Monthly Archives: January 2014

Storybuilder Inc. — Step 12: Revision 501

Welcome back to Storybuilder Inc.

For those just joining, I am both a writer and an editor and have compiled this series both by utilizing various principles of storytelling craft learned from other writers and professionals in the industry, and from techniques I use in my own practice. I do my best to make it accessible and adaptable for other writing styles, i.e. intuitive vs. planning.

I cover everything from the initial premise to the final, polished draft. Last time, I covered 5 advanced principles to help as you use your revision outline from step 11 to adjust your manuscript so it matches the kernel of your story. This week I will talk about 5 final, very advanced principles of pre-polishing revision.

For a complete guide of all Storybuilder steps, including a list of posts to come, CLICK HERE.


Tip 1: Discover characters’ fourth dimensions and world-building under-story

Are your primary characters three-dimensional? Time to make them four-dimensional. Are you secondary characters two-dimensional? Now it’s time to get to know them as well as you knew your primary characters before you started telling your story. Tertiary characters, those ones who make a quick appearance, will also get a promotion—at least, some of them. Pick those tertiary characters who stood out more than expected in the manuscript and make them more that one-dimensional. The ones who stay one-dimensional, those extras in the crowd, can now be called quaternary characters for the distinction. Go on, rewrite all your profiles and label accordingly.

What about settings? You drew them out, made some notes. But your story went on and maybe you forgot to write down the details. Now it’s time to organize and get them down. And all those details with your world need organizing too. If you write speculative fiction, then you might need to make profiles for nations, cultures, peoples, religions, languages, or groups. You might need a chronology to deal with the history behind the world as it’s come together. Do that too. Develop a system and keep it organized.

Do you see the point I’m getting at and how it relates to the idea behind this tip? So far, we’ve just been looking at the story in each sub-frame and how to make revisions without losing perspective. Now the goal is to comb over your sub-frames, look at the world-building behind them, and see how you can coherently organize your notes to make sure everything’s consistent.

Contradictions in story occur because we lose perspective of what is actually going on. After all, writing a story involves lots of juggling. At the same time, getting carried away with profiling to make sure you understand all the inner workings can pull you away from the germ of the story, leading to a manuscript that reads as an attempt to Frankenstein a bunch of disjoint creative blocks.

In Step 4 I mentioned basic techniques to keep your world-building together and in control. (In fact, I will be following Storybuilder Inc. with a companion series on this process.) Now, after the writing is done, it is most appropriate to take the time and build to your heart’s content. It will give you more perspective, which is exactly what you want.

Focus, in particular, on character, since character motives are the essence of story and the conflict that defines it. Go deeper than just knowing all the levels of your primary characters—wear their skin, see into their soul. If they’re burned, feel that burn, if they weep, you should be weeping too, if they are depressed, get ready to see the doctor for some antidepressants. Wear black if they like black, or spend hours in a garden or conservatory if your heroine is a gardener in a land of eternal spring. Think of yourself like a movie actress (or actor) getting into character, and go so far as to talk like your primary characters, walk like them, even think like them while you’re trying to discover this fourth dimension of their character. The story you tell is their story and the only way it will be believable is if you believe it—and that means you must live it. That’s a four-dimensional character, and even if it drives you a bit crazy, well…there’s a price to pay for prose that truly are alive.

There’s also the lesser players who knit together the subplots. Contradictions and plot holes abound when secondary characters are little more than two-dimensional jigsaw pieces. You know a bit of their back-story, their motives and goals, but not much more. Make them more than a wind-up toy that spins and somersaults. Now, you don’t want them to be three-dimensional in the story, because otherwise your narrative will be over-saturated with meaningless info-dumps, but those characters do need to become three-dimensional to you, their creator, and he perfect time for this is the point where the story is told and you want to get to the bottom of why everyone is doing the things they’re doing. Look this little bit deeper, and see if the story your wrote is in line with it. If not, make a slight adjustment to make it true.

Last, those tertiary guys and gals. Every piece of your story must be meaningful. And so everyone who occupies more than a few sentences should be as well. Convince yourself that their presence passes this test, and, to do so, make them two-dimensional on paper so that, when they speak, walk, or are observed by your protagonists from a distance, you’ll understand their significance.

An example:

A bearded man walking across the town square now is an unemployed lumberjack whose wife wants him to find work as a blacksmith, and he’s storming across the town square because he hates the thought of it. His lip is curled, his shoulders are hunched, and he’s cursing the Goddess of Thunder. And this is perfect, since he does this during the chapter with emphasis on misdirection and free choice. Furthermore, the otherwise sunny day I picked now will change to foggy and overcast, making the primary character uncomfortable and on edge. See how a bit of knowledge of a tertiary character’s second dimension can enhance a scene, change the tone and mood, and send a ripple across the manuscript? Do this with every tertiary character you can think of, using the slightest brush stroke, and watch your story come to life. (And I’ll assume you all are familiar with writing’s number one rule: show, don’t tell!)

