Monday, 10 December 2018

Guns of Liberty, Cover Reveal!

Well, the time is finally here. Guns of Liberty has been 4 years in the making and it finally has a cover!

Gorgeous artwork courtesy of the wonderful Giselle Almeida.

Rachel Masters on the cover looking like a bit of a bad ass. I always imagined her on the front cover with a look that could melt the face off a puppy--I think Giselle really nailed the essence of the character in this piece.

So, where to from here? I still have a long road 'til launch. But Guns of Liberty is firmly in post-production phase now--all the interior design has been completed and the cover wrap around is being finalised. I still have to figure out and set up distribution and printing, and get my launch schedule sorted. Things are moving quickly!

Guns of Liberty will be launched in summer 2019.

If you'd like to receive news on when it goes live for pre-order and release, I have set up a mailing list! You can find it at the bottom of this page, or you can visit Guns of Liberty's fancy new homepage here.

As an additional bonus/bribe for signing up to my mailing list, I'm offering the first two chapters of Guns of Liberty for free to read, right now!

Stay tuned for more details and posts in the future. Cheers.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

5 things I leaned from learning to edit.

5 Things I learned from learning to edit;
Or, what I wish I'd known from the start.

I've been writing ever since I was (gently) informed that a story is not a collection of words about space. I finished my first novel when I was 15, and have drafted many more since then. But, in twenty-odd years of writing, I never bothered to learn one of the most important skills that every writer needs:

Editing. In case you hadn't guessed from the overly verbose title.

Recently, I finished editing my first book that I've ever edited (unless you count running spell check over a draft, while wondering how is it humanly possibly to produce so many errors in a single document, to be editing.) It took four years from the time I wrote The End to clicking send on the email that made it my editor's problem for the next two months.

Why did it take so long? Because I'd never learned to edit. I'd never failed to edit, I'd never discovered what works and what doesn't. So, for everyone out there just getting started on their own editing in the wake of November, here are some of the things I learned from learning to edit.

Now available in list form. Everyone likes lists.

1) Plan your edits

If you're a pantser I hope this doesn't make you squeamish, but the biggest mistake I made was not having a solid plan before I began to edit, and it cost me the most time of all.

The first thing I'll be doing now is reading through and noting every single thing that needs an edit. After all, if you don't know what's wrong with your book how can you begin to fix it?

This is the core tenant for my editing process, and the rest of the list builds off of it.

2) Order your edits intelligently

This is something I failed to do until my 7th draft. I tend to write front to back, so logically I started editing this way. But plot elements show themselves all over the place, and things get missed or pushed back to fix later because they rely on other scenes to be edited first.

Rather, once you have a list of things that are broken, you then need to order that list in terms of Most Important to Least Important.

Unfortunately this often corresponds with Most Difficult to Least Difficult tasks, which is probably why I avoided this method for so long.

I sort issues in the following priority: Plot, Character, Story, World, Prose. Any scene with a Plot Issue gets bumped to the top of the list, and all the affected scenes get ordered underneath. Then it goes to scenes where character arcs need the most edits, and so on.

When it comes to editing a scene, I fix everything on the list in one go. And because I planned all my edits I know exactly what I'm fixing going in!

A caveat to editing out of order is that you need to know your book really well. Sorry pantsers, you need an outline if you're going to edit this way.

3) Edit to a blank page

I knew of this advice around the time I reached draft 3 or 4, but at that point I'd put so much work into my book I didn't want to commit to a rewrite.

I didn't rewrite until draft 6, and it's one of the most important steps I had to make.

When you're editing, you stare at words for hours on end. Your brain knows what you've written, and you're prone to skim read and not pay full attention. Rewriting simply engages your brain on the words in front of you.

Also, when you've got hundreds of pages and multiple plots to work with it can feel fixed and brittle. It's like trying to rearrange a house of cards without the whole thing falling down--so you edit with a careful hand. But by rewriting you start to loosen things up, and make the story malleable again. You can shape it and fix the underlying issues without fear of collapse.

