“When you journey into the unknown, accept the magic.”

Unlike most 2012 DragonCon attendees, I immersed myself in everything that did not have a line. Mostly I spent time at the writer panels that featured Mike Stackpole and Aaron Allston, two scifi writers. However, what they had to say on career and craft applies to all scribblers so take heed. I also hit several steampunk panels, some super-specific topical panels, and bathed in the genius of the genre all-stars. This is a long post so feel free to skip around.

#1. Show, Don’t Tell.

Why is it the rule? Because you want the reader to be an active participant in the story. Like your heroes, the reader should be on quest as well, discovering as they go, grabbing up a constant stream of bread crumbs that you, the cackling author, have provided. “Jack was old” is telling, and the reader is passively digesting. “Jack’s gray hair fought to escape the tight leather clasp” is showing. The reader is actively deciphering your words; they are engaged. “Jack spoke angrily.” No bread crumbs, and a sucky adverb. “Jack squeezed his fists until his fingernails broke the skin.” Ooh, I must know why. Tell me more, O author.

#1a corollary: We know this rule. Why do we ignore it so well? Because we are lazy, ignorant sluts. We would rather write 3 words then 10. But lazy, ignorant writing insults the reader and worse … bores her. And after reading this, you’re not ig’nant so …

#1b caveat: Leave your breadcrumbs, but don’t bury them. Make sure the wit and wisdom in your noggin actually makes it to the page. A clue left in your head helps no one.

#1c conundrum. But you can leave ignorant, lazy writing in Draft 1. I met a writer who writes the title and then “The End,” and then backs up and starts banging that keyboard, always seeing that delicious duo of words close by, reminding her not to waste time with perfection when completion is the goal. Likewise, Senor Stackpole says that editing as you go is knocking dirt into the hole you’re digging. One wretched wordslinger in the audience said, “I’ve rewritten my first chapter six times.” Stahp. “Don’t be a chapterist. Be a novelist,” says Stackpole. That being said, sift your breadcrumbs properly in draft #2.

#2 Alternate History & Steampunk tricks of the trade:

  • Read collections of immigrant letters: “I’m eating meat 3x/week.” “I don’t have to doff my hat to everyman.”
  • Only German Zeppelins stayed up. Brit and US versions sank. WW1 killed zeppelin tech. They should have lasted until commercial jet travel in 1960s.
  • WW1 is so often not used as a setting because readers, authors, editors, and publishers just don’t know it like they do WW2.
  • Why does war make such a wonderful setting for an Alt.-Hist. setting? War magnifies decisions and individual acts, and different classes mix.
  • What would be a dramatic peacetime story look like? Only the Titanic’s sinking comes to mind and that has all the same war-time elements.
  • Steam tech must matter to plot and character

#3 Fighting:

  • The fight must reflect the experience of the fighters. Describe each blow for a novice. For a pro: “I dropped them all.”
  • Choreograph the action scenes, especially fights, to make them believable. That means get out of thy chair and find a lusty yeoman to gird thy loins against. So, your spouse or an attractive stranger. Act out the combat.
  • Most past cultures had revenge/blood feud as a sacred duty. There was no compassion for the enemy.
  • Real fights are quick: 5 seconds.
  • Know stakes in the fight beforehand for highest emotional impact.
  • Reveal character in a fight. Are the opponents sneaky, treacherous, honorable?
  • Show the aftermath and the prepwork for a fight. Have grunts grinding out nicks in a sword, repairing armor, and cleaning gear. Oil and soft cloth are used to protect a sword (oil protects from oxygen/rust). Sand’s good for wiping off blood; also an opponents hair, and soil.
  • It may take weeks or months for wounds to heal. Scars! Weakness afterwards is common. Hands get bruised, and buckets of ice need to be on backorder. Limb damage is the most common wound especially for sword fighters.
  • There are no clean fights.
  • Hit soft things (gut) with hard things (fist), and hard things (skull) with soft things (palm).
  • Resist Hollywoodization of violence: Reload; show wounds and shock and dizziness and hearing loss from gunfire; bad guys can’t hit and on full-auto but good guy’s can’t miss. An equally trained 100# woman should lose to a 250# man. Sorry waif-fu practitioners.
  • Limit gun-porn and ammo-spanking: loving descriptions of guns, knives, etc. Why bother?
  • You can’t fight without getting hurt, a willingness to get hurt, and a need to hurt others.

