NaNoWriMo Prep: Outlining

I never used to be an outliner.  The most I probably did was sketch out a couple vague scenes I really wanted to write and figure out my main characters before I started NaNo or any project.  But after 11 years of doing NaNo and about 20 years writing total, I’ve got to admit that not having an outline screws me every time.

I get distracted.  I get bored.  I get stuck.   Those guys are the wretches and goblins that work so hard to keep me from achieving my goals.  So instead of getting overwhelmed by them, I’ve started to fight back with an outline.

Honestly, it shouldn’t have taken me this long to realize that’s what I need.  I use an outline at work all the time.  That one tends to be a running list of things that need to be done during my eight-hour shift, but it’s an outline none the less and it keeps me on track when phone calls, customers, and unexpected side missions happen.  Because they always happen.

So, my outlining method is pretty malleable.  I’m still figuring out what works because each project has different needs and so do I on different days.

This NaNo I am using a note card ring for a lot of my outlining, you’ll remember this picture from my last post:

I’ve been getting my note cards written out and in order, and so far this is what I have for each chapter:

  • Complete list of characters
  • Complete list of places
  • Short background bio on each character
  • Defining characteristics of locations, history tidbits tied to it, etc.
  • General summary of each chapter
  • Key scenes
  • Emotional journey in the chapter
  • Information on key objects pertaining to chapter events

This is enough to give me an idea of where I’m going in each chapter, and I add as little or as much information to each thing as I feel I need.  I like to have some room to improvise if the mood strikes me, but I also need a general line of sight to keep my goal in view to avoid following tangents into the wild blue yonder.

I also did note cards for the following:

  • Defining events
  • Twists
  • Theme
  • Histories and world building notes
  • Checks and balances
  • Beginning, Middle, End
  • Overall summary

Out of all these, I think the checks and balances cards are the most important for me.  My world has magic so I need clear rules of what magic can do and what it can’t do so I don’t stray off into the realm of Deux ex Machina midway through November.  The second most important would be the Beginning, Middle, and End, which gives a framework to where the story is actually going.

I don’t treat any of my note cards as written in stone unless it’s a fundamental foundation of my worldbuilding.  I keep myself open to inspiration and allow certain changes during the writing process because sometimes the best ideas happen when you’re in the thick of it all.  Outlines are more guidelines, after all.


NaNoWriMo Prep Time

Another year, another October and you know what that means: National Novel Writing Month is almost upon us!  Every year writers all around the world flock to to participate in the 50k word event during the month of November.  This will be my 11th year to participate and I wanted to kick off these last few weeks of October with some tips and tricks that I’ve tested out myself and found helpful.

With two and a half weeks left until the starting gate there is still plenty of time to get ready for NaNo whether you’re starting on something fresh or, like me, using it to finish something you’re already working on.

For this post I wanted to share some of the tools and methods I use for bare basic prep.

First, I write all my material in Scrivener.  I like that program best because it gives me a ton of tools and options to customize every project I work on.  I also like the fact that I can break up a project into files and folders and rearrange at will without risking damage to the overall piece.  My typical template set up looks something like this:

Nothing too fancy, just the generic Novel With Parts template Scrivener comes with.  I will write myself notes on each chapter or scene on the note cards to keep them straight and start importing research from the web so I have all the info I need in one place and I’m not tempted to break during a writing session to look up the count of Jim Bowie’s nose hairs or what date the telegraph was invented.

I don’t personally utilize the Character and Places folders, though.  I found I need a more physical means of keeping those straight so I’ve made myself a note card ring:

I’ll put a hole punch through the top left hand corner and add to the ring as I get information written out.  I find it helpful to break from the computer during the planning stages because it cuts down on distractions and sometimes just the act of writing with a pen helps the ideas flow better.  I seem to retain the information I write down better as opposed to typing as well.

One of the last bits of prep I like to do is my goal setting.  I am capable of writing 2000 words a day as a baseline, but I know from experience that the first two weeks are crucial in getting as far ahead as I can so there is a word count cushion for the end of the month when things inevitably get crazy.  There are the holidays and mandatory family gatherings, of course, but also business at work that saps my energy and the occasional cold that loves to pop up when it’s least convinient.

