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Inspirational Tuesday – Writing A Novel Without An Outline

I have decided to start a weekly blog post here on my editing blog called Inspirational Mondays specifically to inspire writers because, after all, editors need writers to keep writing. Otherwise, what would we have to edit? This week’s post is on Tuesday…because Mondays are hectic and chaotic.

This week’s Inspirational tip: Write Without An Outline!

“Even as a teenager I thought outlining was counterintuitive to the writing process.” – Steven James

Are you a “pantser”? In other words, a “by the seat of the pants” writer.

By that I mean, are you a writer that writes a story without having carefully plotted it out or filled out an outline?

If you are, there is no need to worry. You are not alone, and it is possible to write a novel without outlines.

Outlining is still widely taught, but Steven James, a wise man who earned a master’s degree in storytelling and teaches writing seminars across North America, thinks that there is a better way.

In an article written for WritersDigest.com, James offers six tips to write a novel without an outline.

1. Re-evaluate what you’ve heard about story.

On this topic, James has this to say:

“Remember: What your story really needs is an orientation, a crisis or calling that disrupts normal life, relentless escalation of tension, and a satisfying climax. Along the way, you’ll need to make sure readers are compelled to empathize and connect with the main character(s), feel enough emotion to stay intrigued by the story, and gain enough insight to see the world with new eyes when they’re done.”

2. Let narrative forces rather than formulas drive your story forward.

As you write, think about how different narrative forces (escalation of tension, believability, continuity, voice, setting, and more) interact and form the story. James writes an example of the thought process:

OK, I need to escalate this chase scene—I had a foot chase before, so I can’t do that again. Maybe a helicopter chase? But will that be believable? Well, I’ll need to foreshadow that someone knows how to fly the helicopter and make it inevitable that they end up at the helicopter landing pad at this moment of the story. But does that fit in with the pace right here? Can I pull this off without relying on narrative gimmicks or coincidences?”

3. Follow rabbit trails.

It’s easy to get sidetracked, isn’t it? But those thoughts shouldn’t be ignored, James argues.

“[Rabbit trails are] inherent to the creative process. Who knows? What you at first thought was just a rabbit trail leading nowhere in particular might take you to a breathtaking overlook that eclipses everything you previously had in mind.”

4. Write from the center of the paradox.

James calls storytelling a paradox:

“In storytelling, what will happen informs what is happening, and what is happening informs what did. You cannot know where a story needs to go until you know where it’s been, but you cannot know where it needs to have been until you know where it’s going.

It’s a paradox.

And that’s part of the fun.”

He also suggests writing a story as “an integrated whole” rather than writing a first draft for this reason.

5. Trust the fluidity of the process.

Plotting a story out entirely beforehand can lead to what James refers to as “weak” transitions between scenes. Just because a scene seems like a good idea while writing the outline does not mean that it works well within the context of the story. James encourages writers to keep digging and then warns of a real danger for plotters:

“As you learn to feel out the story by constantly exploring what would naturally happen next, you’ll find your characters acting in more believable and honest ways.

Here’s the biggest problem with writing an outline: You’ll be tempted to use it. You’ll get to a certain place and stop digging, even though there might be a lot more of that dinosaur left to uncover.”

6. Re-evaluate continuously.

James offers a lot of ideas for help with this tip:

“Reorient yourself to the context. Print out the previous 50 or 100 pages (once a week I find it helpful to do the whole novel) and read it through the eyes of a reader, not an editor. Remember, readers aren’t looking for what’s wrong with the story; they’re looking for what’s right with it. Continually ask yourself, What are readers wondering about, hoping for and expecting at this moment in the story? Then give it to them.

Draft the scene that would naturally come next. The length and breadth of the scene needs to be shaped by the narrative forces I mentioned earlier.

Go back and rework earlier scenes as needed. What you write organically will often have implications on the story you’ve already written.

Keep track of unanswered questions and unresolved problems. Review them before each read- through of your manuscript.

Come up with a system to organize your ideas as they develop. In addition to files of character descriptions, phrases, clues and so on, I have four word processing files I use to organize my thoughts: 1) Plot Questions, 2) Reminders, 3) Discarded Ideas and 4) Notes.

