Category Archives: Graeme’s World

Storybuilder Inc. — Step 11 (Part 1): A Revision Outline

In the last step we returned to outlining to kick off the post-draft phase of storybuilding. Our goal: effective, time-efficient revision that doesn’t come with a regular dose of migraines and head-prints on your desk. This week we will talk about how this “magic” outline is going to look.

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Slow plotting pays off

It seems the villains who get the upper hand in novels full of intrigues are the ones who have been plotting a long time, considering every possibility without making the slightest move until the time is right. So it goes with the plotting writer. You learn to restrain your urge to just write, write, write, and instead spend lots of time thinking, developing your outlines, profiles, maps–what have you. If you’ve been following along so far, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing with the Storybuilder Inc. model, and now it’s time to take those plots and schemes to a whole other level.

After all, we have a novel to turn in, and there might be a hefty advance awaiting our patient conspiring.

Plot before, plot after

We waited a while to get here. We plotted first, through various carefully measured stages, then we wrote our draft–all the while keeping our plans in front of us, and being sure to organize new character, setting, or world-building details as they crept into the manuscript. Our pile grew, and our story took on a life of its own.

And that’s the rub. Whether you are a plotter or a seat-of-your-pants writer, the story decides what it’s going to be. Now, you can be that plotting noble who follows any whim and ends up on a hangman’s noose, or you can be careful and crafty and avoid those dark rooms and daggers (aka dead end stories) by sticking to your outline as you write.

You’re still going to be in a bit of trouble by the end, though, and that’s why we don’t just plot before–we plot after as well. There’s nothing like losing miserably at a game of chess, especially when you had the upper hand on your opponent for half the game. But, not all is lost–plots can be revamped at any stage in the game. And so it goes with stories.

But I hate English essays

I think the only thing from English class I liked was the scene in King Lear when the Earl of Gloucester gets his eyes gauged out, because it made me think of how I felt every time I had to write an essay. Fortunately, I learned something valuable from this process which made those many painful experiences worthwhile.

When you pick a book apart to analyze it, you must think about theme, structure, character development, parallel plots, contrasts, how plot complements theme….the list goes on. When you break apart a story to analyze it, you’re describing its guts. In essence, you’re describing the post-draft outline.

Except you didn’t have the opportunity to rewrite those stories. No. They’ve been published, and therefore they’re untouchable because you’re not the author. Your goal, in those English classes, is to understand what the writer is saying, and how the writer chose to say it well.

That’s not the case now. You are the author of this story, and now that you have it broken down into its sub-frames, you have a chance to use those English class skills and appreciate your story’s structure.

The goal: to show you where the text matches the story, and this will be the key to masterful revision.

Make each part serve its whole

In each sub-frame, you will need:

-a brief header to describe this sub-frame

-a column where you can list the five senses, and emotions felt / conveyed by your character

-a brief summary about how your sub-frame develops the frame it is part of (review what frames are HERE)

-a space for you to list out any research you need to do

-a space for background information pertinent to this scene (this is handy for info-dump removal)

-(optional) places to show inner / outer turning points (where a character’s inner bearing changes vs. where the outer circumstances change)

-(optional) place to list characters and setting information

-(optional) place to show emotional contrast, since this is a key ingredient to creating engaging fiction

-(optional) opening and closing hooks for the sub-frame, since these inflections sharpen your reader’s interest in your story, like a breath of air after an underwater dive–the more, the better

***

You will also create a new page for each frame and put this at the beginning of each respective sub-frame section. You will want to include:

-a brief name for the frame based on what it does

-a brief description of how it develops the section of your 9-part outline it is part of (to refresh your memory what those 9 parts are, read about them HERE)

-inner and outer turning points (these are not optional here, because you want to make sure at the very least you have some changes that twist and turn your story in each frame

-a brief summary of each sub-frame so you can appreciate at a glance how your overall frame looks

You might want to use your old frame from your pre-draft outline to compare the two for revision ideas

***

You can do this with each part of your 9-part outline as well, and the 3-part, and, finally, the premise. After all, you want to rewrite all of these things to see how they match your story, and to see how your story might need some changing to get back on track.

Your goal in doing this is to create a detailed structural map of your story to prepare you for when revision begins

It’s worth it

This is going to use a lot of paper (I would recommend printing out a template on 6″x4″ sheets from UPS or Staples), and take a lot of time. However, think of how much time it takes to go over fifteen drafts, only to still feel like you are making circular changes. I’ve been there, and I hate it.

Being a writer, especially when you enter the world of contracts and reader expectations, means you need to turn out quality books, and this, in turn, means you must have a way to reassure yourself that your process is going to work. The Storybuilder model is made just for this, and I hope it helps.

Next week, we will talk about effective ways to fill in these sub-frames to assist with revision.

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Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. Find out more about Graeme and his writing by visiting his website, HERE.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog:

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 10: The Key to Mastering Structural Revision

In the last step, we switched gears from drafting to revision with the cold read. Once you have done this, to prepare for revision, it’s time to get back into outlining, with a bit of a twist. Just as you did your pre-draft outline to prepare you for drafting, the post-draft outline will prepare you for effective revision.

If you’re still writing, that’s fine, you can save this for later. Likewise, many writers may be reading these posts at different stages of developing their own stories, so I’ll keep going ahead because my aim is to provide something that is complete and available as a reference.

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Linear revision kills

We started this journey with a carefully-written premise, and I compared it to having a healthy spine. Let’s call on this analogy again. How is your spine, anyway? It’s been a long trip! Despite all the preparation, no doubt it’s worn you down, so this is the point at which to get back into traction and get yourself aligned for what comes next.

Many writers jump into revision like a swimmer into shark waters. They wade through their draft again and again, focusing on different elements, and slowly they drift out deeper and deeper, moving in circles, making deeper changes without a proper reference. Then the sharks show up and guess who’s on the menu?

Whether those sharks are the editors or agents who send out polite rejection letters, or the Gollum in your head that tells you the task is hopeless, linear revision is bound to kill you sooner or later.

It’s madness, but there’s method in it

Not all is lost!

How is your spine, anyway? Time to stand up straight and learn how to master revision. The first stop is the posture clinic, aka the post-draft outline.

Now, this is going to sound crazy. In fact, you’re going to think you’re crazy as your doing it, but when you get to revision and see how much power you have to master your manuscript at all levels, you will be grateful for this step.

Making subframes

We talked in Step 7 about creating a frame-by-frame outline before drafting. From this, your 9-part outline breaks into a sequence of distinct events that give you some focus when you are writing the actual story. But the story takes on a life of its own, and now it’s time to put everything together.

In order to do this, we’re going to basically make our frames over again, except this time we’re looking backward at what we’ve done, with a mind to how the story knits together as a whole. Because these frames are smaller, we will call them sub-frames.

As you go through, try to identify distinct chunks of your story. These are not necessarily scenes or chapters. They are segments, anywhere from 200 to 2000 words or so, where your story takes on a unique cadence and shape. For example, if your scene is a dialogue between conspirators overheard by your POV character, followed by your POV character’s introspection while she rushes down a dark alley to warn her father about the plan to kill him, these events would stand alone as the sub-frames. Maybe in your original story you just saw the meeting of conspirators and that was your frame, but in the act of writing, the alley scene was new, so now it’s time to put it in.