You’ll find that probing characters deeper will open up setting and world details too. If you are writing a story set in the real world, then you might profile relevant groups based on your research if, for example, you find out your character was a former spy for an organization called the Black Bells. Let all the layers build and add up, and tweak your story accordingly (or make notes where you’re not sure so you can address it all during the polishing to ensue).

Tip 2: Clear all your lists

Revision, like drafting, is organic. That means, although I’m detailing various tips to reflect five different levels of complexity, in truth the order you tackle things will be as unpredictable as the creative process itself. Outlining—true outlining—after all, is not about laying down all the boundaries and limiting your creative freedom. It’s the exact opposite, in fact. It’s about become freer because of the confidence you have in a directive process that will yield a story fleshed out to its fullest.

Either way, before you move on to polishing—the step where you will take all the notes and revision strategies and produce something ready for an editor’s eye—make sure you deal with everything on your list. Cold read notes, alpha reader notes, or another list that grew when you started the revision process. Don’t jump the gun, no matter how tempting that is, because otherwise you’re going to run in circles and end up with a story you knew could have been better, if only you’d waited. If your publisher or agent is pestering you, then ask for more time. If there’s a deadline, then throw everything distracting aside, lock yourself in a room, and ask your friends and family for forgiveness. Do what it takes, but whatever you do, don’t cut corners; leave no stone unturned and you will have the best polishing experience possible, and, most importantly, happy readers when your book is in print.

Tip 3: Good bookkeeping

Your manuscript is going to look like a dog’s breakfast. It will consist of the neat, well-thought-out words you put together during drafting, and the looser, boxed-in notes, offset with various anchors you’ve dropped in during revision. Once you get through all your revision check-lists and have treated every sub-frame and given it the considerations of the various levels of Tip 1, go over your manuscript and read these notes. See if you can clean them up a bit, or put them together. (In the process, you may generate a creative spark or two—it’s fine to fix up your manuscript during revision, just as long as you avoid getting pulled into linear revision.)

If you’re a multiple drafter and more of an intuitive writer (i.e. a “seat-of-your-pantser”), then this corresponds to exactly what you do, but with notes inserted as you run over your drafts, rather than just changing the manuscript each time until it happens to work out.

(Quick fact: intuitive writers often write many drafts, up to twenty, as a process of discovering their story. These stories often abound in surprises and twists that outline-based drafts lack. However, I will again emphasize that the Storybuilder model is neither of the two. There is no “formula” for writing a great story. However, there are steps you can follow to help as you creatively discover how to create your own unique cosmos. Revision, whether you are an outline writer or an intuitive writer, is as much an opportunity to introduce twists, surprises, and new layers to your story as in drafting.)

Tip 4: Embrace unpredictability

Since your story’s true existence is abstract and your true work involves careful thought that far exceeds the time you spend crafting its prose, this means the storytelling process itself can be very unpredictable. As much as you might want to control it, the truth is it will take you for as many twists and turns as the story itself (perhaps more).

The goal of the revision model I’m presenting is to allow you to embrace this process. Rather than forcing on story layers and changes without a sense of their effectiveness, you have an opportunity to write in an intermediate medium. In much the same way computer programmers write in pseudo-code to break down a problem before investing too much energy in implementing thousands of lines of code, so too a writer can learn to write in “pseudo-story”, looser sketches of the story in question without investment in a particular course of prose. Just as a problem-solver uses these looser forms of notation to assist as a focus for thought, so too a writer can feel his or her way to the essence of their story before taking out the brush and sweeping every grain of dirt from its stones.

Tip 5: Kill your darlings, but believe in resurrection

It might seem intuitive to keep the strongest passages of your story and clear away the weaker ones. This, in general is true. But sometimes it’s wise to go to the parts you feel the strongest about and decide they need to be better.

You’ve heard the expression, “Kill your darlings.” Why do we do this? Not because fiction, as a rule, shouldn’t contain anything profound. It’s something deeper:

If you wrote something worth keeping, then it’s not the words, but what the words do, that is worth keeping. So, go to a part you love. Think about it, reflect, then make the decision to tear or apart. Tear it apart and make it better. What will come back will be something different (though it sometimes will be similar). In its resurrected form, it will be there because you connected with what is happening in your story. You connect with why, and the process of writing itself, and in so doing detach from enamor over having written.

I’ve used the image of layers of an onion, or a snake shedding its skin. Also, metamorphosis. Layer upon layer, your goal is to strip your prose down until the diamond and gold and nameless precious gems of your story are naked and gleaming for your reader to see. You’ll break them free during revision, then make them smooth, shiny, and well-wrought during the final polish.

It ends with polishing

Some of you have heard the word “polishing”. Perhaps it was from an agent or an editor who said, “It must be polished before you submit it.” The word itself makes me think of continuous rubbing and smoothing off all rough edges. It’s easy to think this means you just have to write a story then keep going over it again and again. Hence, linear revision, which is, for most, a trap.

I’ve tried to break revision and polishing into separate pieces, and hope this helps you highlight strategies to make the overall process productive. “Keep going over your manuscript until it’s perfect” is not specific at all, and is very unhelpful. Good goals are concrete and specific (like good stories).

