Thursday, June 28, 2012

Free Your Mind With An Outline

Writing is hard. There, that's out of the way. This isn't going to be a post about a writer's struggle. It's a post about making your writing easier.

Free your mind, and the book will follow. How do you do that? With an outline, of course.

Some may argue just the opposite. Pantsers (those who shun outlining) posit that having an outline takes the writer's freedom away and restrains creativity. To that, I say, "Pffft." Creativity is in the outlining process. There have been countless times that I've had a whopper of an idea but decided to write it out instead of outlining. It usually ended up DOA. That's how many of my novels have started and died. Bless their hearts.

With an outline, I can be as creative as I want to be in short phrases. In the outline itself, several words describe a scene. Boom! Scene finished. Once the outline is complete, it becomes a living thing, changing to accomodate my fluctuating intentions as I write within the creative structure that I've imagined in the outline.

This isn't meant to be disparaging to the pantsers out there. If you're successful with no outline, go for it. Write your pants off. Do what you do. For someone like me whose closeted skeletons exist alongside the dessicated corpses of so many novels, an outline has been the jaws of life, extracting novels one happy accident at a time.

Plot outlines, however, don't occur in nature. You create them. The trick is finding which one best suits your needs. Some may use the tried-and-true I, II, III, etc. method, which reminds me too much of high school. Others use bullet points or spreadsheets. The spreadsheet method is intense but effective.

I prefer something that is efficient and fun to use at the same time. I've found that the FreeMind software program works best for me. (It's free!) It's mindmapping software that allows me to start out using thought clouds that have no real structure. That's how I brainstorm. But, when I'm ready, I can format my thoughts to use as an outline using FreeMind.

I start with a large circle in the center, which is usually the working title of my novel. On the left hand side goes the Plot Summary, Major Characters, Minor Characters, Concepts, and Places bubbles. To the right are chapter bubbles. Each bubble branches out however you want. For example, I break each Chapter bubble down to scenes and then down further into micro-scenes. On the left, the Character bubble is broken down into a branch for each character. Each character, then, has branches for important character information.

The best part about using the FreeMind software is that I get to take it with me. When I'm at home, I upload my FreeMind file into Dropbox, which I also have installed on my smart phone. On my Android phone, I use Thinking Space Pro (now called Mindjet). That allows me to access my FreeMind outline from my phone. So, if I have an idea that needs to go into my outline, a couple of screen taps is all it takes.

Do any of you have ideas to make novel outlining less complicated? Please leave me a comment below and let me know.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mind Blown: Writers League of Texas Agents Conference

I walked into the Hyatt with trepidation. I knew no one that was to attend the agents conference. The revelations came at me fast, though. Most everyone there had the same or similar misgivings about themselves, their work, and how their pitches would hold up to an agent's scrutiny. It made me feel better knowing that I wasn't alone. That lasted until the conference volunteer called me into the pitch room. The fear returned.

I didn't need to worry, though. The pitch session was fantastic. I met with an awesome agent with a great personality. She expressed genuine interest in my ideas.

Now comes the hard part. I need to spit-shine the sample chapters and construct a pristine synopsis.

If anyone out there is currently repped or looking for an agent and you have some advice, please leave a comment with your best suggestions.

Here we go.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Flash Fiction: "Home Again"

They’ve come back to me.
Shane and Amanda stood silent, staring hard at the chipping paint that I could scarcely say was white anymore. If I had known they were coming, I would have demanded a fresh coat. When I saw them last, adulthood hadn’t yet shoved its unfeeling spikes into their carefree innocence.
And now they’re home.
Their faces told me why.
But what could I have done?
I wanted to move. I tried. If I could have nestled myself deeper into the evening’s darkness to comfort those pain-riddled glares, I would have.
            Twinkling tears blazed paths down their faces and shook me to my foundation. I only wanted to open my door to them, to shelter them. Like before.   
            “This is the end of it, Amanda,” Shane said in a small voice. He didn’t look at his little sister as he spoke. His eyes never strayed from me.
            Amanda gave a short snuffle and wiped her eyes bitterly. “It only took us sixteen years.” She kicked at something metallic in the uncut grass and weeds.
            “I guess we had to work up the nerve.”
            If they had come to me sooner, things might have been different. They won’t listen to me now. They’ve made up their minds.
            “Those kids. The things Dad did here – “
            “Stop it,” Shane said, looking at Amanda for the first time since they arrived. “Don’t mention his name. It stays dead with him.” He held her pale hands in his. “We all got it from him. It’s a pimpled memory that needs to be popped.”
            They blame me. And why not? I’m the last thing standing in their way to freedom. I watched and did nothing. Dammit! I’m as guilty as he is. The things I saw. I wish I had done more.
            Shane reached down and came back up holding a sizzling red canister.
            “You know, Shane, before all this happened, I liked living in this house, the C.L.R.”
            “Yeah, we were the California Lunch Room kids. Everyone wanted to be our friend because it meant free candy from…him,” Shane said, ending the sentence with a grimace.
            He twisted the metal lid.
            The sharp smell of gasoline blitzed the air. Their intentions were clear. All these years, I’ve been racing to this point.
            Hand in hand, the two siblings approached and doused my face and body with liquid death. Like when they were children, I did nothing but watch.
            I didn’t think Amanda would be the one to strike the match. Yet, she did.
            And the fire climbed me like so many imps.
            I’m sorry! He was your father. I never imagined…Please, come home!
            Yellow ribbons popped and spat their razing anger. Those were the sounds of Finish. They were the sounds of End.
            Shane put his arm around Amanda’s shoulders and guided her to the sidewalk. They were kids again.
            I watched them walk until the sirens came.
I watched until the fire set us free.


I enjoy creating stories from photographic prompts. They really are worth a thousand words (this in spite of the fact that the above story is just under 500). Are there any works of art that have inspired you to write something?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Man with a Pipe and a Fiat

On my commute to work yesterday, I saw a small man in a smiling new Fiat. I knew the man was small. He was in a Fiat, after all.

He looked to be in his late 20s. When I saw his eyes, they were half-lidded and relaxed. He could have been driving through the countryside on a Sunday instead of the Interstate during afternoon rush hour.

Perhaps most interesting of all, he was smoking a long, wooden pipe. Even from my vehicle, I could see the pipe flash its careful gloss.

The man leaned back in his seat and puffed. And puffed. Garfield eyes.

He strolled through the Land of Contentedness.

I wanted to be there, too.

Have any of you seen something interesting during your commute or other daily drudgery that just made you think?