Working With (and Around) an Outline

squirrely plot diagram

Why didn’t I ever try a detailed outline before? Live and learn, I suppose.

Things are gliding along in Featherfolk draft IV. Plus, I’m right on track for my 10,000-word November goal!

I regret not one moment of the time I spent outlining. I kept itching to dive in, but I held back and laid the groundwork first. It’s wonderful to have some of the imagination heavy-lifting already taken care of.

Of course, my outline is far from perfect. I already had one scene turn out different than I expected. One of my characters refused to act how I assumed he would. When I realized that, I let him be. I made some mental tweaks to upcoming scenes, and things are going to work out.

I highly reccommend outlining. It may feel like you’re not getting anything done because you aren’t writing, but it’s worth it. I promise.

Happy Yarning!


Good Luck NaNoers!

November, National Novel Writing Month is almost upon us!

I however, will not be joining the fun and frenzy as such. My plan is a different sort of challenge. I’ve noticed that whenever I do NaNoWriMo I really burn myself out and spend the next several months not writing at all. So! My plan is to write at least 10,000 words in November, and then 10,000 in December, and so on for the whole next year and beyond. I’m warming up my engines already by writing at least 400 words a day through the end of October.

But to my NaNo-ing friends and colleages–I salute you!

Happy Yarning!

Outlines and Causality


(Photo credit: Anita Pratanti CC)

My friend Annaliese recently told me about some advice she heard at a writing conference she attended. In a synopsis (or outline), it’s important to not only tell a series of events but to link them by actions on the part of your main characters.

Instead of “this happens, and then this other thing happens, and then this other thing happens,” say “this happens, and so she does this, and because of that this other thing happens.”

Notice how the second story sounds more like something you want to read?

As I finish my outline for Featherfolk draft four, I’m paying particular attention to causality and how my main character’s actions shape her story.

Happy Yarning!

Icky Middles

I’m taking the time to carefully outline Featherfolk draft four. I’m a plotter, even though I tend to write by the barest of outlines and the seat of my pants. This inevitably creates problems for me farther down the draft.

Now I’m wrestling with the middle of the story, and I remember why Carol calls middles icky.

That part of my outline needs more flesh on it. I can tell because it’s the part I try so hard to convince myself is just fine with its few flimsy ideas. The part I’m afraid to touch because it might collapse like a card house and bring other chunks of the plot with it.

Miscellaneous Playing Cards
(Photo credit: Philippa Willitts CC)

But this time–

I’m going to poke all those flimsy places until they straighten up and stand. Even if it means re-structuring the plot and sequence of events around them again and again.

It’s worth it.

Happy Yarning!

And Then That Castle Sank into the Swamp

Bodiam Castle (Photo credit: Mark Seton CC)

I feel like the king from Monty Python who kept building castles in a swamp. The first one sank, so he built a second. That one sank. He built a third, which burned down, fell over, and then sank into the swamp.

But the fourth one stood up.

I think I’ve been going in the wrong direction with Featherfolk. I recently wrote a few flash fiction pieces and pared them down to their essence so they could squeeze into the 150 word limit. (Like playing limbo: “How low can you go? How low can you go?”)

Those experiences helped me realize I’m losing the essence of the story I really want to tell in Featherfolk. It’s getting buried. I want to pull it out into the light where it can shine. I still love it and think it’s an important story.

This of course will require starting over. Again. I’ve brainstormed and jotted notes and mulled it over for a week or so. My fingers want to get typing, but now I’m jittery.

Should I start it yet? Should I wait until I pin down all the details?

If I don’t lay all the groundwork, will it just sink into the swamp again?

Is that why it sank before–because I started writing too early?

Even if I lay all the groundwork, will it sink anyway?

Jitter jitter jitter.

What do you do when you begin a new draft/new project? How much do you plot and plan and write notes? What’s your process? I need some advice here.

Happy Yarning!

150 Words is a Small Sandbox

First, a moment of silence for the lives lost in the attack on the Twin Towers 14 years ago.

I was in elementary school. I still have an irrational fear every time an airplane flies loudly over that it will fall from the sky and smash into my dwelling.




I’ve been wrestling with my entries for Leading Edge Magazine’s flash fiction contest. The word limit: 150.

