The Journal, Thursday, October 25

Hey Folks,

Writing fiction is my escape. It’s fun, and I love nothing more than being shoulder-deep in a story, racing along with my characters, almost breathlessly anticipating what will happen next.

It’s so enjoyable for me that I occasionally use writing as a carrot. It dangles from a string, hanging from a stick that’s tied to my balding old head. It’s the only way I can think of to get my muley old butt to pay attention to Heinlein’s Rule 4 and move forward.

That will be the case today. No more fiction writing for me until I create covers for my last three novels (the Nick Spalding series) and two more Mobster Tales 10-story collections. (The hardest part is finding five appropriate cover photos.)

Then I have to prep the books for publication. That won’t take nearly as long as finding the photos and creating the covers.

The last novel is with my first reader, so I can’t publish it yet, but I can at least prepare the other two novels and the two collections for publication (add front and back matter, format, etc.). And I can publish the first novel and one of the collections.

So today (or beginning today) I’ll create five covers, prep four books for publication, and release two. Then I’ll allow myself to go play again.

Tough love, but it’s gotta be done. (grin) I’ll report here each day on the process and how it’s going. Should be a hoot, although one filled to the tipping point with sheer drudgery. Well, when compared with writing.

For now, here’s another topic for your liesurely perusal.

Topic: A Different Kind of Outline

When we think of outlines, we typically think of a multi-page behemoth, along the left margin of which are, in descending order, Roman numerals, upper-case alpha characters, arabic numerals, and lower-case alpha characters.

You can go further than that if you want, including each of the above in parens. Sigh.

In fact, I’ve heard of novelists actually writing novella-length outlines before they ever write a word of the actual novel. Some of them take months just writing the outline.

But there are other ways to construct an outline. They’re still primarily conscious-mind endeavors, and I will never advocate allowing the conscious mind into your writing process.

But at least these other ways are not as intrusive and controlling as that “formal” outline we all learned back in fifth or sixth grade.

The first I want to discuss (and toss out) is the “mind map.”

As I recall, this is basically a stream-of-consciousness kind of thing by which the writer brainstorms with himself and allows each idea he jots on the page (usually in a circle or square) to generate the next idea and the next and so on.

This technique might even lead to alternate ideas in much the way each decision we make leads to an infinite number of futures.

The better mind maps do not follow a strictly linear flow, which I understand is a good thing.

I guess my question here would be, why not just write the story in the same way? (Except you wouldn’t have to worry about your circles or squares being the right size, the little lines that lead from one to the next, etc.)?

In a way, I mind-map all of my stories, but the map never sees paper. I write the initial sentence. Then I write the next sentence, which I assume was generated by the first, and so on.

So for my money, the mind map is pretty much as silly and unnecessary as the formal outline.

So is there an outline that can help guide you through your book without soaking up all your time and energy? Um, yes. Yes there is.

Years ago, when I spent a lot of time asking other writers their method of outlining, I learned one from an excellent storyteller named Deborah LeBlanc.

Deborah was a major author for a medium-sized publisher (now defunct). Frankly, her method still stirs my interest from time to time. It actually makes sense as a way to provide an overall structure that isn’t overbearing.

Ms. LeBlanc knew from long practice (and the publisher’s requirement) that her book would be roughly 400 pages and about 100,000 words. Her chapters would average 10 pages each, about 2500 words. (That’s two major scenes per chapter, if you’re counting).

So she would begin by putting 1, 2, 3 … 40 down the left margin of a sheet of paper.

Her novels were always multiple-viewpoint, so she added a POV character’s name next to each number. As I recall, she said she tried to give the protagonist two of every five chapters, sometimes in a row, sometimes not. The other chapters were in the POV of the antagonist or a lesser character (good or bad).

After that, she wrote the hook (in this case a single sentence that would grab the reader’s interest) for Chapter 1, then for Chapter 2 and so on through Chapter 40.

When she’d listed the POV characters and the hooks all the way through, she’d start with Chapter 39 and add a cliffhanger that would “attach” to the hook at the beginning of Chapter 40. Interesting to note, the cliffhanger usually just popped into her head (came from her subconscious).

Then she moved back to Chapter 38 and added a cliffhanger that would attach to the hook at the beginning of Chapter 39. And so she worked all the way back to Chapter 1.

This writer always had a one-line premise when she started out. The premise of one book was something she’d read in the newspaper (they used to have those) about young teenage girls using something called “sigils” to attract dark powers.
The girls in question were cutting themselves, carving the desired sigils directly into their skin, an act that made the power of the sigil much stronger.

Anyway, by the time she’d worked her way from Chapter 40 back to Chapter 1 adding cliffhangers, she had a general direction the book would take.

But after that, when she started actually writing, she let the characters surprise her with the story.

But how could they surprise her when the cliffhangers and hooks were already in place?

Simple (and this is important): If the story veered in an unexpected direction, she went with the story and used the cliffhanger/hook combo the characters gave her instead of the ones she’d originally come up with.

In other words, with her “outline” she had a basic framework in mind and a basic structure (a safety net) on paper. But when the story changed, she changed the structure to fit the story, not the other way around.

This is still far too much work for me, but maybe it’s something that would interest you. (grin) If so, feel free. And good luck.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Dreams” at You can skip the article, but (OMG!) don’t skip the Passive Guy’s comments.

See “Business Musings: Copyright Savvy” at Folks,this is a must-read.

See “A Get Out of Jail Free Card for Some Authors” at

For a short, fun video of ziplining, see “While I Recover My Brain” at

See “It’s Time To Share…” at

If you’re a fantasy writer (and reader), see “The 2018 Truly Epic Fantasy Bundle” at

Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 1240 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 1240

Writing of ()

Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… 22124
Total fiction words for the year………… 358850
Total nonfiction words for the month… 14770
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 147866
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 506466

Calendar Year 2018 Novels to Date………………………… 8
Calenday Year 2018 Novellas to Date…………………… 2
Calendar Year 2018 Short Stories to Date……… 11
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)………………………………………… 34
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)……………………………………… 6
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………………… 193