4) Beta Early, Beta Often

I didn't start using beta readers until around the 4th or 5th draft. Having betas had the biggest impact on the overall quality of my book. And it has been the most fun part of the process, for two reasons:

Getting compliments on your work is a huge motivator to press on. It helps you see that you're moving in the right direction. And, if you're like me, criticism does just the same. It gives direction, and lifts some of the fog when you get to glimpse reader's thoughts.

And secondly, my betas were authors also, and we'd read each other's manuscripts. This took up a lot of my time, but it was also extremely valuable. I learned a lot about how to quantify my own opinions and thoughts on writing (though sadly it didn't make me any less verbose--probably made it worse). And I learned a lot about my own process through it, and how it differs from that of others. I also discovered that I enjoy passing on knowledge to others, which is why I'm here now!

For my next book, I'm definitely starting the beta process after the initial rewrite.

5) Listen to your gut feelings

When it comes to large edits, especially when beta feedback necessitates changes, my first reaction was often: this is too much. To fix this is going to cause broad, sweeping changes that will require months of rewrites and plot changes, and editing character arcs and rewriting some of my favourite scenes.

It all gets overwhelming rather quick. I was willing to change almost anything to get my book in a place I was happy with. Yet, these grand changes were daunting.

It was often cause for despair for a week or two. Every attempt made had my subconscious screaming bloody murder, and fighting tooth and nail not to make the changes. Then, inevitably a simple solution would emerge. It turns out those enormous problems have a safe and simple solution that don't require the book to be gutted and reworked.

My subconscious is usually right when it comes to edits. If you really don't want to make a big change, stop and listen, and maybe you'll find an easier way just around the corner.

This is the vaguest item on the list. But I managed to get away with rewriting the entire character arcs of my two main protagonists without having it affect the course of the plot in a major "sorry you need to rewrite this now" way. Your book is a lot more malleable than you think it is!


In summary, I write way too much. But also, the self-edit is a very important part of the writing process. I think it is often neglected by younger writers, who tend to focus on the skill of story weaving and planning. But, if you ever want to finish your books, then editing you must learn. And the sooner you get started the sooner you'll make your mistakes, and the sooner you'll develop your own methods.

I hope this overly verbose mind dump has given you at least a leg up when it comes to starting your editing process!

My final thought is that if you love writing, then learn to love editing too. Because editing is a part of the process. Every other author is going through the same thing; which is all the more reason to start hoarding beta readers, and other writing critique partners! They can be your friends and allies through the trials of editing, and help make sure you're headed in the right direction.

Thank you, and write something every day.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

The Breakdown

The Breakdown;
Or, how to structure your story so that your middle doesn't suck the joy out of everything.

A deconstruction of novel structure, explained via the medium of animation.

I've written a lot of unpublishable novels over my life--with good reason, they sucked. But, reading back over my old work reveals a clear division between those stories confined to the trunk for eternity, and my current publishable projects.

And that's when I learnt how to structure my stories.

3 Act Structure is great and all, but while it teaches good theory, when it come to writing and thinking structure, it fell woefully short for me. My current novel, Guns of Liberty, was originally written as a study on structure and pacing. It's no coincidence that this is the first book I've had the drive to publish.

This blog is my attempt to explain structure in the simplest way I know how, and how that structure applies to story telling, and the pacing and tension of your book.

And since I'm a (regretfully unemployed) animator, I'll be using a little visual aid to explain my thought process.

End of preamble; let's get started.

What's the most important, most exciting part of your story?

Some of you probably said the ending. Some of you might have said the beginning. I'm here to argue that the middle is the most important part of your story, and here's why.

What you see above are two "Key Frames" in a very simple animation. The character is raising her hand from point A to point B. Every motion has 2 keys defining the action. All that's missing is the in-between frames.

Sure, this does the job. It gets our key frame in a simple and effective method. But, other than that there's not a lot of substance going on else wise.

Now, observe how the actions changes when I make a small tweak.

Suddenly the action tells a different story. It's no longer moving from point A to point B. There's a little arc, and with it, a little character. The action being told has changed by adding one important aspect.

Title drop. It's the Breakdown.

Between every key frame is a "Breakdown" frame. The keys define the parameters of the action, but the breakdown is what establishes the character of its motion.

And in storytelling it's exactly the same. Approximately.

