Sounding Off On the Outline Thing

Chapter Eight was not going well. First, the writer tried to do it from one POV. Then another. She tried putting in a scene about moving, then one about children, then yet another about something she can’t remember right now because it was a totally stupid idea.

Finally she realized her problem. She was stuck. She did not know how to get from point A to point B (or rather, from point G to point H). So, instead of writing, she pondered. And pondered some more. And let her blog go. And let her hair go. And so on.

Then she decided to outline all of the chapters that she had already done. Lined them up, as it were. She determined what was missing in the story. Then she decided to line up her potential next chapters–all of her various beginnings to Chapter Eight–to see what might lend itself to moving the story forward. She came to the conclusion that none of them fit. So she came up with an alternate Chapter Eight. It fits!


Then, to avoid this stuck-syndrome for at least the next couple chapters, she outlined those as well.

**I don’t outline my whole book, mostly because I like to be surprised by what comes up. It’s more fun for me that way. However, I do have a ghostly vision of what I want to accomplish with my story so I generally know what’s gonna happen after a particular scene. But I’m not omniscient and sometimes get stuck. I find the best thing for me to do is to bite the bullet and write a scene ‘treatment’. At least I know what I’m doing for the next 30-or-so pages, right? What do you do when you get stuck on a scene? Or don’t know exactly what happens next?

It’s A Lot Easier To Write When You Can Find Your Keyboard

The kids are settled into their new rooms. The living room has been cleared of the debris of ‘stuff’. And my writing area is free of stacks of papers and books–meaning I can now reach my keyboard without a towering stack of critiques-to-do and work-in-progess papers falling onto my head.

In other words, my writing space is now under control. This is a relief because there is quite a bit I want to finish before the end of the month. 30 pages of Llorona, a background story for The Line, plus I need to finish reading Ali’s Crossroads Promise for CWC–which is rapidly approaching!

Of course, the only one of those that’ll get done will be Ali’s stuff. When you’re interrupted by re-modeling the house, it takes a bit of time. And time is the stuff writing is made of. But I’m trying to take it easy on myself for this month. After all, it’s better to start in a place that’s under control because you’re going to lose that control at some point–if you didn’t have a good place to start from, then you have no place to return to and you run in circles and accomplish a whole lotta what?


Let’s not do that.

Mentor of the Month: Joyce Carol Oates: Write Whatcha Want

One look at Joyce Carol Oates’s bibliography and you’ll notice one thing:
She’ll write about anything.

Some examples:
Blonde: A novel about Marilyn Monroe
My Sister, My Love: A novel inspired by JonBenet Ramsay
Zombie: A psychological novel from the POV of a serial killer
The Female of the Species: A collection of short stories about women behaving badly (very badly)
Beasts: A novella about a crazy university student
We Were the Mulvaneys: Oprah pick, family drama

And that’s just some of her fiction. A teeny, tiny sampling.

What can we learn from this?

1. Write. A Lot. A great big heap of a lot.
2. Write about whatever you want, because if you’re a good writer, you can write anything.

I realize that the last point sounds an awful lot like Randy Jackson on American Idol, but he has a point. If you can sing, you should be able to sing anything. That includes the telephone book. Singers sing. Writers write.

Oates doesn’t limit herself to what topics she’ll tackle. She doesn’t say “Oh, I’m a YA, Romance, or Literary Author” and stick to just one kind of story. She mixes up genres and form. Three-book long family saga? Done. Horror novella? Done. Teen romance short story? Done. Biographical novel? Done. And let’s not get into her essays and poems–which are extensive as well.

As writers, our only limit on subject should be our interests. (The skills to pull off a certain form are different story–that stuff takes practice. Like singing–you don’t start off with that high C, you put a ton and half of hours into getting the control to get up there.)

If we’ve learned to tell a good, compelling story, then that will apply to whatever we write. So if you want to jump from an alien abduction love story to a Civil War ghost story, you are fully allowed to do that.

Snap Back to Reality

Nothing’ll bring you down out of your writerly laurels than a rejection. I have received my first for the New Year. Welcome to 2010!

In all fairness, it was a very kind rejection–which I get a lot of, and that makes me happy. You know, nice personal notes etc. They say that’s how you know you’re on the right track, right?

However, I can’t help but think of–that dating site–when I read the rejection notes. Stuff like: Strong story, but not for me. Strong writing, but not for me. After careful consideration, not for me. Not for me, not for me, not for me. I’m the close, but not-good-enough relationship. A fling! But not the one they want to settle down with. Perhaps if agents and writers had a 26-trait compatability test this would happen less often?

It makes me want to start an agent/writer dating site of sorts.

Writers could post something like:
Strong story about a woman discovering the truth of her fiance’s questionable past seeking representation from reputable agent with strong sales background and a good editorial hand. Form rejections are discouraged, but understandable.


A fixer-upper of a novel seeking representation from an agent with time to spare for a desperate writer needing attention from any agent/warm body who’ll pay attention–preferably one who wants to be a writer him/herself because his/her edits will be the only ones made to the manuscript. Rejections may result in stalking.

Picking Prizes

My ultimate grand prize for the Nathan Bransford contest was one of the following:
1. A query critiqe
2. A partial critique
3. A 10-minute phone conversation/dish session

They’re all tempting prospects. But!

