Thursday, June 12, 2014


I love this article by author, Andy Weir about the top reasons why writers procrastinate and how to stop. I often go back and reread it and thought it might be helpful to others.

Here's my favorite part:

2: Stories are always more awesome in your head than they are on paper

Your heroine, Susan, had neglectful and disinterested parents. This made her overwhelmingly driven to excel. She’s the youngest Vice President in the history of her Fortune 500 company. One day, while grabbing dinner with her wise-cracking gay friend Bob, she meets Joe. He’s a good man, and handsome, but not “successful”. He’s content to take life easy. Will Susan compromise her obsession with upward mobility to find happiness with Joe?

That’s the idea you had, anyway. But when you tried to write it, you got this:

“Susan first saw Joe at the diner. He looked good. Bob was there, too.”

Read the whole article here!!

Monday, April 21, 2014

How I became a Plotter: Surprises

The main complaint/argument/slap fight I see between pantsers and plotters seems to be: "Plotting is too formulaic and there are no surprises. I want to go on the journey and learn and grow and experience everything alongside my character."

As a former pantser I admit that this sounded a bit like me. While I have thoroughly enjoyed the planning and strategy and list making that comes with becoming a plotter (see intro post for my OCD tendancies), I also love experiencing a good story and feeling like what I am creating is alive and has a mind of it's own and I have to wrangle it, and tame it, and make it mine!!

Oo, the power got to me there for a minute.

Well, I want to finally and absolutely debunk this myth.

While sticky note plotting act three I had a fairly clear vision of what my MC was going to do. The choice he was going to make was solid and seemed to be the only choice available, really. As I picked up the sticky note to write down some of the details of this choice...I wrote something completely different! Something I had never even considered! Something that made everything So-Much-Cooler, and I got that tingly feeling writer's get* when their story really comes to life for the first time.

So, myth DEBUNKED. And I would also like to say that, as a pantser, if this epiphany had occurred in the third act -when I was actually writing - it would have been a serious pain in the hiney. Rather than having to rewrite earlier scenes so they would match up with my new epiphany, here was my method:

Write new sticky note.
Unstick old sticky note.
Throw in garbage.

Yep, plotting makes epiphanies easier. I'm putting that on a t-shirt.

*I'm not the only one, right?

Next Time: Crappy First Drafts
Previous Post: Getting Unstuck

How I Became a Plotter: Getting Unstuck

I thought the whole "plotting out with sticky notes" stage would be cake. It's simply plugging info into the appropriate slots and then happily fleshing out scenes until, boom: a novel!

Yeah, no.

Right around the second half of act two, I got stuck. Not while writing the book, while sticky note plotting. I just want to make that clear. So, fyi, meticulous plotting does NOT save you from writers block.

I repeat:  Meticulous plotting does NOT save you from writer's block.

It is an unavoidable hazard of the job, my friends. When I realized this it was all I could do to not fall into my old ways and curl up on the couch with Oreos and Pinterest and think through the block.

Instead, I squared my shoulders and jutted my chin and thought: "I am a plotter now! There's no more sitting around and waiting for inspiration! No more aimless writing until things get worked out. NO! I will find an exercise or a method for this!...Dangit."

And I totally did.

Flow charts. Here's my method:

1. Figure out the question that is blocking you from moving forward.
I have found that writer's block is almost always a question I can't answer. Once I realized this writer's block became a lot less obnoxious. It's not a big brick wall, it's a puzzle. It just needs to be solved. Sometimes it might be more than one question. I recommend breaking those up into separate, smaller questions and tackling them one at a time...for sanity reasons.

2. Write the question in the middle of a piece of paper.
I like to use good old fashioned pen and paper, although I have heard people rave about a program called Scapple. I've played with it a little bit, but eventually went back to the tried and true. Just personal preference.

3. Write every possible answer you can conceive of no matter how ridiculous.
I write all of the answers around the question and draw connector lines from the question to each answer like sun rays or bicycle spokes.

4. Off of each answer, using more 'sun ray' lines, answer the following:
What would need to happen for this to work with previous plot points?
How it would affect the future plot?
Does it feel right for the mood?
How does it tie in or add meaning/depth to other parts of the story?

Eventually it starts to look like this:

Usually, by the last step, I have found a path around my writers block. I will often start to elaborate on one particular answer and neglect the others. That one is always the most appropriate solution.

So there it is. Never get stuck least not for long.

 Flow charts FTW.

Next Time: Getting surprised by plot twists as a plotter. Is it possible?
Previous Post: Sticky Note Plotting

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How I Became a Plotter: Sticky Notes

This is a long one, people. You have been warned.
Actual image of my sticky note rainbow.

So can I just take a second to emphasize the absolute life-saving necessity of a good solid plot outline? Even as a pantser I scribbled out a basic plot outline because if I tried to hold all the ideas, subplots, character interactions, and chronology inside my brain I never would have been able to organize it all into something even remotely cohesive.