If you find yourself at a loss for what to write next, come up with a way to make things worse, let the characters respond naturally to what’s happening, write a scene that fulfills a promise you made earlier in the book, or work on a scene you know readers will expect based on your genre and the story you’ve told so far. When you understand the principles of good storytelling, you always have a place to start.

Move into and out of the story, big picture, small picture, focusing one day on the forest and the next day on the trees. Follow these ideas, and stories will unfold before you.”

Thank you, Mr. James, for validating all of us “pantsers” and offering logical, workable ways to write the next novel without an outline.

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Book Review: In Blue Poppy Fields by Ciaran Dwynvil

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Title: In Blue Poppy Fields

Author: Ciaran Dwynvil

Genre: Gay/Erotic/BDSM/Paranormal/Fantasy

Publisher: Self-Published/Indie

Release Date: March 20, 2013

Jade’s Rating: 5 stars

Book Blurb:

This mesmerizing gay erotic paranormal fantasy belongs to Guardian Demon Series that will hold you prisoner to unforgettable stories of life, love and lust set amid an intriguing fantasy world. Dwynvil’s unique storytelling will captivate you by vivid imagery, narratives told from multiple points of view and explorations of the darker side of D/s theme where safe words aren’t used.

A victim to another man’s cruelty, talented and beautiful theater actor Adhemar Lebeau learned not to trust and not to love anybody but himself. Falsely accused of his master’s murder, he has to accept assistance of mysterious Count Sanyi Arany to later discover his savior is a vampire. Forced both by a fatal illness and aftershocks of torture experienced during his unjust imprisonment, Adhemar agrees to the only possible cure. Rebirth.

Healed in body but not in mind, he guards his independence, free will and heart. He is not able to give love, only the fulfillment of lust. Yet, satiation of sensuous longing is not enough for his Sire and he knows it. When an eerie malady strikes and seems to deplete Sanyi’s life energy for unknown reasons, Adhemar understands his fears and agrees to keep a street boy, Reyach, as a pet for both of them in hope it will soothe the unspoken worries.

Out of necessity he finds himself in the role of the only hunter in their company, and out of attachment he accepts the responsibility readily. Indulgence in blood and carnal pleasures fill his nights and vampiric powers give him the feeling of safety. Until the evening when he carelessly falls prey to High Demon Belial’s plays that quickly turn into more than either of them has bargained for.

In spite of a hard start, Adhemar feels burning urge deep in his heart and no matter how much he denies it, the cause of the strange sensation is a budding seed of affection brought to life by the insufferable demon. But letting Adhemar learn to love somebody other than him is not what seemingly innocent Reyach plans.

Read an excerpt here and here.

Jade’s Review:

Gripping and emotional, sometimes painfully so, In Blue Poppy Fields is yet another masterpiece from the pen of Ciaran Dwynvil. His unique style of storytelling weaves a mesmerizing tale of the lives of his benefactors, as he affectionately refers to them, in their lust for life and love. Having already read the first two books in the Guardian Demon series, Trails of Love I Crawl Parts 1 and 2, I had high expectations for this book, and my expectations were far surpassed.

In Blue Poppy Fields grabs your attention from the very first line when Adhemar Lebeau, beloved diva of the stage adored by all of the audience of Cibinium, finds his master deceased in his bed and the killer long gone. He doesn’t regret the loss as the man had abused him for years but knows that he will be blamed for the crime. And so readers embark on a harrowing journey along with him as he tries desperately first to avoid the blame and then, once the blame has been laid squarely upon his shoulders, to prove his innocence and survive deadly dungeons, ghastly torture methods, and the swift justice of Cibinium. After calling on his savior, the Count Sanyi Arany, the story gets a little more complicated as Adhemar learns he is the Count’s favorite. Tended to by the Count’s man Vincent, who is much more than he seems, but fighting against both Sanyi’s affections and his own illness, Adhemar’s health declines rapidly until drastic measures must be taken in order to save him. Enter the seemingly innocent boy Reyach, a brougham ride to the next city which unexpectedly and inexplicably drains Sanyi of his energy, and later an encounter with High Demon Belial, and Adhemar’s life as the darling of the stage in Cibinium is left far behind him.

