Anna’s Advice: Week 3

So I skipped last week’s advice column because I had a book review to put up instead, but this week there are no book reviews to offer so it’s back to advice . . . this time of a different/longer nature. Not only do I have a few bits of advice to give, I have some reading suggestions for all the writers out there who are interested in researching their craft and delving deeper into the writing world.

(Mariella, this post contains those book names you were asking for.)

First off, however, is the advice column.

Advice Q&A:

A couple weeks ago, Krista said:

“I’m having problems with outlining a book. I know the basics and have seen many different ways of approaching outlining. I would like to find a organized and less confusing outlining method. Because everyone I have found are a little bit unorganized and confusing. And I want to approach my new draft (I have yet to start officially)of my proud and joy book baby. I would really want to know of a really good way of outlining my baby better. Any advice on that? What is your method with dealing with the subject of outlining a book/story?”


There are so many methods of outlining out there, it is hard to find one that is generally right for you. More easily explained, it is hard to take another person’s method of outlining and apply it to your own work. There are books out there filled with tips and suggestions on how to outline a novel and keep all your thoughts organized, but most of the time it is confusing and only works for some people. The best advice I can give you  is to take an idea that you think is the most organized and then twist it around to make it your own. Add your own style: keep what works, change what doesn’t.

For me, I outline on my computer. I open a fresh document and then, from beginning to end, list the main points of the story that I know must go into the book. My outlines are usually more detailed, adding in bits of dialogue and descriptions, but if you more desire an outline that leaves room for the unexpected, the outline can be simply the skeleton of the story with the clay still to be added. I never try to outline chapter by chapter because with my style I end up with very long chapters and few plot points being covered. Instead I use my outline to know how to get to point C by making sure point A and point B are satisfyingly written.

Here is an example of my outline (from a story that is still in the works, at 90k, just in the middle of a break):

  • Cor goes back to Sonny after a time of frightened and confused aimless wandering, only to find Sonny gone. Sonny’s cell rings and Cor picks up to talk to Master, who tells him that unless he provides that information, Sonny will die, and that he has 48 hours.
  • Corbett had a previous dream, so he remembers the code his mother gave him, but he doesn’t know what it goes to. Still, something about “plans” and now so desperate to find them, he goes to his old house and talks to the mother there, with two children, about if he could go down into the basement on a whim.
  • Basement untouched, too creepy. He goes down there for the first time in his life and sees what his parents left behind. Thinks if they’d been hiding something, with a code, they’d keep it here not at work, which is perhaps why they were murdered, because they’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time and resisted.
  • Finds a niche behind a mirror that had been soldered to the wall but broken over time; inside is a safe which, he realizes, the code must go to. Inside the safe are blueprints, notes about an experiment to heighten the human race, everything Bex is that the psychologists are trying to crack. 

And so on. My suggestion is to outline a lot more simple than I do; I tend to outline to a point where I over-explain every little detail. However, it seems to work for me and helps me know where to go in the story without getting lost or wondering what to do next, so I just go with it.

To be honest, I don’t think there is a tried and true way for outlining that works for every single person. If there is, I have yet to come across it. The best way to find the method of outlining that will work for you is to try various different schemes and put your own twist on it until you find one you are the most comfortable with, and the one that you will swear on years from now as the correct way to go. If it gets confusing or frustrating, toss it and try again (sounds a lot like writing, doesn’t it).

Also a couple weeks ago, Cherise said:

“Do you keep a notebook of quotes and passages you’ve saved from other books? I’d love to be able to underline parts of books that I love, but most of the books I read are ones I don’t own. On the other hand, copying some of the snippets I love sounds time-consuming. How do you keep track of what you liked?”


This isn’t exactly advice, I guess, but I actually don’t keep a notebook of quotes and passages. However, I realized recently while reading books and underlining the passages I found most enjoyable with a new eye and a bright black pen that it would be a lot of fun to take an old notebook with a leather bound cover, glue feathers and a writers pen on the front, and then scrawl in passages and quotes and other little “exciting finds” with colored ink and swirly glitter pens. *ahem* I’ve seen a bunch of cool notebooks and the idea seemed much better than marking up each book with ink that won’t come out, which will deter people from borrowing the books in future (I also tend to mark up each margin with little notes-to-self, ha).

And this is really not a good idea, but I keep track of what I like by either marking up the book or just telling myself to remember it in the storages of my brain for later. It either costs me a nice looking book or the realization that I actually forgot whatever it was that impressed me days later when I’m intending to write it down or use something like it within my own writing.