So this year my goal is to write 5000 words every other day and strive for 10-12k on the weekends.  That would put me halfway done by the second week.  If that is a pace I can sustain then I will finish my 50k well before the month is over, leaving me free to either write more or take a break and then get into revision.

I haven’t set it up yet, but I am going to create a calendar with my goals penciled into each date and hang it on the wall next to my bed so I can see that goal whenever I need a boost or a reminder.  Reminders, with me, are key.  It’s easy to lose focus if I don’t define my steps.

Last, but not least, an encouragement.  I found this little wall banner on sale at a crafts store today and knew it was just perfect for me.  I hung it by the door across from my bed so I will see it every time I look up from my computer:


Stay tuned for more NaNoWriMo tips and remember, be epic in whatever you do.

Flash Fiction: Into the Abyss

“That’s just unnatural,” Taz muttered, eyeing the dark liquid inside the cup.  “What do you suppose it is?”

I tilted the cup around in my hand, so the liquid swirled around.  There was no way to see the bottom of the cup.  The liquid was thicker than water, but not so thick as molasses.  There was no reflection on it, either.  Just a tiny sheen of white as the setting sun light skimmed the edges.

“I would say coffee but even the sludge Mama used to make wasn’t like this.”

My heart twinged at the memory of Mama, but I pushed it aside.  Another day, I promised myself.  When all this crap was over I would let myself mourn.  Though, to be fair, there wasn’t much of a chance I’d live long enough for that.

“We have to make a decision,” Taz said.  “The sun is almost gone.  Do we want to take this chance?”

I swallowed against the sour taste in the back of my throat.

“Gonna have to.  No other way around it.”

“There’s always another way.”

Taz said it not to sway my decision, just as a reminder, but the sun was disappearing and the ash in the air clung to us like dirty snow.

“Yeah, but nothin’ we’d figure in time.”

Taz nodded, accepting and completely trusting.  I never used to question her faith in me.  I never had to, but that was before when I was a stupid child and taking things for granted was the way of things.  Taz didn’t have to be here.  She chose to be and chose to follow my lead, madness infecting my brain and all.

Before I could second guess myself, I upended the cup and drank half the strange liquid down.  It was cold, with a copper aftertaste and a squirmy sensation, like it was alive and worming its way into all my insides.  Taz took the cup as I gagged and finished it off.  She coughed and wiped her lips.  A dark smear went across her cheek.

Twilight fell on us and the world spun like a spindle, around and around.  The plains disappeared around us.  When it stopped we were back in that midnight desert, mountains shaped like sleeping giants in the distance and a set of footprints leading into the dark.

Writing, Behind The Scenes

Writers are not glamorous creatures.  I don’t know who started that particular rumor.

We can create entire species, countries, worlds, out of the gray squishy bits between our ears, sure.  We can bring characters to life with our imaginations, put them through hell, give them a chance at happiness, offer them roads of adventure and excitement that most people will never get a sniff of in their own lives.  We can understand and twist around the psyche to explore the hidden depths and drifts of the human mind.  We can even make people so invested in our creative ramblings that they forget the real world exists around them, if only for an hour or so.

But writers are not glamorous creatures.

Because while we are capable of doing everything listed above, we also find ourselves in certain situations most people are smart enough not to encounter.

Like leaving the house with your shirt on inside out (not even the first, second, or third time that’s happened) because you need coffee and coffee is across town and, honestly, most of you isn’t even present in your body because part of it is still in the dream from last night, another part is playing Fishdom puzzles, a slightly larger part is where you left off editing at 2am, and the rest of you can barely open your eyes because mornings are stupid and far too bright and 9am is waaaaay too early for functionality.

Writers are not glamorous creatures.  Sometimes it’s amazing we don’t set our houses on fire trying to make cereal.

Onward and upward and all that jazz

Editing time!  I wrote the last lines of the ending the other day, now it’s time to start cleaning house.  I have my fuel, my notebook, and in a minute I’ll start the cringe-worthy read through of my story collection.  The plan, as it stands now, is to do a full read from beginning to end and take extensive notes so I have a solid idea of what I’m up against before I go ripping into the meat of this strangely assembled beast.  I have a vague sense of missing character development in several parts, sudden character introductions at the end, and several missing KEY POINTS that were never set up.  So, figure out what needs axing, what just needs a prune, and what needs complete revision because I decided somewhere along the way to go completely off road and into the abyss.