Don’t get lost

There are more steps after this one, so make it your task, during this step, to just identify the sub-frames. Go through from beginning to end and mark them in your document. If one of the sub-frames is particularly long, don’t worry, but do see if there is an inflection that breaks it up. For example, if you have a long conversation in one passage, have a look. If it starts out with an exchange on the history of the world, then someone interrupts with a recent event that changes the topic, then this inflection divides the action and could be seen as a sub-frame.

Going over your whole story and dividing it up will also serve as a speed-read of your manuscript, which is a good thing to follow the cold read (review what the cold read is HERE if you need to). You might appreciate some higher-level things that niggled while you read and made notes, and might get some ideas for how to resolve problems the cold read brought to your attention. Next week, we will talk about how to detail each of these subframes, which will help you spread out roots from these higher-level ideas. Most importantly, it will help you appreciate what your story is off track.

It’s good to plant more anchors (remember, these are the alinear revision techniques I mentioned earlier. Read about them HERE). It’s also fine to revise as you go—iron out a typo, tweak a passage, catch a fresh idea while it strikes you, and any other such thing—but do try to keep your focus on the task at hand. In other words, don’t let this step degenerate into a linear edit, or else those sharks are going to poke their little fins up at you…

It gets crazier

Identifying sub-frames is the start. The next step will be your iron suit for revision, and there are so many important components to it we will devote next week to discussing how to make a sub-frame sheet that will be an effective tool to help you bang every revision nail in place.

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Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. Find out more about Graeme and his writing by visiting his website, HERE.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog:

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 9: A Cold Read

When to stop writing

When you are finished writing your draft, you might want to take a vacation from writing. Many writers work on something else then come back to their older manuscripts. While it’s true that this alternation creates much-needed distance, it’s not necessary. What is necessary, however, is for you to switch gears from creator to appreciator.

One way to achieve this is by doing a cold read of your manuscript. I’ve written about cold read revision already. If you want a play-by-play, visit The Writer’s Vinyard, here (though I will repeat the content of that post here for convenience). Otherwise, if you want more about the rationale behind it, you can visit my guest post on Scarlett van Dijk’s blog, here.  What the cold read allows you is the chance to rest from writing and the chance to get a different perspective on your work, without unplugging you from your project.

Of course, you might just want a break, in which case that’s fine. I took a one week break when I finished my current novel. After one year of hard work, every day, I couldn’t think about writing at all. I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment, and slowly built up the urge to jump back in to the next stage.

Whether you write something else or jump in right away, doing a cold read as a first step is a great tool for restraint. Revision is a difficult process in that it involves making small alternative decisions long after you made your original ones. Often, the best changes made in revision are very subtle and have more sway than large ones. How do you appreciate what changes to make? You need to see your story as a whole, and that’s where the cold read comes in.

Getting started:

1) Save your story in .epub format, then put it in your Kobo or Kindle. (If you don’t have an eReader, this would be a good reason to go and buy one.) Reading your story like a book allows you to get comfy in a chair, in bed, or wherever you’d otherwise read a book. You can take it with you, read it on the bus, while you’re waiting two hours at your doctor’s appointment, etc. Most importantly, having your story in an eReader gets you away from the computer where, even if you read it in .pdf, you might be tempted to open the Word file and make changes to a part that bothers you.

2) Have a notebook or notepad ready, and take notes as you go through, in the form of a checklist. Ideally, have a small one that’s easy to tuck away with your eReader.

Once you are ready to go, here are some tips to help you stay on track:

1) Take a break from writing while you are reading. Don’t open the file. Let it rest. If you don’t, then such revising detours will slow the process down, and reduce the vantage point you have of going over your story at reader-pace.

2) Don’t worry about typos or mistakes. This will just bog you down. You will be going over the manuscript later and weeding them out.

3) Avoid writing out the solution to problems in your manuscript. Every time you stop to take notes, you stop reading, which you normally wouldn’t do when reading a book, so it’s important to be taking notes just to stop and give yourself reminders of things you will have to address when you begin revising.

Some good things to take note of during your cold read:

“The pacing is slow here”

“This character contradicts what she said three chapters ago”
(You appreciate this because as a reader it didn’t take the 3 months to get from chapter 5 to chapter 7 it took you as a writer)

“This scene doesn’t add to the story and can get cut back”

“Wait a minute…now that I know what this character does in the end, his actions 3/4 through make no sense at all”

“I’m rambling”

“Info dump!”

“This conversation is stilted and unrealistic. Rewrite.”

“My protagonist complains a lot. Yikes. Annoying! I’m going to have to change that. How can I make her more likeable? Simple fix, doesn’t have to be complicated. Brainstorm 3 ideas, 1), 2), 3)”
(Leave space and fill in those 1, 2, 3, slots later)

Some effective note-taking strategies to speed up revision:

1) Write 4-6 words in succession from the spot in question so you can get there using the “find” feature. I like to put quotations around them to differentiate from notes. I.e. “slammed on the table, churning”. That should take me to the spot in question, and if I have more than one place in the manuscript where I use those words exactly like that, I’d better go and revise that too!

2) Ask questions. This will give you fodder for later and inspire some at-the-keyboard creativity during polishing. I.e. “What does she hope to gain over Gordon? Isn’t she supposed to be high-society? Think about her upbringing…”

3) Suggest later or earlier spots in the manuscript where the issue you are addressing might rear it’s head so you can hop there as well when you get to that part on your checklist. For example, if you are dealing with an explanatory passage and there is another one at the end, as well as some foreshadowing in chapter 2, you will want to go between all of these places to make sure it is all balanced.

Do not revise just yet…

I mentioned that outlining and drafting are parts 1 and 2 of a larger storytelling cycle. There are four total, that being 3, the post-draft integrated outline, and 4, revision. That’s right, revision does not come after drafting! Instead, we resume outlining, now that we have a story told, and will use this post-draft outline as a framework for revision, the same way we used the pre-draft outline for drafting.

And, just as the first step of pre-draft outlining is to think about your story idea through the development of a premise, the first step of post-draft outlining is to read the actual story it became and think about how that story can be refined.

Then, when your cold read is done, you will be ready for the next step: creating subframes.

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Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. His his first story, The Pact, is now available for

KoboKindle, and other ebook formats through Burst Books.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog:

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 8: Drafting 4, Alpha Readers

This is the last step on drafting. In the previous step, I talked about ways to make your draft deep, complex, and easy to traverse. This week I will discuss the final component to the drafting phase, an element that helps you see outside yourself.

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Team Alpha

In video game design, the development team will have alpha testers who work with the things they are producing to give them ideas as they go along. Maybe they’re making a troll for a castle attack level and they want to see if the way they’ve put it in looks believable. Whatever it is the developers want tested, the alpha testers are often aware of how things are being developed and what flaws to look for since they work closely with the development team and may have some background in the development process. The developers aren’t expecting perfect reports either. They have some ideas where they have gone wrong, but recognize things work efficiently when they are critiqued by individuals who aren’t saturated by the development process.