#4 Characterization:

Characterization is the scifi generational change that activated in the late 1980s. Big names of scifi past did not have character arcs. All you neded was a cool premise, space battles, heroes named Dirk, damsels, and bad aliens. Not so today. Now, people expect a character arc, growth, change, and wit. And not just the hero, but the villains and sidekicks and romantic interests, too. Not enough now to have an external plot, but an internal plot as well.

I asked Stackpole for an example of a new character, knowing the inherent trap, and he demured. Personally, I’m thinking Drizzt Do’Urden. Maybe Hellboy? The X-men? A tough call.

Some character traits and building blocks to consider:

  • Describe their mancave, or happy place.
  • How do they act in a bar?
  • If you list traits as a character, then you must make them gel. He likes sushi and baseball. (He’s Japanese!).
  • What famous person would they meet with, dine with, drink with, fight with, sex with?
  • Stackpole says, “Stephen King is best.”
  • If you start with an archetype, then twist and develop. Know your tropes and surprise your sophisticated readers.
  • Steal the traits of real people, not the entire person. Traits can’t sue.
  • Poll your characters about their desires. Interview them.
  • Give challenges to your characters, not just flaws.
  • Why is your bastard worthy of redemption?
  • Don’t forget that the world continues regardless of story and character.

#5 Dialogue:

  • Professionals use their own jargon
  • Edumacated folks use longer words, and longer sentences. Yokels use shorter words, shorter sentences and swear more (I guess this makes me a high-brow yokel).
  • 5 year olds use 5-word sentences, etc
  • Angry folk use short sentences and swear.
  • Don’t forget regional dialects. Do you say pop? Soda? Coke?
  • Women are more attuned to color and decoration. Men are more attuned to threats, spatial relationships, and time.
  • In conversation, men attack, women defend. Males talk less, and are blunt. Women talk more, and are opaque. Blanket statements, of course. Please feel free to villify moi.
  • Hopefully, you’re dialogue is so unique to the character that speech tags become unnecessary.

#6 Plot Problems?

  • You didn’t do enough research.
  • You have a brilliant setting with no story or character.
  • You have a brilliant character with no story.
  • You think outlines are stupid.
  • You’re a nice person but you’re not torturing your characters properly.

#7 Description:

Indulge in info dumps is lazy writing. Parcel it out in bits in prose, yes, but also in dialogue, in character reactions (both physical and emotional) and by the characters manipulating the environment (and their clothing and equipment) and through internal monologue, flashback, memory.

“It was a dark and stormy night. Chad looking out the window aggressively. He was confused. The weatherman had lied to him. Jill watched Chad watch the weather. She was a lovely warrior princess, and she was tired of Chad’s promises. She needed him to act.”

Or…

“The lightning illuminated Chad’s haggard features. He flicked the window’s lock open and close. Behind him, Jill wished he would be flicking something of hers. She wondered if the fire-jumping and sword duels had begun back in her court.”

Is the second sentence better? Maybe. But it’s less lazy and it might have ripped a chuckle.

“The child was cute.” No. Show reaction of the PoV character to the cute child. “She was disgusted.” No. “She wore an expression of disgust.” Better. “Her face distorted as if she had kissed a tarantula.” Better still, and it also shows tone: humor, horror, etc.

Pain is not always excruciating. Eyebrows do not always cock. Blood does not always curdle. If an adverb or adjective is not perfect, then find a descriptive phrase.

Don’t just write functional sentences, but quality, fun-to-read sentences.

 

#8 How To Ruin Your Career:

  • Use cliches
  • Be predictable
  • Miss deadlines (if you have a life-altering event, tell thy Editor and act like a Pro)
  • Be lazy with your language and ignorant of your craft
  • Never tell an editor what you’re doing
  • Engage in flame wars on the internet. Be a troll. Feed trolls.
  • Never thank people.
  • Denigrate women (2/3rds of editors are women).
  • Ignore other writers. They can never help you. (People like to work with people they like. People talk. Editors talk. Con organizers talk.)
  • Approach an agent or editor at a Con as it they are there solely for you. Interrupt them while they are macking on a cutie.
  • Be unprofessional, mean, and snippy.
  • Abuse fans, Con staff, and the publisher house staff.
  • Burn bridges.
  • Get the last word.
  • Gratify your ego.
  • Treat socially awkward fans badly (Fan: “I hated your book.” You: Can you give me the short reason why. Speak to their inner child.)

#9 Rejectomancy:

“Don’t take rejection personally.” Fuck that. Take rejection personally. Use your rage to make your story better, or burn the long night of oil and ignored chores to build another story.

