NaNoWriMo Prep #1: “Outlining”

I’ve always been somewhere in the nether-space between pantser and plotter when it comes to putting a story together.  I usually have at least some idea where I want to go in the end, but very little concrete idea when I start of how to get there.

On Saturday, I wrote 1,200 words on something that could, tenuously, be called an “outline” for the sequels to What We Need to Survive.

I opened a new chapter in Quoll Writer, called it “What Could Happen”, and in half an hour plunked down all the ideas that have been coming together in my head since the revelation/epiphany/lightning strike that hit me last week about what I needed to do to get this story moving.

The notes are a mishmash of everything from broad strokes (SOMETHING TERRIBLE HAPPENS is a direct quote from a section I haven’t quite fleshed out yet) to tiny details, like snippets of dialogue I can hear in my head for a particular scene.

They’re in rough chronological order, liberally doused with parenthetical addenda noting possible subplots, alternate routes, and items to research.

Yesterday I took the notes for Sequel #1 and broke them down into chapters, starting a new chapter in QW for each and copying all the pertinent notes into it, so that when I want to start writing that scene, come November, I have them all at my fingertips.  (This is also helpful because I can already see I don’t have enough meat for the whole book just yet.  Fortunately stuff is always coming up as I write.  Because I did outline extensively for NaNo 2013, and every few chapters I realized I needed an extra scene I hadn’t originally planned.  I’m not too worried I’ll come up short in the end.)

Today I plan to do the same for Sequel #2.  Especially because one of the first scenes I plan to write is the very, very, very end of it.  I cannot get that scene out of my head now that I know what I want to do!

I admit I’m still new to this whole “actually finishing a whole novel” thing, but in my years of experience not-finishing them, too little planning means my projects never get finished, but too much feels stifling.  (I tried using the Snowflake Method for a new idea earlier this year and I couldn’t abide it!)

Raise your hand with me if you’re pantsers, or at least semi-pantsers, and if you’re a planner, then divulge your secrets so we can all try…

Brainstorming Under Pressure

Over the past few days I’ve been taking advantage of one of the features of Quoll Writer to help me develop my ideas for my newest project.  You can choose to do a warm-up exercise and QW will provide you with a quote from a book as a prompt–or you can opt to create your own prompt instead.  At first, when I was getting to know QW during the falling-in-love stage, I thought to myself, “Why would I do that?”

But it’s an excellent brainstorming tool.  On Saturday, on a whim, I brought up the warm-up screen and thought, “I should really work out what this library looks like, so I can have a picture firmly lodged in my brain when I start actually writing.”  (This is for the Haunted Library idea I started in last week’s What If–I liked it so much I’m trying to make it work.  I have character notes and some scene ideas and hopefully soon I can string them together in something that could, possibly, be called an outline.)

I set the conditions for the exercise–500 words or 30 minutes, whichever came first–and let myself run wild describing the library, both in the physical and mystical sense.  Not everyone works well on a timer, but I’ve always loved doing word sprints, so trying to hit the word count goal before time was up got the words flowing.

I didn’t let myself stop typing for more than a few seconds, and I didn’t let myself edit.  (That was really hard, I can’t abide leaving obvious typos behind.)

Framing the brainstorming session as a timed exercise kept me from staring at a blank screen testing ideas out in my head without recording them.  Which is something I do plenty when I’m not staring at a screen–some of my best ideas hit me while I’m doing dishes, of all things.  I’ve been known to dry my hands off and jot something down on a scrap of paper before continuing to wash, then trying to remember to get that scrap of paper somewhere on my desk before it disappears.

Today I think I’ll brainstorm more quirks and powers for my characters to have.  I’ve got the main characters settled–I think–but everyone who works for this strange library is going to have something supernatural about them…

The End of the Month Wrap-Up: July 2015!

I’ve read ten books.

I’ve bought thirteen.

I’ve been to the library…five times?  I usually go about once a week, but I know one week I had to go twice because I had a request come in the day after I’d already been there.


I’ve finished the first full revision of my novel, where I axed three chapters entirely but added four more new ones, and started the copy-edit.  (The July 21st spike is from importing all the remaining chapters to Quoll Writer on the same day–the first few days I was doing them individually as I needed them.)  The revised manuscript started at 100,258 words; with six chapters to go, I’m down to 98,822.  Part of me feels like cutting over 1,000 words is a lot, since I’m mostly taking them out one “that” at a time…but it’s just over 1% of my original word count, which makes it feel like I’m hardly cutting anything.