Now, back to the reality of writing. The middle is often misunderstood--many writers struggle through the slog of saggy middle syndrome at some point in their lives. If the beginning and ending are your key frames, then the middle conflict is your breakdown. The objective of your story is not to get from point A to B in the straightest, most efficient way possible--rather the story is defined, and given character, by your middle conflict.

The middle of the book is what gives your story context. If the beginning tells us who your characters are, then the middle shows us who they are. It pits them against an obstacle that challenges their core beliefs, and preys on their shortcomings.

And the middle also gives your ending tension. It gives the plot stakes by showing us what can go wrong--what will go wrong if the protagonists can't pull themselves together to resolve it. It's a taste, a teaser of what's to come.

The middle is where everything that could possibly go wrong, goes wrong, and now the characters are left to pick up the pieces. The stakes are piling up. The tension mounts. Everything is on fire, and there's doubt in their minds. Can we really win after all?

Does that sound boring to you? I hope not.

If you've ever struggled with writing the middle of your book, it's because you lack this structure. Fortunately, the solution is simple. Have your protagonists arrive at their goal in the middle of the book.

This might seem crazy. After all, they're supposed to confront their goals at the end of the book, right? If they arrive in the middle, that would be the end of the book!

Nope. Because that's when everything goes wrong. That's when your characters fail so spectacularly that now everything is worse.

This can be done in a couple of ways: you can change what you thought the ending was going to be, or, change what your protagonists thought the ending was going to be.

If this is all still a little crazy sounding, let me ground you in a real-world example. Star Wars, A New Hope. It's just about the most faithful monomyth structure in modern story telling. When Luke embarks on his journey, his goal is not the end of the story. He is not setting out to destroy the Death Star, he doesn't even know what one is. All he knows is he has to get to Alderaan, and the Rebellion.

What happens when he gets there? Death Star. Now everything goes to hell, and the true end of the story is revealed.

If you look through popular media you'll see this pattern all over. This, I believe, is the simplest deconstruction of story structure.

I like to call it Shifting your Goal Posts.

Take a minute to imagine Star Wars if, instead, Luke set out from Tatooine with the goal of destroying the Death Star. He, and Han, would spend an hour of screen time flying around and getting into all sorts of space shenanigans, before finally arriving just in time to deliver the plans and save the day.

Do you see how this version loses all the stakes and tension derived from Luke's first encounter with the Death Star, and Vader?

That's why the middle is the most important part of your book. If you've ever found yourself struggling with structure, this is one way to fix it.

Question of the day: what's your main character's primary goal?

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Conflict and Failure

Plot feeling like it's going nowhere? Or maybe you're racing through your outline and wondering if you'll even have enough story to reach that 50k?

The answer to both problems is conflict, and its resolution.

Conflict Equals Content
Or, why your characters need to fail more.

Using conflict generating content is not a new concept--it is the driving force behind popular NaNoWriMo tropes, like Chandler's Law and surprise ninjas. Whenever you need content something is bound to go wrong: a new problem, another puzzle, a hurdle to overcome, and while there's nothing wrong with content generation in this fashion the real issue starts with conflict resolution.

If some surprise event occupies a chapter's worth of content before our brave heroes, emerge bloodied, but victorious, you find yourself once again in the same situation. What happens next?

These closed-circuit conflicts don't add anything but fat to your story, and don't contain any of the necessary components of good conflict: stakes and tension. Winning too much makes stakes trivial, and conflict that is overcome does nothing to increase tension.

The solution? I should stop putting spoilers in the title--it's failure.

I like to describe a story as a series of failures culminating in a singular success. I'm sure my characters would murder me if they could.

Every time you open a conflict, think of it as a question. Could be: 'will they survive this' or, 'will they kiss', or anything else. Every time you solve a conflict you are answering that question, and the more questions you have open at any one time, the more tension your story will have. If you're asking the right questions your reader will be dying to find the answer--this is how you produce reader engagement!

So, if you're struggling to make your conflicts go anywhere, the solution is simply find a place where your characters succeed, and then have them fail. Not only do they fail, but do so in a manner that makes everything thing worse and makes the problem much larger than it was before.

