Is a novel outline only for wimps?

Outline or not to outline has been a preverbal dilemma for ages. Well, perhaps not for ages, but for a very long time. Even experienced writers have their preferences; some swear by it. It is said that John Irving, takes at least a year to outline his novels before he even starts to write the story. Kimberla Lawson-Roby outlines but only after she is well into the writing. Stephen King wings it—the story’s vision in his head.  He believes outlining makes the story feel artificial. Although it is indeed a personal preference, I will attempt to explain the pros and cons of both.

Outlining obviously allows you to organize your thoughts. You can plainly see where you are going. If the plot is veering off a cliff, you’d at least like to know early on. Half way through the novel you don’t have to wonder if John died of Parkinson’s or cancer; if you thoroughly organize you will know. Organizing allows you to see the progression of the story. Depending on how detailed the outline is you can see if your progression is at an even pace. Is it moving too fast? Is it completely stagnant for three or four chapters? Often in our head we get caught up in the writing. We like the sound of our thoughts, the elegant, lofty word choices. In our mind it all sounds so nice. But with an outline you can see if every one of those 20 scenes in one chapter is actually moving the story along. Remember, when writing, every word should be purposeful, deliberate and not just a way to flex our literary muscles. Save that for your personal journal.Wile-P-Coyote

With my second novel, Thursday’s Child, which I am currently editing, I purchased banner paper, hung it on a wall and outlined the entire book that way. It allowed me to see different scenes and jump from chapter to chapter in a glance. Many times I looked at one scene and literally switch it with another to make the story move a little more smoothly. It was easier to see what did and didn’t work and the places where conflict was building or where scenes were falling flat.

The outline itself is work, which, I believe is one of the reasons that many authors shy away from creating one. It takes planning and thought, brainstorming and correction. But to have a tangible plan takes at least that aspect out of the work beforehand and lets you concentrate on writing the story, delving into the creative part of the process which is what most of us enjoy the most anyway.  An outline is like having a map for your trip so that you can see the route you are taking and make adjustments before you write it out. It can definitely save on the rewriting.

When I wrote my first novel I did not outline—initially. I allowed the winds of inspiration to take me where they willed. After the first draft, I pulled out index cards and commence to doing a chapter by chapter outline, because the story was getting away from me. This is especially helpful if you have several sub-plots.

Winging it. There’s an entire patch of purist who would not dream of tampering with inspiration by confining their masterpiece to an outline. The vision for the work is in their head. And I get it. There is a certain rush you get from simply going at it, allowing the characters and story to take on a life of their own.  Not know if Weston should die or be kept alive, allowing the story to dictate his outcome. Writers who attempt this should do so because they feel that their writing would seem less authentic if confined to an outline and not because they’re too lazy to take the time to create a plan.

Writing without an outline takes extreme focus and drive because when you get to those moments where you run out of story and are saying, now what you have to push past it until you know what.focus2

Whatever your preference you don’t have to be totally committed to doing it one way. An outline doesn’t have to be scene by scene or even chapter by chapter. It can be a simple, lose guide that gives you broad direction and room to create. And you can always outline all or just some of it. Remember; you can switch up, even if you are half way through your writing. I won’t tell if you won’t.


Should Authors Work for Free?

A while ago I planned a book launch affair. It was to be a Wine and Words event and along with a sampling of various wines each attendee would get a copy of my novel, In Three Days, all for one price. Now I know we as authors don’t typically charge for book signings, but this was different. It was to be held at a lovely café and did I mention free wine? The tickets weren’t exactly zapped up at record speed and eventually the event was cancelled.

Recently I got an offer to speak at a luncheon for an exclusive country club in my area. They wanted me to come and talk about my book and experience as a local author. On the invite the PR person asked about my fee. I was absolutely thrilled. Here I was hosting fancy wine events (or almost) and now I was being asked to speak at this opulent club and I’d been an author for all of several months. And they were going to pay meeeee!!

I immediately began doing research on typical fees for authors both new and established. I found rates which I thought were ridiculously inflated and then constantly reminded myself that hey, I’m worth it. I did some more research and found that some authors didn’t charge anything (ha…ha…I’m doing the Snoopy laugh) I finally settle on a “going rate.” After all, he did ask me.

Funny thing, immediately after I submitted my fee I felt this twinge that I should have waited. I never heard back from the guy again.

I can construct a million different reasons to explain these setbacks.  I could go on and on as to why folks weren’t waiting in line for my tickets. And I can find a million more to justify the silence on the other end of the email to the PR guy.  But later, I received some wise counsel (amazing how you always get that after you need it) and remembered some information I’d received from some other established writers with which you may or may not agree. It is as follows:

Most signings of any kind are free. And even if it is an event, such as a book launch where you simply want your friends to come and celebrate, guess what? The wine and cheese are on you. Purchasing your book should be optional. They come to celebrate with you, not pay for you.

Speaking engagements are often free. What?! Yep. I know. Now no one would expect J.K. Rowling or John Grisham to speak too often for free. But most of us do not possess the status and brand of Rowling and Grisham. When people mention our name people will most likely ask “who?” But those guys? Not so much. In the beginning we may do a lot of stuff for free. But really, it is never free. I am a strong believer in the law of reciprocity, or the law of sowing and reaping. Simply put, what goes around comes around. Also, the exposure we gain is priceless. And proving ourselves to what will eventually be our audience is essential. People only tend to invest in the new when the risk is low. Those things that negate risk include: recommendations by others, little or no cost or effort and the likelihood that they will enjoy what is being offered based on preferences.

Free opportunities often breed paid opportunities. Every time you are in front of an audience you are gaining exposure–that, you cannot beat. And as one author/speaker pointed out, as you speak or present your audience may include the answer to your next gig and possibly a paying gig as it did for the author who lent this advice.

