Outlining a Series

Thank you to Tony Jones at The Craft of Words for hosting my blog post: Outlining a Series.

Because plotter or pantser, you tend to need some kind of outline when you’re writing a series:


Outlining a series

While The Copper Witch is not my first novel, it is the first series I have ever written. As a pantser (someone who tends to ‘fly by the seat of their pants’ while writing) this has proven to be a special challenge—namely because I have a hard, hard time sticking to outlines. While this isn’t a big deal when it comes to writing one book, sticking to some sort of outline becomes more important when the ending of one book affects the plot of the next one.

So how do you stick to an outline when you aren’t the type of writer who likes them?

1. Outline only the Major Plot Points

One of the major problems I have with outlining comes from the fact that once I have written things down, I lose interest in the story—it’s already written down, more or less, so why should I take the time to write it again? I actually write best when I don’t know the end of the story and want to see what happens. Since that’s not entirely a possibility with a series, I’ve managed to come to a happy medium with knowing the ending, but only vaguely. My main character has to end up in X city with Y person, but how exactly she gets there, doesn’t matter so much.

Only writing down the parts that absolutely have to happen for Book 2 to still be on track allows for some creativity in the actual writing process while not completely writing yourself into a corner when it comes to move on.

2. Work in Paragraphs

Or at least don’t feel like you need to follow any certain outlining structure. When I first started trying to outline, I went straight to the letter and Roman numeral structure I was taught to use in high school outlining papers. The problem? All of a sudden what had been fun (figuring out where a story was going to go) started to feel like school-work. By simply…. Read More

NaNo Prep

To read my guest blog today about working with a small publisher click here (thank you to Marianne Sciucco for hosting!)

For those looking for help preparing for NaNoWriMo (starting in just over a week) read on.

Anyone who has spent any time around my blog knows that I am a big supporter of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)–both The Bleeding Crowd and soon(ish) to be released The Copper Witch spending at least part of their writing in the whirlwind that is NaNoWriMo.

And with November fast approaching, I, like many others, am once again full swing into NaNo planning. While I tend to be a pantser (someone who “flies by the seat of their pants” while writing) at heart, I at least like to get some world building and characterization started before jumping into NaNoWriMo full-force. Everyone, however, has their own way of preparing (if they do at all) for the literary abandon that comes in November.

Luckily for everyone, there is the twitter hashtag #NaNoPrep which is really heating up as October progresses. So, in the interest of helping all the Wrimos out there, a digest of my favorite #NaNoPrep tips:

– From Kristen Grace (@KayEeeGee) Tips for doing NaNoWriMo while also being a student: http://bit.ly/1gturXE
– From Heather Mihok (@HeatherMihok) Some tips for what a Nano Plot might look like http://wp.me/py7Aw-3uc 
– From NaNoWriMo itself (@NaNoWriMo) The Adoptable Forum, where you can pick up abandoned characters, setting, and full plots to use/inspire yourself http://bit.ly/1hCztP9
– From io9 (@io9) Tips for writing an amoral main character: http://bit.ly/17GKc5C 
– From Mary (@Maryiswriting) tips on things to consider before you start NaNoWriMo: http://goo.gl/eGkwCC 
– From Matthew Wright (@MJWrightNZ) Some things to think about before starting your novel: http://bit.ly/1eq08iE

And before we leave off, an awesome tip from veteran WriMo, Skye Fairwin (@SkyeFairwin):

Delete nothing, no matter how bad you think it is. Often what you write during NaNo seems terrible at the time, but when you go back to it a month or two after November, you find it’s actually not that bad at all. Sometimes it’s great!

You can keep up to date on NaNo Prep tips on Twitter your self, or (as always) get writing tips from my blog right here–many of which will be NaNo-based for the next month as I try to knock out yet another 50,000 words this year. Hopefully I didn’t use everything up for Camp NaNo.

Good luck to everyone planning on participating!

The Name Game

While working on a separate post for tomorrow, I came to the realization that a number of questions my fellow WriMos ask when looking for plot help in the NaNoWriMo forums have to do with naming, be it a character, tavern, city, or anything else.

I completely understand that. Names are important. They set a tone, and I know I personally can’t develop a character until I have a name for them (I’m just not able to write “X said to Y” like some people can while looking for names, it seems).

