Should You Outline Your Novel?

I consider myself to be a very organized person, especially in my professional life. Running social media and digital marketing for a large entity, it’s kind of a must.

That organization flows over into parts of my personal life (though I’m NOT a cleaner, so get that out of your head) I have 3 elementary-aged kids who all play sports, and well let me tell you. It’s either be organized or suck as a mom.

So naturally, when it comes to writing, I’m more of a plotter. That is, until I actually sit down to write. I never understood what writers meant when they said, “the characters tell me what the story is about” until I got serious about writing. Now, instead of thinking of those people like dramatic overly creative hippies, I find that it’s actually quite true.

Thoughts and ideas come to you when you’re engaged in the act of creating. Twists and turns you could have never thought of when plotting, all of sudden pour out of your mind and you struggle to keep up and catch it all onto paper.

So is that to say you shouldn’t plot? 
No way!

Plotting is essential for me. It helps keep my pacing on pace. It helps me know where I’m going. It helps me make sure I’m not just meandering around the plot and filling the page with pretty words.

What does an outline look like for me? Something a little like this (this is obviously made up and not a book I’m working on):

  • story opens with Jill. Set the need for her to get up the hill to get the magical healing water for her sister. Magical water is guarded by scary/evil creatures. No one has ever gotten the healing water since her ancestors 300 years ago.
  • meets Jack. Lots of chemistry. Jack is sick himself, but doesn’t tell Jill.
  • Jill’s sister gets even sicker. She has to get up that hill and get the water.
  • Jack offers to help her.
  • Break into the town leader’s hut and steals the magical pail that Jill’s ancestors used hundreds of years ago to bring down the water.
  • the start up the hill and get sidetracked by an ogre
  • ogre invites them for tea,
  • almost eaten by ogre. Jill saves the day by smashing ogre with pail
  • Pail is broken now. Need to figure out a way to mend it.
  • Have to go back down the hill to mend the pail.
  • ogre’s brother finds them while they are waiting for pail to be mended
  • instead of killing them, he steals pail when he overhears them talking about magical properties of the well
  • they go after the ogre to get back their pail.
  • make it up the hill, almost dying from a pack of demon wolves that Jack and Jill slay.
  • Finds shriveled ogre dead at the opening of the cave where the magical water is. Looks like he was thrown out. Pail is by his side.
  • Picks up pail and goes in.
  • Finds an ancient witch who makes them pass through 3 tests.
  • Recognizes Jill and calls her by her ancestor’s name. Jill finds out that it was actually her great-great-great-etc grandmother who bested the witch, not her great-great-great-etc grandfather as legend says
  • Pass 2 tests, but the last test will require the sacrifice of someone you love
  • realizes she loves Jack and he loves her, and before she can stop him, he sacrifices himself to the witch.
  • Jill is able to get the water in the magical pail, and gets dying Jack down the hill where she has to choose whether to give the water to him or to her sister.
  • He tells her he was dying anyways and before she can stop him, he gives the water to the sister.
  • the witch appears says she will heal Jack if Jill promises to become the new guardian of the healing waters. Jill agrees and the witch heals Jack.
  • Jill has to be back up the hill in exactly one year. Jack vows to figure out a way to free her from her promise to the witch.

So as you can see, it’s basically just bullet points that guides me on my writing journey. WHO KNOWS what would actually happen if I wrote this story because, like I said above, these are just loose outlines and the story evolves.

That’s my favorite part about writing actually. The evolution of a story idea.

Writing is tangible magic and I get to be the wizard who wields it.

writing is tangible magic and I get to be the wizard who wields it.

How do you like to outline?

Dear #Pitchwars 2015 Mentees

Hey you… yup, I’m talking to you.

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I know, weird that  you’re now a mentee (which btw is a weird word and always autocorrects to menthe when you’re typing. So annoying). If you were anything like me last year, I was specifically choosing NOT to look on Brenda’s blog because I didn’t want yet another disappointment.

Then my Twitter feed started blowing up and just like that, I found out I was chosen by the amazing Trisha Leigh!

My writing life has never been the same.

In an effort to pay it forward, here are three things I would like to pass on to you as an alumni (that sounds WAY fancier than it really is).