Instead he finds himself occupying a different stage, on which he first tests Sanyi’s limits and desires and later finds his own limits pushed to the very edge of breaking by Belial. I’ll note here for potential readers that the book contains elements of BDSM throughout, D/s in particular, so pass on it if that isn’t your cup of tea. I suppose those sections could be skipped over, but you would miss significant moments, leaving gaps in the story. Just as in real life, the sexual and intimate aspect between characters plays a very important role in their lives and interpersonal relationships. The same can be said about the vivid imagery of the torture Adhemar endures while in the dungeon. It is necessary to understand his thought processes and motivations, and it is so well written that I can’t imagine any reader wanting to skip over it.

Just as in the previous books written by Ciaran Dwynvil, the characters in In Blue Poppy Fields will capture readers’ imaginations and steal their hearts. Adhemar longs to be loved and adored by his audience and he deserves every praise and every applause; gentle Sanyi, struggling to accept what he is, just wants for his favorite to return his feelings; their man Vincent who tirelessly takes care of them and somehow knows exactly what each of them needs even when they don’t; Reyach who, because of what he is, can only take and never give anything in return; and Belial…well, we get a taste of his magnificence towards the end of the book and are promised much, much more of it in Part 2.

After the whirlwind ride that had me on the edge of my seat and ended in such euphoria, I was left aching for more. The beautiful writing style, characters that will take hold of your heart and refuse to let go even after the written story ends, catastrophe and triumph, steamy and sensual erotic scenes, heartache, joy…it is all, as the tagline of the series says, a tale of lust for life and love. If that sounds like a story you would enjoy, then In Blue Poppy Fields is the book for you.

Buy In Blue Poppy Fields at: Amazon | Smashwords

Find Ciaran Dwynvil at: his website | his blog | Facebook page | Goodreads | Twitter

*Please note: I loved this book so much that I chose to write a review for it.

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Inspirational Mondays – Show, Don’t Tell

I have decided to start a weekly blog post here on my editing blog called Inspirational Mondays specifically to inspire writers because, after all, editors need writers to keep writing. Otherwise, what would we have to edit? I chose Mondays in particular because it seems we could all use a little inspirational pick-me-up on Monday.

This week’s Inspirational Mondays tip: Show, Don’t Tell!

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. – Anton Chekov

Showing your readers the imagery in your mind’s eye is so much more effective and spellbinding than simply telling them. As the above quote by Anton Chekov suggests, rather than saying that your character looked out the window at the full moon, tell how the silver light of the full moon sparkled on the gently rippling surface of the quiet lake. Which do you find more interesting?

I would urge every writer, whether aspiring or published, to give Stephen King’s essay titled “Imagery and the Third Eye” a thoughtful read. Considering how many novels and short stories King has written, and how many film adaptations have been made of them, he seems to know what he’s talking about. Here is what King has to say about imagery: “Imagery does not occur on the writer’s page; it occurs in the reader’s mind.”

So what does he mean by that? He uses an example: “It was a spooky house.” Well, that’s all fine and good, but as a reader, it isn’t enough to tell me that the house is spooky. I want to know what makes it spooky. King then quotes a passage from Salem’s Lot in which he describes features of the house that convey a spooky feeling without resorting to using the word directly. He says:

…that imagery is not achieved by over description… To describe everything is to supply a photograph in words; to indicate the points which seem the most vivid and important to you, the writer, is to allow the reader to flesh out your sketch into a portrait.

When writers set out to describe something for readers, they must use what King calls “the eye of imagination and memory” or the third eye. Readers have their own third eye, so it is the job of the writer to describe the scene so well that readers can see it vividly with their third eye of imagination. That requires a writer to be choosy about what to include and what to omit from the description. If it stands out to you as a writer, then emphasize it in your description. If it isn’t important to the mood and tone of the scene, then leave it out. For example, in the excerpt from Salem’s Lot, King emphasized characteristics about the house that conveyed a spooky feeling,  instead of mentioning anything mundane like a garage or a driveway or how many stories it had. Knowing what to leave in and what to take out is part of what makes a great writer, and it takes a great deal of practice and hard work.