Take the analogy and extend it to alpha readers. While you write, you are immersed in your prose. You’re unfolding your draft, going over your frames, leaving “finished” pieces behind. Maybe something’s not quite working, but you know better than to stop and obsess over it (as we discussed two weeks ago). So, you get a few critical readers who agree not to expect perfection. You tell them not to worry about typos and grammar but instead to look at faulty constructions. Maybe a sentence doesn’t quite fit. Maybe a character doesn’t talk properly at one point. Maybe a paragraph about this picturesque hill you decide to carry on about stops the narrative and doesn’t have the reflective effect you thought it did.

These are all things someone else who’s not wrapped up in the same intense creative process can point out. However, they’re also things someone who has a fair bit of knowledge in storytelling would notice; you want your alpha readers to give you useful information that will help not only with revision, but with ideas for continued development.

These readers can be anywhere from writing friends who agree to do an exchange (also known as critique partners) to a content development editor who works with you as you go. You might not even use alpha readers, but instead use beta readers after you’re finished. However, note that the benefit of feedback while you’re writing can be useful to push your manuscript to a greater edge, and prevent the many checkmates that lurk along the way.

Alpha Dont’s

Some writers do not like to let anyone read their work while they’re writing. Others do and end up never getting to the end because they’re forever changing things, or they get exasperated because the comments they receive make them think it’s just not going to work out. Whatever the case, alpha readers can be as detrimental to your writing process as they can be beneficial if you don’t take care both in how you choose them and in how you interact with them and their comments.

First and foremost, remember (and this goes all the way to the final editing stage) you are the sole authority on your story and on what you want to do. Your alpha readers, no matter how skilled they are, are not you, and this is not their story. Their comments serve as an opportunity for you to engage your story once again from a different angle, to question your intentions and, if you missed something, to go in and discover it (and if you haven’t, then to appreciate all the more why you did what you did and how that makes your story well-told).

I have several alpha readers, and I am grateful for their feedback. That said, when I receive a chapter back, I only look over it to get an overall sense of the comments, and in particular to see how certain trouble spots fared. In fact, I will often prompt my alpha readers before sending a given passage what sort of things I’m struggling with. But I don’t touch any of the comments or alter my story one bit after I receive them, unless one of the comments makes me aware of something I missed. It’s important, when you receive your alpha reader feedback, to file it away and prioritize the information. For example, if there is a chapter you know just didn’t work out, you might look at your alpha reader comment to see if it sparks an idea for how to resolve it. If there’s a comment about a passage being confusing and you don’t know why, leave it be and keep it in mind as you write, but plan to go back and think more about it during revision.

The other thing to watch out for is how you choose your alpha readers. If you are an epic fantasy writer and your alpha reader loves spy novels and hates detailed writing, then you might not want to have them as your alpha reader. Personality is another thing to note. If your alpha reader is a know-it-all who knows everything about writing, then their comments (usually unfounded) are going to inundate you and stress you out, which is counter-productive. If, on the other hand, your alpha reader is just reading and saying, “that’s good,” or “misspelled this word”, etc., then they’re not really doing anything you can’t do during revision.

Sometimes you have to experiment a bit to find suitable alpha readers, but regardless of how you figure this out, always show grace when receiving feedback and do express your gratitude for the time any alpha reader has given you. After all, they are looking at your story in a way that only someone other than you can do.

Alpha vs. Beta

In video game development, there are beta testers that test during later stages of development. These are often gamers who will push the game to its limits and report anything that goes wrong. If you have heard of beta readers, then perhaps your impression of them is similar. After all, it is also common for a writer to give his or her finished draft to a series of readers to get input. The difference here is that the writer is done. Revision might follow, but they aren’t staring at a blank canvas anymore.

We will talk about beta readers later, after the various revision steps to follow over the next few weeks. While you’re writing, though, think about ways you can use outside feedback to help with the process. It serves not only as a source of insight, but also sometimes of inspiration, since your alpha readers might comment on things they really like, and some of these may be things you didn’t expect.

Getting to the end

In four weeks I’ve talked about Step 8: Drafting. This is a huge step. For some it will take more than a year. Now I’m going to zip ahead, and many of you might bookmark these posts and the posts ahead for reference when you’re finished. Keep writing, and keep developing your stories. Most importantly, discover what works for you as you develop your process. It’s the only way to ensure your story will be as great as it can be.

Next week, I begin with part 3 of the storybuilding cycle: the post-draft integrated outline.

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Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. His his first story, The Pact, is now available for

KoboKindle, and other ebook formats through Burst Books.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog:

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 8: Drafting 3, Layering and Scoping

In the last step on drafting I talked about ways to keep your draft on track as you move from start to finish. Everything up to step 7 has helped you prepare, and hopefully the last two steps have given you some good grounding as you do the actual writing. This week and next I will talk about some final drafting strategies to help you reach the end of the drafting phase and arrive successfully on the other side, where revision awaits.

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Shaping a story

I mentioned two weeks ago that writers approach drafting either as drafters or potters. Here’s where the latter term might be better appreciated. Potters work with one ball of clay, shaping it, moving pieces around as the object of choice (say, a mug) comes together. Once you have the rim formed, you might decide it’s a bit uneven, so you push some clay up with your thumb carefully, until you are satisfied.

Drafters do the same thing, but might not do this reshaping until they are writing new drafts. Either way, at some point a writer must deal with layering.

Placing anchors

Last week I shared some tips on how to stay connected to your outline as you write. One of these techniques involved moving around your document to break free on those days where the writing just doesn’t want to start up. While this is a great way to escape from writer’s block, it isn’t the only reason it’s useful. It’s also the core of layering.

To achieve effective layering, it is good to place several anchors in your manuscript as you type it. (If you are a drafter and you don’t type your earlier drafts, then this stage can apply to you when you reach the typing phase.) So, what is an anchor?

Here’s a picture to give you the idea: You’re a cartographer on a boat, crossing an ocean with the intent of mapping out a series of islands (yes, writing your story might as well be that big a feat). On your way, you encounter a spot that you realize is important and you may want to get back to it many times. But, aw, shucks! you have to keep sailing. Fortunately, it’s the twenty-first century and you have radio beacons that broadcast to GPS and will help you get back to those spots without any trouble. So, you drop them in the water and drop an anchor from each one so they don’t drift.

Now, let’s apply that to your story. Let’s say this is Ren’s story (the elderly revolutionary from our earlier outlining). I’m writing a scene where she is kidnapped in the market square during her “invitation” to become Mad Bert’s  seamstress. Except, just before this happens, she spots a guy named Harrold Fletcher, and I don’t know where this guy came from (one of those surprises that I spoke about last week). I make sure to give him a profile page, and write out a few places later in the manuscript where he will come back. I might write: He’s a cats-paw for one of the nobles who wants the king assassinated, and Ren’s abduction, arranged by the same noble, is an opportunity for him to use her to pull some strings. He doesn’t expect she’ll fall in love with the king, though.

