Tag Archives: JA Konrath

Developing a Written Outline–Part II

The previous post discussed why writers should prepare written outlines for their novels. Let’s look now at what an outline should include. Writers differ on the length and scope of an outline, but it should include these elements:

  • Title of the novel.
  • Premise or idea behind the story. This doesn’t have to be detailed. It could be one sentence. For example, the premise for the Harry Potter series could be this: an orphaned boy escapes from a cruel childhood to discover he is a celebrated wizard who must take on a powerful evil wizard.
  • A list of the characters. For the main character, the writer should identify her strengths, weaknesses goals and motivations. The characters should include those who will help the main character and those who will try to stop her.
  • Identification of the main character’s goal, quest or dream and the obstacles in the way.
  • A sequence of major events in the story, which should have conflict and tension.
  • A climax to the story, followed by resolution.
  • A satisfying ending that ties up the loose ends.

Common types of outlines include:

  • Chapter outline—a few sentences or paragraphs on each chapter
  • Scene outline—short descriptions of each scene.
  • Narrative outline—an account of what happens in the book.
  • Index card outline—writing scenes or scene ideas on index cards

Outlines can be short or detailed. A writer colleague of mine uses a device called a “structure table,” a grid with columns and rows. Such a table could be organized in a grid with these columns:

Chapter/Scene/Characters/Setting/Action

Some writers organize tables where one of the columns is Motivation. Some create storyboards and some authors write scenes on color-coded index cards. Some write a long narrative describing all the action in the present tense.

Mystery writer JA Konrath writes long outlines. “My outlines are very detailed,” he wrote in A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. “They run between 30 and 40 pages. I go chapter by chapter, and list who is in each scene, what information needs to be revealed, and what the conflict is.

“I write outlines in present tense, and give each chapter a paragraph or two,” he wrote.

Konrath estimates it takes him a solid week of eight-hour days to produce a 40-page outline. “But once I do it, writing the book is easy, because I already got all the hard stuff out of the way.”

James Scott Bell, in his excellent book, Plot & Structure, discusses a variety of plotting systems, ultimately concluding writers must choose the system that works best for them. He cautions, however, “If certain foundational elements are missing, the story is going to sag. You can avoid major problems by some focused thinking about your story before you write.”

As I mentioned, I am more of a “pantser,” but I have used an outline for each of my novels. My outline for Small Change became moot when I made the main character 14 years old instead of 10 at the start of the book. That’s the beauty of writing. You need to have the flexibility to change your mind when something’s not working. If I were to rewrite my original outline it might start out like this:

Chapter 1

Introduce John Sykowksi, the main character, and his family at the lakeside resort in Wisconsin where they spend a week each summer. In the opening scene, John, who is 14 years old, is uncomfortable when their neighbor, Mrs. Crandale, asks him to rub suntan lotion on her back. [This foreshadows the most dramatic scene in the first half of the novel]

So what’s the correct answer regarding outlining? There is none. Whatever system works for you is what you should use.

Here are some good resources on outlining:

Paperback writer

Creative Penn

Snowflake method-Randy Ingermanson

Larry Brooks discussion on outlining

What is your outlining method? Have you changed your view on outlining as you’ve grown as a writer?

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

What is Your Professional Development Plan?

A new year beckons. It’s a good time to take stock of where you are as a writer and what you need to do in 2012 to reach the next level.

Most good companies offer professional development programs for their employees. Writers usually don’t have the same resources as businesses do, but there’s no reason every writer should not have a personal professional development plan. Here are a few elements of my personal professional development plan:

1. Join and participate in a writer’s group or an online writer’s community. A vibrant writer’s group offers a spirit of collegiality, support, feedback, and mutual helpfulness. Engaging regularly with a group of trusted people who share your passion for writing will give you a great sounding board and a sense that you are not alone in your journey.

2. Read at least two books each year on the craft of fiction writing. Learning is a lifelong process. There’s no such thing as knowing everything there is about the craft. While you are at it, subscribe to at least one writer’s periodical. I recommend Writer’s Digest.

3. Read writing blogs at least three times a week. There are so many excellent blogs out there produced by writers, literary agents, and readers. A few I read regularly include Writer Unboxed, Rachelle Gardner, Nathan Bransford, Jane Friedman, JA Konrath (A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing), Kristen Lamb, and Bob Mayer. You will learn not only about the craft, but about publishing, the role of agents, marketing, and how to use social media.

4. Attend at least one writer’s conference each year. I attend the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association (CAPA) annual CAPA-U meeting. In addition to offering workshops on the craft and on marketing, these conferences provide ample opportunities for you to network with other writers and some offer face-to-face meetings with an agent. This is enormously helpful to new writers.

5. Read at least 25 books a year, across all genres, and non-fiction as well as fiction. What? You might say. That won’t leave any time for fiction writing. Stephen King reads 80 books a year and still has time to churn out a novel.

Bonus tip: Practice your craft regularly. You will learn so much just by writing. There’s no substitute for finishing a novel, or two or three novels. You will most likely not hit your stride with your first novel, but you will learn about story structure, character development, and scene crafting.

So there you have it: my professional development plan for 2012.

What is your professional development plan for 2012?

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Should We Give Away Our Work?

The New York Times published an interview recently with Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, who pirated his own work by giving away free translations of his books until he was caught by his publisher. Radiohead achieved notoriety when they released their 2007 CD, In Rainbows, online and let fans name their own price. Author JA Konrath at one point was reportedly posting PDF copies of his novels on his website for readers to download for free on the theory they would pay the nominal fee for the convenience of reading his books on an e-reading device. What’s going on here?

Why would authors or artists give away their work for free? There are three reasons: to build an audience, to gain feedback for a work-in-progress, or out of a principled belief that artistic works and ideas should be accessible to all.

While this is great for consumers, I’m not a fan of the idea that artists or authors should give away their work. Artistic works are worth something. Although many authors toil for years writing novels with no expectation of being published or making money, we would like to think there is a financial reward for our achievements.

From a consumer’s perspective, it comes down to the “perception of value.” If you give away your work, the public perceives it as worth nothing. Wait a minute, you say. What about Amanda Hocking and John Locke, who amassed huge sales of their 99-cent e-books? They were practically giving them away. Correct, but there’s a big difference between 99 cents and zero.

Hocking and Locke made conscious decisions on pricing. They bet that interesting, well-written books priced ridiculously low would sell, and they were right. First-time authors who publish on Amazon.com generally choose one of two price points: 99 cents (on the theory they can sell
more books, even though the royalty rate is just 35 percent) or $2.99 (the price point at which the higher royalty rate of 70 percent kicks in). It’s a
calculated decision. Self-published authors know they won’t sell many books unless they price them between 99 cents and $2.99.

I plan to publish my first novel, Small Change, through the Kindle Direct Publishing program. I plan to set the price initially at $2.99. Why? I put
three years of my life into writing and editing this book. I believe it’s worth the price of a coffee and a donut, but that will ultimately be up to the reader to decide.

And what about well-known authors who elect to make their work available at little or no cost? According to the Times story, Coelho “continues to give his work away free by linking to Web sites that have posted his books, asking only that if readers like the book, they buy a copy, ‘so we can tell to the industry that sharing contents is not life threatening to the book business,’ as he wrote in one post.”

One could criticize Coelho’s methods, but he must be doing something right. Coelho has sold 140 million copies of his books and he has actively engaged readers through social media. According to media reports, he has more Facebook followers than Madonna.

Should artists give away their work?

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized