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How To Use a Spreadsheet To Plan Daily Activities

Last week, Randy Ingermanson told us all about the need for white space in the writer’s life. I hope you enjoyed that article.

You may have been left wondering how you should incorporate a little bit of that white space and still be sure to get to the important things each day? What’s the best way to organize use of time.

Believe or not, a spreadsheet may be the single most effective weapon at your disposal.

I can hear the groans already! “A spread sheet? How lame is that?”

Let me show you how I used a spreadsheet to order my days. Then, if you don’t like it, you’re welcome to complain all you like!

What I Did

There are a certain number of activities I have to do every day. There is another set of activities that need to be done each week. I plugged them all into a simple spread sheet.

Because I can’t ignore the personal and household things, I divided my activities into business-related activities and personal activities. I included everything I’d like to do each day on both lists.

Here’s the list.
Daily activity worksheet screen shot

The column on the left is a brief description of each activity. The column on the right is the number of minutes I want to give to each activity.

Because I’m a big believer in the 15-minute method of organizing my time, most of the activities are allotted fifteen minutes.

The overall list gives me the total amount of time spent during the day on business activities and personal activities. Keep in mind that this is the ideal. The ideal rarely ever happen, so this list is more of a road map than a list of Must Do items.

The Breakdown

Some business activities are daily and some are monthly. To keep activities organized, I categorized them.

For example, I do a weekly post on three blogs, so each of those blogs are listed under Daily Activities and allotted 15 minutes per day. Two other blogs are published once a month. They are still allotted 15 minutes per day, but I know it’s not likely they’ll require 15 minutes every day. If I get the portrait blog post by the first week of the month, that activity is no longer necessary for the rest of the month.

Daily activity worksheet screen shot

Some activities need to be included in the schedule, but aren’t daily activities. For the most part, they can’t even be scheduled. I can’t, for example, know in advance when a portrait client is going to have questions that require a lengthy telephone call. Students also work at their own pace, not according to my schedule. So I’ve combined those two activities and allotted them an hour a day.

Special Projects is another “occasional” activity. There won’t always be a special project to work on, but having that half hour built into the schedule as a huge benefit for those times when there is a special project in the works.

Daily activity worksheet screen shot

I did the same thing for personal and household activities. The few things that do require a set amount of time each day are listed separately. “Household” covers everything else. I may not be able to handle every extra household activity in 30 minutes each day, but some things don’t have to be done every day. The total for the week is 2-1/2 hours and I can get pretty much everything done in that amount of time each week.

And The Worksheet Says…

I have 270 minutes (4.5 hours) of business time and 180 minutes (3 hours) of personal and household time budgeted each day. In other words, if I work this list, I can expect to have seven-and-a-half hours of the day accounted for.
Daily activity worksheet screen shot
That’s a reasonable expectation, especially given that a large portion of the business time is set aside for activities that will not happen on a daily basis (special projects, students, clients, and miscellaneous). In fact, without those three things, this worksheet requires very little time spent on business activities.

However, I know from experience that if I don’t make some allowance for the unexpected, my daily activities will be totally upended when it happens. It’s better for me to give it a place on the list. You may not need to.

Also, there’s plenty of room to add fiction writing and portrait painting when the time comes.

Conclusion

A spreadsheet is just one way to organize your time and efforts. The method I’ve described here is just one way to use a spreadsheet. There are as many methods as there are writers, so experiment. Find what works for you.

The secret isn’t that you find the Magic Bullet; the secret is that you use whatever method works best for you.

Book Review – The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide

Every once in a while, something comes along that’s so important, it needs to be shared.

Such is the case with a newly released book, The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide.

The focus of this blog is the writer’s journey. My goal has always been to encourage other writers by sharing something of my journey to publication. That includes tips on methods and tools that have helped me write and polish a publishable manuscript.

In that regard, The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide: Every Indie Author’s Essential Directory-To Help You Prepare, Publish, and Promote Professional Looking Books is something every writer can use, no matter how you intend to publish.

Why?

Because part of the publication process is writing. After all, if you have nothing written, you have nothing to publish. Right?

The book is organized like a well-stocked library into three categories: Prepare, Publish, and Promote. If you read no further, you know why I’m reviewing and recommending this book here.