What is the key? According to King, it consists of two things: “First, [pledge] not to insult your reader’s interior vision; and second, [pledge] to see everything before you write it.” In the first case, you don’t need to describe everything. Use the active voice rather than the passive voice, be specific with your descriptors and verbs, choose words that will jump out at readers…and then let the readers’ third eye do the rest. In the second case, King says that oftentimes writers stop looking at the scene before they see all there is to see. Sometimes it may mean slowing down and taking your time, but it will be worth it. Says King: “Writers who describe poorly or not at all see poorly with this [third] eye; others open it, but not all the way.”

The bottom line is this: showing and not telling is important, but just as important is carefully choosing what to show your readers. The very successful Stephen King states that images lead to the story and the story leads to all the other things.

But he also says that the writer’s third eye is “a little bit like having a whole amusement park in your head, where all the rides are free.” And isn’t that the most wonderful thing about writing, being able to send your readers on such rides along with you?

*The essay “Imagery and the Third Eye” was written by Stephen King in 1980. Quotes were taken from the essay published at Wordplayer.com.

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Inspirational Mondays – Demystifying Grammar: Who vs. Whom

I have decided to start a weekly blog post here on my editing blog called Inspirational Mondays specifically to inspire writers because, after all, editors need writers to keep writing. Otherwise, what would we have to edit? I chose Mondays in particular because it seems we could all use a little inspirational pick-me-up on Monday.

This week’s Inspirational Mondays inspirational quote:

Imagery does not occur on the writer’s page, it occurs in the reader’s mind.

– Stephen King

Demystifying Grammar

This is the second week of a series on commonly confused grammar rules I call Demystifying Grammar. Wouldn’t it be great if we understood those confusing and fickle little rules so we could focus on writing? I think so too. It has been said that the English language is one of the hardest to learn, so don’t worry if you need a little help now and then. Welcome to the first week of Demystifying Grammar. Those of you who slept through English class pay attention.

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Who vs. Whom

This rule is confusing, and you can’t always use the “whichever sounds best” solution that sometimes works. Fortunately, the rule is easy to follow once you understand the difference between who and whom.

  • Who is used as the subject of a verb or as the complement of a linking verb. It’s what is known as a nominative pronoun, or the subject of a sentence.

Who threw the ball and broke the window?

It was Billy who threw the ball that broke the window.

  • Whom is used as the object of the verb or the object of a preposition. It’s what is known as an objective pronoun, or the direct object.

You asked whom to go the movies?

He’s already going to the dance with whom?

The bottom line: use who if it can be replaced with “he”; if “him” fits better, use whom.

  • If you are struggling with which one to use in a particular sentence, it will help to split the sentence in order to see it.

It was Billy | who (he) threw the ball that broke the window.

You asked whom (him) | to go the movies?

Sometimes in dialogue, purposeful misuse can bring authenticity to a character as correct usage has the potential to sound too formal. When in doubt, just rewrite the sentence and avoid it altogether.

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Inspirational Mondays – Three Tips for Editing Your Manuscript

I have decided to start a weekly blog post here on my editing blog called Inspirational Mondays specifically to inspire writers because, after all, editors need writers to keep writing. Otherwise, what would we have to edit? I chose Mondays in particular because it seems we could all use a little inspirational pick-me-up on Monday.

This week’s Inspirational Mondays tip: Editing is your friend!

I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again. – Oscar Wilde

*The following editing tips have been copied/paraphrased from JeanNicole Rivers’ blog post 3 Things To Be Aware Of When Editing Your Manuscript and posted here with express written permission from the author.*

Editing is definitely a dear friend of any and every writer, and it should first be the responsibility of the writer to edit his or her own manuscript as thoroughly as possible before letting a professional editor see it. At the same time, a writer is especially close to his or her work and it can be difficult to detect issues that need improvement. So here are a few tips that published author JeanNicole Rivers shared from her own experience editing her manuscript:

  • Be aware of the number of times you use a particular word.

In her post, Rivers shared that she discovered how often she used a particular word only when editing her manuscript. Before then, she had been unaware just how many times that word filled up the pages. I, too, have certain word preferences of which I must be conscious. When I find a word I like, I tend to overuse it and it loses meaning. As a writer, you should be aware of your own preferences and tendencies, even if you must discover them through their frequency in a manuscript. As you are editing, try to replace those overused words with synonyms that best highlight the passage’s meaning.