Next week, I will detail more techniques, ones that will give you detailed, measurable steps to make sure that “continuous rubbing” leads to a finished story.


Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. He is the author of The Pact and is an editor for Champagne Books.

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Filed under Graeme's World, Storybuilder Inc. Outlining and Storytelling Process

Do You Ever Wonder Where Your Characters Come From, or Why They Come Back?

Ron'sBookWhen you are constructing your imaginary worlds, the characters who inhabit them are as important as the setting. Picture a story with a great location, filled with flat boring characters, and you’ll get the idea. If you don’t care about the characters, or find them interesting, why keep reading? You could probably get away with exciting characters in a dull setting, but let’s face it, the best stories have both.

Where do characters come from? I’ve a recent example from my own experience. I was getting ready to write a sequel to The Queen’s Pawn. After I finished the original novel, I wrote down two sentences for plots I might use if I ever turned TQP into a trilogy. One sentence, one plot idea for another novel. Now that I’ve decided to proceed, the first thing I did was take the germ of the first idea, sit down and write all of the things I could think of that would relate to a book two. When I got that exercise out of my system, it was time to start writing.

I’m sitting at a table in a curling rink, drinking coffee and staring at my notebook. The first sentence is important and so is the opening scene. It’s one thing to know the central plot pivot, it’s another to get the blasted novel rolling. After a few false starts (I’m basically a pantser, not a plotter) I decided I would open by having the hero summoned to a meeting with the queen. Fair enough, someone had to come and get him. Basically a simple walk-on part and a character who might never be heard from again. I decided on a squire rather than a servant. What happened next was that the hero and the squire, on their own, started up a conversation as they walked through the castle. By the end of page two I knew the squire had graduated from a background actor to someone who may take on a supporting role. Who knows where that might lead him, and certainly nothing that appears in my notes.

When do characters you thought you were finished with re-appear? My fantasy detective series of novellas, The Housetrap Chronicles, is based on the adventures of the central character. Each novella is written as a stand-alone story. I have rather mad way of doing these. I create a bit of a mash-up for a title, then sit down and design the plot based around explaining the title. I was working on the fourth in the series (Murder in the Rouge Mort) and needed a protagonist, villain, to give my hero Randy grief. Back in book two (Dial M for Mudder) he was faced with a devious curvaceous assassin. Why not bring her back? Completely different plot. No sense in wasting a good bad character. She did quite well in her repeat performance. Along the way I added a couple of villains who may also re-appear someday. They were just too nasty to dispose of completely. I’ve finished volume six and I notice more characters re-appearing. That’s one benefit of doing a series. I also notice others, who were bit players, maybe with only a line or two, coming forward to demand more time on stage. Makes writing interesting.

Have fun with your characters. They can make the page come alive. Just don’t let them mutiny and take over the ship completely!

Just released this week, the first print Volume of The Housetrap Chronicles containing: Housetrap, Dial M for Mudder, and House on Hollow Hill


Medieval-style fantasies: The Housetrap Chronicles:
*The Dark Lady Housetrap Hounds of Basalt Ville
Knight’s Bridge Dial M for Mudder **Murder in the Rouge Mort
The Queen’s Pawn House on Hollow Hill **Treasure of the Sarah Madder

* Two sequels Dark Days and Dark Knights scheduled for release in March and August 2014
** Murder scheduled for release in July 2014, Treasure scheduled for October 2014


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The multiverse for world-building, thanks to Brian Greene!

“You know what blows me away about our known universe. It’s how it’s so ideally suited for life as we know it. For example, if the protons in an atom were just 0.2 more massive than they actually are, they would be unstable and decay into smaller particles. Atoms would not exist and neither would we! If gravity were just slightly more powerful, the consequences would be nearly as grave. It would cause stars to run through their fuel at a fraction of the time and sputter out before life as we know it had a chance to evolve. In other words, the universe is life-friendly. Too many coincidences to be mere accidents according to many scientists.”

*Using the tenants from the above declaration made by one of my characters in a previous novel, I began to wonder how world building for a new multiverse might play out. (I’ve watched a lot of science shows hosted by the incomparable Brian Green and sat enthralled through them.) What could I add that would differ in a useful way for my storytelling from here on Earth? I decided on using a time travel scenario by creating a wormhole that could be used as a “bridge” to the past that would allow my characters to meet up at different times in history because that just sounds like so much fun to set up. And the ensuing chaos will help with the storytelling, eh.

Secondly, I imagined a looser kind of morality that would allow for a lot more fun. We can sometimes be such prudes here on Earth so a universe with more scope in that direction just might add a whole new slant to things. And it looks like some readers are looking for stories that cross many genres, at least according to some of the blogs I’ve been reading, so that just might be the needed impetuous, right?

Thirdly, a new universe would be a great place for all the supernaturals to hang out, which would explain their elusiveness here on Earth—think Big Foot. Gives them their own place where they can visit our planet when they chose which means we need portal(s) to that other world that I’m going to call Outrider due to their outlaw nature.

Fourthly, the new world creatures just accept reincarnation as a fact, like some believe in right here on Earth.

