So, I got a lot of great feedback from my first Useful Tools for Indie Writers post and figured, what the heck, I’ll do another! I was (fairly) recently been able to interview some Indie and signed writers who were able to share some awesome tips with me that I figured I’d share. This isn’t going to be like my last tips post, unfortunately, because I don’t have that much to share but I do have a little cool structure and outlining post for you!
Ladies and gentlemen, may I present “Useful Tools for Indie Writers Round 2!”
Outlining and Structure
As you’ve probably heard me say before, the key to a great storyline is excellent structure! Rarely do I see a book
that succeeds without it. Sure, there are the occasional books, like Angelfall by Susan Ee, for instance, that do extremely well without the proper formatting and outlining but it’s rare.
“But can’t I just wing it?”
No. You cannot just wing it. You can do what I did, which I would recommend to all, which is:
DO NOT OUTLINE. JUST WRITE THE FREAKING THING.
Yes! Structure is important, but you can have structure without outlining, as long as you’re not a naturally chaotic person. If you have the idea in your head, then I encourage you to start writing. Writing a book should not feel like work, which is what it’s going to feel like if you sit down and have to write a boring outline, in which you never delve into the characters personalities, learn witty dialogue, or do anything fun like that! You’ll be bored of the story before you even begin.
My advice to you on outlining? Don’t. Just don’t do it. Yeah, structure that thing out in your head so many times you’re sure you know the story backwards! Have an ending before you begin, know where you want your characters to end up and what conclusions you want them to draw, but don’t outline. It will become tedious.
If you must outline, I guess I’ve got a few tips for you I’ve collected over the past few months, but don’t disregard the advise above! ^^^ Personally, I think that is the best way to write. Look at Susan Ee, author of one of my all-time favorite books The End of Days.
Anyway, if you’re going to outline, check out the tips below:
I think we’ve all been in a situation where we have this fan-flipping-tastic idea that we just can’t wait to write and then we sit down to outline it and get bored halfway through. Why is that? Some times we don’t even get to the actual story before we’re bored to tears from ourselves. That, ladies and gents, is because we are basically writing and developing the entire freaking story in an outline. An outline is not supposed to look like Exhibit A:
- Book begins on a dark stormy night where our character, Jane Summit, is walking in a blue gown down a cobblestone road that leads into this old abandoned cemetery where her great-great-grandmother’s grave is (her grandmother is a ghost now that talks to her every night). She stumbles upon tall, dark, and handsome Chester Grub, who happens to be coming from a gig he and his band (the Rock and Pebbles) were playing at down the road.
- Jane Summit is surprised and a little flustered to meet Chester Grub, who seems to know all the right things to say to her. He’s totally mysterious because, like, why is he in the cemetery in the middle of the night? Is his great-great-grandmother a ghost that shares secret ancient wisdom with him, too?
- Chester Grub invites Jane Summit to come to their next gig, which happens to be playing next to the office building where she works, which happens to be right down the road from where she lives!
Yeah, I’m pretty sure nobody is going to read that book anyway but are you smelling what I’m stepping in?
I basically just wrote out the first few pages of the book without any dialogue. So it’s not like I just wrote the first few pages of the book, which probably would have been way better and more thought through, but I wrote the first few pages in outline form.
News flash! That is not outlining. Outlining is supposed to be like Exhibit B (using the same ridiculous story):
- Begin w/ Jane Summit meeting Chester Grub and receiving invitation
- Jane goes
See how much briefer that was? More concise. I don’t have it all figured out either and my outlining is certainly not perfect but I know a little something. Use key words you’re going to remember. If you were just walking up and read Exhibit B, you would ask “Who is Jane Summit?” “Who is Chester Grub?” “Where did they meet?” “What invitation did Jane receive?” And that’s okay. Because as the writer, that’s your job to develop and work through, and chances are you’ve already got it on your head.
Just keep it simple, stupid.
So there’s outlining for you.
Structure is way different than outlining. Think of structure as the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet (for you screenplay writers and producers out there) for novels. You’re going to have a series of “beats” you need to hit on certain pages. I sort of went through this in my The End of Days review but I’m going to delve into it a little bit more here. I’m going to call this the KISS Beat Sheet, because we’re going to try to keep it simple, stupid.
KISS Beat Sheet
- Introduction: The “introduction” part of your book should happen right in the beginning, obviously. This section of your book is where you establish your lead character and the society/world the reader is stepping into. While there is no specific page that the “introduction” section should end like in the BS Beat Sheet (books are way different than screenplays, people) you should end your “introduction” section before you introduce the other characters in the book, including supporting characters and b-role characters … which is where our next section begins.
- Surrounding Area: Okay, so first let’s establish what I mean by “surrounding area.” I’m not talking about the immediate area the character is standing in, I’m talking about the atmosphere in which the main character lives. Who do they interact with, what kind of job/school do they go to, the list goes on. The “surrounding area” takes up a good portion of the book. In the book The Darkest Minds, for instance, all the way up until Ruby escapes Thurmond would be considered “surrounding area.” It isn’t until Ruby escapes that the next section begins.
- The Catalyst: This is a pretty important part of the book. This is where we encounter a new (or maybe old) problem that the character(s) must solve. In The Darkest Minds, this would be when Ruby meets up with Liam, Chubs, and Zu and realizes that she will never be able to stop running from the Skip Tracers and government officials that hunt her. Suddenly (or not so suddenly) Ruby, Liam, Chubs, and Zu have a problem, which is what brings us to the next beat:
- The Reaction: In the reaction beat of our story, the character(s) obviously react to the problem at hand. They have to respond. In The Darkest Minds, this would be when the four teens begin to freak out and decide to find the East River, where the Slip Kid will hopefully be able to help them. The reaction always spurs a response and a solution.
