, a hook to draw the reader in. What makes this book interesting, what is it about?

In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon—when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord…1743.

Next we have the time period (which tells us this is a historical piece, or a futuristic sci-fi if the year was 2750 instead), we have the main character’s name and identity, we have the inciting incident and we have the setting.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire’s destiny in soon inextricably intertwined with Clan MacKenzie and the forbidden Castle Leoch. She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life …and shatter her heart.

A little more detail about the plot and subject matter of the book.

For here, James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire…and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

And then we have the theme, and the last sentence drives the hook home so you want to pick the book up right away and read it.
MH1Descwide copy

The Character-Oriented Blurb.

Example: Mirror’s Hope by Justine Alley Dowsett and Murandy Damodred.

Everything has a price…

The tagline

In a self-serving dystopian society, Mirena’s kind-hearted nature leaves her socially outcast. Daunted by the task of trying to initiate change herself, she tries desperately to conform to the expectations of the cruel society around her.

The setting, the main character and her identity/circumstance.

That is, until she meets Tendro… General to the Panarch’s armies and a rising star in government, no one expects Tendro Seynor to be the prophesied Avatar of the Light, but that’s exactly what he’s become. Alone, he doesn’t have the resolve necessary to follow the path destiny has set before him; but that all changes when meets Mirena and falls in love with her simple faith.

The secondary character and his identity/circumstance.

Brought together by fate, Mirena and Tendro must find a way to change their world for the better or risk the consequences of being on the wrong side of an all-powerful tyrant and his unforgiving Generals. Can they tip the balance of power in their world, or will the lengths they have to go get them in too deep to get back out again?

The inciting incident and a hint at the theme, while giving the hook.

If you’ll notice, all the same crucial aspects are present in both styles: the setting, the characters, the inciting incident, the theme and the hook. They’re just presented in a different order with a different aspect emphasized. As for which style is right to use for your book, it’s probably best to ask yourself, what is the most important aspect of your book? If your story is character-driven, maybe the character style. If it’s more about the setting or the plot, then maybe the plot-oriented style. You can always do what I do and write out a few options in each style until I find one I like.

Thanks for reading!

Have you written a blurb for your book? Share it in the comment section below!

 

Sharon Ledwith on Planning your Story…

The Plotter vs. Pantser debate continues… I’ve invited Sharon Ledwith, author of the Last Timekeepers Time Travel series and the upcoming Mysterious Tales from Fairy Falls series, both for teens. Sharon is a planner, unlike me, so here’s her take:

Here’s the deal. As a writer, I used to struggle with the question of whether I’m a plotter or a pantser (write by the seat of my pants) when it comes to writing a novel. Truth be told, I’m a little of both, but after much contemplation, I find I veer toward being a plotter. Wait…correction, after writing six complete novels, I’ve evolved and discovered the outlining process that works best for me—a STORYBOARD.

storyboard

Yup. Those large, cork bulletin boards Disney used to use when creating an animated feature movie. I’m a visual person, so I like to look at the board filled with a printed plan, mark it up with highlight pens, and chart my way through my novel. I’m also not shy on using plenty of Post-it® notes when an idea or concept pops into my mind that will make a scene or chapter better and stronger.

I find using a storyboard to plan a novel is less stressful, and I get a cleaner first draft at the end. Since I’m writing two book series (The Last Timekeepers and Mysterious Tales from Fairy Falls), it helps to get all my ducks in a row by knowing where all my characters are heading, and who is the point-of-view character in each book. I do this by using CHARACTER TRACKING SHEETS which logs everything about a character like the color of his or her hair and eyes to what clothes they’re wearing to their talents, wants, and signatures. I place these sheets in a series binder for safe keeping and a quick reference. Like I said, I love visuals! Now before I get right into plotting out my novel chapter by chapter, there’s a little thing called RESEARCH that I must do to give my story a sense of integrity and value. That’s when all those ‘what ifs’ start to bubble in my imagination, and solidify the story.

Once most of the research is done, I begin by creating an outline document with the NAME of the NOVEL, then state the WORKING PITCH (that’s the ‘what ifs’ and ‘what’s at stake’), PREMISE, and SETTING in that order. Next, I write out my MAIN CHARACTERS (beginning with who’s telling the story), the age of each character in the book (they get older as the series unfolds), and maybe an update about them. Then, I write out a list of the GUEST CHARACTERS and include their roles in the story. I follow this information with a bullet list of PROBLEMS, COMPLICATIONS, OBSTACLES, and CHALLENGES the point-of-view character must face that will bring his or her out of their comfort zone, make them suffer, learn a valuable lesson in the process, and grow from the experience.