Fifthly, time travels much slower on this new world adding to the sense of it being a haven. You can visit this universe and get back to Earth before very much has changed. Rather a useful premise for storytelling.

Now, to find out more you will just have to read the series when it’s finished. First Book: Blood Moon Justice coming soon.

How does world building work for you? Do you fly by the seat of your pants as you go or do you plan everything ahead of time? I’d really like to know.

Best, January Bain
Forever Series
Champagne Books

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Genres help each other

Besides writing fiction, I also work as a journalist for a local newspaper and I write book reviews for most books I read. GoodReads has 250 of my reviews by now, and I noticed recently how much writing nonfiction improved my fiction.


Writing articles for an old-fashioned print newspaper teaches brevity and influences word choices. In a print newspaper, unlike an online blog, page space is at a premium, and word count is tight, like in a book. I have to squeeze everything I need to say into 800 words, so I learned to formulate my thoughts in the most concise way and to select only the most relevant, truly important points for inclusion in a story. I also learned to use very few adjectives in my writing—no room for flowery prose—and to select the most precise and expressive words to convey ideas. These skills do wonders in fiction.

Book reviews

When I critique a book, figuring out what I like and dislike in a story, I try to use my finds in my own fiction. It’s not as easy with quality, the books I like—these are often highly subjective—but flaws are easy to pinpoint in the other writers’ works. Each one I notice is a lesson to apply to my own writing. A few of the most common flaws—the most important lessons—I list below.

Deus ex machine – this is a No-No! in every textbook on writing, but many writers still use this literary device. It’s very tempting to drop their characters into an impossible situation and then introduce a powerful sorcerer who can wave his wand—and poof! Problems solved. Heroes saved. Or it could be a boss, or Zeus, or a genius rabbit coming to the rescue. Sergei Lukyanenko in his books Night Watch and Day Watch uses this approach. His hero doesn’t solve problems. To keep his conscience clean, he allows others to do it for him, to dirty their own conscience.
I never resort to this trick. My characters always solve their own problems. And if they can’t, then maybe I, a writer, should fix the situation they find themselves in, so they would have a solution available.

Info dumps – another technique frowned upon by all the writing teachers. Still, many writers do it in the beginning of their books. Mercedes Lackey is especially prone to info dumps in prologues. The readers should know the character backgrounds and the world description before they plunge into the story, right? Wrong! Everything the readers should know they could learn from the story later.
I try hard not to use this comfortable and attractive solution. As a reader, I’m bored by the info dumps. I don’t wish to bore my readers, so I start my stories with action.

Unsympathetic characters – this is a border case. I don’t usually finish books where I don’t like any of the characters, but some readers accept this writing quirk, even derive a contrary satisfaction from reading about doormats or villains. In the last decade, a wave of darkness swept the literature, and many writers consider a good protagonist almost a taboo. They add some artificial faults to their heroes, as if a drug user is automatically more interesting than an honest, hardworking non-smoker. I disagree. For me, it feels like a lazy way out for a writer, but liking and disliking has always been subjective. I try to write about characters that I myself sympathize with. I make my characters strong and able, standing firmly on the ‘side of light’. They still have complex problems to solve, so it’s largely a personal preference, but it’s a lesson all the same.

Too many details or unnecessary details – this flaw isn’t huge but it’s often irritating. Some writers don’t even consider it a flaw, they cram their novels with details, but for me as a reviewer, too many details make a book tedious. Every detail, if used, should tell something about the character or be relevant to the story or convey a mood. If it fails to perform any of these three functions, it’s extraneous. I read a book by Alex Bledsoe lately. In it, his hero goes peeing one morning. Who needs this detail? Why is it there? It doesn’t serve any purpose. In my own writing, I try to follow this maxim: no unnecessary details. Sometimes, I fail, but I make an effort.

What other fiction writing technique did you learn by working in another writing genre? Marketing? Technical writing? Communications?

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SYFY Shows Return & New Ones Make an Entry

imagesThe countdown is on! Tonight, my two favorite SyFy shows premier. Lost Girl AND Being Human are back and I am counting the hours. If you remember, Lost Girl’s season ended with a car accident without us knowing who comes out alive. Being Human ended with several open ends, the main one being if the dead chick would rot or not. They’ve been pushed back an hour and a new show, Bitten, has been added at 10pm. Previews say the female lead is the only female werewolf. We know, of course, that Being Human has at least two. I hate it when world building collides, especially on the same night.

imagesCA9LILQBHelix debuted last week featuring a deadly disease that breaks out in a research station in Antarctica (?). Two scientist brothers who are at odds (one brother caught his wife in bed with the other brother which ended a marriage and a friendship) end up on the station with the wronged bro trying to rescue his infected bro. Ex-wife who is also a scientist is on the scene and finally apologizes for her adultery as a lapse which she regrets but claims it’s basically his fault for ignoring her. In the last scene, the infected bro has his tongue down her throat which is how the disease is spread. Don’t know if the microorganism is sentient or what but it seeks to spread. The frozen monkeys are the stuff of nightmares. Not sure if I’ll follow this one.