I’m going to keep writing and might forget about Harrold in the market. I can always search “Harrold”, but what if at this time he’s just “a man”? What if Ren’s obsessed with this market and so the word “market” occurs 45 times in the manuscript prior to the abduction? I could remember something about the scene, maybe the type of dress Ren was wearing. Right. Now, was it wool? No, the wool dress was the opening. Silk? Or the one with slashes of red that she enjoys wearing in the fall? See, Ren loves dresses and has a whole variety of them (she’s a seamstress, after all).

See the problem? You can rely on your memory, or you can take advantage of your twenty-first century GPS pods. Something to the effect of:

[*a]

Say, a for anchor. The point is, if you create a unique combination of symbols that you will remember, then you need only type these in the search box to find your desired passage.

Anchors are very useful, and are easy to remove once your draft is revised (simply use find / replace and make them vanish). You can develop your own system with them. For example, I have a code sheet that I use as I drop various ones to keep track of how certain plots develop through key conversation exchanges or uncanny actions. You might try something like:

[*symbol] wherever you are using a symbol to highlight a theme, or [*Angela] for a subplot involving a character Angela (who you first meet as a man). Use anchors, lot of anchors. The more you drop, the more you can take a strategic hop through your manuscript as you develop it and work in various layers.

Scoping

This leads us naturally to another aspect of shaping your manuscript. You made use of scoping when you outlined, right from the development of your premise. First you viewed your whole story in a sentence, then in a paragraph, then in a few pages, then in several, with accompanying profiles to handle the growing complexity. Finally, you zoomed in to 100% with a fresh memory of how the whole tale looks.

The strategies I discussed over the last two weeks give you good tools to keep you connected with your outline, and this is important as you consider each frame as its own story within your story. Using anchors to layer your manuscript with elements from earlier frames will help you to work with your outline notes in a way viewing those original blueprints will not. After all, when you’re building a house, you keep looking at the blueprints to make sure you’re on track, but it’s the actual house coming together that serves as the true reference for how the project is actually progressing.

Good examples of layering and scoping

What if you (like me) are writing a fantasy epic? This means you might have frequent references to the history of your world, or details about it that you want to make sure are consistent. This is also something you will want to layer into your manuscript effectively.

A good anchor might be: [*world]

Let’s rewind to when I was on frame 17 of my current project, where several Goblins were making negotiations around the table, smoking their cigars and referring to events in the Mountainlands. Goodness, there was a lot of references and development there. I was quite creative. But, I was also smart. Every time I sat down with this scene, I typed “[*world]” in the find box and had a quick look at all those anchor points, to give me a sense of the scope of this element and allow me to make use of earlier material and layer it in.

Another situation I encountered in the same scene: I’ve done my search to prepare for it, but during the conversation my goblins hint, between the lines, that an earlier event might be more than it seems. (Let’s not spoil the ending, since this is The Pact’s sequel I’m referring to.) The earlier scene is hard to find based on the words in that passage, but fortunately I have the anchor [*DD] – DD being the initials of the conspirator behind that particular plot. This comes in handy, not just for finding that scene, but because I’ve put those anchors all over the place wherever I’ve developed this subplot. Now, when I search for the scene to make sure I don’t contradict myself, I can also get ideas from other parts. It’s layering and scoping all over again.

Let’s say you don’t write fantasy but are writing Bob’s story (our marathon runner). You might use [*mem] as an anchor for whenever Bob remembers a bit more about his departed wife. You might use [*dev] for any passage where Bob and his nemesis develop their relationship together. You might use [*fore] in any parts where you want to subtly foreshadow the end. Or maybe you don’t like square brackets and asterisks, so you’ll have {!elem}. It really doesn’t matter so long as you remember what the anchors are.

Oops, I forgot!

What if I didn’t know about a subplot when I made the first reference to it? What if that scene was just a memory in a dream sequence and I intended, at first, to be completely random about it? Well, that’s just fine. In fact, the scene I referred to from my own novel was just that and only later, when I met the character from the hallucination again, did I finalize the details of the subplot. I had to hunt a bit for the scene, but when I found it I made sure to place an anchor there, which came in handy for the chapters of the climax that followed.

Layering and scoping are powerful techniques to help you keep your story fabric tight and to assist with the process of carefully weighing your decisions as you pull your prose out of the creative void.

Yet these tools are one hand clapping. Next week, we will talk about the other: team alpha.

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Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. His his first story, The Pact, is now available for

KoboKindle, and other ebook formats through Burst Books.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog:

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 8: Drafting 2, The Forest for the Trees

In the last step I talked about drafting, and, for many of you, 7 weeks of planning finally led to “go”. This week, and the next two after, we will talk about key steps in the drafting phase. Today’s step is about good drafting disciplines that will keep you in touch with your outline as you head deeper into your forest of prose.

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When the beginning is no longer in sight…

There’s nothing like experiencing a fresh start, especially when that fresh start involves creating a new story. After 7 weeks of outlining, it feels twice as great to begin. Away you go, with more hope and trust in the tale, knowing that you have a plan and will end up with a stronger story.

In you go, to frame two, frame three…at some point, you’re going to realize the story you’re writing, and even the detailed outline you created, are growing more and more apart, even if you’ve been diligently following the tips from last week. That’s fine, and that’s to be expected!

Updating

You don’t need to rewrite your outline and frames, but it is a good idea to keep them accurate. If a new character introduces herself in frame 6 and suddenly you realize the potential for a stronger premise and a 9-part outline with better twists, then seize the opportunity. Just make sure you go back and run your new model through some of the earlier tests so you can appreciate how it impacts the original picture of the story you started with.

Sometimes a new twist seems like a good idea, but might instead hijack your story. It feels like a good idea because it’s a whim and powerful whims are what make stories interesting, right? Well, not always. Whims come out of nowhere, including boredom and frustration, so sometimes the element you invent to make your story “better” isn’t so much a good idea as a way that your subconscious mind is telling you to get back in touch with what the story really is and your purpose for writing it.

Drafters have the advantage of multiple run-throughs where they can weed out elements that don’t work well, but if you’re a potter, like me, you might want to spend time thinking about new ideas that take you far from your original premise and story structure. The best solution usually isn’t far from your “whim”—it’s just a matter of figuring out how to mold it so it fits properly on the storytelling clay you’re spinning into shape.

Let your outline be your guide

As I mentioned in the previous step last week, you can incorporate your outline into your writing process regularly to keep you on track. You can also use it for inspiration and ideas when you’re writing. In particular, it can keep you grounded when you run into those whims that make you want to run away to some strange, new country. Similarly, it can also help you reach into the void when you’re staring at a blinking cursor and deciding what should come next.

Just as you pulled the details of your 3-part outline from the premise, and in turn pulled your 9-part from you 3-part, you can pull out a whole universe of story from a single frame. Just as with the outlining process, though, you, the writer, decide what is fundamental to the story, and that’s the prose you’re left with. So, spend time with the frame you’re writing in. Look at the character profiles, the setting sketches. Search for that hidden detail that’s just waiting to be found. Let it drop like a pebble in a pond and watch how your story reacts when you follow the ripples across your keyboard.