Writing Book Suggestions:

I’ve been excited for this section of this blog post of mine ever since I thought it up a few days ago.

As a writer, I have been known to spend plenty of my time at the bookstore. Show of hands, who else is guilty of this? Everyone? It’s one of our greatest weaknesses, being in a building devoted purely to the enjoyment of reading and the protection of a wealth of knowledge. All of it, contained within four walls, all at our itching, bruised, type-tired fingertips.

(In fact, I was there yesterday.)

I read and browse a handful of different genres while I’m at the bookstore (specifically Barnes&Nobles, but Borders is good too), and during my travels I have come across several books that cater specifically to writers. In fact, I enjoy these books so much that I’ve bought my own miniature library of writing books. Everything from editing to the craft of writing query letters to helpful inspiration and funny quotes to tickle a writer’s sometimes buried humors.

This said, here is a good taste of the books I have bought and what I would rate each one in terms of helpfulness and organized instruction. I really suggest, as writers, that we research our craft as much as we research the things we want to include in our craft (I know I’m not the only one guilty of researching different foods, exotic locations, the mechanics of quantumphysics in the eight dimension, etcetera). After all, writing is our gift, our joy, and with anything if we want to succeed, we need to learn about it. It might be easy to write a story, but it’s not easy to write a story well, and it’s especially not easy to know what to do after that novel is written and sitting there on your desk collecting dust. So.

  • Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell.  ++  Rating: 5/5 (I really recommend this book if you are looking to edit a manuscript soon but don’t know where to start or need some help in certain areas)
  • Writing Magic by Levine  ++  Rating: 3/5  (Funny book, but the prompts are childish and the book is aimed more toward those writing for fun than those writing seriously)
  • Dialogue by Gloria Kempton  ++  Rating: 4/5 (This book is great if you think your dialogue between characters needs strengthening)
  • Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt-Thomas  ++  Rating: 5/5 (This book is really invaluable. It gives you the best tips on how to strengthen your query letters as well as what NOT to put into a query letter. I can’t wait to use this book when I have a manuscript worthy of sending out to literary agents)
  • Novelist’s Boot Camp by Todd A. Stone  ++  Rating: 5/5 (I absolutely loved this book. If you need a kick in the pants to get writing and stay writing, this is the book for you. I’m going to use it as a companion along with another book I recently got when I do NaNoWriMo this November)
  • Break into Fiction by Mary Buckham  ++  Rating: 2/5 (Interesting book that gives you tips on a little bit of everything, but it really didn’t stand out to me or help me in any way)
  • Writer’s Digest Magazine  ++  Rating: 10/5 (These magazines are priceless. I love them to pieces! They’re short, so you can easily read one in the span of an hour if you wanted to, but all the articles and the ideas are genius. I just got a subscription to them for a year; I can’t wait until my first magazine arrives and I don’t have to go buy each new copy at B&N)

Until next week, Escapists! Keep reading and, above all, keep writing!

2 thoughts on “Anna’s Advice: Week 3

  1. I want to get Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt-Thomas. But I suppose first I need to edit…Reading your blog post, this line bounced out at me:"It might be easy to write a story, but it's not easy to write a story well, and it's especially not easy to know what to do after that novel is written and sitting there on your desk collecting dust."This is where I am right now, only I have several novels collecting dust. I think I'd like to see them all being queried and getting out there. But I'm having trouble deciding what to edit first, and then, how to go about editing it. I think I've been doing well in reading YA so that I know more or less how my book should sound. But I need that kick to start editing. I'm still waiting for that kick, heh.I have Novelist's Boot Camp by Todd A. Stone. Maybe, if I read it well, I'd get that kick to start rewriting as well.I just really have no idea where to start with this. *running around in circles trying to find Step 1*Great blog post. Thanks for this!! :)

  2. This was the awesomest blog post ever. "ANNA COVERS THREE TOPICS IN DEPTH IN THE SAME BLOG POST!!! OMG HAPPY!!!!" Yes, that was my reaction. Very, very happy. Your method of outlining reminds me a lot of the phase outline that I did for NaNoWriMo 2008 (which was THE thing that made me win, I am sure of it). The outline itself was 10k long, but I didn't have to agonize over plot during November. Except, of course, when I deviated from the outline. I like the method of taking a scene and just writing down everything important about it that you want to remember, taking everything a step at a time. It really helps you solidify everything in your head, and the formatting is easy! :D I'll come back for more commenting at a later time, but for the moment there is something I must go do.

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