Hiatus always brings disorder, but a plethora of new shows eased it somewhat. Haven’s December cliffhanger was interesting. I’ve seen no hints of who in hell the movers and shakers are in the town. I’m ready for a resolution, but will need to wait until the next year.

Almost_Human_FOX A couple of new shows popped up on the big channels. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow features an Ichabod Crane who is some sort of resurrected savior who strives to rescue the world from a modern-day Armageddon. Washington Irving would likely have a stroke. On a very positive note, Almost Human has been an interesting treatment of the robot/human interaction. In the series, the outdated model robot assigned to the lead cop is considered a bit dysfunctional. Their interaction brings to mind Asimov’s Robot Series which he started writing way back in 1939 which I LOVED.
Next week, I’ll share my plan for a new series and my other writing goals for 2014.

Visit Rita Bay at Rita Bay’s Webpage & Blog
“Ely’s Epiphany” Secret Cravings Publishing, December, 2013
“Finding Eve” Champagne Books, September, 2013
“Nimue’s Daughter,” Shared Whispers, Champagne Books, September, 2013
“Search & Rescue” Secret Cravings Publishing, July, 2013
“Her Teddy Bare” Carnal Passions, May, 2013 “The Aegis” Champagne Books, April, 2013
“Into the Lyons’ Den” Champagne Books, August, 2012 “His Desire” Siren BookStrand, May, 2012 “His Obsession” Siren BookStrand, April, 2012

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 12: Revision 401

Welcome back to Storybuilder Inc., and Happy 2014!

I have compiled this series based on my writing method to inspire others who wish to develop their own storytelling strategies. I cover everything from the initial premise to the final, polished draft. Last week I covered 5 intermediate principles to help as you use your revision outline from step 11 to adjust your manuscript so it matches the kernel of your story. This week I will talk about 5 advanced principles that build on the 5 from last week.

For a complete guide of all Storybuilder steps, including a list of posts to come, CLICK HERE.


Tip 1: Balance the senses, do your research, and build in all perspectives

The idea behind this tip is that of making adjustments without lose perspective. First, in Revision 201, I talked about going over to get each sub-frame in sync, to appreciate the story that is actually happening despite the prose you laid there. The goal was more to make notes, to summarize your scene, or to fill in any background information you now appreciate by looking at the segment of story, with the perspective you have on how the story turned out. In Revison 301, the intermediate version, I considered a more focused way to appreciate the scene by looking at inner and outer turning points, and emotional contrasts. These are important core threads in storytelling, and I demonstrated how a story’s inner engine chugs along by the movement of these pistons.

In this step we move past these elements and map out the finer details of your scene. Now it is time to fill in the rest of your sub-frame outlines. Map out the senses to see if you have an imbalance (many stories are vision heavy, which means being mindful of sound, smell, touch, and taste, can give you some extra spices that enhance emotion, mood, and vividness of a scene). Play devil’s advocate for all the details your mention so you can do extra research. Is there a sword fight? A broadsword in a light-weight woman’s hand? You might want to research broadswords and their place in battle (which would make you rethink what weapon to give your heroine). Finally, put your sub-frames in perspective.

I need to say a little more on this final point, since it’s a bit loaded. I mentioned, in Step 11 that you will want to include a section on each sub-frame for where you can summarize how the sub-frame contributes to the development of the frame. For example, if you are working a frame where your character goes back to her childhood home, a place now full of cobwebs and broken windows, then your goal might be to contrast her state of inner turmoil with her physical world (previously, we met her as a high-power business woman who couldn’t be taken down – until she receives a phone call from her ex-husband stating that her mother, who has been wasting away in a long-term care facility, has passed away). One sub-frame might be where she picks up a shattered picture frame, the picture gone, but the frame familiar because she remembers it as the one that hung on the wall, sporting a picture of her mother and father, actually looking happy. In the “contribution to frame XYZ” section you might write, “Stirs up Athena’s (protagonist) source of pain, the thing she tries to forget.” After all, the purpose of this scene is to show that contrast, to bring her toward the mission to unearth how her grandfather died and to confront the secret she’s kept since she left home to “get a real life”.

One important thing to note, of course, is that the reflections you write are not a summary of your sub-frame. They are an assessment of the true story going on, and your job, when you appreciate how a given sub-frame contributes to a frame, is to dig deeper and get more in touch with that story behind the facade of a draft that is, at best, a very educated guess.

This type of perspective-taking is important on higher levels than just the sub-frame to frame level. Not only do we have Athena’s old home visitation frame, we might have, say three frames that are part of the Start of Main Action section. Thus, we will do up a new card for each frame, and on each card we will have a “contribution to Start of Main Action” (replace “Start of Main Action” with the respective part of the nine part outline each collection of frames belongs to). What I usually do is list a bullet summary on each frame of the sub-frames, then look for the common thread. On the back of the frame card, I will divide it in half, with one side for themes, the other side for subplots or background information. For example, with Athena coming home, perhaps the frame before was a phone call with her ex about a problem with inheritance wherein he notifies her that she has to go home (she’s at her apartment with her current date, a hot middle-aged woman from the office), and the frame after is a visit to the institution where her mother died (she hasn’t been to her home town in seven years). This is all the Start of Main Action, and putting it together, the purpose of this section is to move Athena toward the ultimate goal of the novel: to make her confront her past hurt and become a better person for it. On each frame card, then, we would write how the frame contributes to the section, i.e. we would write that the home visit frame’s contribution is it brings Athena face-to-face with her troubles and shows the reader some of the trouble beneath her facade before she goes to the long-term care home where her neglected mother wasted away.