Let’s Take a Look At Preparation

The Table of Contents for the Prepare section looks like this:

  • Content & Developmental Editors
  • Copyeditors & Proofreaders
  • Indexers
  • Cover & Interior Book Designers
  • Image Sources
  • Illustrators & Cartoonists
  • Translators
  • Writing Software
  • Writers’ Conferences & Workshops Offering Scholarships
  • Grants and Funding for Writers
  • Professional & Trade Associations
  • Best Books on Writing

A quick look at the section on writers’ conferences and workshops reveals conferences and workshops on all forms of writing and for writers of all ages. Big name conferences and local or regional conferences. Each entry includes a brief description and a link for more information.

All three categories and every sub-category are also jam-packed with information every writer can use. It’s a wealth of information that will save you a ton of time. Besides, it’s a great value at any price.

Yes, you can finish a book and get ready for publication without The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide, but why would you want to, even if you are planning to publish traditionally?

About the Book

The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide: Every Indie Author’s Essential Directory-To Help You Prepare, Publish, and Promote Professional Looking Books is the first and largest collection of curated and verified resources for independent authors who plan to publish their own books. Produced by a team with long experience in both traditional and independent publishing, the over 850 resources are listed in an easy-to-use format that includes live links, phone numbers, email addresses and brief descriptive copy. The Guide makes vendors and other resources easy to find by separating them into 33 distinct categories within the 3 main tasks the self-publisher must deal with. How to Prepare, Publish, and Promote their books.

The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide ebook version is updated regularly to provide current information and links in the fast-changing indie publishing world, and the authors are actively soliciting input to keep listings current and comprehensive.

The book is available at

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple

Smashwords | Txtr

 

About the Authors

The Self-Publisher's Ultimate Resource Guid Cover
Joel Friedlander is an award-winning book designer and blogger who has been launching the careers of self-publishers since 1994 from his book design and consulting practice at Marin Bookworks in San Rafael, California. Joel is a self-published author and the blogger behind TheBookDesigner.com, a popular and award-winning blog on book design, book marketing, and the future of the book. Joel is also the founder of The Self-Publishing Roadmap, a training course for authors, and TheBookMakers.com and BookDesignTemplates.com, where he provides tools and services for authors who publish their own books. He speaks often at publishing industry events and is a past president of the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association.

The Self-Publisher's Ultimate Resource Guid Cover
Betty Kelly Sargent is the founder of BookWorks, the Self-Publishers association, and the founder of The Educated Author, and writes a monthly column on self-publishing for Publishers Weekly. She is a member of the Independent Editors Group (EIG) and has spent more than 30 years in the traditional publishing business, most recently as editor-in-chief of William Morrow, where at one point she had three books on the New York Times best-seller list at once. She has also been executive editor at HarperCollins, executive editor at Delacorte Press, Fiction and Books editor at Cosmopolitan magazine, and book reviewer for CNN. She is the author of seven traditionally published books and one self-published book. She moderates panels and workshops in New York City and Los Angeles and is passionate about helping indie authors learn to navigate the ever-changing landscape of self-publishing.

Disclaimer

I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate program. That means that if you click on the Amazon links in the body of this post (the book cover image or the text links) and purchase a book, I will receive a commission on the sale. If you make a purchase through these links, thank you.

If you prefer not to use the affiliate links, click on the Where to Buy links instead or go directly to Amazon.

For more information and disclaimers, click here.

Dianna T. Benson Talks Books

I’d like to welcome Dianna T. Benson back to Writing Well. Many of you will remember Dianna joined us when her first book, The Hidden Son, debuted.

Dianna’s second book, Final Trimester, released May 19, 2014. It is the first in The Quigley Triplets series.

Q: Dianna, welcome back. Can you tell us why do you write the kind of books you write?

DTB: Suspense is my natural writing voice.

Being an EMT and a Haz-Mat and FEMA Operative for nearly a decade, I naturally implement my firsthand medical and rescue knowledge and experience into all my books.

Inspirational is a thread I love writing and it fits within my characterizations and plotlines like a key puzzle piece.

Q: Besides writing, what are some of your favorite hobbies?

DTB: I’m a life-long outdoor enthusiast and high-level athletic competitor. I love spending time in any kind of nature doing something athletic and adventurous, especially with my family and friends. I enjoy traveling, reading, watching all kinds of movies, and watching Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, The Walking Dead, Castle and The Big Bang Theory.

Q: Do you use some of your experiences as an EMT for your stories?

DTB: The medical and EMS scenes I write are a combination of fiction plus a mix-match of a ton of real-life EMS scenes I’ve worked throughout the years.

Q: What fun or unique things can you tell us about yourself?