There is no beginning like a toss of the dice

So you’re on frame 8 today. You’ve been on it for a week and you’re well in. But today you have a headache and even after a coffee you’re slumping, opening Facebook, checking for another email to appear in your inbox—anything that takes your mind off the mess you’ve got yourself into. Frame 7 was a disaster and you’ve lost track of character motives with all the surprises it threw your way. Forget about that stupid outline. It just isn’t working—your story is getting the better of you.

Time to toss the dice.

That’s right, it’s time to be spontaneous. Normally, you want to keep moving forward, advancing your story, but if you get into this sort of dilemma then it’s time to get back in touch with the story. After all, when you open your document and develop your manuscript, your goal is to move forward, not to wrap yourself tighter into a ball of yarn.

There’s no rule that say your have to start where you left off. I find it helpful to go back and read old material a bit before I write, however, in situations like this, sometimes a day’s writing will involve some time spent going over old material, reading old frames, or combing through the document to parts where I am confused. Sometimes I’ll go back and rewrite a scene. Whatever it takes to get back on track.

Watch out for tailspins

Take note of the key words: back on track. One thing you want to avoid when you’re doing this random hop through your manuscript is convincing yourself that you’ve written everything wrong and you need to start all over again. It’s important to remember your goal is to move forward, not in circles.

A good way to tell if you’re getting into a “fixing” tailspin is if you are no longer returning to your present frame. In this case, try to go back to where you left off and write some more. If you still feel like there are things to be fixed, remember you are going to write many more frames, based on a carefully-thought-out plan, and there will be plenty of time later for making changes. As well, you’ll have perspective as you see how various things play out.

For example, in my current novel, I really struggled with the middle third. It took the longest to write, and for about 5 frames I wasn’t sure if the novel was even going to work. Those were tough writing months. But I avoided the tailspins, kept moving forward and focusing instead on how to resolve my story based on the plan. The end worked out very well and now that I’m going back to revise the middle third I realize several simple solutions to the places where it didn’t work out, thanks to persevering.

Your outline affords you lots of strength during those tough times, so make use of it, and, above all, trust yourself as a storyteller—you’ll make it to the end and come up with the solutions you need.

Laying out the tools

Drafting is a difficult step in the story-building process. It’s also one of the most exciting (so is revision, when seen with the right perspective, but we’ll talk about that in a few weeks).  This week we explored ways to keep going forward. Next week, with step 10, we’ll discuss some important tools to give your draft an added edge that will help you cut your way through the revision cycle.

Happy writing!

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Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. His his first story, The Pact, is now available for

KoboKindle, and other ebook formats through Burst Books.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog:

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 8: Drafting Begins!

In the last step I talked about the frame-by-frame outline. If you’ve been carefully adding to and creating character, setting, and world-building profiles as you go, you should have a good glimpse of the story you’re about to write. Now it’s time for step 8:

Drafting begins!

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The real writing

If you are an organic writer, then perhaps you’ve been reading this workshop just to get some ideas. Perhaps you’ve discovered that there’s something to outlining after all, or, better yet, maybe you’ve realized that outlining doesn’t take away the organic side of writing at all, but actually makes it better.

If you’re an outliner and you’ve enjoyed the fact that every step so far has been easy to measure and predict, then you might be in for some disappointment here. (This is the part where organic writers might tell outliners, “I told you so.”)

Outlining is not a substitute for organic writing. When you’re ready to go, you still have to stare at a blank screen and find the words that belong to your story. The good thing, though, is that you have your frames and profiles, structure with which you can surround yourself as you go and help get you into your storytelling Zen. On the other hand, if you’re an organic writer, then you have extra tools as you go into your storyscape and let intuition take control.

Two kinds of drafting

Just as there are two kinds of writers (organic and outliner), there are also two ways writers like to write their drafts. Some (perhaps most) like to write a quick first draft with little thought about whether it works out, then go back and write draft 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and so on until it does. Those writers usually learn a few things as they go and reduce the number of drafts as they get novels 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on under their belts. Call these writers the drafters.

The other approach is to spend a long time writing one and only one draft, then, with a modest amount of polish, bring it to perfection. Writers who do this take advantage of the power of a word processor, going back and layering, reading previous passages to help roll it out into the later draft, jumping into various parts of their manuscript as the story evolves. Writing that one-and-only, continuously-changing draft might take years, or maybe a bit less than a year depending on how long the manuscript is. Call these writers the potters.

You’ll have to discover for yourself what method works best for you, and you may find you experiment with both before deciding one way or another. I was a drafter before I started outlining, at which point I became a potter. Whatever way you chose to draft, having your outline handy is an important step. While I have come to prefer being a potter, there is nothing wrong with moving fast and embracing multiple drafts. Since this workshop is based on my writing method, many references will be better suited for potters; if you are a drafter, though, it should not be hard to find how to apply some of the principles to your own method.

Tips for staying on track

1) Ground yourself.

You might write a little every day, or you might write for hours on end on Saturday, or maybe every second day for two hours at bedtime. However you write, it’s good practice to begin by looking over your notes to reacquaint you with higher-level story details before you dive in to furnish your story with more prose. You might remember key things about characters’ motives or plans for a frame that would otherwise be lost to the spontaneous direction your current frame is taking on.

It’s a good idea to keep your outline and profile notes accessible while you write as well. Maybe you’re writing about the market square for Rena’s village and, 6 months ago, when you first outlined it (let’s say this scene is in the midpoint of your story), you wrote something about the squabbling merchants, Hek and Hakkle. A little detail like that can be a beautiful touch on an otherwise bare cursory description of the market.

2) Embrace non-typing.

There’s nothing wrong with staring at the screen for a minute or two while you think and weigh what you are about to write. Get friendly with the backspace key; it might become your most numerously used character, and though it will not show up in your word count, your story will thank you for using it. Remember, just as you have the power to create prose, you also have the power to take away writing that doesn’t quite fit and replace it with better. Don’t worry about word count goals with this regard. 200 words that bring your story that much more to life are ten times the value of 2000 words that need lots of later revision.

(As stated above, this is my opinion and something based on my writing method, and while many a potter may agree, for a drafter this might not be so important until later drafts.)

3) Read backwards.

It’s also a good idea to go back and read old writing, even if it’s just a few paragraphs back from where you left off. I like to work this into the process of reviewing outline notes whenever I begin a writing session. Sometimes I read a paragraph, look at my outlines, read the paragraph before it, and so on. Sometimes, the content of one paragraph will remind me of an earlier story element and I will use the “find” feature of my word processor to comb through my manuscript and re-read what I’ve said about it so as to better use it in my scene. In fact, I have found this more often than not is what breaks me free of a session that begins with writer’s block.

4) Update, update, update!

Your story is going to evolve and change, even to the point that you have to rewrite your premise, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, if it didn’t change at all then maybe you should go back and introduce a few surprises because your reader might be able to see every twist and turn coming from page one. As the changes come up, scribble them on your frames, make notes on your 9-part outline, modify your character, setting, and world profiles. Rewrite things if they get messy. And, inevitably, add character, world, and setting profiles as needed, but discipline yourself to write only as much as you need to, lest your writing session turn into a tangent.