And then comes the PLOT, broken down into CHAPTERS, with a blurb on what occurs in each chapter. It’s like a road map for me, following the twists and turns, peaks and valleys, that takes my point-of-view character on a scary-wonderful ride through words. I number and name each chapter which helps me keep on track of the story structure and build scenes. Of course nothing is written in stone, that’s why I use those Post-it® notes, and scribble down the sides of my outline if the MUSE inside directs me toward a better direction and destination.

This way of planning a novel is a fairly new process for me, but I’ve found that it keeps me organized and disciplined as a writer. Many authors I know use other methods to outline their novels, so I urge you to experiment with different ways of plotting to help you build a better book. If you think you’re more of a pantser than a plotter, check out this post HERE and see if it resonates with you. If you’re an author, what ways do you plan your story? Would love to read your comments. Cheers and thank you for reading this post! Happy novel planning!

Featured Image -- 243Sharon Ledwith is the author of the middle-grade/young adult time travel series, THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS, and the teen psychic mystery series, MYSTERIOUS TALES FROM FAIRY FALLS. When not writing, researching, or revising, she enjoys reading, exercising, anything arcane, and an occasional dram of scotch. Sharon lives a serene, yet busy life in a southern tourist region of Ontario, Canada, with her hubby, one spoiled yellow Labrador and a moody calico cat.

Learn more about Sharon Ledwith on her WEBSITE and BLOG. Look up her AMAZON AUTHOR page for a list of current books. Stay connected on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, GOOGLE+, and GOODREADS. Check out THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS TIME TRAVEL SERIES Facebook page.

BONUS: Download the free PDF short story The Terrible, Mighty Crystal HERE

I’m a Pantser – what does that mean?

They say there are two types of writers. Plotters, who plan and plot everything out, and Pantsers who ‘write by the seat of their pants.’

Every writer is different. I would also venture that the plotter/pantser thing is more of a spectrum than an either or. There are writers I know who plot out every detail meticulously, writing notes and profiling their characters, keeping binders or documents full of the plans they make for their short story, novel, or series. There are those that may have a plan, of sorts, and not stick to it 100% of the time. I guess we’re supposed to call those people ‘Plantsers’.

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Then there’s me. I’m a Pantser. At best, I’ll have a concept in my mind before I start writing. I’ll use characters that have floated into my head, fully-formed, and introduced themselves and I’ll put those characters in some kind of scenario or an inciting incident and I’ll let the story figure itself out from there. Sound scary? Sound like I’m jumping out of a plane without a parachute to catch me? If so, you might be a plotter. If, on the other hand, that sounds like an exhilarating adventure to you, then welcome to Pantser-hood! (I will stop making up words now.)

Nowadays, I’m a little less extreme with my pantsing. Having written eight novels, I’m starting to realize the value in a little plotting, or at least taking notes to help me in the editing process. The problem is, I’m still terrible at sticking to anything I come up with, so at best the practice of ‘plotting’ for me is a brainstorming exercise. The finished product definitely ends up being its own thing.

So how does Pantsing work? Well, character is very important and so is setting. I try to have at least those things worked out mentally before I jump into the writing part. I don’t bother with notes, because my world and my characters aren’t static, they’re living things. They live in my mind until I’m ready to start writing. So, I do my world building which means a lot of time day dreaming. At most, I may need a map to look at, in which case, I draw it.

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Then, once the world exists and I have a feel for it, I’ll create at least two characters who exist as a part of that world. Typically a name and a circumstance is all I need to invent a character. I’ve spent too many years of my life playing role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, and being a Game Master means you have to invent people as your players encounter them, so I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

Then, as I mentioned before, I consider what my inciting incident is for the concept I’ve developed, put those characters in that circumstance and start writing. It’s really up to the characters and the way they react to move the story forward and to see it to its eventual conclusion. I pay a lot of attention to the details and try to make sure that anything mentioned early on in the story matters, and gets brought up again as the story draws to a close. This creates foreshadowing, and makes sure that the story doesn’t have any loose ends.

So that’s my process… I hope it makes sense from an outsider’s perspective. I tend to live a lot in my own head, so I’m not always sure that’s the case.

 

Are you a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in between? Let me know in the comments below and thanks for reading!