Scifi grand dame, Connie Willis, got form rejections from the same publications that published her Nebula-award-winning stories! She told us of her Black Day. She always had multiple stories Out There. If she got one crushed, there were others circulating. Then she got back 9 rejected MSs, and seriously considered quitting. But she didn’t. Why? Because she had pre-paid and addressed several envelopes. So she sent some more stuff out and sold some of those same stories that got rejected that day. So, major authors get rejection form letters too.

“I always interpret a rejection letter by analyzing the steaming entrails of the editor.”
#10 Miscellaneous craft and career bits:

  • For Hire work (for Star trek, let’s say) = 6-9 months (as opposed to original work = 12-18 months). Cover art comes in at 80% completion rate, and you may be told to incoporate it. You can’t change the characters, but you can emotionally & mentally torture them. No negotiation. Take deal = do work.
  • Maintain 2,500 words per chapter on average for good flow/pacing. 30,000 words per PoV character (so 3 max usually).
  • At the Con, authors used I-Pads and E-Readers as promo tools, setting them on the table a la digital biz cards. Awesome. Jealous.
  • On Writer’s Group / Online Feedback: issue is not if they like or dislike; did they understand it.
  • Always show the downside to magic in your world.
  • Workshops and Groups will tell you how they would fix it. You must figure out how you would fix it.
  • Don’t e-pub/self-pub your 2nd rate stories. You’ll dilute your own brand.
  • “This is the Golden Age and Wild West of publishing.” If the market can’t handle your lesbian steampunk psycho-ballad, you’ll find an audience online.

“I’ve now filled a frost giant’s codpiece with authorial tricks and tidbits, but I have not told all. If you want the last few secrets you’ll just have to trek to the ATL in 2013. Later, monkeys. I’ve got lit to scribe.”

 

For Writers – Rant #18 – How many drafts will it take to finish?

 

 

 

 

“As many as you need,” the wise published author says.

Very true. Nooooot very helpful though. Let me break it down ScribbleNinja style.

First, is what you have worthy of a novel? What do you have now? A scene? A premise? A world waiting for a story? A protagonist waiting for a push? A need to seem witty or important (or drunk in a café talking about your theme)? Let’s just assume you have a worthy idea, but you haven’t yet committed. After all, we’re talking about 9-12 months of your precious waking mind.

This is what you do: Draft Zero.

I call it an Outline, but if that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, then call it Draft Zero. The Outline will quickly tell you what you have, and save you scads of time and frustration. You got half a page of outline? That means Short Story. Couple ‘o pages? Novella. More than ten pages? Novel. Twenty pages. Epic Fantasy. More than twenty? Stop masturbating on the page, and write the damn story already.

By the way, you can absolutely drink during Draft Zero (or smoke wacky tobaccy in rolled up 1862 Confederate scrip, if that’s your thing). Murdering your darlings in Draft Zero can wipe out whole characters, entire plot arcs, or even transform the snarky minor character into the Great Anti-Hero Champion of the Metaverse Guy (or Girl). You get the picture.

See my other essays for more outline-a-palooza.

Draft One has only one ironclad rule: don’t get it right, get it written.

Can you write shitty? Show us. Use caricatures, clichés, poor grammar; anything to put ink on the page. The next day, read what came before to pick up the thread, edit if you must, but don’t “polish.” Have fun with your strengths and ignore your weaknesses. Don’t agonize. Progress now, perfection later. “But, but,” you stammer. “I’m writing literary dingleberries and all my writer buds are dripping sonatas out of their butts without trying.” Hush there, suffering scribe. You are learning about your characters, and fleshing out your world, and discovering new plot wrinkles—so how dare you polish an unfinished thing. Michelangelo did not start by polishing his block of stone. He carved first. And crudely. That’s Draft One.

[One of my own weaknesses is grammar, particularly commas and the devil’s mark, the semi-colon. If in any post, you notice grammar errors, please comment immediately, which will make my penis shrink. I will notice this and correct said offending post.]

Where were we? Ahh, yes; poor besotted Draft One. Listen close. Some people fizzle out at about 50 pages. At page one, you can only go forward, but at page 50, you have enough in place that you could go sideways, flashback, skip forward, and basically get lost. Is this you? No? I bet you used an outline.

At the 50 page mark, give or take a chapter, and only if you feel comfortable, analyze what’s before you. If the thought makes you woozy, then read these next few items, but wait until you’re done with Draft One to implement them.

You, my lovely writer, want to achieve Balance of seemingly opposing things.

