Writing Tools To Help You Plan Your Book: Part Two

This is Part 2 in the Writing Tools series. You can find Part 1 here

In this post, I want to talk about a tool that is both old and new in some respects. If you're familiar with K.M. Weiland and her website Helping Writers Become Authors, then you're also probably familiar with her craft writing books. One set in particular seems to be her most popular - the Outlining Your Novel Book and Outlining Your Novel Workbook duo.

 
 

Now, I have both of these books in hard copy and digital, but I'm going to say flat out that for me - it's really hard to actually "do" the steps in the workbook. It's that whole "thou shalt not write in books" thing. Plus, I know I'll be outlining more than one novel and I don't really want to buy a new copy every time I want to outline. And then there's the problem of following the steps from the actual book without having the questions laid out. 

So there's a dilemma, right? Because the stuff inside these two books? Good, good, stuff. But I found myself not being able to utilize them to their full potential. Until K.M. Weiland came out with her Outlining Your Novel Workbook Software. 

Not only is the perfect solution to my problem, but it intertwines both the lessons and the workbook elements to make it an extremely robust system. And because it's so robust, I'm not going to be able to go over every little thing about the software. My hope is that you see how beneficial it can be for your own process and decide to give it a try. Plus, K.M. has extremely tutorials on how to use the software on her website. So you might think there's a huge learning curve, but trust me, it's so easy to use! So, let's get started.

First, I want to show you all the categories and subcategories because it's CRAZY intense.

Premise Categories

Premise Categories

General Categories (Scenes, Character and Conflict)

General Categories (Scenes, Character and Conflict)

Character Categories

Character Categories

Settings Categories

Settings Categories

Outline Categories

Outline Categories

Extra Categories

Extra Categories

Just like with One Stop for Writers, this software allows you to jump around and do as little or as much planning. In fact, there's so much that you can do with the software that you could get lost down the rabbit hole of planning! But so much of it really gets you thinking about the deeper elements of your story and that allows you to create three dimensional characters and scenes instead of surface level ones.

There are plenty of prompts to get you thinking about your characters as well as areas that ask you to "free write" and just explore. Though some of the questions may seem redundant and basic - by the time you're finished, you will have a very detailed and rich outlook on your characters.

One thing I LOVE about this software is the scene/plot planning capabilities. The software prompts you to start at the beginning with "What if" questions and what's expected/unexpected. You can choose any prompts to get you thinking about the trajectory of your story and when you're ready, you can start adding scenes to the scene list.

Prompts to get you started

Prompts to get you started

Structure Skeleton Guide

Structure Skeleton Guide

You can add them willy-nilly or you can use the "structure skeleton" to guide you. After you've added a scene, you'll be then given the opportunity to expand on that scene with specific questions and qualifiers. Once you have a good chunk of your outline finished, you can even go over it with the scene checklist to make sure it's hitting all of the most important elements. 

Additional questions for a particular scene

Additional questions for a particular scene

Scene Checklist

Scene Checklist

If you're more of a "big-picture" type of plotter/planner - you might like to start with the three biggest chunks - first act, second act, third act. This allows you to plan the "big moments" first and then drill down to the smaller scenes later if that's your preferred method. When the time comes that you feel good about your outline, you can see it in the "scenes list" and either export it or print it. What's interesting to note is that you can also color code your scenes by the level of "completedness" it is. For example - anything in blue is a "solid and important" scene. Anything in red is an "incomplete" scene - one where I need to figure out something about it. Green is a "could be a throwaway scene." So then, when you print it off, you'll also be able to see the color coded scenes as a guide. 

Story Structure Outline

Story Structure Outline

An overview of all the scenes

An overview of all the scenes

Another neat thing is that when you do mark something as "red" in the scene list - the program will automatically place it under the "connecting the dots" section. This is a compilation of the scenes you need to work through until you can turn it blue or green. They provide some prompts to help you figure it out.

Connecting the Dots Section

Connecting the Dots Section

That all sounds very overwhelming, right? But K.M. and the software developer made it VERY easy to figure out how to navigate the software and the prompts. They have a very robust help section that gives a fly out response when you click on a particular section.

Help Directory

Help Directory

Fly out box that comes after clicking a section

Fly out box that comes after clicking a section

But you don't have to go back to the help section every time you need some knowledge. When you're within a category or subcategory, you can click the "i" icon and it will bring up some information and helpful examples.