This accomplishes three things: it makes the conflict personal--nothing makes an issue personal like failure. It increases the stakes--showing your characters can failure makes the fear of failure more real. Finally, it increases the tension--every unsolved conflict is a direct step upward in tension.

Thank you for reading! I think failure is one of the most important elements of any story, and I wanted to get this bumper post out leading up to my next post--how to avoid saggy middle syndrome--which should be up and ready in the next couple days!

I'd also like to share my personal Conflict Commandments that I use to control the pacing in my own stories. This is more useful for editing than drafting, and I intend to write a full deconstruction of conflict, and how it controls the tension and pacing of a story, after November.

But for now, it's a first draft--don't worry about it.

i) Every major conflict shall be established in the first half of the book.
ii) No major conflict shall be resolved until the Final Confrontation.
iii) No conflict shall be resolved at the end of a chapter--unless its resolution explicitly starts an even greater conflict before that chapter ends.
iv) No conflict shall be resolved within a single chapter, nor shall conflict established at the end of a chapter be resolved at the beginning of the preceding.

Question of the day: what have your characters failed at so far?

Thursday, 8 November 2018

The Habit of Writing

Word Count not what you expected? Procrastination sinking its teeth in? Here's a few simple tricks to help keep your NaNo project on track and boost your productivity going in to week two!

The Habit of Writing
Or, how to sit down, shut up, and write.

The reason I love NaNoWriMo is that it inspires productivity through daily word goals. But, if you're like me, sometimes that daily goal isn't quite enough motivation to overcome our distraction-riddled modern world. The distraction of video games, social media, and silly youtube videos is often too much to bear.

When it comes to video games, I have all the restraint of an unsupervised toddler with a bag of potato chips(crisps).
I have no restraint eating potato chips, either.

The solution, however, is quite simple:

1) Don't write in the same place you use the internet

It may not be possible for everyone, but most of us have access to portable electronic devices  these days. I opted to write in local cafes but anywhere away from home will do. Don't connect to the local wi-fi, either! It took about 3 months for me to go from "I have to go write today" to "I want to go write today"--now I feel anxiety if I'm not writing.

This next tip is related, but mostly relevant to fellow writers with day jobs:

2) Don't go home before you write

Again, it may not be possible for everyone, but if you are writing after work then don't go home first. You'll start to relax, feel comfortable, put the dinner on, and put writing off until later. But, if you stay out, you'll keep your brain engaged in productivity mode.

3) Write by the hour, not by the word count

This seems contrary to the goal of Nanowrimo--you need to hit at least 1667 words per day to hit that 50k. But, if your goal is to write 1667 words per day, then you will write 1667 words that day. It might just take you 2-6 hours.

If you're a frequent writer, you might have an idea already of how many words per hour you can write. Use this to estimate how long it will take to hit your daily goal. I write anywhere between 1000 and 2500 words per hour, and I also find it takes 30 minutes to get into the writing zone, so 2 hours is a comfortable session for me.

If you're not certain what your writing speed is, November is a good time to start! I try to keep track of all my progress with nerdsheets.

If you set yourself a reasonable time goal, then you'll hit that deadline without meandering so much.

4) Make use of music

Our brains are pattern recognition machines. If you're not already writing with music this may seem like an added distraction, but I found by listening to the same playlist every day I was able to get into the writing zone faster and more consistently.

I've probably listened to Peaceful Solitude over 6000 times in the last 4 years.

Furthermore, whenever I'm planning a novel I listen to a consistent playlist and learn to associate my story with it. If I ever need to brainstorm I can put on the playlist and go for a walk--the ideas just seem to flow, and exercise also stimulates the brain!

5) Know what you're writing, before you write it

When writing at the scene-level, nothing will boost your productivity like figuring out what you're about to write first. My ritual is to begin every session jotting down notes in my notebook, explaining what the scene I'm about to write contains and how it plays out. Sometimes I'll scribble dialogue exchanges, or action beats, too.

And if you don't complete the scene that day, all you have to do is look at your notes and you'll know exactly where to pick up!

I believe even full-blown pantsers can benefit from this. You're not planning, you're just exploring the purpose of the scene ahead of time, and then when it's time to write you have less head-work to do!