  • You want characters that are larger than life, but flawed.
  • Their goals must be clear and their progress to climax (!) must drive the story.
  • The villain’s goals should also be clear, and their progress to anti-climax, drives the hero nuts.
  • The stakes must also be larger than life, but still relatable. If the stakes are beyond normal ken, then the character themselves better be relatable (i.e. she’s trying to save the world from utter zombie annihilation, but she’s also trying to impress a boy she likes).
  • Finally, are the characters innovative and two twists from normal, or simply paint-by-number heroes?

Some other items that need attention in either Draft One or Draft Two are the following. I list them separately because if you can manage them in Draft One without slowing your momentum, then do it. Otherwise, they’ll wait until Draft Two.

  • The tempo of the story must Balance delivering information about the characters, their goals, and the world without stopping the action. I love 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but Verne wrote that 140 years ago when it was fine to describe fish for five whole pages. I don’t want to read a buffet of maritime wonders, I want Nemo to disembowel authority figures. Do not infodump on your reader unless you can make words slide down like caramel butter. Sadly, I have not achieved that beyond a few lines.
  • Even in the most ape-shit, everyone’s-a-flying-alien-wizard story, there are rules. Superman has Kryptonite and a code of honor (otherwise we would all be his bitches). Your plot must flow organically based on the character’s bobbing and weaving around the obstacles that the villain/unholy fate places in front of her. The best obstacles are surprising and obvious, and reveal the character’s best and worst features.
  • So, Balance the fresh take with the known archetypes. Balance the larger-than-life setting, hero, and problem with small, gristly bits that make them human.  Superman also gets coffee spilled on his shirt and has people take the last pumpkin donut after he stood in line for ten minutes.

So, you’re done with Draft One. Yea! Drinks all ‘round! Did rereading Draft One put a smile on your face a few times? A moist eye? A tingling in your nethers? Good. Tighten your helmet cords, punchy, ’cause you’re going back into battle. Time to move on to bulldozing your lovelies. (If you didn’t finish the items above then your Draft Two list just got bigger. Suck it up, java-monkey!)

Draft Two: separating the professionals from the palookas.

You thought writing “The End” in Draft One was satisfying, didn’t you? Liar, liar,
pantaloons on fire. You should have wrote “The Beginning.” Of Pain. Oh, did you
place two chapters from the villain’s point of view back to back? (Thanx, Brenda). Space them out. Did your minor characters take over? Did you skip Draft Zero? Do you want to start over? No? Perhaps, you can move some dialogue to the protag’s mouth. Nothing is unfixable. Find the inconsistencies, plug the plot holes.

Identify the characters who only seem to exist to be a foil to your protag. Give those minor characters their own goals, make them real. Better yet, make their goals contrast with the protag’s. Force multipliers, baby! You can move chapters, and add or delete sections. You are the beautiful, cruel god. Get to work.

On one page (8 pt font, if you must), I like to write a one sentence synopsis of each chapter and designate the point-of-view character. Now you can see a flow, a tempo, and adjust whole chapters as necessary. If your sentence reads like this: “stuff happens,” then you need to sling some outrageous arrows at that sumbitch.

Let me mention a pet peeve: after a hundred pages, if your protag is still at home, YOU HAVE FAILED!

Sorry. Let’s continue. All those times you wrote: add scene here (who would do that?!) – now you have to scribe that scene. Maybe there was a reason you skipped it. Was it relevant? It better be. Are your existing subplots still relevant? How’s the pacing? Are you getting bored by your own writing? My god, throw some giant fighting robots in there or something (Thanx, Liz). Is it epic fantasy? Draw a map. Every scene should be a step forward for your hero, or your villain, or should be revealing character. Mix the high drama and the fights with the lighter moments. Mix the stirring emotional inner monologue with—crap, I hate inner monologues. I also hate protagonists who whine. If your character has a beef, do it in dialogue. Be funny if at all possible.

Now that you have the ending and the beginning in front of you, you can line them up like the snake eating its tail. Do they feel simpatico? If you paid for them, show us those MFA skills. Have you read your scenes aloud? It’ll help you find the rhythm. At this point, your tale should have shape. Hey, Mike, your marble masterwork looks like a big naked dude holding a beach towel.

Do you need specifics? Hearken:

  • Can you tell who’s talking? Ignore your high school English teacher, and use “said” 97% of the time for your dialogue tags.
  • Make the slow parts faster, or funnier.
  • Fix all the weasely word choices you allowed the first time. Find the right word, but don’t agonize. Not yet. All the bones and muscles must work before we focus on the skin.
  • No passive voice. It is better “to kiss” then “to have been kissed.” (Thanx, Gemma)
  • No pointless scenes. Really. Don’t spend time on something your reader is going to skim.