  • My query is getting results at the moment, so I’m not feeling inclined to send it in unless I’m actually query-ing. Plus, I don’t think the particular novel that I’m shopping around right now is something that he’d dig. I could be wrong, but still.
  • The 10-minute conversation was especially tempting because I have a couple off-beat projects that I’d like his opinion on. One being a serial killer poetry book, but he doesn’t rep poetry so I don’t know how much he could talk about that. Another being the round story project put together by UGWP–I’d like to know how one goes about trying to sell a group project.

Still, I went with the partial critique for 2 reasons.

The first is that Bransford is a writer–having a writer’s feedback is always, always welcome. Plus, being an agent as well, he’s read a lot. So he’s a very experienced reader as well. That’s gotta count for something.

The second is that there was some debate about the prologue….You know who you are….Having him read it could either clear the water, or muddy them a bit. We’ll see how that goes. Plus, I think my writing is strongest in the La Llorona story and, well, he’s an agent.

I have to stop jumping up and down long enough to say that I won Nathan Bransford’s Teen Diary Extravaganza Diary Entry Contest!

I’m so thrilled! And there were soooo many good entries too.

Back to jumping up and down.

Mentor of the Month: Joyce Carol Oates: Punctuation As Art Form

In the spirit of Learning Stuff From Other People (part of my New Year’s Resolution) I point you toward Joyce Carol Oates–someone I’m sure you know.

Recently I finished reading Zombie, a short novel by Oates, that covers the mind of Quentin P___–a serial killer in the spirit of Jeffrey Dahmer. Here’s a small quote to get you in the spirit of things:

“Dr. E___ asks What is the nature of your fantasies, Quentin? & I am blank & silent blushing like in school when I could not answer a teacher’s question nor even (everybody staring at me) comprehend it.”

Here is the lesson to take from that: Punctuation is an art form.
Throughout the book, Oates creatively uses punctuation to get us into this killer’s head. Here is a man who has no regard for human life, why should he have regard for human grammar? The punctuation of this novel is comprehensible and rebellious at the same time–just like her main character.

What does this mean for us as writers?

1. It means that we need to know the rules first. Yes, that means we do need to know what ‘fragments’ and ‘dangling participles’ are, and we need to know where to put a comma–or not. If we don’t understand the rules, then we have no command over what we are actually saying. We think we’re saying A but we’re really saying B and it confuses the reader. As Lincoln said: “Those who write clearly have readers, those who write obscurely have commentators.” I’m not gonna go into the rules here, there are plenty of books on the subject. Yes, they’re dry. Yes, they may put you to sleep. But yes, we must read them and understand.

2. Use puntucation to add to the story. Once we know the rules, we can break them to make a point, to emphasize elements of the story itself. (Sorta the way poetry works). In Zombie Oates uses the & symbol to replace every single ‘and’. To me, this signifies a character who is 1. lazy, because he doesn’t even spell out a three-letter word and 2. doesn’t give a crap, because he uses it throughout, flaunting language and rules–which he does in his character actions as well (killing people is definitely against the rules).

Challenge: Go over something you’ve written and see if changing a comma here or there doesn’t mix it up. Throw in some parentheses. Use periods to make more fragments. Take out periods to make longer stretches of words. See what happens to the voice/tone of the story when you do that.

When Life Gets In the Way

My brilliant plans all shot and it’s only 3 days into the New Year!

Okay, so it’s not all that dramatic.

Here’s the bad news: My hubby and I have done the math and we won’t be able to move back into our house this year. I could tell you and tell you, but I don’t think anyone would really get how absolutely depressed this makes me. (We’re talking I kept a straight face while we talked about it, then promptly busted out into tears two seconds later. And I’m not a huge crier…much.)

So we talked to Susie, my dear and giving mother, and she doesn’t mind if we stay at her place for another year so we can start saving enough to get the hell out. She also graciously said that we could give Owen her room since she stays over at her ‘man-friend’s house most of the time. Read: We see her once a week if we’re lucky.

In the spirit of the thing, my husband went a little crazy and decided we needed to start moving everything NOW this VERY SECOND. (He really wants to have a room separate from the baby, and with Owen in Susie’s old room, Bronwen goes into Owen’s old room in the musical dance of the rooms.)

The result is that the house has exploded. You see, when someone has had their room for fifteen years, they accumulate what I like to call stuff. Owen’s only been around for 7 years and has accumulated his own fair share of stuff. Shifting stuff from one area to another is not as easy as you would assume. And we decided to repaint the place while we were at it (May as well raise some property value while we’re at this, right? It’s the least we can do for Susie–which means we’re also retiling the bathroom floor and installing a new sink.)

Right now, the single clean room in the whole place is Owen’s room. What does this mean?

Well, it means Owen has a cool new space.

It also means that the only part of my computer I can find at the moment is my keyboard. I can’t even see the words as I’m typing them. Am I making sense? I don’t know. Basically it boils down to this: Time spent cleaning this disaster will eat into my writing goals for this month, which were extensive, even if I didn’t post them this go-round.

Can I get a hair-pulling AUGHHHHH!?