Luckily for us writers, the internet abounds with resources to find names (Lucky for my readers, too, or all my minor characters would have the first name that came to mind–which oddly enough tends to be Kyle.) So, in the interest of consolidating all those helpful sites I use when looking for/making up names…


Character Names:

behindthename.com: Personally, I consider this site a bit like the Holy Grail of naming resources. Not only do they have an amazingly long list of names (each with a full explanation of the history behind it) but you can sort them by country,  see what names were the most popular in the year your character was born, or even search by meaning. They have also recently started surnames.behindthename.com, which has last names. The list isn’t quite as extensive as the original behindthename site so far, but it’s still a great source.

thinkbabynames.com: Though I am partial to behindthename, thinkbabynames.com is also a good source for first names, including the rarer names behindthename doesn’t have listed. For example where “Me’Shell” might only get you this list of similarly spelled names on behindthename, it’s featured today on thinkbabynames, which will tell you it is a variant of Michelle.

babynamewizard.com: Another useful baby name site. Perhaps most useful is it’s front page “Find a Name” feature, which lets you search for a name based of certain criteria such as “Must start with __” or “Can’t start with __” If you really want an uncommon but traditional sounding name for a character that doesn’t start with B, but ends with an A, this is your site.

census.gov: If you’re looking for relatively common last names (for US-based) characters, this list provides, by percentage, the top ranked last name down to 88799th place. (Sorry Johnson, Smith has replaced you as most popular once again.)

wikipedia.org: Yes, it had to pop up eventually, and now that it isn’t blacked out it’s really quite useful when naming characters, especially (I find) this list of common surnames. You can pick which country your character comes from, and pick one that is currently common in the region.

Place Names:

wikipedia.org: Once again, and top ranking this time. Most of the place names I use actually come from wikipedia. Whether I’m stealing a common town/city name for a middle-of-nowhere US town, finding something French sounding, or making up my own town using generic forms of British/Irish place names, wikipedia is a great site. For example, my made up town of Ardbost? Comes from the generic list on wikipedia (Ard: Height, Bost: Farm. Named for the hill the town was first built on).

Serendipity Place Name Generator: A great place to get random suggestions for made up place names. I generally set it to generate 50 at a time (the most it will) and then pick one/come up with some combination of a few when one strikes my fancy. They also have Fantasy Place Name Generator

Chaotic Shiny Place Name Generator: Another fun place name generator. Also will put in real landmark names so you get fun creations such as “Taelus Glade” and “Dugfresh Pond”

Finally, since I have to give in to my NaNoWriMo Fangirl-ness, I can’t for get the NaNoWriMo Adoption Society. This forum is where any WriMo who can’t use a name, plot, title or anything else they think up is free to leave it for the needy. With how many things are there, if you don’t find a place name, or character name, or anything else you want to use, you’ll at least probably have some idea sparked while going through them all.

Concerning Pseudonyms

This morning I woke up to an always welcome sight in my inbox — a “You may have gotten however many rejections before on this manuscript, but this isn’t one. We’re interested in publishing your novel” letter.

They are currently working out a contract, so nothing’s signed (I won’t fully be excited until I’ve looked that over. No counting chickens before they’ve hatched), but it got me to thinking about one very important topic: pseudonyms.

Now, anyone who has ever gone over to glance at my biography page can see a list of published works. I didn’t use a pseudonym for any of them. Honestly, I never saw much of a need to/my name is awesome/I’m a little vain (if the previous slash didn’t get that across, I mean, Dall – beginning of the alphabet, easy to pronounce, generally pretty…)

This manuscript, however, is a little different. While I have never written anything like a memoir (see my “Write What You Know” post to see why. My life just isn’t that interesting) this manuscript is closer to being autobiographical than anything else I have written. And while I will neither confirm nor deny this, there might be some characters surprisingly close to people I know in my real life. None are those people, none are named to be those people, but there may more may not be some striking similarities.

I assure everyone in my life who is now wondering if her or she has told me anything incriminating, everything is completely fictional, and with each edit it has become more and more so (again, my life=boring, had to spice it up a little), but still…

And thus we find ourselves back where I started. Obviously a pseudonym would be handy in separating anything personal that is left in the work from me, and thus anyone who might feel they are unfavorably portrayed in a book that may or may not contain a likeness of someone potentially like them. Of course, I’m not talking about slander (note: pseudonyms do not protect you from being sued for slander), but it would add a little more privacy for everyone. And there are other benefits of course, as outlined in articles such as this, this, and this.

But then, there are the bad things, like what do you do about marketing? Obviously, having written under the name “Jessica Dall”, I have always marketed myself as such. Everything from my webpage (jessicadall.yolasite.com), to my Twitter account (@JessicaDall), to this blog are, quite noticeably, under Jessica Dall. People talk about “branding” in many articles about pseudonyms. This work would be a stark break with the “brand”.

And there’s the fact that everyone who might be in the book would probably know I had written it anyway. I would still have to market it, of course. And I’m not planning on undergoing any sort of identity-hiding plastic surgery just to separate myself from the novel. It is just a novel after all. (Though I bet doing all book signings with my head under a paper bag would be quite a marketing gimmick…)

So is a pseudonym worth it? I actually don’t know. When I sign something (assuming I actually sign something) I will have to come to a decision. But for now, I’m still rather up in the air. Truly, it seems to be a matter of personal preference. People chose to use, and not to use, pen names for any number of reasons. And so, I’ll actually have to figure out those reasons. Great.