It feels good, though.  Look at that smooth line coming creeping down…yeah, I’m a graph nerd too.  Graphs satisfy my scientist-brain.

In the social media arena, I’ve joined Goodreads and just yesterday, Twitter as well.  I’m a total Twitter noob, but I feel like tweeting is a skill I can learn.  And just about every advice I’ve seen for authors on social media praises Twitter to the high heavens.  So I will learn.

So, despite the withering heat outside that makes me want to live inside my refrigerator, I am getting things done.  Next month I’ll have the copy-edit finished and sent the draft back to my beta readers (I could use a few more, anyone interested?); and while they chew on it, I plan to start digging more into the guts of the self-publishing world.   I’ve done some research–enough to know ISBNs aren’t cheap and it might take me a while to get a book cover I like–but there’s so much more to learn, I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with everything I didn’t know.  If there’s no book worth publishing, then I don’t need to know how to publish it, right?



Editing Notes: The Problem with “That”

One of the editing rules in Quoll Writer points out use of the word that and until I started using it to help me copy-edit my novel, I had no idea how often I used it.

Like all rules, it should be taken with a grain of salt.  Using that, or adverbs, or opening your book with a mention of the weather (yes, my novel does, still) isn’t inherently evil.  Rules can be broken if your reasons are solid, and they can certainly be bent on occasion.

Let’s line up a few examples from one of the chapters I’m tackling today.

She shifted in her chair so violently that she banged her knee on the underside of the kitchen table.

The first type of that is the useless one.  Take it out.

She shifted in her chair so violently she banged her knee on the underside of the kitchen table.

It means the same thing and reads cleaner.  My manuscript is peppered with these, I’m guessing because I use that a lot when I talk.  It sounds natural in conversation, but in writing, it can come across as filler.  And filler has to go.

(On a related note, Quoll Writer doesn’t flag specific words or grammatical errors inside of dialogue.  Which is awesome, because one of my characters has an idiosyncratic way of speaking that involves dropping subjects at the beginning of the sentence and use of the dreaded ain’t.  If those got flagged, I’d go bonkers.)

Moving on.

Nina half-expected Paul to smirk at that, but he considered her words with a thoughtful expression.

In this case, that is a pronoun referring to the line of dialogue preceding it.  There are two good solutions here: take out at that, or replace that with an alternate pronoun.

Nina half-expected Paul to smirk at her, but he considered her words with a thoughtful expression.

It does change the meaning of the sentence slightly.  Sometimes that would be problematic, but here, I’m okay with it.  The intent remains the same.

But when he rubbed the arch of her foot in little circles, her spine went loose, a string of knots that untied themselves all at once.

Another pronoun replacement is which.  There’s plenty written on the differences between that and which, but in a lot of cases I’ve found they’re interchangeable.

But when he rubbed the arch of her foot in little circles, her spine went loose, a string of knots which untied themselves all at once.

The main functional difference seems to be that is used for specific reference, while which is a more general way of indicating the subject(s) in question.  Since Nina only has the one spine–I don’t need to differentiate between this spine and that one–either works.

She couldn’t complain that she hardly ever had to work with Alison for long, but somehow she hadn’t been paired with Paul even once in the past three days.

This that is slightly more problematic.  Simply taking it out doesn’t work, and replacing it with which makes even less sense.  Time for some restructuring.

She couldn’t complain about hardly ever working with Alison, but somehow she hadn’t been paired with Paul once in the past three days.

I also took out the unnecessary for long and even.  I left in the other problem the sentence got flagged for, the passive been paired–I promise it makes sense in context, because partners in this situation are assigned by someone else, and using passive voice here reinforces that.

Like I said, you can bend the rules when you know why you’re doing it.  Which is the real take-away lesson from all the editing advice I’ve read, and all the experience I’ve accumulated being my own ruthless critic.

Axe whatever thats you can.  Replace the ones you can’t with other pronouns which make sense in context.  If neither of those approaches work, restructure your sentence not to need it.

Or, of course, leave it in when it’s the right word for the job.

Nina had no desire to help with that particular chore.

Yes, that one.  The one she doesn’t like doing.  The very specific chore she wants nothing to do with.  One of the few thats to survive in this chapter.

It’s not evil and doesn’t need to be completely pruned.  Like any other writing rule, it’s better to be aware of the intent behind it, instead of cleaving to it without thought.

Editing is thinking.  Lots and lots of thinking.  Which I should get back to.