DTB: As a scuba diver, I’ve dove nearly 150 feet in the Caribbean Ocean in Grand Cayman. As a climber, I’ve reached the summits of thirty-three Fourteeners (in Colorado there are fifty-four mountains over fourteen thousand feet in elevation). In addition to scuba diving and climbing, I love to cycle and run. My father was a triathlete; he was killed in a bicycle accident when I was in high school. My oldest daughter competed at the 2012 US Olympic Swim Trials for a spot on the team that went to the 2012 Summer Games in London, but the Trials were only seven weeks after my daughter endured scoliosis surgery (thirteen-inch spinal incision to insert two titanium rods and twelve screws), so she was unable to swim anywhere near her best.

Q: Where did you get the idea for Final Trimester?

DTB: The idea for the killer’s character in Final Trimester sprouted to development the first month I worked in EMS due to an actual individual I encountered.

Q: One final question. What are you working on now?

DTB: Persephone’s Fugitive, Book #2 in the Cayman Islands Trilogy.

When a routine 911 call turns deadly, Paramedic Reyann Cooper finds herself held at gunpoint by injured prison inmate, Jason Keegan. The situation spirals out of Reyann’s control when the confrontation becomes a tense standoff between Keegan and the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.

As her patient’s hostage, Reyann fights to save them both before Keegan blows them up. She realizes his warning to the Cayman police is no empty threat since he’d rather die than spend the rest of his life in a prison cell. Reyann soon discovers Keegan is just as determined to survive as she is – provided he can escape Grand Cayman and disappear forever. As she struggles to trust in God’s protection, help from an atheist turns her struggle into a lure away from her faith.

About the Book

Final Trimester
Third Trimester Cover
Paramedic Jodi Duncan recognizes the work of a serial killer before the Myrtle Beach PD even suspects a connection between the deaths of two pregnant women. Despite the vast differences in the two cases, Jodi urges Detective Nate Quigley to think outside the box. After digging deep into the separate investigations, Nate finds no evidence to support a serial killer theory, and he warns Jodi to back off police business, which only fuels her passion for the cases.

When a third pregnant woman is murdered, Nate is named lead detective on the case and works to link the deaths in order to unmask and stop the serial murderer, a disturbed man who believes God and the devil battle inside his head to bend him according to their wills. As he fights both voices, his interest fixates on Jodi when he discovers her obsession with ending his rampage.

Where To Get Final Trimester

Dianna’s books are available wherever books are sold. Below are the links to Final Trimester at the three biggest booksellers:

Amazon.com

Barnes and Noble

Books-A-Million

About The Author

Photo of Dianna T. Benson

Dianna Torscher Benson is a 2014 Selah Award Finalist (winners not yet announced), a 2011 Genesis Winner, a 2011 Genesis double Semi-Finalist, a 2010 Daphne de Maurier Finalist, and a 2007 Golden Palm Finalist. In 2012, she signed a nine-book contract with Ellechor Publishing House. She’s the author of The Hidden Son, her debut novel. Final Trimester is her second release.

After majoring in communications and a ten-year career as a travel agent, Dianna left the travel industry to earn her EMS degree. An EMT and a Haz-Mat and FEMA Operative since 2005, she loves the adrenaline rush of responding to medical emergencies and helping people in need.

Dianna lives in North Carolina with her husband and their three children.

Website: www.diannatbenson.com

What To Do With All Those Ideas

Last week, guest blogger Danielle Hanna shared a couple of ways to manage an abundance (read, too many!) ideas. The thrust of her article involved determining which new ideas fit with your current story and which do not. I won’t rehash the whole thing because you can read it here and I recommend that you do.

At the end of her article, however, she made the following comment.

Lots of writers keep a file or a notebook filled with story ideas. For now, that’s where your starlet belongs. Next time you’re in the mood to start a new idea, revisit the starlet. You never know—it may become a new North Star!

Danielle Is Right

For some writers–myself included–ideas run rampant. They have no respect for the story in progress, time of day (they seem to delight in disturbing sleep), or anything else. Not even each other.

Some days, they pop up like toadstools after a rain storm. They’re everywhere!

If that sounds familiar, what do you do to keep from being trampled? Or having your current work-in-progress trampled.

The Idea File

Sometime ago, I described what I do with all those ideas (read about The Idea File here).

Today I want to describe in some detail what exactly The Idea File looks like.

The Idea File is really a collection of three categories, each of which denotes a different level of development.

  1. Ideas described in narrative summary
  2. Ideas described by scenes
  3. Ideas developed into summaries
    1. Partial summaries
    2. Complete Summaries

Because I have so many summaries, I’ve divided that file into sub-categories. That is an organizational decision. If I’m looking for a fully developed idea, I know exactly where to look. If I’m not, then I can look in all the files.