My final tip is probably more relevant for your writing rituals outside of November. But, maybe if you're ahead of the curve you can:

6) Take time off writing

You don't work 7 days a week, you shouldn't write 7 days a week. Outside of crunch-times, like November, I make sure to take a day off just to recover and prevent burn-out.

The most important thing I've learned over the last 4 years of writing is that motivation and inspiration are fickle. But routine is constant, and when you train yourself to write every day then motivation and inspiration will eventually come crawling back.

I hope this overly verbose list helps you conquer November, and beyond!

Question of the day: What are your daily writing rituals to get you through November?

Saturday, 3 November 2018

The experiment so far

Blogging about writing is something I've wanted to do for a long time. For NaNoWriMo this year I set myself an ambitious goal: 30 posts in 30 days, in an attempt to motivate myself to start. 3 days into November, and 4 posts into my blog (including one unpublished) I've run into my first significant obstacle:

It's not tenable for me to continue posting once a day while holding myself to a standard that I find acceptable. My first two posts I was able to take considerably longer to pick through my thoughts, but the following two I had only 2 hours of free time to produce the content. It's just not enough. Furthermore, writing 30 different topics was spreading me thin, as many of the topics I had planned overlap or are directly related to other posts.

The positive reception I've had with the first two posts let me know without a doubt that this is something I want to continue doing. I love talking about aspects of writing with other writers, and sharing my thoughts and experiences in the hopes someone might benefit.

So, giving up is definitely not on the table, rather I'm going to focus my efforts on producing higher effort posts with more rounded and complete points. In the spirit of NaNo I'll still be working on my blog every day, but posts won't be daily. At this point I don't know what release schedule will work for me, but I'm hoping to get out one or two per week, perhaps with some additional content between.

And in the spirit of this blog: have another quick doodle.

Cheers, and write something every day.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Creating a Character Driven Story

The genesis of story ideas can be somewhat of an enigma, but while emergent story is often varied, there is a constant that fortunately grounds us all: characters. They are what drive the plot, and shape the world around them. And more importantly, they're what your readers will care about the most.

Without any further preface, here's:

Creating Character Driven Stories
Or, how to choose the right protagonist for the job.

Think for a moment about the premise of your story. What makes it cool, what makes it different, what characteristic of the story makes it yours and not some other's story.

It is likely that your protagonist is related to this premise, in one way or another. My novel, Guns of Liberty, began with a desire to make a story about airships. Therefore, it was a logical conclusion that my character should either: be an airship captain, or, want to be one. (I ended up with one of each.)

If your book is about dragon riders, then your character is likely a dragon rider. They can be an aspiring, a practicing, or a retired dragon rider, but they will be related to that premise somehow. Otherwise, they're probably not your protagonist.

These are three important characteristics of your protagonist. If they are aspiring, then your book is likely about their journey from aspiring to practicing. If they are practicing, then is their story a rising journey, or a fall? And if they're retired, what forces call them back into action?

It's important to establish where your character begins, because then you understand where they need to go. And if the protagonist is the force driving the story forward, then the antagonist is the force trying to stop them getting there. If your retired dragon rider is trying to get back in the saddle, why can't they? What is stopping them? Who is stopping them? And even more importantly, what force is driving them back into the saddle after they'd previously given it up?

These are the fundamental questions of a character driven plot. It all stems from the conventional trinity of Goal, Motivation, Conflict that every main character requires at a bare minimum. The key here is that we are using our premise as a means to shape those questions, and therefore weaving our characters, our story, and our world together all in one.

Because at the end of the day, these three aspects are three sides of the same coin, and cannot exist as separate entities.

If you're still not sure who your protagonist is, or how they tie into your plot or your world, it's not too late to do so. Your story is a lot more malleable than you might think!

Ask the following questions of yourself, and of the characters:

  • How does this character relate to the premise?
  • What do they want to accomplish most in the world? (External Goal)
  • Why do they want it? (Internal Motivation)
  • What is stopping them? (External Conflict)
  • And finally, what flaw is holding them back? (Internal Conflict)

Your protagonist's goal, and their conflict, are the driving force of your story: the mid-point breakdown, and the final confrontation.