(There are exceptions, of course. As an example, I pulled an all-nighter for one writing session when I realized I had to formally plan my magic system for my current novel, and this involved making several profiles for the various Dread Lord and Unborn societies. If I hadn’t done that, the ending of the story wouldn’t have worked out—one of the many surprises that story threw at me the outline didn’t warn about.)

Into that strange country

And so it begins! It is exciting to start a new story, especially after spending time fleshing it out. Think of all the work we’ve done up until now like a courtship. Now it’s time for married life to begin. It’s going to be exciting, fun, and full of cozy memories, but there will also be times you’ll be sleeping on the couch or will have to duck away from a flying pot. During those times you’ll be happy for the outlining time, hopefully enough to stop you from divorcing your story.

On you go. Time to start writing!

Next week I will discuss ways to use your outline and profiles to deepen your draft as your write.

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Graeme Brown is an epic fantasy author. His first published story, The Pact, is now available for KoboKindle, and other ebook formats through Burst Books.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog, Fantasy Writing Journey.

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 7: Frame by Frame

In the last step I talked about the short proposal. Hopefully your critical listener poked several holes in your proposal and helped you make it as strong as it can be. If so, then the next step shouldn’t be too difficult.

Here we are at step 7, the step before drafting begins. I call this one the frame by frame outline.

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Divide and conquer

Last week I mentioned the snowflake method of drafting, since as we’ve proceeded from the premise to the proposal we’ve been dividing our story up into smaller chunks. Where do we stop?

Here’s another way to put that question. If you’re building a house, what’s the smallest unit that holds it together? You might decide you want a large, Victorian-style house with a gable rooftop. So you will break it down into floor one, floor two, and floor three. You might have each floor divided by walls into various rooms. But then those walls in turn are put together by frames. Frames are made of wood and nails, and that’s where you stop. The same goes with the frames of your story.

Once you have your short proposal—your blueprints—you’re ready to build the frames of your story. Each frame is a scene or segment of story where you can isolate emotions, senses, and an important event that relates to the development of your plot, theme, and characters.

Building your frames

First, you will want your frames to be in order. I like to take my small 6″x4″ papers and number each side for each frame as I work my way through the short proposal and 9-part outline. Take your time and try to go in order, but if you do jump to frames that are more vivid than others, just make sure to renumber the pages.

Why am I using the 9-part outline and the proposal? While the proposal is supposed to further develop the 9-part outline and tell your story in short, I have found (and you might too) that the 9-part outline, being in point form, is a better place to add details and notes as you develop your proposal. When you go through and figure out what the frames of your story are, you might find the 9-part outline has details the short proposal doesn’t, and vice-versa.

How many frames should you have?

There is no hard-fast rule, but if you find yourself with 100 frames, prepare yourself for a novel that will dwarf Game of Thrones. Either that, or it means you might be putting too little into your frames. For example, if you have one frame about a character named Sally drinking a cup of coffee, smelling its aroma, hearing birds chirp through the morning window, feeling the velvet cushion against her bare arms…then this might not be a frame.

I say might because if you’re writing a short story, then you are completely fine to have all your small sections broken down into miniature units. (A doll house has small frames, after all.) Similarly, you might have frames of inconsistent size, and this is fine too. However, in practice, you will find that a frame translates to anywhere between 500-8,000 words, so having lots of them is a sure way of making your story’s size and complexity large (again, this is fine if that’s your intention). The frames of a house are big rectangles, holding the entire structure together, but they are very empty before you start putting the house together. Likewise, you want to leave your frames space for story to happen—because it most definitely will!

Is your frame too big or too small?

A good way to test if a frame has the right scope is to ask: how does the plot develop? How do the characters develop? How does (or do) the theme(s) develop? If you apply this rule to the above example of Sally, then you might instead be writing about her in her deceased grandmother’s house, rediscovering childhood memories (say, in this example, you novel is about Sally having to let go of an old hurt, then this scene develops her character by getting her more in touch with the source of her nostalgia).

On the other hand, if one frame is Sally’s various adventures in her home town, then this contains too much. A good test for making sure you’re not overloading your frame is to ask if you can isolate a significant plot- / theme- / character-developing event.

Another useful gauge is to ask how many POV scenes you have per frame. This should be one, unless you write scenes with omniscient POV, in which case the above test still serves as a useful guideline. For example, sticking with Sally’s story, let’s say we also write from her sister Joan’s POV, and both of them have returned home. Let’s say Joan is going to reconnect with some of her reckless friends and get in trouble. Then Joan’s adventures deserve their own frames. However, if you’re writing with omniscient POV instead and want to shift between Joan and Sally’s experience to show the contrast between the two of them, then that might be it’s own frame: Sally exploring her grandmother’s house while Joan wakes up in some stranger’s bed wondering how she got there.

What a frame looks like

Like any method of note-taking, it’s good to be organized so you will not get confused or forget important information when you’re writing. These frames will serve as your guide when you work through and write each scene of your manuscript. That means it’s important to keep them uncluttered.

I like to space out headers for each of the 5 senses on the right, with a header on the bottom for emotions, and usually one or two lines to say how the particular frame develops character, theme, and plot. The remainder of the page is available for point-form notes. Going back to our above example of Sally, one of those notes might be her sipping coffee in her grandmother’s velvet chair. With this detail, I’d also put “plush velvet” under the touch category, “sharp, dark roast coffee” under smell, “birds singing, persistent” under sound—you get the idea.

There are many techniques for making your story sharp on every page, even every line of text. These frames can help gives you the ammunition you need when you’re staring at a blank screen thinking of what to type next, so you can customize them however you’d like. For example, Donald Maass, in his book, Writing 21st Century Fiction, discusses the power of inner and outer turning points in a scene. Essentially, this is the part in a scene where the POV character’s inner circumstances and outer circumstances change to achieve the purpose of the scene. You could add this to your frame if you’d like. To use our example of Sally in her grandmother’s house, if the purpose of that scene is to have her realize she can’t hide from the past, then the outer turning point could be a locket she discovers in the attic, after idly wandering around and discovering familiar rooms. The inner turning point might follow, where the memories summoned by the locket (featuring a picture of her grandfather, who she’s hated all her life) push her to the resolve to find out how her grandmother died.

One final thing to keep in mind with a frame is to make your emotions interesting and conflicting. In general, conflicting emotions are a base ingredient for creating tension. So…Sally’s sipping coffee in her grandmother’s chair. That brings back memories of the mornings she’d awaken as a little girl, smelling grandma’s percolated coffee. But maybe the birdsong brings back other memories. Maybe she shivers, hates the sound, feels fear stir, remembers the large hand that eclipsed her world in darkness… Now there’s some tension, suspense, and seeds for later development.

You will likely find that forcing yourself to fill in these categories for the senses and emotions and trying to find inner / outer turning points and conflicting emotions will spark further ideas that connect you more with the story soon to take shape. If you prefer organic writing, this is great! Think of how many more opportunities for spontaneity abound once you start writing each frame. If you’re a plotter, then this means you’ll have a good kick-start whenever you’re not sure what to write next, or if what you’re writing is going to work out. (I am an organic writer, and found developing this method has led my spontaneous story-telling to rabbit holes that go deeper than Wonderland.)