Draft Three: Flavor … and Agony.

All the big holes are filled. Now we must smooth over the rough spots, no matter how small. Do it now, or there will be a Draft Four. Do you want that?! So, agonize. Sweat the small stuff. Punch up the word choice and description. And I don’t mean describing your villain’s eye color, unless they are Cockroach Brown because that hits me sweetly.

Each character should have a different voice, a different way to say “damn the man,” or “come in for a drink?” Each scene must have someone not getting what they want, or getting it after all, but it was not what they thought. Each transition must flow, and make your dear reader avoid sleep and laundry. You must be the merciless killer of clichés. Slap putty on your weaknesses. Find your poet. What would Bill Shakespeare do? Billy it up!

The first sentence, paragraph, and scene should be pristine and jaw-dropping in some way. If you describe the weather, I will slap you with a rainbow trout.

Yes, you’re completing Draft Three but the-book-which-eats-your-life is hateful now. It is the barrier to the next cool project, and perhaps seeing your loved ones, or bathing. The only thing that keeps the ScribbleNinja on task is the future dream that one day – One Day! – I will only have to write three drafts. If I keep practicing that word-after-a-word-after-a-word-thing, and use my outline.

You’re breathing hard now, I know. You enjoyed using the big brush of the outline in Draft Zero, but it still did not save you from getting bogged down in the Swamp on page 150 of Draft One. Still, you persevered, gave your romantic interest a goal of her own, and you were back in business. This is a marathon and you lost your big toenail when you cut out the slow scene with the best sentence you ever wrote in Draft Two. You threw some Gatorade on your head and kept stumbling forward. Finding another way to say world-ending, ab-rippling, soul-kiss almost severed your will to live, but you did it.

You did it! Draft Three is in the tank. Are you done? Welllll, it depends. Anything after Draft Three enters the …

Valley of Diminishing Returns

One can only polish so much. Draft One put the thing that was in your head on the page, but unless you’re the neurotic type, only about 50% of it was worthy. Draft Two got you to 75%, but that’s for pikers and Vice-Presidents. You want the brass ring, dammit. Draft Three got you to 87%. That’s good enough for most. Anything else depends on your life situation and your inner judge. Draft Four will get you to 93%. That’s stellar. That’s award-winning. Stop. Do not do a Draft Five. At best, you’ll get the manuscript to 97%. Not worth it. Submit that eager puppy. Let someone else pencil-whip it.

There you have it. Use an Outline, and you’re in and out with 3 drafts. Spare the Outline, and you’re looking at 4+ drafts in my humble opinion.

Sincerely, the ScribbleNinja.

For Writers – Rant #57 – The Outline

“How did your new book get done so quickly?”

I had a Friend.

Do you want to meet him?

You very well might … if you struggle to finish a novel, or if finding the next scene is a hardship, or if your story meanders like molasses through a molehill, or if you are on your fifth rewrite and wondering if you have enough heartbeats left in your ticker to really finish. The solution: the lowly, much maligned Outline, my good friend.

We’ve all heard of him at parties. He’s often introduced with a whisper as if he’s done some time behind bars, or hung with a bad crowd. He’s been compared to a building’s blueprint, an essential tool for an architect, but when he’s in your house drinking your Hennessey, suddenly he does not feel so welcome. If you’re a writer that likes to get dirty and just see what grows, then having Outline around seems downright blasphemous.

Don’t fear Outline just because he brings strange rules to your garden. He might not mention organic love or left-handed tobacco, but he wants to free your mind by providing Structure. He wants to let your creative side focus on the muscle and flesh of your manuscript because you’re done with the skeleton. But you don’t want that cage of bone? My characters and my world change as the story progresses, you insist. Relax. Outline knows this. If his bones can’t flex enough, he’ll leave out the back door with a smile, and come ‘round the front all shiny and new to fit your new direction. He just needs a few days to find clothes that fit.

Abby uses Outline as her quick and dirty Friday Night Stud. All she wants from him is three index cards. The first sets up the story, the third ends it. The second always says the same thing: shit happens. She writes a lot on the second card. That’s not enough for Beth. She needs Outline to stay for a few weeks, maybe fix the disposal and paint some shelves. She once wrote a thirty-page outline. She didn’t use the “o” word though. She called it her Yellow Road. It had snippets of scenes, dialogue, descriptions, chapter by chapter action sets, and more. That feels like energy better spent on the book itself, but I’m not Beth.