- Deep Waters: This section might be one of the largest in your book. This is your chance to really delve into characters, give audience insight into the past, etc. This is where the character(s) have come up with a solution but have not achieved said solution and are doing everything they can to save themselves, their ship, each other, the list goes on. In The Darkest Minds, this would be our main characters’ journey to the East River.
- Halfway Home: In this section our characters reach their solution! Yay! Think of this section as the effect of their previous reaction. It generally turns out to be a false-hope sort of thing, as it was in The Darkest Minds. In that novel, the Halfway Home beat was when they reached East River and were finally able to meet the Slip Kid, AKA Clancy.
- Shakespearean Moment: I’m calling it this because Shakespeare was known for his dramas, and this is probably the most dramatic beat in your plot. The “Shakespearean” moment is basically your all is lost of Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. This is when the character(s) learns they’ve been played, betrayed, etc. In The Darkest Minds, this is obviously when Ruby finds out about Clancy’s dealings with the government and the Red army and stretches until the government sweeps in and the East River is destroyed.
- Inspirational Moment: This is when an inspiring speech or new insight lifts the character(s) spirits and causes them to come up with a new, improved, better plan! This is a moment that not all books have. Some books (including The Darkest Minds) use the inverse of this beat, which could be called the Depressing Moment or whatever you want to call it. Some stories end badly ― which totally works for them.
- The Finale: Of course, this is where all the book’s strings tie into a pretty little knot. For some books, this is the part when the final battle begins and ends, for others it’s where the character finally finds peace, and on the other side of the spectrum, such as in The Darkest Minds, this is sort of like another Shakespearean moment. In The Darkest Minds, this is where Ruby decides that the only way out of her situation is to call Cate and the Children’s League for help. “The Finale” stretches until the end of the book, obviously, and often sets up the next book, as our Darkest Minds does.
To further illustrate my KISS Beat Sheet, I have written out the beats for These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman. If you think you’ve pretty much got the gist of the KISS Beat Sheet or don’t plan on using it or haven’t read These Broken Stars yet … just disregard the next 9 bullet points.
KISS Beat sheet for These Broken Stars
- Introduction: We meet Lilac and Tarver and learn that they are abroad the Icarus, a ship hurdling through time and space. It is clearly a futuristic novel.
- Surrounding Area: We learn that Lilac is a very wealthy man’s daughter and is protected by a crew of men and women alike. Tarver, on the other hand, is a decorated war hero but without his title would be considered poor scum, not fit to scrape the mud from Lilac’s shoes. In the surrounding area, we see that Tarver is interested in Lilac for all of thirty minutes before she cooly blows him off (which Lilac has a reason for). Tarver, we learn, has a temper and has to go blow off steam in the ship’s lower compartment by beating up other people in fun little fights.
- The Catalyst: A problem occurs and the Icarus is pulled out of hyperspace, causing gravity to pull it towards a nearby uninhabited planet.
- The Reaction: Lilac has no choice but to accept Tarver’s help in reaching a safe escape pod. Thanks to Lilac’s ability to work with electronics (in which we learn there is more to this pretentious snob) Tarver and Lilac survive the blast that knocks the Icarus to the ground, and the two live to see the planet beneath. This beat lasts a while, even when Lilac and Tarver crash land and begin to come up with a plan to survive on the planet.
- Deep Waters: This is the journey part of Lilac and Tarver’s adventure. As they hike through the planet’s jungles and strange terrains. This is also where we begin to learn that this is quite the odd planet, complete with creepy whisperers and strange recreated objects. This also continues through when Tarver and Lilac find the remains of the Icarus where they manage to collect supplies and the two begin to fall in love with each other.
- Halfway Home: Tarver and Lilac find a communication outpost where they will be able to get a message out to Lilac’s father, who will swoop down and rescue them both, but then decide that going home isn’t necessarily a priority anymore. This is the point in the book when Lilac and Tarver really decide that this whole adventure has brought them closer and now are in love with each other. Goodie for them. Unfortunately for Tarver, Lilac decides that Tarver’s parents do not deserve to lose another son and convinces Tarver to try to get into the outpost.
- Shakespearean Moment: This is when Lilac’s explosive technique backfires and gets her killed. Tarver is in pieces over her death and doesn’t know what to do with him. This is the perfect Shakespearean moment because it truly is all is lost for him.
- Inspirational Moment: The “whisperers” create a new Lilac to encourage Tarver and to get him to continue helping them. This beat continues throughout the pages where Lilac is trying to get used to the new body the whisperers have given her and Tarver is trying to convince her that life is still worth living.
- The Finale: In the finale, Lilac tries to make contact with her father to get Tarver back to his family, which weakens the whisperers, which weakens Lilac, since she is only being sustained by the whisperers. Tarver has a better idea and decides to free the whisperers, which ends up destroying them (which is what they wanted) and causing a massive energy burst that stabilizes Lilac’s form. Lilac and Tarver get off the planet, safe in Big Daddy’s cradling arms, Lilac secures her relationship with Tarver, and happily ever after!
So there you have it. That’s how I structured my book and how I have seen so many books structured! Not all use this format but most do, and those that do typically succeed. There is my KISS Beat Sheet. You’re welcome. Keep it simple, stupid.
Strange though it may be, that’s all that I have for you for now. I’m sure I’ll go back and edit this post soon to include some other cool hints and tips and shortcuts (or maybe I’ll just write a whole other post!) but for now, that’s all folks!
What’s on your bookshelf?