I ended up signing with an agent who requested from #PitchWars, but SO many of my amazing fellow PitchWarriors signed with agents who didn’t request from #PitchWars. So I guess that’s the first thing you need to know. Don’t let yourself be consumed with getting requests. The amazing thing about this contest is that it focuses on craft rather than reward… The entire point of #PitchWars is actually not to get you an agent. The entire point of #PitchWars is to give your manuscript the best shot it has in order to eventually get an agent. If you have a kick butt manuscript, then by default, you have a WAY better chance of finding an agent with it! FOCUS ON THE CRAFT, NOT THE REWARD.

Second thing… LEAN IN.

This process can be tough. If this is the first time you’ve ever revised with an edit letter, it can be REALLY overwhelming (I wrote about how I tackled it here). But the revising process doesn’t stop with your mentor. You may be asked to revise and resubmit by an agent or you may choose to revise based on similar reasons for rejections… then once you get an agent, you may go through several rounds of revision (*raises hand in solidarity*), and then when your book sells you’re going to have to revise some more! Lean in to all of it. Throw yourself into it (I always think of this scene from Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken when I say that).

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Fear of failure is going to try to weave it’s shriveled, gnarled fingers into your confidence. Drop kick that fear in the face and — Like my grandma always says — fake it till you make it. Because here’s a secret, NONE of us ever feel like we know what we’re doing. Every book scares us just as much as the last one.

Lastly… say no to competitiveness.

When a big chunk of the 2014 PitchWarriors got a private FB group, something magical happened. We all left our egos at the door and purposefully chose not to be competitive with each other. This meant that we shared stats, we shared when we got rejected and by who (so that others with materials out with that agent could know where they were on the reading list). We shared the dates of requests so we could let others know where the agents were at in the query inbox. None of us played things close to the chest because we were ALL getting rejections and victories and we ALL needed to celebrate or cry with THE ONLY OTHER PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND! We shared it all. We asked for query critiques, first pages critiques, even full manuscript reads when we made changes. We helped eachother with email wording, we bounced twitter pitches off each other, we talked each other off the ledge when we felt like we were NEVER going to get an agent or no one would EVER fall in love with our manuscripts. Then we would scream and squeal when we started getting agents and book deals. oh and laughed. We laugh a lot. It’s been almost a year, and none of us have any intention of ever leaving 🙂

None of that could have happened if we went into it thinking that the other mentees were competition. They aren’t. Even if they write in the same genre, they aren’t competition. Quite the opposite actually, they’ll be your lifeline to the reason you started writing in the first place if you’ll let them.

So welcome to the #PitchWars club! You’re going to have a blast!

Oh and one last thing, remember that finding an agent is just like making base camp on your climb up Everest. You need to make it to base camp, but you can’t stay at base camp. Celebrate when you get there, but keep your eye on the prize (aka total world domination… er I mean a lifetime of published books!)

Bonne Chance et Bisous!

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(Oh and on the day of the agent round, just take the day off work if you can because let’s be real… you’ll be checking your entry ALL DAY! #refresh #refresh #refresh)

For the other AMAZING PW2014 thoughts for the PW2015’ers, visit: 

Amanda Rawson Hill: On Doubt and Hope

Tracie L. Martin: What no one tells the PitchWarriors

Jennifer Hawkins: Last year at this time, I was you…

K. Kazul Wolf: Congrats on getting further into the insanity…

A.B. Sevan: Swimming with the Big Fishies

Tracie Martin: What No One Tells the PitchWarrior

RuthAnne Snow: 2014 Pitch Wars Mentee here, looking to offer…

Rosalyn Collings Eves: Most of you are probably sick with dread…

Peggy J. Sheridan: Welcome to the club…

Janet Walden-West: The Long Game

Destiny Cole: Yup, I’m talking to you…

Kelly DeVos: Confessions of a PitchWars Alternate

Mary Ann Marlowe: First things first…

Mara Rae: I’m going to keep it short and sweet…

Jen Vincent: Last year, on a complete whim…

Kip Wilson: Congratulations, lucky mentees…

A. Alys Vera: PitchWars is great, don’t get me wrong…

Nikki Roberti: 3 Things You Need to Know

Erin Foster Hartley: I’ve been putting this off…