Whether you have already decided on a plot, or you're still pantsing your way through it, having a character goal will keep you steering in the right direction.

Just try not to get dragged behind the cart.

Thank you, and write something every day.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

What makes a first chapter

Welcome to my series of helpful writing tips to get you to 50k in 30 days(or less)! Starting your story is often the hardest step. If you haven't got a clue what to write yet, don't panic it's never too late to start, check out my prep post about how to plan your 30 day novel over here. If you're ready to dive into chapter one, then you're in the right place. If you're starting your story elsewhere, may god have mercy on your soul.

Meeting Expectations
Or, how to nail your first chapter by establishing the premise.

A lot goes into a first chapter. There's characters and worlds to introduce, plots to establish, and of course, catchy first lines to think up. But there's another aspect of first chapters that I think often goes overlooked: establishing the premise of your book, in case you hadn't guessed from the overly verbose title of this post.

The premise of your story is the main selling point. It's what makes your story interesting and different from other stories. When a reader picks up a book they have a certain expectation about what that book contains. This can come from the cover art, the marketing material, the blurb, or even because you gave them a sales pitch. You've already told them what to expect, and now is the time to show them, and fulfill those expectations.

There's a reason sci-fi movies love opening with a shot of a spaceship flying over an alien planet.

Expectations met.
Movies are a great medium to see this effect in action. The purpose of your opening is not just to begin the story, but to hook the reader. Chances are if they're reading you've already piqued their interest, and this is your chance to hook them in for the long haul. And you do that by giving them what you promised. Jurassic Park opens with dinosaurs gone wrong. Pirates of the Caribbean opens with the aftermath of a pirate raid. Lord of the Rings opens with an enormous fantasy battle. With elves.

For instant fantasy, just add elves.
Once you've figured out your premise it will help shape everything in the first chapter, from establishing the story through the inciting incident, to writing a powerful opening line. While I don't advocate spending too much time on your opening line for a first draft--it's more of an editing task than a writing one--having a strong premise will help.

Here's an example from the first-draft opening-line of my 2017 NaNo, the conclusion to my satrical sci-fi series.

That's one of the main themes of the series--and focus of the third book--summed up in one sentence, as well as showing a bit of character from one of the main characters and introducing the mood of the scene. This one will still be the subject of a lot of editing (eventually), but I like it because of its simplicity.

The first chapter is also where you introduce the premise of your main characters, and establish their character arcs. What are their flaws that will have to be overcome in order to achieve their goals? Often, in a first draft, you may not have an answer for this. Or, you may have the flaw, but are unsure about how it will be resolved in the plot to come. If that's the case, then just keep in mind this mantra for your November to come:

It's a first draft. Don't worry about it.

That concludes this introduction to introducing your book. The premise is what your book is about at the most basic level. Once you have that figured out it will make everything that follows much easier!

I'll be back again tomorrow with another post about how to make sure your character is the right protagonist for the job!

Thank you, and write something every day.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

How to plan to write a novel in 30 days

Nanowrimo is great. It helped me go from an unmotivated, undisciplined, wannabe-writer to where I am today--about to publish my debut novel, Guns of Liberty! The unfortunate side effect is that I don't have the time to participate this November, but since I love Nano and its writing community, I've decided to give myself a different challenge: 30 blog posts in 30 days. Here, you'll find my various tricks and tips for hitting that sweet 50k finish line in 30 days, or less.

In the lead up to Nanowrimo I wanted to begin by sharing my prep process to kick off this series. November 1st approaching too soon and you're still not sure what you're going to do? I'm here for you. So, without further ado...

How to plan to write a novel in 30 days (or less)
Or, why you really should be using an outline.

Pantsers/discovery writers, don't tune out yet. Outlining is a bipartisan technique that we all can benefit from.

The outline is the backbone construction of your narrative flow. It is a tool that gives a glimpse of your project's underlying form before you start putting in the hard work, and it takes almost no effort at all!

The simplest issues issues can be solved with a small amount of construction.

artists can be pantsers too... with mixed results
Step One: establishing the flow

When constructing we begin with the broadest strokes in order to emphasize the important aspects of your story--starting with one of the two biggest story beats: the situation/inciting incident, or, the solution/confrontation.