One Liners

In addition to those weighty documents, I keep a running list of ideas that can be described in three lines or less. I write enough to recall what I was thinking, but not so much that it takes more than just a few minutes to jot it down.

I keep a pen-and-paper version of the list so I can jot notes whenever and wherever they occur. I type them into a master document whenever I have a few moments.

Entries on that list are things like:

  • A story about elderly people on their own after their retirement facility is destroyed.
  • A story about the importance of Truth
  • A story about the importance of being virtuous
  • A story about a Scot in a wheelchair

These ideas aren’t developed in any sense of the word. Not even in my imagination. But they are interesting enough to have snared my attention, so I don’t want to lose them.

They might even concern existing stories. More than a few of them are about retired stories.

Why Are These Files Important?

I don’t know about you, but every new idea looks a like shiny penny. It’s like Christmas morning and seeing all those gaily wrapped packages under the tree. You can’t wait to see what’s in them.

But there’s no way to open them all at once, even on slow days. Nor would I want to take the time to develop every idea that moment it appears.

Nor do I want to forget them.

So I record them when they appear. Later, when I have time or am looking for an idea, as Danielle mentioned, I can go through those lists and see what might look good on any particular day. Some ideas are developed bit by bit. Some never go any further than the one liner I wrote when the idea appeared.

But they are all there. Waiting.

Because you never know when some old idea might be just the bright, shiny new idea for your next novel.

Take Charge of Your Story Ideas, Part II: Too Many Ideas

by
Danielle Hanna

In Part I, we discussed an easy way to fill the gaps in your idea file by mining your own life experiences. But what about the opposite problem—too many ideas?

It’s easy to be distracted by everything that shines. Pretty soon, your whole story has run down a bunny trail and you’re not even sure anymore what it is you’re writing—or if you should be writing it at all! Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, the only tool you need to keep on track is the North Star.

Look for Your Story’s North Star

If you suffer from ADHW (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Writer disorder), the key is to find your story’s North Star. The North Star embodies the heart, soul, and spirit of your story. In all likelihood, it will be very closely tied with the inspiration that first gave birth to your story.

In practical terms, the North Star can be almost anything:

  • Your lead character’s personality
  • Your one-sentence summary
  • Your story’s theme

My North Star tends to be my character’s journey—e.g., a foster child’s struggle to trust. The important thing is that your North Star speaks to you on a very deep level. It gets you excited every time you think about it. You fill pages of your story journal with it. You wax eloquent about it to your cat.

Don’t rush this step. Sloppy coordinates will get you lost. Your North Star is the essence of your story, the one thing you should never feel tempted to compromise. Whatever else may change, the North Star will always be there.

Look for the Guiding Light

Now, next time a new idea comes along, wait just a moment before you run with it. Yes, it’s shiny, but your North Star should be brighter.

Take a hard look at that new idea. Brainstorm it for a few minutes, or write it for a paragraph or a page. See where it’s going.

Now hold it up to the North Star. Does this new starlet augment the North Star’s light, making them both shine brighter? Does it enhance that true essence of your story? Or does the starlet compete with the North Star, undercutting your story’s essence?

Only keep that which enhances the North Star. But what to do with that shiny starlet?

Look for Other Stories

A writer with too many story ideas has a real gift—a never-ending supply of new stories. Don’t throw away that starlet that didn’t fit with the North Star. There was nothing wrong with that story idea—only that it belongs to a different story.

Lots of writers keep a file or a notebook filled with story ideas. For now, that’s where your starlet belongs. Next time you’re in the mood to start a new idea, revisit the starlet. You never know—it may become a new North Star!

About Danielle

Danielle Hanna learned how to read and write at the age of four and knew she wanted to be an author by the time she was seven. She now writes Christian mysteries and has recently started her own freelance writing business. You can visit her at her blog, http://embarkonadventure.com. She’s happy to hear from you!

She’s also been my brainstorming partner since 2010. We’ve spent countless hours bouncing ideas off one another, helping each other with our stories, and generally providing encouragement and motivation to each other.

Other Articles by Danielle
Making a List and Checking It Twice: How to Know If an Idea is Naughty or Nice
Working With New Characters
Skin Diving With Characters

Take Charge of Your Story Ideas, Part I: Not Enough Ideas

by
Danielle Hanna

Sometimes your ideas run fast and furious. Sometimes they slow to a crawl. But if you’re going to get a novel done at all—and particularly if you’re ever going to be a prolific author—learning to manage the flow of ideas is essential. In Part I of this two-part post, we’ll talk about what to do when you’re out of story ideas.