As a plotter-in-training, I had big plans to outline with so much detail that all I would have to do is add some descriptive words and dialogue and I'd have a first draft. Boom.

Once I got over that delusion, I worked up a more realistic approach:

1. I wrote three headings along the top of my white board: Act 1, Act 2, Act 3.
Now, there is some debate about the 3-Act Structure and whether it is the best way to go about writing a novel. I think, maybe, this argument stems from people not wanting to trap writing/creativity into any kind of formula - which I get - but, personally, I think it's nice to have guidelines to learn from and expand on. Anyway, there are plenty of other 'structures' you can follow, this is the one I picked.

2. Along the top of the white board - beneath the "Act" headings - I listed what should occur in each act.
I used the character arc exercise here and a 3-Act structure template I can't seem to find now* and plugged in the following:

Act 1
   Reveal M.C. flaws (character arc)
   The Call/Inciting Moment (plot structure)
   1st disaster (plot structure)
Act 2
   Introduce Moral opposite (character arc)
   Attempted Solution/2nd disaster (plot structure)
   Inward training (character arc)
   3rd disaster/internal failure (plot structure)
Act 3
   Big Choice (character arc)
   Solution/Resolution (plot structure)

3. Along the left side of my white board I listed every plot, subplot, relationship, behind-the-scenes plots, I thought was important.

Here is a generic list based on mine:

M.C. main goal
M.C. secondary goal
M.C. friendship with supporting character
M.C. relationship with other supporting character
Antagonists goal/plans
Supporting character's relationships with each other
Other subplots

4. I drew vertical lines separating the plot moments and stuff, pulled out my sticky notes and a pen, and closed the door.

5. I pulled up the exercise from my previous post and started plugging the info I'd gathered there into the appropriate places on my white board outline/grid.

6.I took about three days to do this.
Partly because, kids. (Who knew they needed to eat and stuff, psht.) But also because I got stuck a couple times. The beauty of sticky notes is you can write whatever you like, see if it works, and if it doesn't: unstick, crumple, throw away. I have also become a big advocate of flow charts for working out questions/problems that arise. I may have to get into that in another post.

Whew! So that's my big outline. I refer to it just about every writing day. Just seeing it all laid out in a rainbow of sticky notes keeps me from getting discouraged because the whole story is already there, it just needs a little fattening up.

Does my method not quite work for you? Check out some more outlining gloriousness:

The many faces of plot structure - Beyond the three act structure.
Beat sheeting template - Screenwriter's method for laying out plot. Definitely trying this next time.
More beat sheeting info
All about mini plots - Breaking down each SCENE. Now we're getting crazy. Watch out.

*Google Image "plot structure" and you will find a bazillion templates
**I added setting after I was all done, but I think it's incredibly important. Yes, you can just throw your characters anywhere in the world that you've created for them, but why not have the setting reflect the mood of that moment. For instance: Your M.C. meets with a shady new character for unknown reasons. Could they meet in an alley? Sure. But what if they met in a foggy cemetery, playing up the mystery of the moment and foreshadowing a possible fatal outcome?

Previous Post: Working Out an initial Plot Outline
Next Time: Getting Unstuck (aka The Flow Chart)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sketch Dailies

The other day I stumbled on a perfectly wonderful time-waster/procrastination-enabler called Sketch Dailies. The artists that contribute are waaaayyy out of my league, but anyone can participate.
Every weekday they give their followers a drawing prompt on Twitter. Here is my submission for #mermaid:
She's an angelfish!

Update: This image was so fun the first time I thought I would make a more complete piece of artwork!

Friday, February 21, 2014

How I Became a Plotter: Working out Plot

It's time to plot out PLOT!

I'm not talking about a plot outline exactly, more of just brainstorming and getting down on paper the crucial events and interactions that need to happen in the plot. Okay, I suppose it could be called an initial outline. I say "initial" because there is another more in depth outline that involves sticky notes and obsessive detail*.

I used this article from "How to Write a Book Now" pretty much exclusively to work out basic plot points, but before I send you off to glean everything you can, here are a couple tips I learned along the way:

1. The article wraps up your outline into a nice neat little paragraph that reads like back cover copy.
While this is fantastic for a query or synopsis I wanted more of a numbered/lettered outline that I could scan quickly for info. It's easy to do this by simply leaving the 8 different elements numbered and writing your info below each title.