Doing this gives you meaningful perspective and a hierarchical organization to your story that reflects the structure you built from your outline, before drafting. The goal of this process is to help you appreciate themes and higher levels of story, which will, in turn, inspire you to drop anchors all over your manuscript for later development during the polishing phase to come.

You will create a card for each of the 9 parts of your outline, summarizing, in bullet form, each frame that makes it up, and including a note for how that part of the 9-part outline contributes to its parent section of the 3-part outline. For example, the Start of Main Action is art of the Beginning of your novel. For example, in the Athena story, on the card you create for the Start of Main Action, you will summarize each of the three frames, and likewise on the card you create for the Beginning, you will summarize the 3 parts, Opening Sequence, Turning Point 1, and Start of Main Action. For each of the three cards, you will have a section for how they contribute to the Beginning, i.e. for Start of Main Action, “sets Athena’s in motion to confront the source of her hurt.” Turning Point One might be the call from her ex, and the news that her mother is dead, while the Opening Sequence might introduce us to Athena during a satisfying, long-awaited “you’re fired” meeting.

It goes all the way to the card you will make for your story. On that card, you will have a summary of the beginning, middle, and end, and on it you will state the premise. Your goal will be to make that premise true, and, if you did your outlining well, it should be quite close to the premise you set out with in Step One.

Tip 2: Tackle those harder alpha and cold reads notes

The idea behind this tip is to use external feedback. In the last step, the intermediate form, I mentioned implementing alpha reader and cold read notes. However, you might find these notes difficult to tackle. Some points might be harder to define, such as, “Margaret is always sulking and is not likable. Fix.”

Well, fixing Margaret isn’t a simple job. You might need to brainstorm several places to go and fix her. Meanwhile, the principle of revision is to keep perspective of your novel and move over it quickly. Deciding how to fix Margaret will become a sub-task that will eat up days, possibly, derailing the momentum you might have built up while going through and addressing your revision checklists.

Instead, shift those harder notes until later. Skip them, and check-mark the simpler ones that allow you to address a spot directly where you can leave an anchor in your document that you will come back to during the polishing step. Then, once you have moved over and developed your sub-frames and gained perspective for your story, both fine and gross, you can come back and jump at these harder tasks. “Fixing Margaret” can be defined as brainstorming how Margaret presents herself, and possibly a “find”-hop around your manuscript for the name “Margaret”, to see where you can do some revisions.

Tip 3: The power of anchors

The principle at work with this tip, in its 101 and 202 versions, is to prevent circular revision. One of the main causes of circular revision is the “fix it now” syndrome that torments many writers. You spot a problem, get an idea, then go into your story and change it. You go through, front to back, change, fix (or so you think), then go through again, only to find that many of the things you fixed created other problems.

It will be especially true as you move to these higher levels of revision that changing your manuscript to respond to the whims that occur will be potentially problematic. Hence the need of anchors.

It never hurts to talk about anchors, so I’ll repeat:

An anchor is a cute term I use to describe any symbol that won’t accidentally crop up in your manuscript so that you can get to a spot of interest right away. For example, in my manuscripts, I like to use [*] as an anchor for places where I’ve left myself revision notes to be addressed during polishing. I use some standard anchors, like [*introspec] for passages of introspection, [*XYintrigue] for where character XY’s intrigue is revealed or at play behind some of the mysterious actions. You can invent your own, but whatever you do, make sure you keep a list of all your anchors so you can “find” them and look at the passages of interest, or address the notes you’ve left for yourself.

Some people use the revision features of their word processor, however I’m not a fan of this because the text in your revision notes does not stand apart from the text in your manuscript during a search. For example, if I want to get to a specific comment or type of comment, I can type in one thing and go straight to it because of the anchor. Likewise, I can group together various comments using common anchors, and thus address related issues together for better continuity, rather than going through every comment and skipping the irrelevant ones (which still takes time to read and determine if they are irrelevant to your task; let’s not mention the temptation to take a detour and fix a different issue).

Tip 4: 90 percent thought

The office for a writer is a mental space, not a physical. All the scribbling you do on the page is just ten percent of the true work that happens. Whether you acknowledge it or not, you spend much of your time plotting and thinking about your story while away from the medium that allows you to capture it in still form.

Thus, embrace it. That was the spirit of this tip at level 101 and 202. The reason we leave anchors and spend time looking at abstract structure beneath our story is to move to higher levels of thought. This is where we think deeper about the story’s elements that we are now familiar with, to make sure we’ve got it right.

