Wednesday, July 24, 2013

When you outgrow your outline

When writing - whether it be a short story or an epic novel or series - do you outline or not?

Do you surrender yourself to the creative process, letting your mind take you wherever it desires, even if you get lost? Or do you like to take at least a general road map - a picture of how to get from Point A to Point B (or Z)?

I think I'm somewhere in between. Maybe you are, too. When I began my urban fantasy work I started with what I considered a detailed outline: chapters numbered and labeled, with a short synopsis of what I hoped to accomplish in each one. I created a different character list and summary, adding backstory, motivations, problems and character solutions for each person in my story. Hell, I even named their horses.

But now that I'm entering double-digits in my writing (this is a big deal to me, considering how long it took me to get here!!), I find myself going far beyond the confines of my little outline. As I've written according to my own rules, other events and motivations have taken shape in this story - things I never imagined possible in the world I created. And I'm happy about that. To think of the adventures, complications, miscommunications, snark, humor, tension and other fun my readers would have missed out on had I simply stuck to the outline!

So, to outline or not to outline.

There seem to be two distinct groups on this issue, one on each side of the argument.

At Daily Writing Tips, this is made clear, along with the pros and cons of creating and adhering to an outline. Some of the highlights of the pro-outline argument:

  • you won't get lost 
  • writing with a sense of flow 
  • knowing if the story is good or not 
  • freedom to stray if a better way presents itself 

Now, some of the anti-outline arguments:

  • it spoils all the fun 
  • the story idea wasn't as good as you thought 
  • doesn't fit with your writing style 

I'm sure you can guess what I'm going to say here, and it's what everyone else says, too: there is no right and wrong in writing. It just IS. So if you like to plan ahead and feel secure in your outline, go for it. If you like for your process to be completely free of restraints and welcome the infinite possibilities associated with free-styling it, you should do that.

Or if you're like me, having a little structure to start might help you determine if your plot baby has legs, if it has enough of the right stuff to become a great story or novel, or if you're going to run into a word-block after chapter five. I think outlining is helpful for those things: conceptualizing your book and getting ideas on the page starts those creative juices working. So when you open your doc or page, you don't just stare at it, wondering if you should just do some laundry. For me, writing the outline energized me and excited me. I had a beginning, a middle and an end and I couldn't wait to get started.

But recognize it's okay to stray from the outline. I certainly have - and thank goodness. And if your inner control freak is yanking on her (or his) hair and munching on pencils, add to your outline, even if it's after the fact. I've done that, too. Even though it's cheating a bit.

They're my rules, after all, so it's okay if I break them.

Happy writing! 

Tell me what YOU do - outline or no outline?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Book Review - Sex and the Single Vampire

Sex and the Single Vampire (Dark Ones, #2)Sex and the Single Vampire by Katie MacAlister
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

What drew me to this book was the paranormal element - Summoner Allegra Telford is under the gun to produce a ghost for her boss... or she's out of a job. So the idea of introducing a vampire wasn't so far-fetched and I went with it. Apparently there's a first book that I missed in this series, but frankly, the info dumps led me to believe I didn't miss anything by skipping it.
Which unfortunately brings me to the substance of my review. This book was a hot mess. And not in a good way. Aside from the aforementioned (and numerous) info dumps throughout the book - and done in a way that was much too convenient for the lazy plot - the book just seemed to be all over the place. Like it didn't know what to do next, so it just did everything. Verb tenses changed A LOT - sometimes within the same sentence. And I'm sorry, but as a fellow writer (and an editor, I just cannot condone that. The dialogue was ridiculous in places, with characters talking over each other about completely unrelated things. Seriously, what purpose do Joy and Roxy serve except as really obvious comic relief? They are not integral to the plot AT ALL. Allie would have met Christian all on her own and she's a smart girl - she would have gotten a pretty quick read on his situation.
Let's take a moment and ponder names: I'm sorry, but since 50 Shades of Crap, I'm forever allergic to a name like Christian. And I must admit at times this book read like reworked fan fiction. So it made me wonder... And I looked up Love Spell online and found out it was defunct. It was also published by Harper Collins ebooks, but I have to wonder about the circumstances. I also found a number of silly typos (things like typing a z instead of an s). Not to mention so many awkwardly worded and way too long sentences that had me doing double and triple takes to see if I'd read them correctly.
Technical edits aside, I feel like this book could have benefited from a good developmental edit. Plot points seem to tumble out as after-thoughts, explained away via info dumps and long narratives. Magical "rules" in Allie's world are explained only when she's doing something and the reader doesn't know why or how. It's certainly a good lesson for other writers: get your world-building and lore down BEFORE you get working on the book. Talk about wasted opportunity. Also wasted is a potential glimpse into Christian's likely-sordid past. Nothing! Oh, Allie mentions as a side-note that somewhere along the way, he told her he was once a knight. Seriously? Just throw it in as explanation for his "heroic" qualities? I'm not buying it.
And regarding C.J. Dante's "charms" - seriously, people, when are we going to stop worshiping men who prefer to dominate and control their women? I do find it redeemable that Allie doesn't put up with his crap, but it's only because she was the victim of spousal abuse. Really?! Why does everyone have to have the sob story? Why can't women just be strong when they want to be, and men be flexible in relationships? Why do we romanticize these things? But I digress.
Another thing that kind of bugs me about this book is the title (and the cover design). Frankly, this book has little to do with sex. Or a single vampire. It has to do with the relationship and connection between a Dark One and his Beloved. Are there female Dark Ones, I wonder? Don't know. The book doesn't focus at all about Christian's world. I'm throwing in my vote for this book to be renamed to something like... Beloved? The Bloodsucker and the Ghost Hunter?
Thankfully, this book didn't take long to read. Now I'm going to check out Chuck Wendig's recommendations for good reads. I'm tired of stumbling around in the dark.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tuesday Aequitas Teaser...and slugs