What to Do When You’re Out of Story Ideas

Ever wish you had a bottomless treasure trove of story ideas and plot twists? For free? You do. It’s called Life.

You may think your life is BORING. But look closer. Think a little more critically. Everything that happens to you is a story—and with minor adjustments, or even as-is, carries the potential for epic novel material. The beauty is that your personal experience can inject your story with noticeable authenticity.

Look for the Conflict

True story: I’ve just bought a new (okay, used) motor home, and I’m proudly driving it back to my house. I’m cruising down the Interstate, just getting the swing of handling this 23-foot road monster, when I start losing power on the up-hills. Pretty soon, the engine coughs and dies.

I did say it was used, right? As in, gas-gauge-doesn’t-work-anymore used. But no problem! I have an auxiliary tank—and I even know how to access it. I switch the little lever under the dash. The engine revs back to life … then coughs and dies again.

Conflict: not one but TWO empty gas tanks on my brand new (used) motor home.

Look for Escalating Problems

It’s rush hour. I’m in the farthest lane from the shoulder. My mirrors aren’t adjusted right. I’m half-way between an on-ramp and a bridge with no shoulder. (Yes, this is still a true story.)

In real life, it never rains but it pours. That’s the pits when you’re stuck in the middle of a problem—but it’s a bonus when turning your experiences into story material. Your reader will get bored with a challenge that stagnates. Instead, the conflict should stubbornly get more and more problematic.

So look at your real-life conflict and ask yourself how it became more problematic over time.

Look for the Climax

I crane my neck and glimpse just enough space to cross over to the shoulder. I literally coast to a stop on the itty-bitty strip of safe zone between the on-ramp and the bridge. After a brief moment of pounding head on steering wheel, I call my dad and ask if he can swing by with a gas can.

Every conflict eventually reaches a point of resolution. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes a little of both. How did your problem resolve?

Look for the Story Potential

Okay, so running out of gas on the Interstate isn’t exactly epic novel material—or is it? Look for a moment at all the things that could have gone wrong:

  • I could have been stranded twenty miles from the nearest town
  • I could have been stranded after dark in a questionable neighborhood
  • I could have been on my way to a vital appointment
  • I could have been “helped” by someone I’d rather not get help from
  • I could have been rear-ended

See? What may have been a minor annoyance in your life has big story potential if you know how to leverage it. What if this happened to your heroine while she was rushing to save the day? What if it resulted in a major collision? What if the guy who pulls over to help is the antagonist? Suddenly your every-day experience takes on new life.

Everything that happens to you is a story—your story. With just a dash of creativity, you can easily use your life as a never-ending reservoir of story ideas.

In Part II, we’ll talk about the opposite problem, what to do with too many story ideas.

About Danielle

Danielle Hanna learned how to read and write at the age of four and knew she wanted to be an author by the time she was seven. She now writes Christian mysteries and has recently started her own freelance writing business. You can visit her at her blog, http://embarkonadventure.com. She’s happy to hear from you!

She’s also been my brainstorming partner since 2010. We’ve spent countless hours bouncing ideas off one another, helping each other with our stories, and generally providing encouragement and motivation to each other.

Writing By The Seat of Your Pants – It CAN Be Done

For the last five weeks, I’ve described the method I use most often for developing stories. Using the two-track system, I can develop the plot and characters for a story at the same time or individually.

But if you’re a pantser, all that information probably wasn’t much use to you.

Hopefully, this post will be.

Why?

Because you see, I have written by the seat of my pants, too. An idea appeared about this time of the year in 2009, I prepped it a little before the end of the month, then on November 1, I started writing. Twenty-nine days later, I finished. The first draft was 78,000 words and complete inasmuch as it had a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Yep. I did it with NaNoWriMo.

No Masterpiece

I’m the first to admit, that story is a train wreck. There are gaps in it that you could drive a truck through. The beginning of the story and the end are related but only loosely.

But it is a first draft and when you finish a first draft, you enter an elite group. Most people who start novels never finish them. If you’ve finished a rough draft, congratulations!

Getting Started

When writing from the seat of your pants, you start wherever the idea starts. It might be with a character. It might be an extraordinary set of circumstances. It could be the overarching premise. There are a thousand different places to start.

My 2009 NaNoWriMo story began with two lead characters. I knew enough of their back story, present circumstances, and personal problems to know how they would interact. I also knew what the story was about.