Like a cow with six stomachs, you’ll go chewing, swallowing, chewing, swallowing, and so on, until your story isn’t just a crude ball of cud. This takes time, thought, and care. If you’ve utilized this skill during the drafting phase and have written your words with care, then you’ll find this process of careful thinking will guide you beautifully through revision.

Tip 5: A snake shedding its skin

I mentioned rumination, but there is another image that better describes revision: a snake shedding old layers of skin. Your story is growing as you pass through successive stages of development, and if you avoid circular revision and even everything out with the right amount of thought, you will be able to appreciate how your manuscript itself evolves. As you address your revision concerns, you will be loading your manuscript with anchors and notes, and you will also make changes as they come to you. You won’t have a second or third draft. You’ll have an organism that changes slowly, shedding skin as you reach milestones for core aspects of its development.

Metamorphosis is a better image for how your story will transform after polishing, so if you’ll bear with my disgusting metaphor…revision is about shedding layer after layer after layer, changing subtle bit by subtle bit by subtle bit, until, at last, you’re nothing but a…CATERPILLAR! Then it’s time to crawl into the cocoon, do a hot read (Step 13), and put the revision notes and hot read notes to use and patiently toil so that your manuscript can emerge a wonderful butterfly (Step 14).

Next week, you’re a level 5 revisionist

The spirit of revision is restraint, no more than it is for writing itself. I have been sharing some of the higher levels of revision that I use, the with goal of presenting stages of complexity so you can think about and try some of the simpler before moving onto the harder. In truth, however, this presentation is an ideal representation of what is, in practice, much more chaotic. Nonetheless, a procedure is taught in any work place so that the workers will know what they should be doing, so that when they must improvise (most of the time), they can at lease improvise in style. So I sort out and share the method I follow in the hope that you, my fellow writer, will takes some notes and revise in style. (Unlike the office workplace, the storytelling office is one where you improve ALL the time).

In my next post (3 weeks from now) I will move to the highest level of advancement and talk about the most painstaking (and worthwhile) extents I go to ensure I have fully developed a story – to ensure not that a story is perfect (because no story can be written perfectly), but that it is complete.


Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. He is the author of The Pact and is an editor for Champagne Books.

Find out more about Graeme and his writing by visiting his website, HERE.



Filed under Graeme's World, Storybuilder Inc. Outlining and Storytelling Process

Storybuilder Inc.

Do you write novels? Do you want to write novels, but don’t know how? Are you look for a step-by-step guide to outlining, drafting, revision, and polishing your novel, from premise to the shiny, submitted manuscript that will be ready for an agent or editor’s eyes?

I am both a writer and an editor, and Storybuilder Inc. is a comprehensive list of steps that utilize various principles of storytelling craft I have learned from other writers and professionals in the industry, and from techniques I use in my own practice. I do my best to make it accessible and adaptable for other writing styles, i.e. intuitive writers vs. planners.the writing method I use. While there is no one true writing method, it is my hope that taking the time to detail this procedure will be a helpful resource for writers looking to develop their own strategies for success.

Below is a list of the steps, each containing breakdown, explanation, and numerous examples. I will continue to add to this resource during my weekly Tuesday posts.

If you like writing tips, be sure to check out the posts by my fellow authors here at Worlds of the Imagination, especially:

Olga Godim’s writing tips


“When forced to work within a strict framework, the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.” – T.S. Elliot


Step One – A premise: Starting your story with an idea, based on 3 key considerations

Step Two – Crash testing your premise: Five steps to make your premise as strong as it can be

Step Three – The three-part outline: Expanding your premise into end, beginning, middle – in that order

Step Four – Character and Setting profiles: Dealing with and keeping lateral growth organized as you outline

Step Five – The nine-part outline: Expanding from 3 parts into 9 – the key plot-point model for your story framework

Step Six – The Proposal: Write a fool-proof plan before you get ready to draft

Step Seven – The Frame-by-frame outline: Create a chronological map of milestone scenes, based on your 9-part outline


Step Eight (Drafting 1) – Drafting Begins: How to draft and use your outline to keep you grounded

Step Eight (Drafting 2) – The forest for the trees: Techniques to help you persevere during the long haul of drafting

Step Eight (Drafting 3) – Layering and scoping: Some advanced techniques for developing a solid draft

Step Eight (Drafting 4) – Alpha readers: Adding some objectivity while you draft – pros and cons, and differences from “beta readers”


Step Nine – A cold read: An effective first step, appreciate your novel at reader-speed after months spent at writer speed

Step Ten – The key to mastering structural revision: How to revise your manuscript without going in endless, hopeless circles

Step Eleven (Part 1) – A revision outline: Divide your story up into its smallest units, and make a post-draft outline

Step Eleven (Part 2) – Discovering microstructure: How to assess your manuscript’s revision needs using your post-draft outline

Step Twelve – Revision 101: Basic revision tips, utilizing the “unique story universe” principle

Step Twelve – Revision 201: 5 simple tips for efficient revision

Step Twelve – Revision 301: 5 intermediate tips for efficient revision

Step Twelve – Revision 401: 5 advanced tips for efficient revision

Step Twelve – Revision 501: 5 very advanced tips for efficient revision

Interim – Building a Revision Template: Top 5 books to help start your revision template

Forthcoming (spring 2014):


Step Thirteen – A hot read: A strategy to hold you entire story in your hands

Step Fourteen, Part 1 – Polishing: How to make your story shine on every line

Step Fourteen, Part 2 – Nuclear bombs, since this is no anthill


A companion series to follow Storybuilder Inc., detailing strategies for efficient world-building. This series is intended for writers of speculative fiction. I will explore the three major aspects of world-building, being character profiling, setting sketches, and world elements.


