Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How a Geek Writes an Epic Fantasy part 1

It's tough not to be a geek when you're male, a computer programmer and a lover of fantasy.  In fact, I'm so geeky that I wrote my own computer program to help me write my epic fantasy.  (That should rank me fairly high on the geek-o-meter, yes?)

My biggest challenge in writing epic fantasy is consistency.  Spend too many months "discovery writing" anything of that scope and errors are bound to creep into the manuscript.  Red hair becomes blonde.  A character is from Osek-Dahm in one chapter and suddenly from Jerok Thel in a subsequent one.  If you're not careful you may even forget which distant countries are at war with each other.

So I needed to find a quick and easy way to record these details and have them readily available when needed.  I searched the net.  I found some that had good features.  I found some that had marvelous interfaces.  But I didn't find one that tripped my trigger.  But hey, not a problem, I'm a software developer so there was really only one choice I could make.

Write my own!

And so I did.  I created Magic Muse, my very own, tailor-made, writing workbench.

This is a Visual Basic application I wrote many years ago to handle all the things that I felt I needed in a writing application.  I still use it for drafts.  It interfaces with MS Word for word counts, thesaurus, spell and grammar checking.  It even allows me to paste in maps and other diagrams.

All projects can be selected via a dropdown and each project can contain any number of cabinets, folders and documents displayed in the treeview on the left.  

I use the treeview to add, delete and reorder chapters and scenes.  Clicking a scene within the treeview opens it in the RTF (Rich Text Format) editor on the right.  Each scene is saved as an RTF document that I can load into MS Word, Open Office, MS Wordpad, etc.  When the book is finished, I can package its contents into a single RTF usable by those same word processors.  (Handy when you want to pump out a quick eBook using Word and Calibre for proofing on the Android tablet.)

Notes can be handled in one of two ways.  A cabinet can be created to hold all notes, which can also be broken down into multiple folders and documents.  My preference for most notes, however, is the scribblet.  That's the window attached to the bottom of the treeview and editor.  There are dedicated sections for things like characters, places, glossary of terms, etc.

The scribblet is collapsible.  To get items into the scribblet, I highlight the word I want to add, right-click it, and indicate which scribblet list should hold it.  I can then add all the generic information about the term and save it.  I can even "index" the term and Magic Muse will scan every scene and provide me with a complete list of where it was used.  (This is handy if I know I referenced the minor character Terrin, but don't recall which chapters featured him.)

I can do all the basic word processing tasks in Magic Muse.  And being able to quickly toggle between scenes instead of scrolling through a huge document is a massive plus for me.

In part two of this post I'll discuss additional ways I handle notes and plot lines, including my storyboard application that I, of course, wrote for myself.  I call it Visual Story and will leave you with a sneak peek at it.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Finally! Some Time to Write!

For the first time in over a week I've actually got some time to plop my least glamorous body part on a chair and do some writing.  Some real writing.

It's been one thing or another for nearly a fortnight swooping down and stealing those precious minutes and hours that are required to produce a coherent paragraph or two.  That is, of course, not to mention a cohesive scene.

I normally have time enough to actually get in a bit of reading at lunch, if nothing else.  Not this week.  Too much in the way of support, production problems and release implementation obligations to do anything of a personal nature beyond the most basic physical requirements required to remain alive and hygienic. 

Now all home computer issues are all resolved.  The wedding and Mother's Day is behind me.  All software release updates at work have been moved to production.  My week of on-call support is finished.  It's time to write!

I do have another batch of links almost ready for posting tomorrow.  I've grown rather fond of passing along these links to interesting articles, blogs, websites, etc.  I hope you're finding at least some of them informative or entertaining.

So until then...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Prologue: the word might as well be "election" or "religion" for all the controversy it raises.

I've read almost every article I've encountered that even contains the word.  I'm continually amazed at not only the extremes of opinions it generates, but also the intensity of those opinions.  Seeing as how you'll not see me take stances on politics or religion in this blog, I'll just divulge my opinion on prologues.  Maybe it'll be less divisive.

Short answer to the question of whether or not I like prologues is...it depends.

You see, I read a prologue differently than I read a chapter one.  I'm not sure that everyone does. 

We step back from reality when we read a work of fiction.  We suspend our disbelief and temporarily accept everything an author tells us.  When I read a prologue, I step back even further.  I step back from the story itself.  I consider that what I'm reading has been set apart from the actual story for a reason.

Some reasons make sense.  A good example would be instances where I'll never again see a prologue's characters (alive) in the rest of the book.  Another good example might be that it takes place many years before chapter one begins.  There are, of course, many other valid reasons as well.

I expect a little world building, a little setting to be laid out for me, but most of all, I take a prologue as a promise.  The prologue should promise me things like the story's scope, the depth of the plot(s) I can expect, the style of writing, a foretaste of imagery to follow, an inkling of theme(s) and many other things.

Some genres lend themselves to prologues; others don't.  I almost expect to see a prologue in an epic fantasy--especially a series, but would be surprised to find one at the beginning of a romance, for example.  (Granted, I've not read much in the way of romance.)

Personally, I don't want a "chapter one" that's called a prologue.  I also don't want a prologue that's called "chapter one" either.  The prologue's contents, in my opinion, should be my pre-launch, my orientation.  And it should entice me to continue.  That's part of the "promise" I referred to earlier.

I think many frown upon prologues because they're often boring, have nothing to do with the actual story or are thinly-veiled info-dumps.  Frequently, the info can be omitted or presented just as effectively within the chapters.  But I believe there are times a prologue is warranted.  And when done well they can be wonderful.

Like anything else contained within the book, the prologue should serve a purpose.  That purpose should engage, entertain, promise, foreshadow, lay a foundation, set the stage, etc.

As for those who refuse to read a prologue simply because it's called a prologue, well, I consider it their loss.  I'm somewhat of a cheapskate.  If I spend money on a book, I'm going to read the whole book.  Leaving sections unread is like not finishing my plate at a restaurant or skipping an appetizer even though I spent good money for it.

What about you?  Weigh in!

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Wedding to Write About

The happily married couple finally returned from their honeymoon and posted some pictures. 

I probably should have warned that poor girl before she married my son, but I just couldn't help it.  You see, I'm a writer and new family means new material for my books and stories!

I have a new daughter-in-law!

Happy couple's first dance

 The groom and his mom

And of course I've got to get my grandkids on here.
(The one behind me is the one who loves dragons!)

 A happy day for all!
May their union be strong.  May it endure.

Friday, May 18, 2012

NaNo Mid-Point. Argggh!

In the words of so many suddenly-enlightened antagonists, "What have I done?"

I'm post-midpoint now and waaaay below target.  Yes, I've experienced many of the same inconvenient time-sucking hurdles all the other participants have, but they're not necessarily the bulk of the blame.

I've concluded, reluctantly, that I'm not the type of writer who can produce 50,000 words of prose within a month and be able to use any of it.  Just ain't gonna happen.  That's not to say I've not had productive spurts, but the massive majority of what I've written is completely unusable.

If the definition of "rewrite" is restarting from scratch, then what I've written needs to undergo a rewrite.  If the definition is to re-do chapters, sections, characters, plot lines, etc., then a rewrite is not what this manuscript needs.

But this exercise has been worthwhile.

I've discovered characters and fleshed out ones I knew I'd have.  I've learned that some of my original plotting ideas just won't work, but found others that might.  Being that this manuscript could loosely be termed a prequel, I've got new things to enrich my upcoming sequel.  But there will be no "editing" or "revising" of this manuscript.

I intend to continue.  That's how I am.  If I say I'm going to do something then I do my dead-level best to follow through.  (That's why I debate long and hard before committing to anything.)  I'll do so knowing that I'll be sending it off to pixel purgatory when I'm finished, but there is still benefit to completing it--beyond following through on a commitment.

I will discover more characters.  I will be able to further develop plots and subplots.  I will find hidden themes, things I can foreshadow, envision new twists and a multitude of other things I can use.  I just won't be able to use the words and structure I've already got.  I think this is okay.  Much of this is what I normally do anyway, albeit at a slower pace with far less throwaway prose.

Perhaps by month end I'll have refined my target audience with this book.  (It's not that I didn't have one in mind, but the story seems to want to unfold differently.)  And when I begin writing this thing in earnest, for real, I'll have one mighty fine outline and maybe that's the whole point after all.

Have you experienced a NaNoWriMo or similar challenge?  What were your experiences?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Kreativ Blogger Award

Again I've been caught.  Just can't run that fast in my old age, it seems.  This time, Adam Gaylord caught me.  Thank-you, Adam!  (But be warned, Adam, all those who read this blog may hunt you down and flog you for forcing me to reveal TMI.)

First the rules:
1. Thank & link back to the person who nominated you.
2. Answer the ten questions below.
3. Share ten random facts/thoughts about yourself.
4. Nominate seven worthy blogs for the Kreativ Blogger Award.

And now, the answers...

What's your favorite song?
Really?  I'm supposed to choose only ONE?  Well, how about this one?
Fight Another Day by Brandon Heath

What's your favorite dessert?
Depends on the day.  Usually banana pudding or strawberry shortcake wins.  Carrot cake has been known to trump them on rare occasions.  (Girl scout shortbread doesn't count.)

What ticks you off?
This one's easy.  Intolerance, especially by those who preach tolerance.  (Rudeness is a close second.)

What do you do when you're upset?
Depends on the cause and my location.  Read, surf (the internet) or listen to music if any of those are options.

Which is your favorite pet?
Seeing as how I haven't yet found one that is fully self-sufficient thereby qualifying as favorite, I'll go with my wife's Basset Hound, Sally Sue. 

Which do you prefer, black or white?
I'm a shades of gray kinda guy, myself. 

What is your biggest fear?
Giving my wife the checkbook.  Being broke and homeless. 

What is your attitude mostly?
Cautiously optimistic.
What is perfection?
That should be "Who is perfection" and either Tina Turner or me would be the answer!  LOL  

What is your guilty pleasure?
Freshly baked yeast rolls.  The guilt comes from the quantity I consume given the chance.

 Ten Random Facts: (Ready or not...)
  1. I was born a last-minute tax deduction (New Year's Eve) making me a Capricorn.
  2. My toes are nearly as nimble as my fingers.
  3. I am not Bill Compton despite the similarities so many people claim to see.
  4. I want to see two things in person before I die: the Northern Lights and the clear waters of the Caribbean.
  5. I never kissed my wife until the day I asked her to marry me.
  6. I have been granted permission by my wife to lust after Tina Turner to my heart's content seeing as how I have absolutely no shot at the sexiest woman alive (aside from my wife.)
  7. I have an autographed picture of Marina Sirtis...somewhere.
  8. I love the blues, Motown and jazz in that order.
  9. I only sing in the shower and car.  Bad things happen when I sing elsewhere.
  10. I'm a creature of contradiction.  Examples: I love snow, but hate the cold; I love sunshine, but prefer to stay indoors; I'm concurrently conservative and liberal... I could go on, but I won't.
Nominations: I've nominated  so many for so much recently I'll probably get hate mail tagging even more.  I therefore tag all 89 of my followers.  I would like to know more about all of you.  If you take me up on the tag, leave a comment so I can check out your answers and random facts!  (This is not a cop-out!  I really do want to know!)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Busy Busy Busy

That's me this week.  And last week.  And next week too!

I've fallen behind on my NaNoWriMo word count this week.  Significantly.  Obligations and responsibilities and happenstances, oh my!  At least I can refuse to take credit for the happenstances.

The old computer finally gave up the ghost.  I saw it coming and didn't even need to rely on my astute precognitive prowess to foretell it.  Poor thing had been making an awful racket for quite some time--somewhat akin to the sound a car with a manual transmission makes when the driver doesn't understand the purpose of a clutch.

So, I stripped the old girl of her goods.  I pulled out the three hard drives and plugged them into the new PC I had purchased a while back anticipating her untimely demise.  So I now have 2.7 terabytes of disk space spread out among four internal hard drives.  My USB external drive brings the count to five.  I hooked up the old VGA for a second monitor and am now pondering the next purchase.

Laptop or desktop, that's the decision I now must make.  I love the expandability of desktops, but appreciate the benefits that portable units provide.  And I do have the Orson Scott Card Writing Workshop coming up next month.  (T-Minus 37 days and counting.)

I'm hesitant to spend the bigger bucks on a laptop, however.  There just aren't that many times I need the portability.  My foresight sees only two days in June that warrant one.  And I do have my Android tablet if I were to suddenly be whisked away on a business trip.

But busy pursues me.  My son is getting married Saturday.  Mother's Day is Sunday.  A six-day workweek awaits me beginning Monday.  I have writing to critique.  I have short stories waiting to be finished.  And my NaNoWriMo project refuses to write itself.

And I can't shake that nagging suspicion that busy will be a little less persistent once my NaNo month has concluded.  Is that not the way of things?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

It Happened...

At work, standing in the cafeteria lunch line, it happened.  A server left his station, walked to the serving station in which line I was waiting and asked, "Are you the one writing the book?"

I nearly fell in the floor!  I made him repeat the question, certain I'd misunderstood it.  "Are you the one writing the book?" he asked again.

Hiding my grin was impossible.  "Yes.  How did you know?"

"Jenn told me."

Jenn is a coworker of mine in another department.  I'd let her read my prologue the previous week.  She told me she liked it, but you know how that goes.  All your friends like what you wrote when they're talking with you about it.  Perhaps she really did.  Or perhaps she was just impressed that I had actually completed my draft.  In any event, it made me feel like a...ahem...writer.

And it felt good!

I don't even need to tell you what the next question was, right?  Anyone who has finished a book (even the first draft) knows the next question.  "What's it about?"

So there it was.  The question I've pondered answering for months.  I've wondered what I'd say, how badly I would answer and whether I'd leave them shaking their heads acting like they understood what I was telling them.

"Well, it's an epic fantasy."  Quickly, I moved to dispel the blank look already forming.  "It's kind of like Lord of the Rings."  Whew.  The nod of comprehension.  I don't need approval, but understanding is crucial.  This way, they can walk away with an inner giggle muttering, "Ha!  The guy thinks he's Tolkien."  That much is acceptable.

So, what makes it even better?  The other server joining the conversation and asking, "Is it like Eragon?"

"A little," I answered.  "It's got dragons."

"I loved Eragon," he told me with a smile.  "When you get it published I'll have to buy a copy."

Then it was my turn to smile.  Yes, folks, it felt mighty good indeed.

Do you have similar stories you'd care to share?

Monday, May 7, 2012

05/06/12 FWC-Challenge (Abigail)

It's been a while since I posted a short story, but when this week's challenge appeared, I couldn't resist.

The challenge: The main character wakes up with his cat sitting on his chest and it starts talking.


"He did it again."

"What?" Carlos mumbled, still half asleep.

"That dumb dog did it again."

Carlos pulled his arms free of the covers and rubbed his eyes.  The sun hadn't yet risen.  It was the beans.  Had to be the beans.  Nothing else could explain waking to find his cat atop his chest and talking.  And he'd eaten three helpings before he turned in for the night.

"I'm telling you, I'm gonna claw that mutt."

"Go to sleep, Abigail.  You're scaring me."


"I've got work in the morning.  I don't have time for nightmares."  He rolled onto his side, but Abigail shoved her nose into his face, her whiskers tickling his cheeks.  He brushed them away only to hear the feline voice again.

"I can take that Chihuahua down in under seven seconds."

Carlos looked straight into Abigail's yellow eyes.  He knew he was dreaming.  Only in dreams could cats wear scowls.  Her black fur rose along her back.  "No more beans after midnight," he whispered to himself.

"Listen, Carlos, you either get rid of that dog or I will.  I'm tired of him eating all my stuff.  The Gravy Train's his.  The Meow Mix is mine."



"You really are scaring me.  Go to sleep, please?"

"You always did like that overgrown rodent better than me, didn't you?"  She hissed and leaped off the bed.

Carlos took a deep breath, gave the room a quick glance and closed his eyes.  Sleep came swiftly, but so did the morning sun.  He rose and sat on the bed's edge.  Abigail lay in the bedroom's corner, curled and content in her bedding.  Just a cat, he thought.  Just a dream.

Making his way into the kitchen, he pulled the milk carton from the refrigerator and the Rice Chex out of the cupboard.   Reaching into the cabinet for a bowl, his toe kicked the empty metal dish and sent it sliding across the floor.  Empty.  He poured his cereal, put the milk away and set his bowl on the table.  A quick trip to the bathroom was in order.  Lifting the lid, he saw the impossible.  Stuffed butt first in the toilet was Henri, his Chihuahua, his bulging eyes pleading.

Abigail pranced into the doorway.  Carlos could swear she was grinning.  She stretched and peered into the toilet before looking back up at him.  "Don't forget to flush."

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sunday Surfing & Avengers Experience

20 Common Grammar Mistakes that Almost Everyone Gets Wrong (Lit Reactor)

Shakespeare Does the Three Little Pigs  (hilarious video!)

Lady of Muse (for lovers of art and poetry)


Crack You Whip  (Always good for a laugh)

Twenty-seven years of marriage and still dating...

Yep, took the wife to the movies Friday.  Watched, of course, The Avengers.  (Was anything else showing?)  The wife did a lot of grinning.  (Me thinks she found all those muscles and all that testosterone appealing.)

I had high expectations going into it.  They've been building to this for quite some time now.  I braced myself  for disappointment, but doing so was unnecessary.  The movie was really good!  Lots of action.  Lots of strong characterization.  Fantastic humor.  This is one I can recommend to any who like action.

And as always, the popcorn was to die for, the weight of which increases in direct proportion to the amount of butter in which it floats.  Everything's better with butter!  And I'm getting somewhat accustomed to wearing 3D glasses and eye glasses all at the same time.

Life is grand!

Like the links?  Like the movie?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Evolution of an Edit

I'd like to share with you the process I recently went through trying to tweak a scene's opening paragraph.  I do this often to the point of self-torture.  Follow with me the evolution of that sentence.

This was the original statement:
"Miriam sat at the table cradling a cup of far too weak cynom tea wondering what was keeping her husband and sister."

I decided the reader needed to know where Miriam was since it wasn't mentioned later.
(Edit: Take 1)
"In her modest home nestled next to Aridhum’s massive, western curtain wall, Miriam sat cradling a cup of far too weak cynom tea, wondering what was keeping her husband and sister."

Then I got to thinking.  "far too weak" doesn't really add anything so I removed it.
(Edit: Take 2)
"In her modest home nestled next to Aridhum’s massive, western curtain wall, Miriam sat cradling a cup of cynom tea, wondering what was keeping her husband and sister."

Then there was the issue of senses.  I had a hint of taste, but nothing else.  I added some more.
(Edit: Take 3)
"In her modest home nestled next to Aridhum’s massive, western curtain wall, Miriam sat at the table wishing her cynom tea’s flavor matched the strength of its spicy aroma, cradling the hot cup and wondering what was keeping her husband and sister."

Well, that sentence was way too long and difficult to comprehend.
(Edit: Take 4)
"In her modest home nestled next to Aridhum’s massive curtain wall, Miriam sat at the table wishing her cynom tea’s flavor matched the strength of its spicy aroma.  Cradling the hot cup, she wondered what was keeping her husband and sister."

I decide I don't like the extra prepositional phrase at the table and remove it.
(Edit: Take 5) 
"In her modest home nestled next to Aridhum’s massive, western curtain wall, Miriam sat wishing her cynom tea’s flavor matched the strength of its spicy aroma.  Cradling the hot cup, she wondered what was keeping her husband and sister."

I decide I don't want to start the second sentence with Cradling and tinker with splitting the longer sentence.
(Edit: Take 6)
"In her modest home nestled next to Aridhum’s massive curtain wall, Miriam sat.  She wished her cynom tea’s flavor matched the strength of its spicy aroma.  She cradled the hot cup and wondered what was keeping her husband and sister."

I decide I like the original first sentence even if it is longer, but removed the sitting.
(Edit: Take 7)
"In her modest home nestled next to Aridhum’s massive curtain wall, Miriam wished her cynom tea’s flavor matched the strength of its spicy aroma.  She cradled the hot cup and wondered what was keeping her husband and sister."

So that's where it stands now.  Am I finished?  Not likely.  You see, that's my problem.  I never know when to draw the line and say "enough is enough" and move to the next sentence.  And only a few thousand more paragraphs to go!

Do you torture yourself with endless revisions of every line in your manuscript too or do you know when to stop?

P.S. The Movie Clapper Board Generator can be found here.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

New Ground

I broke a lot of new ground in April.  I came out of the closet and called myself a writer!  Of course, I qualified it with amateur, but I publicly declared that I write and intend to do something with it.  It's a profession of faith, a commitment, new ground.

No longer shall I write in the closet.  I'll write out in the open and not be ashamed.  No longer will I be Jeff, the guy who writes.  From this moment forward, I shall stand with my back straight, look people in the eye and say, "Hello, my name is Jeff, and I'm a writer."

And I've taken the first step by submitting my "Cathryn's Bay" short story to the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future competition.  Big step for me.  Definitely new ground.  But I figured, hey, why not?  It's just sitting around gathering pixel dust.  And that's what writers do.  They submit their writing.  To competitions, magazines, agents, editors.  They write.  And writers write to be read.

I'm also working on a short story called "Barnabas" that I plan to submit for a magic stories anthology.  I've been working on it for the past couple weeks.  I've never submitted anything for publication before.  So this too is new ground. 

And I'm even considering writing another short story to submit to John Hartness' Big Bad Anthology.  I have a few ideas, but haven't fleshed out the plot for that one yet.  It's worth a look if you're interested.

Of course, I also broke new ground in April by completing my very first book, The Bonding.  A few fine folks have offered to alpha read it for me.  I'm giddy with anticipation.  It's kind of like sending your newborn off to see a pediatrician and waiting for the prognosis.

I completed my first full-novel critique for another writer this month and am in the midst of a second one.  I work hard at giving critiques and feedback.  I take it seriously because the people who wrote the books take it seriously.  Fair is fair.

And I made a commitment.  A scary commitment.  Don't ask me why.  I'm a guy.  I'm supposed to be afraid of commitment.  Several members of the Yahoo Fantasy Writing Group are doing their own little private May NaNoWriMo challenge.  You know the deal, right?  50,000 (new and original) words written toward a novel within a month.  I agreed to participate.  My internal editor works overtime.  I want to learn how to send him on vacation while I draft.  This should help.  Again, new ground.

Wish me luck.  New ground is often soft.  I don't want to get stuck or sink or become mired in this new ground.  I want to cultivate it, fertilize it, and watch things grow from it.

So, are you that person who writes?  Or are you a writer?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Catherine E. McLean: The 9 Kinds of Writers

I love lists and I love classifying things.  Catherine has graciously delighted me on both accounts with her Guest Post discussing the...


by Catherine E. McLean
Copyrighted material @2012 - 
Taken from Mrs. McLean's "Writing & You" workshop and used with permission.

Catherine E. McLean
Are you a pantser or a plotter? Or maybe your method of writing a story doesn't fit either style? Well, I've discovered over the course of more than fifteen years of reading, conferences, workshops, and meeting other writers (from the novice to the multi-published and award-winning) that there are nine basic types of writers:
  1. Pantser
  2. Plotter or Outliner
  3. Foundation Writer
  4. Reverse Engineering (also called Backwards Plotting)
  5. Piecemeal Plotting
  6. Constructionists
  7. Transcriber
  8. Dictation
  9. Multitasker

There may be more types, but let's look at these nine:

1) Pantser--one who writes by the "seat of their pants" which means the writer sits and types a story that unfolds, not knowing where the story will go but excited by the prospect of discovering the story.

The most common drawbacks are:
  • the narration goes off on tangents, 
  • the story stalls out, 
  • another character takes over the story, or 
  • cliches and triteness abound. If the entire story is drafted, the revision process is extremely onerous and draining. A pantser usually ends up with lots of ideas but few completed stories.

2) Plotter or Outliner--This writer is one who does pre-writing and planning before drafting, which nets a completed story and a better first draft. The plotter doesn't use the traditional Roman-numerals type of outlining. Their methods of outlining utilize various processes and diagramming, i.e., using "plotter's tools" such as:
  • The Hero's Journey format
  • The Three-Act Play format
  • Arcs/Character Arc (curves and arcs, arcs on arcs, zigzags on arcs, etc.)
  • Box diagrams (story boarding, calendars, use of sticky notes, index cards, Rolodexing, etc.)
  • Clustering or radial graphs, (also known as mind mapping, netlining, bubbling, snowflake, leaf/vein/frost, etc.)
  • Straight Line (horizontal, vertical, diagonal)--with or without arcs or zigzags--the W plot, etc.
  • Triangle (Freitag's Triangle) and Pyramids
  • Curves and circles, funnels/spirals
  • Other geometric diagrams of the plot (or a combination of diagrams)
  • A personal "project bible" or "cheat sheets"
  • Journaling
The drawbacks to any type of plotting or outlining are:
  • the writer becomes bogged down in providing minute details before actually writing the story, 
  • too much effort and time goes into filling out countless forms, and 
  • doing too much delineation of character and plot. Thus the writer loses enthusiasm for the story, and the story is never actually written.

3) Foundation Writer--the writer gets a story "dump," which is usually a scene (or the opening of the book) or a character comes onstage. Everything about the story can be extrapolated and plotted from the information contained or implied by the information dump. Often this writer employs various "plotter's tools" (mentioned above).

The drawbacks for foundation writing are:
  • the same as those of the plotter/outliner, and 
  • if not able to decipher an aspect of the story, the story is set aside (to be completed some other day--or perhaps never).

4) Reverse Engineering--This is Backwards Plotting. The story begins with the ending-climax and works back to the beginning.  This is often a method used for mysteries and crime novels, thrillers, etc.

The drawbacks are:
  • it may not be possible to figure out "the beginning," and 
  • the plot is trite.  Reverse engineering also benefits from "plotter's tools."

5) Piecemeal Plotting--As story information comes to the writer, it's in no particular order, but the various scenes are written. At some point (when enough scenes are developed), the scenes are sorted and a plot-order emerges.  Gaps are filled with additional scenes, and the story is fleshed out from beginning to end.

The drawback to this type of writing is the inability to tie all the pieces together. (This style of writing could benefit from "plotting tools" like a radial graph or clustering.)

6) Constructionists--This writer is one who does not visualize a story as they write but step by step constructs the story.  The writer relies heavily on logic rather than imagination.

The drawbacks are:
  • the writer overwrites, and 
  • using too much description or detail. The story may also become too linear, dull, and tedious because researched information or detailed explanations stop the story's forward flow.

7) Transcriber--a writer who writes their stories in longhand then enters them into their computer, editing as they go. This also works for the writer who dictates into a recorder and then transcribes the material into their computer.

The drawbacks are the same as those of the pantser.

8) Dictation--using a computer voice recognition program to dictate a story directly into the computer word processing file.

The drawbacks are the same as a transcriber's and pantser's plus rewriting to eliminate speech repetitions (like "ah" and "and") as well as run-on sentences.

9) Multitasker--This writer starts one story until they run out of steam and sets that story aside to begin another story. When they run out of steam on that current work-in-progress, they return to the first. That's because while this writer worked on the second story, they figured out what to do about the first.  The multitasker then writes more of the first's story before switching to the next story.  There may be three or four stories going at once.

The major drawbacks are:
  • the writer never figures out a story and, therefore, never finishes the story's first draft, and 
  • it can take a very long time to finish one story.

So, are any one of the nine types better than another?  Not really. Each writer must determine what's normal for them--which is done by trial-and-error. It's also not unusual for a writer to start as one type and end up as another.  And, by the way, it's not unusual for a story to need to be written a certain way, a way that isn't the writer's "usual" method. In other words, whatever works, works.


Catherine's paranormal-fantasy-romance novel, KARMA AND MAYHEM, will be published late this summer by Soul Mate Publishing.  Writing as C. E. McLean, she has sold short stories in science fiction, paranormal, and contemporary to hard-copy and online anthologies and magazines. She is also a writing instructor and workshop speaker (both online and in person)--her schedule is posted at her home web page. She sincerely believes a writer needs to be self-educated so she studies and reads extensively about the business and craft of writing--and addresses various elements of fiction writing at her The Sampler blog. She invites readers and writers to join her at Facebook, Twitter, or Linked-In.

Many thanks to Catherine for permitting me to host her fine article!

I think I'm a pantser with a dab of piecemeal.  Which are you?