It’s like trying to build a castle in a tiny desk-top zen garden. *Frantically tears out hair.*

From my experiences so far, I have three tips for tackling radically short stories.

1) Play to tropes

The more the reader can assume about the setting or characters, the better. Think of how much information these two words conjure up: “glass slippers.” Or these: “starship bridge.”

2) Cool vs. essential

There is only room for one plot. Leave out everything tangential. This is not the place for exploring characters deeply. I love cool details. I love fleshing out a setting. This is not the place. Flash fiction is all about paring down to the essence of a story. If your story has a cool essence, it’ll be enough.

3) It’s all about the punchline

The last line has so much power! Use the final line to put a twist on everything that came before, or to cement it in a tear-jerking way. Make your reader want to read it again with that punchline ringing in his or her head.

There’s my three cents on the topic.

Happy Yarning!

A Successful July Camp

I’m on track to finish camp today! 10,000 words doesn’t seem like very much when I glance back across the scenes I wrote this month, but it’s a big accomplishment for me. Really, any amount I write gets me closer to that sweet “The End” summit up ahead.

If you’re staring at a word count goal you know you can no longer reach this month, remember:






So, how did you succeed this month?

Edit: I won!


Happy Yarning, everyone!

So, How’s Camp Going?

Where did the week go? Friday snuck up on me.

This morning I went looking for some pre-Incan ruins on Google images to fuel my next scene in Featherfolk. Maybe it was a mistake to fill my head with all that right before checking out the sale at my local toy store? Maybe not.

I came home with this little herd of alpacas and this sand castle mold.


Baby also approves!


I’m a few hundred words behind in Camp NaNoWriMo, but I’m determined to catch up by the end of the month. So far, some awesome scenes have taken shape. Here’s hoping for some more.

See you at the finish line!

Happy Yarning.

WIFYR Notebook: “Unputdownable”

I’d like to share a few things I learned from Ilima Todd’s “Writing the Unputdownable Story” lecture from WIFYR last month.

An unputdownable story will have a character you want to follow. He or she doesn’t have to be likeable, but s/he should be relatable, have a complex personality, have faults, and go through some kind of growth.

S/he needs to have a need. A concrete need. As the author you have to make sure s/he doesn’t get it and make it more and more difficult to get as the story progresses. At the end, s/he either gets it or learns that s/he doesn’t need it anymore.

Another element to keep readers reading is tension. Each scene should have conflict, internal or external or both. Let things go wrong for your character. Have characters with conflicting goals, where both can’t win. Or give your characters’ actions unintended consequences.

Stakes. This is an area I was falling short in with my recent drafts. What happens if your character doesn’t acheive his or her goals? There need to be stakes, which should rise throughout the story and series.

These were the big things I took from her lecture. I hope they’re helpful to you.

I’m putting my fingers where my mouth is (yum?) and doing another 10,000 word Camp Nanowrimo this month.

Happy Yarning!

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers and the Mountain

I spent last week at the workshop/conference Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers, which is put on in part by my teacher and friend, Carol Lynch Williams.

It was fun to spend the week with family and friends and absorb all I could. But by that Thursday, I felt overwhelmed, unprepared, and out of place. I considered skipping Friday, but I’m glad I didn’t. I would have missed Jennifer Nielsen’s keynote speech. Listening to her was like being scraped off the floor, set on my feet, dusted off, and handed a bowl of ice cream.


Something like this.

I took no notes, but here’s what I remember:

So what if 81% of Americans want to write a book? You only have to compete with the .01% who actually finish a manuscript.

There’s no one right way to climb the mountain known as writing and publishing. We’re all on the mountain, and we’re all heading for different summits. Writing “The End” on a first draft is one summit, but when you get there you realize it’s not the top of the mountain. Looming above you is another summit called revisions. And so on.

Most importantly, if you are not where you need to be today, climb higher tomorrow.

I thanked her for her speech when I got my copy of The False Prince signed.

I’m on the mountain. If I look down, I can see the switchbacks of rejections for Raven and the Trinketeers. Way behind me are the foothills of all those other unfinished stories. Every time I look up, revisions on Featherfolk appear insurmountable. But I’m going to keep climbing.

Where are you on the mountain? Where are you headed next?

Happy Yarning.