Ready to go

This time, I mean it. After you have developed your frames, you will be ready to start writing. If you’ve been diligent and followed the steps, you should have a solid story ready to take shape. Remember to keep your story-building profiles organized as you go. When it comes time to write, you’ll have your frames and profiles ready at hand.

Next week I will talk about some strategies for getting started and things to keep in mind as you head from the planning stage into the act of writing. What fun awaits!

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Graeme Brown is an epic fantasy author. His first published story, The Pact, is available for KoboKindle, and other ebook formats through Burst Books.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog, Fantasy Writing Journey.

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 6: The Proposal

Welcome back to Storybuilder Inc., a series based on my outlining workshop. This is the method I use, and though there are many other ways to write, I hope writers who like a step-by-step approach will find this useful for developing their own strategies. We will cover everything from the initial premise to the final, polished draft.

If you just started following this week, you can find all posts together by clicking here.

Last week I talked about the 9-part outline. It’s a big jump to move from the 3-part to the 9-part outline, but hopefully  step 4 gave you some material to latch onto. If not, don’t worry about getting behind—do this at your own pace.

This week, we move onto step 6: the short proposal.

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Ready for an agent…before the manuscript is even started

If you have been writing for a while, then no doubt you are familiar with preparing a submission for an agent or editor. Two key ingredients in that package are the query letter and the synopsis. While agent submission guidelines vary, many ask for a paragraph that summarizes your story (often following an introductory paragraph in the query letter) and a longer synopsis that gives away the end.

Guess what? You have the paragraph. If you’ve been carefully following along, then your work from step 3 contains all the material you need. If not, then this is a good opportunity to go back and see if you can put some more spin on it (of course, this also means going through steps 4 and 5 to carry forward the changes, but trust me, that’s where the fun begins).

Now for the synopsis.

Ready, set, wait

After last week’s work with the 9-part outline, I bet you have lots of information filled in. Your story frame must be bristling with all kinds of possibilities. That’s good. It might feel like you’re ready to go. But wait…how do you know it’s all going to work?

That’s a great question to ask, and one of the reasons agents or editors love to look at a synopsis after the query has caught their attention. A manuscript that begins strong but loses steam might have some potential after a bit of tweaking if there’s a strong story behind it, so if you’ve written your synopsis well (present 3rd person omniscient, just like the back of a movie case), you might receive more than a form rejection letter.

When do you sit down and write that synopsis? Right now, with the short proposal.

In particular, now is when you start to write that synopsis (agents and editors should be the furthest thing from your mind at this point). This short proposal will not only be your raw material for putting together a killer synopsis later, it will be your guide for those times during the writing process where things look grim. Think of it as a reminder that somehow it’s going to work out.

Piecing it together

Just as you use your 3-part outline as the basis for the synoptic paragraph in your query letter, you use your 9-part outline to build your short proposal.

Try to tell your story. Use full sentences. Go slow and think. As you move forward through your 9-part outline, see if other ideas come to you. As they do (and they will), add them to the outline and see how it comes out on the page. Don’t worry about length—think instead about development. You’re not trying to tell your whole story, you just want to make sure it holds together.

Done? Good. Now read it to a friend. Before you do, make sure you tell your friend to be blunt, because, “That sounds awesome! I can’t wait to hear you write it!” is not what you want to hear. What you want to get is, “Hmm…I don’t think it makes sense for Rena to just give up her old life when the king invites her into his court to be his seamstress. Wouldn’t she resist?”

Oops. But all oopses are fine, as long as they’re before publication.

Noting inconsistencies will give you yet another means of digging deeper. So you wrote that Rena just gives up her life as a seamstress and forgets about her people? Yup, not like the Rena I’ve come to know. From her profile, she’s feisty and full of spirit (by the way, she’s been trained in the far south, a secret art called Tuga). She’d put up a fight all right. So how about this: she gets stuffed in a bag and comes into Mad King Freddie’s court kicking and screaming. Now that’s what I call an entrance!

Later on we’ll be talking about beta readers, but this friend who will listen to your short proposal serves the same role. And if you can satisfy your friend’s challenges, then you should be ready to move onto the wild, wonderful forest of prose that awaits.

Frames within frames

You might be familiar with the snowflake method of drafting. (If not, it’s another great reference for building up your writing kit. Read it here) The basic idea is to continuously divide your draft into three until eventually you have little gaps to put the story in. However, being an organic writer, I don’t go that far. I like surprises—the outline just gives me a route to follow that I know will take me to the secret fountain of life deep inside the forest.

However, once you have your proposal and your 9-part outline is well-populated, there is another step. I call it the frame-by-frame, and that will be the topic next week, with some examples from the three sample premises we have been developing.

I hope you’re continuing to enjoy this series, and if you’re joining this week, pick your own pace. These posts will be collected and used as a free online resource on my blog once the series is over.

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Graeme Brown is an epic fantasy author. Come and visit Graeme’s tour for The Pact, hosted by CM Book Tours, Sept 2-15 (click banner below for list of stops).

Join the 5000+ readers who have entered the draw to win a $25 Amazon gift card and 10 ebook copies of The Pact (here). I am including a $10 gift card, as well as 10 extra copies, if we exceed 10,000 entrants

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog, Fantasy Writing Journey, and if you like learning about a unique word each day, come check out Graemeophones

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 5: The 9-Part Outline

Last time in Storybuilder Inc., I talked about character, setting, and world profiling. If you followed along, then you no doubt have many profile cards for your characters, settings, and maybe some world-building details of your story, as discovered in your 3-part outline. This will help tremendously for the next step:

The 9-part outline.

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Rolling out the dough

Your 3-part outline is a very small version of your story. Imagine it as a flattened ball of dough. Before we stretch it into the thin, page-by-page draft, we need to roll it out to make sure it’s even.

There are many versions of the plot-point model for a story, including the 3-act play (which is my favorite). However, for the sake of being even I like to break beginning, middle, and end into three parts, based on the standard parts of a conflict arc. Today we will talk about each of them, with some examples from our 3 favorite premises.

You will want to take 5 cue cards (or similar-sized sheets of paper) and label each side with one of the 9 sections:

Opening sequence, Turning point 1, Start of Main Action, Inflection 1, Midpoint, Inflection 2, Turning point 2, Climax, Resolution

1: Elements of the beginning

The beginning can be divided up into 3 parts: an opening sequence, a turning point 1, and the start of the main action. You will have your beginning already from your 3-part outline. What you will likely find is that this beginning is in fact the starting scene—the opening sequence.

Remember Bob? Our marathon runner?

Here was his beginning:

Bob enjoys the satisfaction of seeing Cynthia collapse from exhaustion on the track and wonders how she bears her shame. “She deserves it,” he thinks, as he sprints on, remembering why he’s running: to honor the memory of his wife and children. And that bitch is the one who took them away.

It turns out this is the opening sequence, part 1 of the 9-part outline. When we start writing this story, this will be chapter one, unless something more suitable presents itself during the many surprises that the drafting stage often presents.