Chances are you already have one of these in mind. What situation sets your protagonist on their journey? What solution will resolve the central conflict?

Whichever you're beginning with, mark it down on your outline. Then you'll need to answer the other; how does your protagonist aim to resolve their situation? Or, what incident drove them to seek that solution?

The trick here is that we don't need details. We're only asking the question of what happens, not why.

Once you've filled out both ends of your outline it should look a little something like this:
The adventures of Steve, the talking shovel (and also John).

Take note of how there are no absolutes in the solution. This is important for the next step of establishing your structure and narrative flow. The third aspect of a good outline is the breakdown, or, middle conflict. I will be going into greater depth on this subject later in November, but for now deciding on your middle conflict now will help prevent saggy-middle syndrome.

When placing your middle conflict, you can decide between two options. The most common is to set your middle conflict between the Situation and the Solution. I'm here to tell you there's a better way.

When the protagonists arrive at their goal and fail, what happens then?
This is why I don't establish victory or failure in the outline. I love reading and writing stories when protagonists arrive at their goal in the middle of the book, and then fail--not only do they fail, they make everything worse and the stakes are raised. Now the protagonist must face an even more difficult challenge ahead of them. I call this method shifting the goal posts.

Now we have the three most important beats of our story, and already we can see the basic flow. This is the first stop on the outlining train, you've already got enough to get an idea of the direction you're going. But for the more analytical outliners, now is the time to delve into the deeper aspects and start laying down the shapes of events within the book itself.

Step Two: establishing form and volume

This is the stage where we take our outline into the recognizable shape of a story. We have the essence, now we need to fill out the blanks.

At this stage, I start getting in depth and laying out my chapters. This is a little example from my book, Guns of Liberty:
Note: this outline is from an older draft and not representative of the final product!
I mark out each chapter, and jot down the three most important events that occur within it. Each one of these becomes a scene within the book.

Now, let's fill out some of the forms for our example:
Typically, I work front to back when writing or planning, but it's not necessary during this stage. What is important is that you're connecting the dots between the three major points and discovering the conflicts and events along the way.

Once you've filled out the entire plot line and connected the end with the beginning, you've already got all your chapters naturally laid out and have an idea of the overall form of the book! You can practically see it already.

This is the next jumping off point. I used to start writing here, but now I take it one step further.

Step Three: blocking out the details

In this stage, open a document and begin explaining what is accomplished in each scene, in chronological order. This is by far the most work-intensive phase, but by the end of it, I know exactly what's happening in every scene in the story. I work out settings, transitions, and even what conversations take place (and their outcomes). If inspiration strikes, I might write down specific dialogues to insert later.

During this process it's almost writing draft 0.5. For my 2017 Nanowrimo I experimented with just how far I could push it before it got rediculous, and wrote 26,000 words of planning. Turns out somewhere around 10k is my sweet-spot. This is what allows me to write those 50,000 words so quickly: I've already decided everything that's going to take place in the story, all that's left is to write it!

Here's a little excerpt from my 2015 Nano project: the satirical sci-fi, Vengeful Intentions.
Warning: first-draft eye-sore ahead

As you can see, the planning is devoid of all description and author voice. Its purpose is merely to lay out the events that take place, and what order they take place.

This is the final step for me before I begin writing, and this small(ish) amount of planning cuts my writing time from scraping out 50,000 in 30 days to 50,000 in 16.

Final Thoughts

Constructing and outlining is a crucial part of the writing process, whether you are a planner or a pantser. But the most important lesson I'd like to impart is that different writers require different planning methods, and just like no two writers write the same way, no two writers plan the same way. This is only my method, and it took many attempts and experiments to find what worked for me. I encourage you to not take my methods wholesale, but rather to experiment with the aspects that work for you and discard those that do not. Furthermore, if you find one method of planning doesn't work, it does not mean that no planning works at all, and there are many other techniques out there you can try!

But not Snowflake. Snowflake is misery incarnate.

If you would like to see more posts and silly doodles, then join me on November 1st as we delve into starting on the right foot; or, how to nail your premise with the first chapter.