Filed under Graeme's World, Storybuilder Inc. Outlining and Storytelling Process

Hello, my name is Dori

I have the short-term memory of Dori. I have trouble keeping my own kids’ names straight. How on Earth did I manage to write two fantasy novels? Seriously, I’m asking.

Think about it – with a fantasy novel, you have to create a whole new world with a history, cultures, geography, government. And all this is just the setting, you also have to keep characters and story arcs straight.

I have talked to other fantasy writers, seen interviews. Many keep binders with detailed maps, character profiles, history and legend outlines. Yeah, I should do that.

In real life I’m a planner. I like to have goals. I like to make lists and cross things off as I accomplish them. I like to know what’s in store. But in my writing life – it doesn’t work that way. I can make all the plot plans I want, in the end my characters run the show. I’ve learned it’s best to go where they lead rather than try to fight them.

So how are all these characters, story arcs, history, geography, and cultures all fitting together in a cohesive story? The universal search function in Word certainly helps. Can’t remember if the soldier, Duncan, has a beard or not? Run his name & I can find his every reference in my manuscript. Best function ever.

And I do keep notes, sketch maps. They’re scribbled in chicken scratch on old envelopes and various other scraps of paper, crammed into a dilapidated journal, but they’re there if I ever need to refer to them.

But mostly I think my characters must know what they’re doing. The pictures in my head play out, the pieces fit together, and the result is an entertaining story that takes the reader to a whole new world. The magic of imagination.



Filed under Audra's World, World-building

Writing Resolutions and When You Start to Falter

I’m starting off with hoping to a brilliant new year and taking considerations for when you fail. ‘Cause that’s how I roll.

A common saying I can’t attribute to anyone specifically at the moment is: “Those who fail to plan plan to fail” – and I think if you can somehow find a time in your day to devote to your writing, I say all the power to you. Making a commitment and sticking to it shows strength of character, and quite frankly, if you don’t make time for something that will one day become difficult, it’s not hard to stop doing it when something else comes up and suddenly your time becomes compromised.

Then there are those of us who have never been able to devote a specific time to writing. Not for lack of discipline – maybe you do try to bang off something at a certain time, but you’re a student or you’re on call with a pager, and you have to be flexible. Been there, done that, don’t want the T-Shirt.

2013 was the first year since I graduated University where I didn’t begin and finish a full-length novel in the year. I can probably finish the WIP in about a week if I put my mind to it, but I’ve got no delusions on this one: It’s not my best thing ever. What was worse: I’ve been editing a different novel for about two years now: it’s still not in a state where I’m happy enough to send it to an editor.

So while I did make some commitments on my blog, I will throw out there that my resolutions in writing are guidelines, and I’m okay with that. Maybe I’d be a little stricter if I’d noticed a pattern of slipping and that I really hadn’t gotten anything accomplished in terms of my writing last year, and a lot of things I was working towards on a personal level were beyond my control. While I’m not a fan of excuses, I think it’s important to acknowledge that eventually, no matter how committed you are, things do come up and the writing will be put aside – whether it’s something short term or life-changing, or even just burnout. And I can come back and the writing will still be there.

I’m also not going to be overly cheerful and state that it’s all the effort that counts – you know, because it’s not at all condescending when you get a review that says, “Well golly, you can tell she put in some hard work!”

What I am going to say is that it’s awesome to be hopeful and set goals. It’s also great to dream big and work hard towards reaching them. Just don’t beat yourself up over it if you find yourself knee deep in some disaster or, if the story you’re working on just isn’t flowing. A million things could keep you from finishing that manuscript – but remember that when you’re effectively out of the race, no chance to reach the goal you set out for yourself, that you’re still accomplishing something by finishing the race. Not every thing you do will be golden, and that failure isn’t forever – until you put down the pen or abandon the project, it’s only over when you’re done with it, and unless you’ve committed to having something done on time, it’s okay to fall behind on that schedule provided you don’t give up altogether. Believe me: I’m that competitive person who thinks they can somehow rush things, and acknowledging that things happen in their own time is one of those things I had to learn when I became a grown up. Still working on most of the rest of maturity, but I suppose that too will happen in its own time.  

So whether you’re great with commitment or you’re stealing time to reach your daily word count, keep yourself grounded and don’t waste time beating yourself up when you fall down. Get back in the saddle and don’t worry about how long it takes to get it right.

Unless you’re committed to the editor. Be on time for that one, folks, just out of respect for other people’s time.  That being said, they totally get it if you’re in a genuine emergency. Believe it or not, editors are human too.

Happy New Year, everyone! Let’s rock 2014.

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