Hi, everyone. Well, obviously I missed my Monday teaser, so I'll deliver that today.

In addition, there's something I just need to get off my chest:

Ignore the negativity - in life and in your writing. 

 I know, easier said than done. 

 But something happened to me, and I came to the realization that allowing negativity to influence me and have power over me makes ONLY MY LIFE worse. The person who's spreading it? His or her life is already in the crapper. They're also probably so used to it that they can't see the forest through the trees, if you know what I mean.

Let's metaphor this, shall we? Let's call the mean person a slug. A slug is a slug. It can't help what it is - a slow-moving, slime-trail-leaving garden pest. They are content to travel from yard to yard, eating anything that looks remotely tasty, leaving nasty little slime wakes and vegetable carnage. You shake your fists in a bout of exhausted rage! No slugs allowed! But still they come.

Why let it devour your lettuce crop?  Why let the person have the power to undercut your hard work and sanity? Instead, put out your little containers of beer, or dance around your yard with some salt if you're feeling particularly aggressive! Don't let the slugs into your garden!

We alone have the power to enact change. This applies to our ability to shut others out who would do us harm. Put up your defenses and get rid of those slugs.

Life is too short for slime.

P.S. By the way, did you know there's actually a web site about slugs? Yup. Check it out here.

And now, your Tuesday Teaser of Aequitas, #4. Enjoy. 

Undead creatures sure do bleed a lot, Themis thought as she swung her scythe, slicing one of the things in half and sending both pieces slumping to the ground. Others littered the city’s empty street in writhing little piles of dead flesh, spoils of her efforts. The artificial glow of the streetlights lit the blood pooling on the sidewalk and street. The sun would take care of that evidence.

Plucking a silver lighter from a hidden pocket in her cloak, she tossed the small flame onto the pile of body parts she dragged into a nearby alley and crossed her arms as the makeshift bonfire roared to life, the satisfying burn of acrid smoke in her nose. Snowflakes began to swirl in little dervishes, sucked toward the heat, and the winter wind blew wisps of her long hair around wildly.

No time to admire the carnage, though; the remaining vampire jumped on Themis’ back, attempting to sever her head from her spine. She dropped her weapon, burying the unbreakable blade in the strip of broken up asphalt under her feet before reaching behind her to dislodge the pest. Themis grunted under the strain, but finally the vampire’s grip on her cloak and leather armor faltered, allowing a shoulder throw. They sparred again, the bloodsucker landing more like a cat than a reanimated corpse. Watching the undead move had always fascinated her, Themis thought, as she flicked back her thick red braid and pushed the wayward strands out of her face.

The vampire hissed, baring its fangs at Themis and stepped forward. These things really have no sense of self-preservation.

“Frightening,” Themis said dully. The lack of recognition confirmed her foe was another newly-made vampire. The lack of experience was a plus for her, but the strength of a new vampire could not be underestimated. Both moved in a blur of blocks and strikes, showcasing their speed and inhuman strength. If Themis could grow weary, she would have. Lacking a biological imperative for oxygen had its advantages. Would either of them ever tire—

A searing pain lit her belly aflame, and she watched as the vampire withdrew a blade, now covered in a viscous black liquid.

That was Themis’ first mistake.