The Next Step

Begin by exploring those first ideas, whatever they are. At this stage there’s an unlimited number of directions your story could go…unless you started with the big picture.

Here are a few questions to ask if you began with a character:

  • Who is this person?
  • What does he or she want most?
  • What is keeping him or her from getting or doing that thing?
  • How can he or she overcome that obstacle?

Answers don’t need to be specific. You don’t even need to answer all of the questions. Find one answer that’s strong enough and you have enough to start writing.

However, you may need to answer more than one question to find that starting point. If so, keep after it until something clicks and the story begins playing out in your imagination.

If you happen to start with a plot, here are some questions to get you started:

  • Who will this plot most impact favorably?
  • Who will this plot most impact unfavorably?
  • Are these two characters in conflict? If so, how? (Tip: If they aren’t in conflict, find a way to put them into conflict.)

If you started with an overarching idea, a noble theme as it were, here questions to answer:

  • What is the message of this idea?
  • What is the best way to tell the story?
  • How does the story begin?
  • How does the story end?

There may not be clear answers to any of these questions, no matter where you begin. That’s okay. Something prompted you to start pondering this idea. Go back to step one and remind yourself what that something was.

Maybe you begin with a scene. Someone you don’t yet know is doing something strange, odd, exciting, frightening, bold. You don’t know what it is or what the purpose is. You just see that scene. It’s almost as if you were watching it on stage. What should you do?

The neat thing about intuitive writing is that you can start wherever you are. Don’t worry about delving into the character’s emotional makeup or figuring out what the goals and conflicts are. Just. Write.

The Point Is…

…you can write a story any number of ways. Some will work for you. Some won’t. Don’t sweat the ones that don’t work. Don’t sweat the parts of the methods that don’t work.

Do work with the methods or parts of methods that do work for you. Find ways to make them more productive for you.

And just because one method works best for your last story, don’t think you must use it for the next story. Just like children, each story will develop a personality and attitude of it’s own. Treat it like an individual and you’ll be a much happier writer.

Conclusion

Have I whetted your appetite for more? Good!

I’m planning a Writing Well story clinic on SOTP writing, so if you have questions, please leave a comment in the comment box below. I’ll answer it here for sure and possibly dedicate a post to it in the clinic. A win-win for you!

Building Story From the Ground Up – Developing A Chapter Outline

So you’ve spent weeks (or maybe months) nurturing your story, building it from that initial spark of an idea into a well-developed summary. The turning points are all in place. You have the basic story road mapped with a paragraph summary and you know at least the basics about your lead characters and maybe something about a few secondary characters. What next?

For me, the final stage in pre-planning is one last round of planning in the form of expanding the long summary into a chapter outline.

What Is A Chapter Outline And How Do I Write One?

A chapter outline is a chapter-by-chapter outline of the story from beginning to end.

Step 1: Break the Long Summary Into Chapters

Most of my manuscripts require between 50 and 60 chapters. Because 60 more easily divides into quarters, I usually divide the long summary into 60 chapters. I denote the end of an act every fifteen chapters. The acts don’t always end that neatly, but I like to have the general location marked out before I begin.

Step 2: Add Chapter Notes

If the story is told from the point of view of multiple characters, name the POV character under the chapter number as follows:

Chapter 1
POV Character: Female Lead

Chapter 2
POV Character: Male Lead

If chapter contains scenes for more than one POV character, note the change in POV at the beginning of each scene.

If the timing in the novel is crucial, tell what day and, sometimes, what time of day, each chapter covers. In a story that covers an extremely short period of time, this is very important. It’s also vital to know in stories where a lot takes place or where you’re following several characters.

Chapter 1
Day 1: Twelve Noon
POV Character: Female Lead

Chapter 2
Day 1: Twelve Noon
POV Character: Male Lead

It’s not always necessary to include this much information in a chapter outline, but it saves a ton of time to figure these details out in the chapter outline rather than waiting until you’ve written half the novel before discovering the male lead and female can’t possibly be in the same place at the same time and having to track down and correct the discrepancy.

Setting
If setting plays a major role in the story (and it should most of the time), include notes about setting with the chapter heading. This includes the location of the POV character, weather, and anything else that might be pertinent to the scene or scenes in the chapter.

Clues
If you’re writing a mystery or suspense, you may want to denote any important clues that appear in that chapter. You want to make sure to include all the clues and evidence necessary to successfully conclude the story, but you also want to leave as few loose threads as possible.