  • Be careful of the progression of the times of day.

Make sure that days and nights progress naturally in your story. Sometimes this may require you to sit down and just read through your manuscript to see how it sounds as a single unit rather than a series of multiple parts. If your story suddenly jumps from lunch time to midnight without a transition of some sort to explain how it happened, you should work on correcting that mistake through the editing process.

  • Be consistent with spellings of names.

This one seems fairly self-explanatory, but I admit that this has happened to me before. I relied on a MS Word shortcut to insert the name of one of my characters every time I punched a capital K. It was only much later with the assistance of the eagle eye of a reader that I realized MS Word had inserted the name correctly about half of the time and incorrectly the other half. My poor readers were very confused, thinking that I had introduced a new character that none of them had discovered yet. Consistency is important in all writing and editing, but it is especially important when it comes to character/place/item names so as not to confuse your readers.

Hopefully, these tips can help you become a better editor of your own writing so that you can shape it into the best it can be before you present it to anyone else. As Rivers said in her post:

… a collection of mistakes is called experience and experience is the key to success! – JeanNicole Rivers

The bottom line: Take the time to edit and polish your manuscript. These tips can help you edit your work to produce a manuscript in which you can take great pride.

JeanNicole Rivers dabbles in many arts, including theater, acting, singing, and writing. She is the author of Black Water Tales: The Secret Keepers which is the first in a series of thriller novels.

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Inspirational Mondays – Just Keep Writing

I have decided to start a weekly blog post here on my editing blog called Inspirational Mondays specifically to inspire writers because, after all, editors need writers to keep writing. Otherwise, what would we have to edit? I chose Mondays in particular because it seems we could all use a little inspirational pick-me-up on Monday.

Amongst my editing work and my own fiction writing projects, I’m also currently writing an article. I’m in the process of gathering tips for helping the absentminded writer stay focused and organized, and I’ll be sharing a tip along with a relevant quote each week.

This week’s Inspirational Mondays tip: Just Keep Writing!

Write what makes your heart sing. Write your passion. And ultimately, find your own success in that. – Elena Aitken from Wordbitches

Sometimes it feels like writers get blocked, leading people to use the misnomer “writer’s block.” The truth is that only those who aren’t passionate about writing get blocked. There are those who would contest that, I’m sure, but a true writer doesn’t stop writing just because the plot gets too complicated or the characters are underdeveloped or life gets hard. A true writer can’t keep the words from flowing out of them in one form or another.

I can vouch for that from my own experience. There are times that I don’t feel like writing for my series or my novel for any number of reasons, but that doesn’t mean that I stop writing completely. Sometimes I write poetry, sometimes I journal, sometimes I write scenes out of order (which bothers my OCD but helps prevent me from getting blocked), sometimes I write letters that I don’t send, sometimes I write back and forth with encouraging friends. Sometimes I just let my characters run wild without trying to record what is happening until I feel moved to start writing it down again.

Those are only a few of the ways that I “just keep writing” so the dreaded writer’s block doesn’t silence me. And that’s my advice to other block-suffering writers as well: find some way or something to write and just keep writing. If you stop, it’s hard to start back, and the longer you go without writing, the harder it is to start writing again. So avoid the block and write something else. Instead of agonizing over a scene/plot device/character that isn’t working right then, just let it sit for a while and write something else until you can look at it with fresh eyes later. Write a different part of the story, or rewrite another scene.

Another thing you can try is to read. Read a book to get your creative mind going, or reread your own work, older and current writing. Sometimes rereading what you have already written will stir you to continue where you left off. Even if it doesn’t inspire new writing, it may still reveal to you areas that need revisions and/or editing, which may be as beneficial to preventing writer’s block as writing new material.

And if all else fails, call in reinforcements. Get trusted friends, colleagues, or professional editors to read over your work and give you their honest opinions. This could lead to the discovery of issues in your writing contributing to your “block” that you could not see yourself, which could then pave the way for improvement and solutions and inspired writing once again. Editing is an essential part of the writing process, so incorporating it into your anti-block routine can only bring good things.

The bottom line: don’t let your creative voice go silent. Just keep writing and power through the “writer’s block.”

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