As you can see - this software is intense and meticulously thought through, which is why I enjoy using it so much. I have to admit that I only scratched the surface of what you can do with it, but I figure it's better to leave some things to mystery! If you're interested in getting a deeper look at the software in real-time - check out these tutorials from K.M. herself.  And if you're ready to dive into planning - go ahead and purchase the software below!

 

 

Writing Tools To Help You Plan Your Book: Part One

If you're anything like me - planning is your jam. You thrive on the control you have in planning who your characters are, where they're going, and what they're doing. But sometimes, having that much control and no where to organize it can lead to overwhelm, frustration and procrastination. At least, that's how it's been in my experience. It wasn't until I found the two tools I'm going to talk about that I finally had an outlet for all my planning. 

I'm a HUGE fan of the women behind Writers Helping Writers (the incredible website resource) and their Thesaurus. When they came out with their interactive website, One Stop for Writers - I was thrilled. It's extremely robust and complex and I'll try my best to show you some of my favorite parts (including examples!) of it. If you're familiar with Writers Helping Writers, you'll know that they focus on the emotional parts of stories. Whether that's just plain emotion, emotion through settings, traits, objects, symbols, etc. Thus, everything on One Stop for Writers aims at helping you create the connection between your story and emotion. 

I love that you can start ANYWHERE and with ANYTHING. If you're a character person - start with the characters! If you're a settings person - start there. You have the flexibility to build the backstory to your story anyway you choose. The website gives you plenty of options to do just that, too. From their checklists and tip sheets idea generator, to templates and worksheets and even ALL their thesauruses excerpts that are in the books + more.

Screenshot 2017-08-07 14.30.51.png

 

Since I'm a characters person, let's start with some of the character templates. One of my favorites is the Emotional Progression one. I love that this template FORCES you to connect the scene to the emotion of the character and how that would naturally progress emotionally as the scenes progress as well. This template dovetails nicely with the Character's Fears section. Digging deep into a character's fears is definitely one of the hardest parts of building a believable character, for me. So having these prompts to help guide me was great. Once I built out my character's fears, I was able to cross check it when all my Emotional Progression notes to make sure they matched up appropriately. 

Emotional Progression

Emotional Progression

Character's Fears

Character's Fears

One thing I forget about is how important setting can be for a story -- especially as it relates to emotion. So the Settings-At-A-Glance worksheet and the Emotional Value of a Setting really helped me see how particular settings within my story needed to contain an element of emotion. And not only that -- but that the characters should be responding to that setting appropriately. (For example - my character has to go visit someone in prison. She's going to respond very differently inside of a prison than say, the street she grew up on). 

Another important part of planning a novel is also quite possibly the hardest -- the plot and all that it entails. But again, this isn't just a "structure" template. It's a guide that helps you match up the plot/external events to the emotions of the character, the story and the scenes. Though you start out with the basics for the Story Map, you drill down further within the Scene Map. Much like the Emotional Progression template, the Scene Map template asks you questions about how that scene connects to the emotion of your story and your characters. 

Note that all of this is editable and exportable. So maybe as you actually begin writing, things change. You can go back to your template and update it to reflect the changes. And you can actually see how the change will force a different progression into place.

Another one of my favorite tools is the Timeline feature. It's pretty self-explanatory but 1. I'm a very visual person and 2. I always forget those pesky little details that end up tripping me up during revisions. Like:

"Wait -- what month was it when the first chapter started?"

"When did this character die?" 

"Whoa... what year is it even?"

So having a basic timeline to refer to during the planning and drafting stages is fantastic. And the best thing is that you can move the boxes around on the timeline as well as edit/update them. And of course, it's exportable, so you can print it out and tape it to your wall while you write. 

The fun doesn't stop with the templates and worksheets. Also included in the One Stop for Writers website are tons of other checklists/tip sheets and templates. As you can see in the example below - there's pretty much a checklist and/or tip sheet for almost anything you could need and I love how they make it so you can pick and choose what applies to you. 

What I love the most about One Stop for Writers website though, is that it allows you to do as little or as much planning as you want. There is no "guide" or "rules" to follow. It's a blank canvas for you to play and experiment with. Having the freedom to plan in a way that is productive for me is extremely important and I love that I can do that with this software. And though I'm a staunch "planner" that doesn't mean pantsers can't get use out of the software. In fact, there's just enough to get you motivated without feeling smothered.

So what say you, writers? Are you ready to dig deep into the emotions of your characters? Are you ready to explore what makes your characters tick? If so, One Stop for Writers is the place you should be. 

*Member Spotlight* A Writer Goes to RWA

*Member Spotlight* A Writer Goes to RWA

One month has passed since I attended the 2017 RWA Conference in Orlando, FL and I’m still beaming with the afterglow of my experience.