2.The article suggests just plugging in one thing at a time.
For instance, number one is "Story Goal" and the article suggests you simply write one main goal. I think for the back-cover-copy result this is fine, but for a laying out all your plot details, not so much. Obviously, there will be a main goal (or problem to solve) in your story, but there may also be subplots or a secondary goal for your character. I added everything and my initial outline ended up laid out something like this:

Story Goal
1. (main goal)
2. (subplot)
1. (consequence of not reaching main goal)
2. (consequence of not reaching subplot goal)
1. Main goal
   a (requirement to reach main goal)
   b (another requirement to reach main goal)
   c "
2. Subplot
   a (requirement to reach subplot goal)
   b "
   c "

*As a plotter-in-training I have may be approaching neurotic levels of plotting and planning but I don't care. Go big or go home, right?

Next time: Sticky Notes and the Big Outline!
Previous Post: Characters (part 2)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

How I became a plotter: Characters (part 2)

As promised, HERE is the character sheet to end all character sheets.

So maybe that's a teensy exaggeration, but it is helpful. I created it to help establish ways that my MC could drive the plot while I was still in the novel idea stage. It is not full of things like height and eye color. Instead, it has questions about weaknesses, strengths, and backstory. Check it out and feel free to download.*

In addition to this, I'd like to touch on a couple things extra things in regards to plotting character:

1. Villians.
Give your villain a backstory. In my research, numerous articles and blog posts state that villains should not exist merely to stop/challenge your MC. If you take your MC out of the story, your villain should be able to fill his role. He must have strengths and weaknesses. He must have motivations that make sense. So while you are happily filling out character sheets (I've provided some more of my favorites below) fill one out for your villain as well.

2. Character Drives Plot.
Yes, I know I already harped on this last time but I found a fantastic article about this writing tip that you absolutely must read. It not only talks about how and why to make sure your MC drives the plot, but it gives a Plotter-in-Training a wonderful outline for how and WHEN to do this in a novel!

Here's my quick and dirty summary:

Act 1: MC's flaw.
Showcase your MC's major weakness in an early scene through his/her reaction to a situation.
Act 2 (early): Moral Opposite.
If your MC is logical, have him/her meet someone highly emotional. This will challenge your MC and force change.
Act 2 (middle): Training.
Have your MC start encountering situations where his weaknesses are challenged so he can start growing or 'training' for a new strength.
Act 2 (end): Fail.
Create a situation where the MC must choose to either stick with his newly learned strengths or fall back on his old weakness. Have him backslide into his old weakness.
Act 3: Final Choice.
This is the big scene when the stakes are high and your character must perform or all is lost. If you are writing a 'comedy' your character will stick to his new strengths and prevail.

Here is the article with the invaluable details for this glorious outline.

And here are links to a few of my favorite (and detailed) character sheets:
Character Traits on deviantArt
Categorized Characteristics
Character Interview
Perceptions of your Character

Next Time: Plotting out plot.
Previous Post: Characters (part 1)

*If you share, credit back to me? Thanks! *hugs*

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How I became a Plotter: Characters

Art by Me

Protagonist drives Plot. NOT the other way around. Take note of the illustration. Memorize it.

In my recent quest to become a plotter, I have done a bit of online researching and learning. This character-driving-the-plot thing may be the single most important thing I've learned so far.

Sooo I may be a little late to the party on this crucial writing tip* but at least I'm here and I brought a party gift**. Apparently, many beginning writers (myself included) come up with a fantastic idea or situation and a likeable character and put that character into the situation like a game piece to be moved around, experiencing all sorts of interesting things.

While the character may indeed be interesting and the situations unique and entertaining, if your character is not in the driver's seat, your story will not be believable or keep your readers hooked.

Here's the big question: HOW do your get your character in the driver's seat??

Give your character weaknesses.
For serious. It's so simple I want to slap myself.

Your character's weakness give them reasons to be in specific plot situations. Situations that will challenge him and help him grow into the true hero you want him to be at the end of your story***.

So how does this apply to plotting? I found an exercise for you!

1. Because it is often easier to make a list of your hero's strengths, follow this link to a list of strengths.
2.Take those strengths and exaggerate them to the point that they become weaknesses.
3. Think up a few situations that might help a person overcome those weaknesses.
4.Map out ALL of your characters weaknesses in a mad plotting frenzy!
(Tip: Try this for your Antagonist too! Even villains have strengths, they are simply masked by how exaggerated they've become)

For a details about this exercise and to read more about why it's important for characters to have weaknesses, check out the blog post I learned from here.

Next Time: Tying your characters weaknesses into your plot. (Also - the character sheet to end all character sheets!)
Previous Post: Getting your Novel Idea

*As a pantser I kind of made this happen through lots of trial, error, and revising until a situation made sense for my character. This, of course, required much deleting of scenes that were 'cool' but served no purpose.

** Right-click approved. Save and share my illustration with your writerly friends!

***Unless you are writing a tragedy, in which case your MC will not grow and overcome his weaknesses.

Friday, January 31, 2014

How I Became a Plotter: Ideas

(art by me)
As a pantser I came across story ideas naturally: overhearing a conversation, through inspiring music lyrics, maybe from a vivid dream.