The beginning is the entry point, the place where you introduce your character, and the opening sequence is the embodiment of that. It is short, quick, poignant, and often by the end of your story, meaningful.

What about the other two parts of the 9-part outline?

Part 2 of the 9-part outline is turning point 1: an event that shifts the introduction toward the central conflict of your story arc. For example, in the case of Bob, we know he’s going to get injured, and this is going to be the event that brings him under Cynthia’s care; this would be turning point 1. Turning point 1 turns you from happy introductions to the tension that develops your story (turning point 2, as you will see shortly, turns you toward the climax, which will resolve that tension).

The start of the main action—part 3 of the 9-part outline—consists of events that follow turning point 1. For example, after Bob breaks his leg, he discovers that Cynthia is his nurse. This signals that the action of the novel has begun.

2: Elements of the Middle

The middle can be divided up into 3 parts: inflection 1, midpoint, and inflection 1. Unlike the beginning, the material you have from your middle might be harder to place. In fact, as you saw in the example above, some of the middle elements end up in parts 2 and 3 of your 9-page outline.

We will use bounty hunter Steve for our example here. This was the middle for his 3-part outline:

Steve is surprised when the police come to arrest him for a murder he knows nothing about. He suspects he’s been set up, since the man he just took down was one of the Senator’s sons. He flees as soon as he gets bail, becoming a fugitive, using his free time to get the better hand against the corrupt politician. His friend, Jim, has strangely accurate hunches, leading him closer to answers, even if each lead is a near-miss.

If we were breaking this into a 9-part outline, then the surprise arrest would be turning point 1 (part 2 of the 9-part outline), and perhaps he might have a meeting with his lawyer to express his suspicions about the Senator (start of the main action, part 3). But what about the rest?

Part 4 of the 9-part outline is called inflection 1. It is an event that sets up a change in the conflict toward the character’s fundamental shift. In the case of Steve, his fundamental shift is going from being a patriotic bounty hunter to an anarchist who sympathizes with “good” criminals. So let’s make inflection 1 for Steve the time he spends on the run trying to find evidence against the corrupt politician, because his choice to go on the run represents a change, but he hasn’t decided to abandon his country and false sense of justice just yet.

Part 5 is called the midpoint. It is the fundamental shift that turns the conflict from something imminent to something immediate. If you want to picture your story like an arch, this is the apex. The stakes change, the impossible becomes possible; your character is now heading straight toward the end state you had in mind when you first started shaping your 3-part outline (which you can read about here if you need a refresher). In the case of Steve, maybe he meets a radical who shows him evidence that several judges, lawyers, and cops are corrupt, and he gets so angry that he shoots the man. Wow, now there’s no turning back from that!

The final part of your middle, part 6 of the 9-part outline, is inflection 2. It is a unique event that develops as a result of your character’s fundamental shift. You can also look at it as the mirror image of inflection one, just on the other side of the conflict arc. So, Jim shoots a radical and has to live with growing guilt that he’s committed murder. Not only is he a fugitive, but he’s actually guilty of something. Worse, he finds out the radical was right. The judge (Honorable Bill Heron, who, by the way, will get his own profile card now that I’ve mentioned him) is guilty as sin, and Steve, full of rage, becomes a vigilante, shooting the man covertly at night. Yikes!

You’ll notice I used the original middle (above), but took it a bit deeper, based on what each part of the 9-part outline is. See if you can follow along and do this. Take your time and think, and make sure your choice for each section suits your overall arc. Remember, too, you can always make changes later.

3: Elements of the end

The end can be divided up into 3 parts, making the final 3 parts of your 9-part outline: turning point 2, climax, and resolution. You will most likely find that your end corresponds to the climax. After all, you wanted to pick a vivid, climatic moment—something that is worth the trip—when you developed your 3-part outline.

Let’s look at Ren, our elderly puppeteer of Mad King Burt, and the end we chose for her 3-part outline:

Ren orders Mad King Burt Left-hand to dance for her before every scheming noble and enjoys the satisfaction of finally being able to show that she holds the power. “Revolution is coming, starting with fairer taxes and equal rights for women,” she declares. “Anything she tells you, do,” her puppet lover says, not missing a beat.

Turning point 2—part 7 of the 9-part outline—is an event or sequence of events that leads to the climax of a story’s conflict. In the case of Ren, our middle doesn’t give us much information on how to get to the climax, but we know that Ren is going to discover that the nobles are the true source of corruption in the kingdom of Altavar (yes, we’ll profile that). In fact, Ren is going to go from hating the king and wishing a better nobility would replace him, to loving the king and destroying the nobility through his covert plans. Let’s say that, for inflection 2, Ren finds out that one of the nobles is scheming to have the king killed. What would be a good turning point 2?

Last week we talked about profiling (review it here if you need to), and in the process of profiling Mad King Burt Left-hand, we realized he’s not actually insane, but is using this as a trick to fool the scheming nobles in his court. What a turning point! This was not in our 3-part outline, but it fits: turning point 2, Burt and Ren make love in the Garden of Cards, where no servants are allowed, and he tells her he’s not insane, and in fact has been using his madness to gain the upper hand on all the nobles in his court.

The climax, part 8, is quite self-explanatory. Here’s Ren making the king dance, but it’s not with the satisfaction of getting revenge on him, but getting revenge on those who have made her life, and her peoples’ lives, miserable. He dances, she loves him, and knows she’s part of the act that will be their downfall.

Part 9, the final part of the 9-part outline, is the resolution. It can be seen as an aftermath or an afterward, events that result from the fulfillment of your conflict arc. For Ren, perhaps this might be an epilogue where she sits as queen next to her husband, watching as the headsman takes off Lord GeBralt’s head (oh, by the way, he’s the one who was behind all the scheming, according to the profile cards).

Is your 9-part outline empty?

If your answer is yes, then don’t despair. Your job is to transfer the elements of your 3-part outline to your 9-part one. If you have done some profiling, you may get ideas for what to put in the blank spaces, but if not, then I suggest profiling characters or settings to get some ideas.

In particular, try profiling characters. Vivid characters create story. Think about creating characters who will relate to and be involved with your main character(s), since things they do are likely to influence your story.

Try profiling settings. Settings generate characters, after all, which might give you characters to profile and hence some story ideas.

Whatever you do, think about your premise and story arc and always ask how story choices fit with the tale you are telling. Be spontaneous and free, or else you might just be staring at a blank page. More importantly, be willing to change your ideas (so, buy lots of cue cards) so that you come out with the best ones possible.

Preparing for a proposal

This step was big, but next week I’ll be putting it all together as we prepare for the short proposal. With this will come several tips and a useful checklist to make sure your story is ready to move to the frame-by-frame stage that proceeds actual drafting.

I hope your stories are evolving, and if you’re just joining this week, pick your own pace. These posts will be collected and used as a free online resource on my blog once the series is over.

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Graeme Brown is an epic fantasy author. His first published story, The Pact, is now available for KoboKindle, and other ebook formats through Burst Books).

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog, Fantasy Writing Journey.

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