It should be quite a wild ride.

Blue Alice

Chuck Wendig had another prompt that gave me some inspiration.  The prompt was ‘There is no exit.’  This is what I came up with.  I tried something different and wrote in 2nd person present tense.  I think it worked for this piece.

There are three things you know you can count on in your life.

1.  The world will always find a way to temper kindness with cruelty, lest you get the wrong idea of its nature.

2.  The wind will forever pull you back out to sea, and it has no qualms about stranding you.

3.  Blue Alice will always be in the corner of the pub, draining mugs of rum and ale, telling stories of past glory to anyone who will buy another round.

You used to pay her in mugs for her tales.  Cheeky little shit you were, attracted to the glory she spoke of like it was precious diamonds.  You wanted all she spoke of, adventures and treasure and the sheer unfettered freedom her kind of life could give someone if they only had the courage to pursue it.

Those stories taught you many things, but you learned more when you gave your courage full rein.  You’ll never be a quarter of the storyteller Blue Alice is, but you’ve seen your fair share of strangeness, of wonder, and black-hearted vileness.

The latter, perhaps, never so plain as when you catch a glimpse of your reflection.

Blue Alice accepts the rum and takes a deep swallow as if it might quench some long-suffering parch.  She licks her lips and sets the mug down, fingers still entwined in the handle.

“What tale may I offer ye today?  Something adventurous and daring?  Perhaps ye wish to hear about the cursed pearls that won back a war.  Or maybe something mysterious, such as the sirens who lurk at shipwrecks so they might pry a bargain from the lips of a desperate sailor in their blackest hour.”

You say nothing, for it occurs to you to look past Blue Alice’s words.  You notice her eyes.  They must have been striking, long ago, as the clearest blue this side of the Caribbean.  Now, yellowed and bloodshot, they’re just sick.  Her skin has gone sallow and discolored from drink and ruin.  Her facial scars, which once must have struck fear and dread into those who came against her, especially when she flashed a devilish grin containing no trace of mercy, now only paint her a sad and weary creature.

“No, none of those,” you say.  You drink your own rum for a moment and try to gather the words that scatter as a school of startled fish.

Blue Alice tilts her head and studies you.  You find it uncomfortable for the position to be switched.

“I heard tell you met yourself a genuine sea witch out there.  Mayhap you ought should be tellin’ the story this time.”

“I don’t want a story,” you say.  You wipe at your mouth and sigh, frustrated.  There’s still blood under your nails and on your coat.  Would that the last voyage had only been a tale.  “I want an ending.”

Blue Alice hums and swirls the run around the bottom of her mug.

“There is no exit,” she says.  “You stick around long enough, survive enough, you come to realize a few things.  One being that every ending is nothin’ more than another beginnin’ disguised up in magic or faith or solace.  Nothin’ truly ends.  It just becomes something else.”

“No.  There has to be an ending.  Otherwise, the concept wouldn’t even exist.  There has to be a way of getting out.  For good.”


So you tell her.

There’s no fanciful euphemisms or rousing prose.  You tell it as it happened.  The legend.  The voyage.  The map.  The island.  The witch.  And how everything you followed left out that the treasure was another kind of hell, one someone else fought and bled and wrecked themselves to contain.

“You lost someone.”

“Lost implies they might be found again,” you say.  “She’s not lost.  She’s ended, more or less.”

The magic of the hurricane saw to that.  It ripped her apart worse than any musket or cannon.  It tore at her until she was less than skin and blood, less than soul.  Whatever remained, if anything, was finer than strands of corn silk and left drifting in the ocean.

It should have been you.

“So don’t tell me there ain’t a way.  There was for her.  Now I need another.”

Blue Alice ruminates on that while more rum is poured.  You drink yours down, barely tasting the liquid scorch.  Time passes.  Music plays.  Someone starts a fight and someone else ends it.  But it’s just noise.  After the hurricane took her dying screams nothing sounds quite real.

“Maybe there is something,” Blue Alice says when the sun is down and the tide has come in.  She pulls a vial of black liquid from her vest.  “Drink this, and it shall give you what you seek.”