Editing Notes: A Tale of Two Editing Apps

Having just read a helpful article on the difference between revising and editing, I can now say that Draft v2.0 of the novel is a full revision, and v2.5 in progress is copy-editing.  I have been examining every sentence, and I’ve been trying out different (free) apps to assist me.

The one I tried and used for my first nine chapters was Hemingway.  This morning is the first time I’ve checked it in several days, so I see now it’s defaulted to what was a beta version when I was using it–and I prefer the original to the beta, so I won’t be using it anymore.  My main peeve with the current version is that it irretrievably destroys the standard-indent paragraph formatting, changing it to line-break style.  And while I’m perfectly happy to use line-break style for online writing, as it’s easy to read, for manuscripts I like my formal indents.  Give them back!  (If I am wrong about the “irretrievable” part, someone kindly tell me how to fix it–but as you’ll see below, I’m pretty certain I’m moving on from Hemingway.  Still, it would be good to know.)

Despite all that, I can still show you what I loved about Hemingway.  Take a peek at an excerpt from the chapter I’m working on now:


I can see all my “errors” clearly, all at once.  (And you all can see visual evidence of my love of long, complex sentences.  I’m trying to cut back, I swear.)

Hemingway has lots of problems, as I discovered:  spotting the passive voice incorrectly was a major one, as was its somewhat arbitrary rules for what constitutes “hard to read” and “very hard to read” sentences.  The simpler-phrase filter kept wanting to change “all of” to “all”…which makes sense sometimes, but not in the phrase “all of it.”  “All it” is gibberish.  And then there are the display errors where multiple lines of text overlap…it’s buggy.

So I learned, like any tool, to use it with caution.  I do love being able to see where my passages are entirely yellow and red, and digging in to break up sentences and make them punchier.  And I didn’t use it to replace a true line-by-line investigation, but to help me “see” what needed work.

And then my tumblr dash exploded with posts about Quoll Writer.

I write in Open Office Writer.  I’ve always used similar programs.  In college it was WordPerfect, anyone remember that?  I preferred it over MS Word at the time because it was easier to insert special characters for my French compositions.  When that stopped being an issue, I switched to Word, and once I stopped having that for free, Open Office.  (Bless you, darling Open Office.)

I’d never considered using a more comprehensive organizational/writing program before.  Oh, sure, I’d heard of Scrivener and a handful of other apps, but I was doing fine with OOW, right?

Until my novel hit 100K and I was scrolling endlessly up and down during the revising process.  “Oh, crap, this isn’t consistent, I need to go back and change something in Chapter 12…now where is it?”  Managing a single, unbroken document that big is tedious.  And the thought of 41 different documents, one for each chapter…a nightmare.  I never went that far.

So Quoll Writer looked tempting.  I downloaded it and immediately fell in love.  Separate chapters collected as one project!  Idea boards, character notes, dialogue notes!  Achievements!

Yes, achievements.  I’m a video game nerd.  Achievements make my heart go fluttery.

And the editing.


(On a side note, I’m not married to that title.  It’s the fourth one I’ve gone through, and I doubt it will last.  Yes, this is preemptive defensiveness.  I’m aware it’s on the clunky side.)

There’s a “Find Problem” option.  The highlighted sentence got flagged for three: over 30 words long, and contains the words “that” and “really.”  I’m running into the “that” problem a lot, and axing them when I can or replacing them with a more contextual pronoun, but in my mind you do sometimes need it for clarity.  Sometimes, it stays.

While you get the problems line-by-line, instead of all at once as in Hemingway (which I do miss), the rules are clearly defined, so it’s easier to interpret them and “fix” the problem.

On top of that, the editing rules are editable!


You can turn them off, either universally or just for the specific project you have open.  You can add rules.  You can modify rules with thresholds–like I could change the length filter to 35 words instead of 30, if I liked.  (I haven’t, but it’s nice to know I could.)

Because I’m in the midst of transferring my novel to QW one chapter at a time, I haven’t had the need to use its other features much, but I’m looking forward to it.  I did start a new project for an idea I’ve had kicking in my head for a few weeks, just jotting down some bare-bones character bios so they’ll be there when (if) I ever flesh out that plot bunny.

Over all, if you’re looking for a free writing/editing app to try, I’d recommend it.  I don’t have any other experiences besides Hemingway to compare it to (which is a slight apples-to-oranges issue, because Hemingway isn’t meant to do much of what QW will); so I don’t know how it stacks up to things like Scrivener.

But it’s free.  Minimalist.  And it lets you edit the editing rules.  I’m just a little in love with it.