*MEMBER SPOTLIGHT* with Lainey Cameron

Joined Author Accelerator on 06/2016

Book Title: Exit Strategy

Genre: Women’s Fiction

 Book Coach: Kemlo Aki

We had this interview scheduled with Lainey after she finished her manuscript through Author Accelerator, but then a few exciting things happened in quick succession that changed the direction of this interview. After she finished her novel, she went through The Pitch Track at Author Accelerator to get her pitch package perfect. So what happened? First, Lainey submitted her novel, Exit Strategy for the Rising Star Award through the Women's Fiction Association -- and became a finalist. Then, she submitted Exit Strategy to the The Colorado Gold Writing Contest and again, became a finalist. She sent out a batch of queries and days later received a full manuscript request. Lainey is a perfect example of how hard work, dedication and book coaching can create a successful future.

Interview:

1.)  Did you feel confident about your manuscript when you submitted it for the contest, or nervous?

Honestly? I had low expectations. This is my first book and the Rising Star Award, from Women Fiction Writers Association (WFWA), was the first contest I’ve entered. I’d seen the quality of writing from other WFWA members and as a new writer, I didn’t consider myself in their league. So, although I polished my pages for the competition, making the five finalists came as a complete surprise. At the time the finalists were announced I was on my roof deck eating breakfast and editing pages. I screamed so loud the neighbors must have thought someone in the house was in real danger.

2.)  What were your first thoughts when you heard the news that you'd won?

I wrote a blog post that night where I shared my first reaction, which was “Wow, I guess the book isn’t total crap, then?” You spend so long (years), creating this thing called a book, and not knowing whether it will ever be read and enjoyed. After a hundred variations of self-doubt, reaching the finalists in a contest is like a massive billboard scrolling down from the sky with “Don’t give up yet” printed on it.

3.)  Have you started working on another book yet? Do you plan to? (We hope the answer is YES!) 

I’m not yet done with this one! I’m still polishing as I’ve yet to send the full manuscript out to agents (soon, in the coming weeks!). But, I know the publishing process is a long one, and I’m just entering the rejection-central phase. There are some ideas knocking around my head for book two. I’m intending to keep the same locale set in Silicon Valley, and for sure will stick with the commercial/women’s fiction category. Beyond that, I expect to go through the same process as the first draft of this book - just keep escalating the situation on my characters until I stretch the bounds of “What If?”. Then rewrite and rewrite!

4.)  Would you be willing to share how working with Author Accelerator helped you in your process?

I couldn’t have gotten this far without Author Accelerator and my amazing coach.  A year ago, I had a first draft, and was a few months into draft two. The problem was I’d read every writing book I could lay my hands on. However if you follow 100% of the writing advice out there (remove flashbacks, remove internal dialog, only show no telling, show some setting, but not too much etc etc), you end up with a hollow shell of a book which is what I was doing to a half decent first draft (hollowing it out). 

I needed help with learning to rewrite and edit, and that was where my amazing coach Kemlo Aki came in. Together we went through ten or twenty pages week by week, so I could learn what was good and needed to stay in, and what was unnecessary (example: flashbacks are not a hard no, but they have to be relevant to a decision in story present). Kemlo also showed me that I was expecting my readers to be psychic and guess why events in the book mattered to my characters. 

What no-one tells you is if you follow every piece of advice in every book you end up with nothing. After working with Kemlo, I’ve started to think of writer voice as deciding which rules you will follow, and which you will break. And when you decide to break a rule, knowing why you did so.  

ABOUT LAINEY:

Lainey Cameron spent two decades as a marketing exec, immersed in the irony and absurdity of Silicon Valley. She recently dropped out of tech, became a global nomad, and is focused on honing her writing. She is active in in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she runs their online workshop program and trained with Margie Lawson’s immersion program and Jennie Nash’s Author Accelerator coaching.

In 2017, her first book became a finalist in both the Colorado Gold Novel Contest (Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers) and the WFWA Rising Star Award for unpublished women’s fiction.

ABOUT KEMLO:

Kemlo started out as a technical writer, drafting manuals designed to instruct and inform. Then, for seventeen years, she home educated her three children so they could learn in their own way and at their own pace. She wrote about what her family was learning and why, published newsletters and websites designed to help other educators, and wrote thousands of emails to parents seeking information and reassurance. More recently, she has studied rhetoric and models for online learning while earning her MA in professional writing. Trained by Jennie Nash and Lisa Cron, she joined Author Accelerator as a book coach in 2014. 

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