You take the vial and turn it over in your hands.  It’s dark as pitch with an oily residue.


“Nay.  More akin to a wish, if you will.  Best to be sure, though.  Ye can’t be wishing yourself back.”

There’s never been anything sweeter fall upon your ears.  You uncork the vial at the table and down it in a single gulp.  You think, let it be a good ending.  The bar winks out around you, and then back again.

But you are not in your seat.  You’re in Blue Alice’s, looking back at yourself from her eyes, from her body.  She smiles using your mouth.  It looks stiff.  You’ve not smiled in many months.

“What is this?”

“A way to make as many endings as ye need.  Make them worthy.”

She leaves you alone with a full mug of rum.  You find yourself unable, or maybe unwilling, to follow.

Before long someone else arrives.  Young.  Impressionable.  Eyes too bright, ears too eager.  They fill another mug in front of you.

“Give us a tale, then, Alice.  Something full of adventure and daring.”

Blue Alice drinks her rum and opens her mouth.  Out comes a story with a fitting end.

An update


Writing is hell.  Even on a good day.  One thing it has taught me ever since I began is that nothing goes according to plan.  Even if there’s no good reason why it shouldn’t, even when the plan went perfectly and it’s done and it’s everything you saw in your head so all you need to do is, you know, do it again.

The latter has been my lesson during the past year.

I published ‘Count Your Crows’ and I loved it.  I also hated it, and felt indifferent toward it, all usual emotions I experience when I’ve completed something I’ve slaved over with blood, sweat, and tears.  I was ready to work on the next one, and I wrote it.

About five versions of it.  All 50k words or more.

And I couldn’t use any of them.

Sometimes stories are like that.  Sometimes they don’t work out, and so you have to figure out if they’re worth reconstructing yet again, or if it’s time to put them away for good.

I took time to think about it.  I worked on other projects, other characters.  But I kept coming back to Fred and Taz, so I decided to approach their tale again, but I had to rethink that approach and the conclusion I came to is this: their story won’t be a novel.

I wanted it so badly to be a novel.  To be a series of novels.  To see book after book, thick ones, on the shelf at a bookstore.  I wanted it to take both hands to hold the book open while reading.

Because the novel is the standard, right?  That’s what people consider real writing, real work.  And saying you write novels is just so much more impressive.

But I’m not good at writing novels.  The scope is too big for my attention span.  I lose threads and get burnt out.  I end up tangled in a web of my own making, and fixing it doesn’t so much require patching as it does a jug of kerosene and a match.

But I’m good with short stories.  After talking with another writer who knows my work and my work habits, I had to admit that writing shorts was more within my skillset than a novel.  I can certainly write a novel if I push myself, but I get far more joy out of writing short stories, out of pulling my characters’ headspace into hyper focus.  I can also finish a short story, and in more reasonable time, which goes a long way to preserving one’s sense of sanity in this precarious profession.

So that’s what I’m doing.  I’ll be taking ‘Count Your Crows’ off of Amazon soon to replace it with the revamped collection of short stories for Fred and Taz that is 50% completed.  As of today I have 5 stories fully finished for the collection.  I started writing them April 1st.

So, that’s the update on what I’ve been doing since I posted last.  Writing is a bumpy journey that is certainly not linear, or even well paced, but I still love it, even when I want to strangle myself for loving something so contrary.

The Girl With Two Shadows

For the prompt ‘rebellion’ in Chuck Wendig’s latest flash fiction challenge.


Once, there was a girl with two shadows.

Her name was Taz and they were both there when she woke up.  One shadow was herself, just over four feet tall with short hair with mussed in every direction.  The other shadow was slightly bigger, with bushy hair that curled.  That shadow followed her steps, but not her movements.

Taz jumped up and down, waved her arms around, and danced until her feet were sore.

The shadow would tilt it’s head as if to say, what on earth are you doing?  Other times it would shake, it’s shoulders bunched up and shadow hands melting away where they clasped over the face in silent laughter.

One day Taz held out her hand as the sun was setting in the west.  The other shadow took her shadow’s hand, and they stayed that way until night seeped through and made them one.

“What happened to her?” Taz’s mother asked the town Alders.  Her mother shook with righteous fury under the bruises and the indenture collar they forced on her.