Me, I like ten pages. A ten-page outline means a 100,000 word manuscript give or take a few epilogues. With Outline as my map, I never get lost in the swamp that so often pops up mid-book. With Outline as guidepost, I rarely lose focus and fall prey to the temptations of online poker. I power through two rewrites. No more. And I don’t remember the last time I had writer’s block, and I credit it to my friend, Outline.

But where’s the spontaneity, you ask. Where’s the mystery, the discovery, the passion? Won’t Muse desert me for so callously subjugating her comings and goings to this strange friend? Welcome to Outline Fallacy #1: a true writer does not need such a gauche tool.

For a short story, it’s perfectly fine to throw thyself into the inky shallows. Flail and dive and splash and see what happens. In fact, I remember two short stories I tried to write in college: one with an outline and one without. The “uncaged” story soared and I felt that writer’s high of zooming wordflow. The “caged” story flopped and floundered, and I hated both process and product. So, I’m being clear, right? No? Lemme ‘splain: short stories don’t need Outline, but writing a novel without my friend is like trying to swim across the ocean. Inconceivable.

Yet many do. How is that? And why can’t I have that magical power? If you’re wired that way, to jump off cliffs and grow wings, great. If not, accept that fact, and use my boy, Outline. Now some writers that disdain my friend also don’t mind doing many and massive rewrites. They often neglect to mention that or present the many rewrites as de rigueur for serious writers. Please. Measure twice, cut once, and suffer as little as you can. Wandering is a great way to discover a city, and even a story (if that’s your style), but in the meantime your characters are in the dark and being eaten by grues.

What if you discover this wild new tangent and want to explore it? Then having Outline on board makes it easier to thread back to the ending you intended. Or redo Outline with a new ending, but without forgetting your best bits from before. It’s only going to take a few days to format a new plot. Does it lead nowhere? Now you know. We all have finite resources; use them wisely. Outline only exists to get you to Climax. Once you complete the first draft, toss the bum to the curb.
But you still don’t trust Outline?

I wouldn’t marry him but he’s a fun-loving guy. He always brings Brainstorming to the party. In fact, plotting is the only part of writing that I heartily recommend drinking. Draw faces on the “authoritah.” Make the villain the hero. Change Istanbul to your parent’s basement. Why can’t there be a vampire manatee? After all, you are a savvy, playful god, full of violent wonder. It takes months to write a book, but plotting is an exercise of days.

Is Outline starting to look stale in the morning hangover gloom? Time for some hair of the dog. Keep the bestest and brightest and start the party again.

Admit it. Outline sounds like an interesting guy, but you’re unsure if you want to invest time in him?

Don’t think you need bullet points and indented sub-divisions of minor arcs and sub-plots. Just design something to hang your hat on. Start here. End there. In between, hit these things. That works fine. No one’s asking for a two-hundred bone skeleton with articulating joints.

But you worry about Muse. She’s fickle. She may resent the loss of attention. Outline’s not like that. He wants to share.

Ever gone bush-whacking through an unknown forest? I bet you have, you fabulous writer, you. You spot your mid-point destination on the horizon—that bent tree—and then you dive into the thicket of the story and start whacking. You can’t see bupkis and you’re getting snagged but you feel alive, and Muse is by your side, but you start to lose your way … you climb a tree—find the landmark—and jump back in. Just because you have a few guideposts, does not mean you can’t trail-blaze along the way. Outline wants to rub up next to Muse.

So why don’t we hear more about Outline? May I present Outline Fallacy #2: outline-derived books, that is, plot-driven books, are inferior, genre-bound, formulaic. Everyone knows that character-driven books full of wonderful description are the only path to glittering accolades from the literati and invites to all the proper orgies. But your wonderfully wrought characters must do something more than emote. That thing they do, followed by another thing, and then a complication, and then a setback, and then a U-turn … that’s the plot. And our pal, Outline? He speaks fluent plot.

So. Lemme sum up.

The best story time is an interesting character that we follow on a traumatic journey, well-described by the author. Character. Journey. Craft. If you want that Journey to ever reach an ending, and you want an ending that does not whimper or thud, then make out an invite to my friend. You don’t have to tell anyone that you did. Muse, coddled darling that she is, won’t admit she gets lonely. Outline is too proud to come over without your word. Let’s get these two crazy cats together.

Sincerely, the ScribbleNinja