While these idea-harvesting methods can definitely produce, I am on a mission to become a full-fledged plotter. I intend to use as much strategy and planning and list-making as is humanly possible.*

I needed some way to come up with decent ideas quickly AND for when I am not feeling particularly creative. Enter Google. So I actually found several good idea generators but my favorite is one I had never heard of before. After trying it out, I couldn't stop playing around with it!

Here is a summary of the exercise:

1. Head on over to IMDB.
2. Try not to get distracted.
3. Click on their Top 250 list.
4. Pick a movie and view the Synopsis (It's easier if it's a movie you are not familiar with)
5. Use your imagination and think up alternate settings, types of characters, and situations for that synopsis. Tip: Don't think to hard, just have fun.
6. Open up a blank document, or pull out a sheet of paper, and plug your new setting, characters, situations into the corresponding areas of the IMDB synopsis.
7. BOOM! Instant (detailed) story idea!

For the full details on the IMDB exercise and to see more idea-getting goodies ("Enlist your Passion" is another favorite) Check out How to Write a Book Now's idea page!

Next Time: Characters (and how they relate to plot)
Previous Post: How I Became a Plotter - The Intro

*Consider yourself warned.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How I Became a Plotter: Intro

I used to be a pantser.

Ah. It feels good to get that out in the open.* Actually, technically I still am a pantser, I'm pantsing this post right now. What I should have said is I am learning to be a plotter.**

A little tidbit about me. I am...let's call it: genuinely-interested-in-being-organized-and-having-a-plan-for-everything. I am one of those weird people who gets excited about making lists, filling out forms, creating charts, and neatly ziplocking all of the outfits in my suitcase when I go on vacation.***  I am not OCD. I am also not in denial.

Anyway, why I thought I had ANY business being a pantser in the first place is beyond me. Maybe because, as an illustrator, I have had this image of a messy, paint splattered, eccentric artist burned into my brain since youth. But whatever the reason, pantsing is not for me.

Now, lucky you, I've decided to document my journey from lost pantser to full-fledged (successful?) plotter over the course of a single story. In other words, I plan to walk you through my plotting progress as I form a story idea, plot outline, polish a manuscript and everything in between. I hope someone finds it helpful.

To start off this plotting journey, I Googled.
Let me tell you, the plotting resources are nearly endless. Here are a few of my favorites:

Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps
Omg, just take an afternoon a devour this entire site. I'm not even kidding.

Writers Write
Great tips all the time on a variety of writing related things.

Smooth Draft Editing
I love their tips on building characters.

PS Literary Pinterest Boards
Seriously, they pin some fantastic stuff. Everything from writing strategies to social media tips.

J.K. Rowling's Order of the Phoenix plotting notes
If this doesn't inspire the plotter in you, I don't know what will.

Next time on The Blog: Using planning and strategy to come up with a story idea.

*There is nothing wrong with pantsing if it works for you. It just didn't work for me...which I learned the hard way.

**For those who do not speak Writer, a plotter is NOT an evil villain who sits around twirling his curly moustaches and plotting evil plans. Neither is a pantser someone who runs around de-pantsing strangers. These terms refer to HOW a writer writes. The plotter lays out their story in detail so they know every twist and turn their story will take and how it will end. Whereas a pantser refers to the writer who sits in front of a blank screen or sheet of paper and writes as they are inspired. They let the story and the characters evolve as they will.

***Please tell me I'm not the only person who does's is such a space saver.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Squash in Progress

Since many of you enjoyed seeing how I created "The Rebel", I decided to do another art-in-progress post. This one is of my sweet little creativity mascot, Squash. He recently wriggled his way into a new children's book story idea.

First, I sketch in Photoshop CS5. This one is fairly clean but without much detail:

Next I choose/refine my lines and add details. I usually do this traditionally, with ink and paper, but I've been trying to make the move over to digital. You can still see the sketchiness in the under layers here:
Now it's time to pick my colors and block them in. I really enjoy doing this part in Photoshop because if I'm not sure about a color (which is often) I can easily play around with them until I'm satisfied:

Finally, I shade and add highlights. I think many pro artists who understand Photoshop better than I have ways of using its lighting tools to make this step easier, but I pick my shadow and highlight colors using the trial and error experience I've gained creating art with colored pencils:

There he is! Such a sweet little guy! He's got nothing but love...and spikey tentacles.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

"Disney" Eyes.

I've always wanted to work for Disney. *sigh* Have to practice the Disney Princess eyes first. ;)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Color Your World

This is why I love Fred (of my picture book Frigl and Fred Go to Bed); he creates his world without fear. He simply does his thing, making messes and art in the same stroke and loving every minute. 

How awesome would it be if we all gave in to creativity without holding back for fear of messes or mistakes?

It'd be beyond awesome. It'd be beawesome.