“We don’t know,” they said.  They actually said quite a bit, but none of it was helpful.  They tried to find out, though.  They performed spells of removal and spells of unbinding.  They made Taz drink mixtures of herbs steeped in brine.  They took knives and tried to cut the shadow away.

The other shadow flipped them off and stuck out its tongue, and stayed very much attached.

“You have to belong to someone else,” Taz told the other shadow one night.  “Why are you here with me?”

The other shadow brought its hands together to made a shadow bird flapping its wings, and then wavered to become a storm cloud and a black lightning strike.

In the dark and silence of her room, Taz heard a faint caw and smelled ozone.

Taz asked her mother about it, but her mother turned away, shoulders tight and angry as she went to work.  Taz asked the Alder’s when they tried their next experiment with fire and holy oil.  They said she was infected with a nasty spirit, don’t ask again, we’ll fix it.

Taz got the distinct impression everyone was keeping something from her.

That night, when her mother took the whiskey bottle to bed, Taz stole the matches and climbed out the window.  She snuck past the houses and the edge of town to a ravine that cut its way through the dusty landscape.  She walked until she came to the deepest part, where the walls rose twenty feet high on either side above a dry, sandy bed.

Taz gathered dry roots and driftwood and piled them with tight bunches of dried grass. With the matches she lit the tinder and fed it until the fire crackled and popped in the dark.

Taz turned her back to the fire and greeted her shadows that stretched out on the ravine walls.

“I think they made me forget who you are,” Taz told her other shadow.  “No one wants me to remember except me.  I need your help to do that.”

As if only waiting for permission, the other shadow turned to Taz’s and placed its thumb on her forehead.

Taz gasped as her forearm spasmed in pain.  She clutched at it and cried as a black mark bubbled to the surface of her skin.  Three long slashes made a triangle that held a circle inside.

Then both shadows reached out from the wall, across the sand, and gestured to the fire.

Taz understood.  She bit her lip, closed her eyes, and thrust her arm into the blaze.

There was a scream, but it did not come from Taz, for the mark on her skin writhed like a living thing, wrenching to and fro, unable to escape the flames that did not hurt Taz.  The mark seeped out of her skin and ran off like water, sizzling itself out on the coals.

Taz pulled her arm back.  It tingled and felt over warm, but not burnt.  She gazed up at the other shadow in awe.

Taz remembered.

She remembered her sister.  Taz remembered running side by side with her, crows overhead, watching lightning arc down from the sky and strike the two of them.  It fused them, their spirits, together.

Taz remembered her heart tearing in two as the Alder’s separated them.  Taz remembered reaching for her sister as her she was loaded into a wagon with others, forced to go to war.  The Alders held Taz down and marked her arm, and the memories seeped away like water into dry land.

“Your name is Fred.”

The shadow could not grin, but Taz felt the pride and love radiate as Fred’s shadow embraced Taz’s.

The next morning the Alders took her again and put her in the room with all the tools, herbs, and books of magic.  They tried more things they thought would sever her extra shadow.

“We will fix you, darling,” one said, as if that were a comfort.  “The dark cannot hold against the light.”

“You don’t understand anything at all,” said Taz.

With Taz’s memories came the lessons Fred taught her.  Lessons about balance and nature, magic and willpower, and, above all, the chaos of love.

“I’m sure it seems that way to you now,” one Alder started, and then stopped.

For Taz’s two shadows were growing and melted into each other.  They became one and filled the wall, and then the corners, then the ceiling.

They swallowed the Alders’ own shadows and smothered them.  The Alders fought each other to run for the door, but one by one they fell to the ground.  Triangle marks burst onto their skins.  Their eyes clouded with confusion, and they slept.

The girl with two shadows walked home with the key to her mother’s collar. 

“It’s time to find Fred,” Taz told her mother.

Later the Alder’s woke on the floor of that terrible little room.  None of them remembered why they were there.

Writing Update

Okay, writing update:

Rewrites are DONE on the first couple chapters, which is great, because I’m tired of looking at those monstrosities.  Going back to redo the beginning is always hard and I always try to do all the editing at once on them because I want them to be ~pretty.  They aren’t, not in the slightest, but that’s what copy and content editing is for later.