I admit with a laugh that you probably won’t know all the clues that might be important. You can always add them later. But why handicap yourself by not mentioning at this stage the things you know you’ll need to include?

Situations
In one story, my two lead characters had to hitch a ride on a freight train. As you might guess, I needed to know not only where they could do that, but which railroad had trains in that area and where the characters might be likely to get off the train. I made notes in each of the corresponding chapters so the information was available as I wrote the narrative for those chapters.

Research Notes
You won’t always know in advance what you need to research. If you get to a chapter and discover you need more information, do not stop writing the outline to do the research. You don’t want to interrupt the flow of writing narrative summary, especially if it’s going well.

Make a note and do the research later. A note will remind you later what information you need and will allow you to continue moving forward.

Step 3: Summarize Each Chapter

Write narrative summary for each chapter. If more than one character has a scene in a chapter, break the narrative where the point of view changes.

Step 4: Scene Snippets
The most valuable thing about the chapter outline for me is the opportunity to record snippets of scenes when they occur. If I hear dialogue or “see” a location as I’m writing narrative, I begin writing what I hear or see, instead of summarizing it. There’s no guarantee those lines will end up in the first draft, but they may. And even if they don’t, you have that little bit of extra information to guide you when you write the chapter later.

If you’re doing National Novel Writing Month, you might want to skip the scene snippets. Unless the rules have changed since my last participation, the purpose of NaNoWriMo is to start with nothing but a plan and write a complete novel in 30 days.

Ready to Write… Or Are You?

For me, the chapter outline is the last step in planning. In a lot of cases, it’s actually a transitional step that combines the final stages of planning and the first stages of writing the novel.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the final stage for you. It could be one of the early steps in your Story Track.

Nor does it mean you have to do a chapter outline at all. You might be perfectly happy skipping it altogether.

But it is a helpful step if you like to get the clearest possible view of your story before starting to write it.

In Conclusion

Whatever the case, this is the conclusion of Building Story From The Ground Up. My next step is writing the novel. Whether that happens immediately or later, the foundation for the story is now in place. A quick review of the chapter outline and I can pick up the story again and begin writing whether I do so immediately or two or three years later (yes, I do have some complete chapter outlines waiting for the right timing).

I hope the process I’ve described here is of help to you. If it is, I’m happy I could be of assistance. If not, thank you for taking the time to take a look. No two writers work alike and, as I’ve mentioned often, the same process doesn’t work for every novel either.

Take what you can use, adjust it to suit your purposes, and toss the rest.

Whatever you do, have fun and write well!

Building Story From The Ground Up – Characters – Goals & Conflicts

So far, the Character Track of story development has been all about the surface details and easily discovered information. You started the process with first impressions and continued to expand your knowledge of your lead character by developing the kind of basic information you might take away from a first meeting.

Those things are important, but you need at least one more thing to make your character believable and to give readers a reason to read your novel. In two words, “goal” and “obstacle”.

In other words; no goal, no obstacle, no story. Period.

Goal

This is something your character wants. It could be professional. A new job or a new career, for example.

It might be personal. Finding the right spouse, losing weight, or getting a bigger house.

It might financial. Getting out of debt or making a million dollars.

Any goal can be used so long as it’s important to the character and it’s not too easy to get.

Whatever the goal is, it must be something your lead character wants badly enough to propel him or her into the story. It should be important enough to keep the character moving forward even as the stakes rise and the obstacles become more and more impossible.

The ideal goal for your lead character should also make sense for the character. For a slender female lead, a goal of losing weight doesn’t present much of a challenge. Nor does making a million dollars make much sense for a lead character who is already a billionaire. Granted, there are situations in which those goals might work because they suggest an underlying problem with the character’s personality, but as a rule, a poor man who wants to make a million dollars will be much more interesting than the billionaire working toward the next million.

Obstacle

Every goal needs an obstacle. Without an obstacle, a goal is just another item to check off a to-do list. Remember that one-liner at the beginning?

No goal, no obstacle, no story.

Quite often, goals and obstacles mirror each other. In the examples above, the character who wants to lose weight might also be burdened with an insatiable sweet tooth or with a need to eat in order to deal with stress. Both of those are a major obstacle to weight loss.

The character who wants to make a million dollars might also be so deep in debt that it takes every penny just to pay the bills. Or he or she might have a need to appear wealthy to others and spends unwisely to create that appearance.

The best obstacles are those that arise from the character’s personality or situation, as described above. The obstacle is one side of the coin, the goal is the other.

But obstacles can come from outside, too. Imagine your lead character’s major goal is to get the next promotion. He’s worked hard for that promotion and is deserving of it.

But so are two or three other candidates, each of whom is more qualified in one area or another. These additional candidates are obstacles to your lead’s goal of getting that promotion. How your lead handles these situations will be part of the story.

The obstacle may also appear as a series of smaller obstacles. There is no single obstacle, but a number of them. As each one is overcome, another appears.

This is the way life happens most often and a well-orchestrated series of obstacles–each of which is worse or bigger than the previous one–is more effective than one big obstacle.

Make Things Really Interesting…

…and have one overarching obstacle that looks insurmountable and also a series of smaller obstacles impeding progress along the way. Think Frodo and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

In those movies, the primary goal was getting the ring back to Mount Doom. The major obstacle was distance and time.

But there were a huge number of other obstacles along the way, not the least of which was Frodo’s sense of inadequacy and fear.

Conclusion

Take a little time to find the right combination of goals and obstacles. Remember,

  • The goal and obstacles should mirror each other
  • The goal should make sense for the character
  • The goal should be important enough to the character so he or she doesn’t give up
  • The obstacles should be a combination of personal–part of the character’s personality–and from outside

Get these things right and you’ve made a major step forward in building your story.

Assignment

Take a day or two to develop your lead character’s main goal. Work on at least one primary obstacle keeping that goal out of reach. Then ask yourself the following questions:

What are this character’s personal obstacles?

What outside obstacles confront the character?

How can I make things worse?

What else can possible go wrong?

Leave a comment below or contact me by email if you would like help.

All You Need

This marks the conclusion of the essentials for writing a good first draft when it comes to The Character Track. There is a lot more to character development, but if you’ve done the assignments for each of the character track clinics, you know enough to write your story.

Again, those three elements are:

  • First Impressions
  • Basic information gained in a first meeting
  • Goals and obstacles

For Those Who Like More

Here are a few links to other articles on character development that you may find helpful. Enjoy!

 

Building Story From the Ground Up – The Plot Track – Four Page Summary

In the last clinic on The Plot Track, we talked about the one-page summary. That’s where you begin to develop subplots and introduce secondary characters, but the main focus is still on the lead character.

The four-page summary continues that development, but also begins giving more page time to subplots and secondary characters as they relate to the lead character.

Four-Page Summary

The four-page summary expands each of the paragraphs of the one-page summary into a page. Each page should end with a major turning point, including the last page, which will end with the end of the story.

The first page summarizes the set up and the first quarter of the story. It ends with the first major turning point.

The second page summarizes the second quarter of the story and ends with the second major turning point.

The third page summarizes the third quarter and ends, not surprisingly, with the third major turning point.

The fourth page describes how the story ends.

What you’re doing is telling yourself the story as narrative summary. If it helps, think of yourself as a reporter reporting a chain of events to yourself. You can even write it as a news story if you prefer or if that works better for you. The way in which you write the summary isn’t important. Getting the story fixed in your mind is.*

Remember,
The plan I’m describing is designed for pre-planners. If you write by the seat of your pants, then you “discover” how the story unfolds scene by scene.

The four-page summary (which I often refer to as the long summary) can take a couple of weeks to hammer out. Don’t worry if it does. Time spent here is well spent if you’re not on a deadline. Every major decision you can make at this stage will save time and writing yourself into corners and blind alleys during the writing process, so don’t rush through it.

Why Two Summaries?

There is, of course, no reason why you have to do both a one-page and a four-page summary. Point of fact, there’s no reason to do any summary. But the process that works best for me is one of continually expanding material from the seed of an idea through the finished manuscript.

So it’s perfectly natural to turn my paragraph summary into a one-page summary and it’s just as natural to expand that single page into four pages, at a minimum. It’s not uncommon for a well developed long summary to approach 10,000 words in length. That’s why I often use the term “long” instead of “four-page”.

In Conclusion

The bottom line is to do what works for you. If all you need is a one-page summary, go for it. If you want to go straight for the long summary or to the story itself, more power to you. There is no Right Way to write a story. Just whatever works best for you. Take from these clinics whatever works and adapt or trash the rest as fits your writing style and personality.

Your Assignment

Develop a four-page summary from your one-page summary and previous assignments. Spend one day drafting it, then review it again a day or two later.

If you have difficulty with some of the parts of your developing story, concentrate your efforts there. When the problems are resolved to your satisfaction, add the new text to the long summary.

In the next post, we’ll take a look at the next step in character development–goals and obstacles. Stay tuned!