I cut out a bunch of excess flab on the story, about seven to nine chapters worth, including a POV character I really liked but the didn’t work for the story as it needs to be told.  I also added a completely new character who does fit and is pretty awesome, they add a whole new dynamic to the story that was lacking.

I have a good outline!  I’m tweaking it as I go to keep it updated, but it’s concise and helpful, and color coded, so I am ecstatic with its existence.

I have a loose outline for the entire series, which was fun to do.  I now have a good idea of my core and secondary characters, main events, and how people are gonna die.  I probably spent a little too long writing up the latter, but I can’t help it.  Plotting out angsty death is fun.

Yesterday was a productive writing day despite a recurring headache.  I wrote about 3000 words and I’m loving how the scenes played out.  Two words: train robbery.  *squeals!*

I have only a couple more days for writing or rewriting in since I’m preparing to take a trip to see my brother in North Carolina.  Cannot wait to get there!  My mom is going for the first time, so I’m going to enjoy taking her around to my old haunts and visiting the beach again.  I plan to come back with shells, and hopefully a tan instead of a burn.

Once I get back from the trip I’ll be rotating my rewrites and edits with writing the bare bones of the next book.  I’ll be doing that through Camp NaNoWriMo and I’ll provide a profile link for my progress bar.  That’s the plan right now, at least.

And, to sign off, have a picture of my perpetually happy Boston, now dubbed Muse Dog, who helps bolster my creativity and general mood.  She’s good luck for writers:

Ohana means family.
Muse Dog believes in you, you can do it!


Procrastination in Layers

chapter six

So, first off, hey guys!  Long time, no see, sorry about that.  January was filled with breakneck speed catch up after the holidays, followed by sickness riddled February, which is drying out into a hopefully sickness-free March.  Blogging was so far down on the totem pole of things I had energy for that it was less than a speck of dust.

But I’m semi-back now, so this space will be getting some new posts here and there.

Now, on to the updates.  The first draft is complete.  It is an ugly little thing I love and abhor with the same breath.  I struggled for an entire month with lung phlegm and a handful of chapters from a new character’s POV that, eventually, had to be done away with.  It went the way of the loogie, in other words.  Not because the chapters were bad (although, yes, they were bad) or because they were unnecessary, but because they just do not fit right now.  Like champagne and wine glasses at a table full of moonshine in mason jars, these chapters refused to work with the overall ambiance.  Sucks, yes, but they may be useful later in the next book somehow, so I’m not totally bummed about the discovery.

So, I am now on to editing everything else, which is my favorite part of the process anyway, but I am finding way more landmines I left for myself than I remember creating.  See, when I’m in the thick of creating I will go as far as an idea carries me, and if it stops being interesting I will stop, mid-sentence more often than not, and then throw in a note to my future editing self.

Mostly, these notes consist of bored now, moving on to something else, deal with this later.  Or, asdfghjkl omgwtfidk where I’m going with this, figure it out in editing.  And, the always lovely, HAHAHAHAHAHAH I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING IT SUCKS TO BE YOU READING THIS LATER.

It’s times like these that I really dislike my past writing self.  I can be such a whiny, thoughtless, self-centered procrastinator.  Why do I never think of my editing self with compassion or care?  Why must I create unnecessary tripwires that send editor-me face first into a mud pit?

The short answer is because writer-me thinks it’s funny.  Writer-me takes joy in being an utter brat.  Writer-me is often sleep deprived, under caffeinated, under inebriated, and stretched thin upstairs so the thought of being a prick, even to my future self, is enough to keep writer-me moving forward with the creation process.  Because creating is hard.  It hurts.  It takes more than it gives, leaving me wrung out and with the sense of having been hollowed.

And so procrastinating then leads to procrastinating now.  I’m working with chapter six and I really, really, with the fire of a billion suns, hate chapter six.  It’s a pivotal chapter.  It’s the first domino of a really bad choice that leads into the epic free fall of other bad decisions that lead to oh crap situations that make the rest of the book fun.  It’s necessary.  It’s needed.

And I want to set it on fire.  Or blast it into space.  Or throw it off the edge of a cliff and listen to it scream on the way down.

But I can’t bring myself to delete it.

So I went to a different page and wrote a blog post that I’ve been procrastinating for two months.

Oh, the irony and layers.