The bottom line is that free may be free. But sometimes it is not. And if that statement was confusing just remember that you have to invest before others invest in you.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear from you.

Is There a Difference Between Inspirational and Christian Fiction?

Ahh, so many terms; so much confusion. It almost makes you want to throw up your hands and announce finally that they are all the same. But hold up. Wait, less you offend some peers unnecessarily. Some writers are adamant about their work not being labeled inspirational fiction because within their pages they wave their faith flag high and proud and you’d better not mistaken it. Others prefer the term inspirational because they believe it appeals to a broader audience and to those who may not necessarily pick up a book labeled Christian. They think these readers may at least give their work a read if they leave the Jesus and God stuff as inferences. I am not here to argue the right or wrong of any of it. It is art. It is your creative work. Do what you feel. But at least understand the differences. As a Christian, I personally don’t believe that you can write a story from the heart that does not in some way reflect your faith.  It becomes an undeniably strand weaved through everything you write. Whether it is overt is one of the keys which separate inspirational fiction from Christian fiction.

Inspirational fiction is meant to move, unveil a spiritual element to the plot and draw upon the protagonist’s belief in something greater than their situation to help him or her resolve the conflict. It can be a number of things; belief in one’s self, a higher power or the advice or counsel of a spiritual sage of sorts.  Stories of inspirational nature often pull the protagonist into introspect; the resources to get through whatever the dilemma are often internal, but always spiritual. Inspirational fiction may never mention the words God, Jesus, or Holy Spirit, understanding that each individual will decide upon that entity from which to gain the strength or the wisdom they need to solve their problem. Perhaps the writer’s personal amazing_silhouette_photograph_14belief is in an almighty God, but he only implies it in the work leaning more on the story at hand and how the conflict is resolved.

Not so with Christian-based fiction. Christian based fiction is more specific in introspection and its source of higher power. God is the higher power. The conflict at hand can only be resolved by the extent to which the protagonist either turns to that which the spirit of God has already enabled them with or turn to God for strength and direction. This often comes through as an internal unction or another person with whom that individual places trust.

When I was marketing my novel, In Three Days I was told by one editor in particular that it wasn’t Christian enough for a CBA publisher and a little too Christian-like to fare well with a general fiction publishing house. The dilemma was the guidelines to which Christian fiction must adhere in order to be considered. Now, mind you Christians often suffer through the same life struggles as others. But to air them so publicly and unabashedly just wasn’t in line with what the genre calls for. I eventually marketed it as mainstream and then it sold. I was fine with it, as my message was not lost.

Christian fiction typically includes:

  • A conservative Christian theology
  • A Christian world-view — God is ultimately in control of the universe. Our purpose can only be fulfilled to the extent of our personal, intimate relationship with Him.
  • Christian Characters – They can be flawed but must be working toward redemption. The protagonist is not typically a lost soul, but simply one who has veered from the intended path

Additionally, the fundamentals of Christianity vary from group to group. But the one premise that all have in common is that God is the way to a peaceable and whole life. Whatever label you put on your work make sure it is a true reflection of your beliefs.  Your heart will show in whatever you do.





Guard Your Heart

Symptoms-of-a-Heart-Attack-in-Women-700x395Sharon was a close friend of mine. She was smart, sharp and no pushover for anyone. These were some of the things I admired about her. When she divorced her husband of ten years for a plethora of flaws, –not the least of them being he refused to hold a job–her life shifted in a direction she hadn’t anticipated. She often confided in me that she had hopes of remarrying. She truly did like being married–the feeling of two people completely committed to each other.

It was more than a year before she found someone she thought was suitable. It didn’t take long before the relationship grew serious. They spent more time together than they did apart. I was quite surprised at how quickly things moved. He’d talked of moving back to Boston and taking her with him. And she was considering it.

Nine months or so into the relationship his behavior became sporadic. There were days when she had no idea where he was. And then she discovered–like finding the buried bones of something you hoped you’d find alive—he was married. He’d been with his wife for the past 14 years. The blow was buckling. And my smart, witty, Don’t-take-nothing-off-of-nobody friend was left weak, shell-shocked.

One day, he timidly knocked on her front door. He wanted to talk. He needed to explain. And talk he did. He and his wife were having issues. They lived together and that was it, he said. There was nothing between them except  the house they shared. And if she loved him as he did her, could she just wait it out with him, stay by his side until he and his wife finalized a separation and divorce? It was she he loved, not his wife, he confessed.

When she told me this, slightly bowing her head I knew not only had she considered, but agreed to it. She was now knowingly dating a married man. Who knows if what he said was true, after all liars are cheats just by the nature of who they are. But the thing that troubled me was her acquiescence to this setup.

It then occurred to me that broken and bruised hearts often are not detected from the outside. People walk around looking together, strong, tough, resilient, smart and inside their heart is weakening, fragile and on the verge of breaking if impacted by one more thing. You don’t know it until they do something seemingly uncharacteristic like agree to love a married man, develop some addiction or habit. And you think, how could they? The bible says to guard your heart above all else for it determines the course of your life (Prov. 4:23). If you want to know a person’s heart, it’s OK to hear their words, but more importantly look at their life.

So many things try to impact our life; the people we hang around, the music we listen to, the advice we cling to. We have to be careful of what and who we allow to sow into our lives. Our enemy doesn’t just want to control our emotions; they flutter and change and bend, just depending. He is after our heart. The bible talks about a hard-heart, that one which is impenetrable with truth, unaffected by guilt or remorse. When we have a sick heart every other part of us will be affected. Our spiritual heart does not become this way over night, but over time.

What I began to realize about my friend, was that her heart had been damaged by dreams unfulfilled, and unrequited commitment by her ex, hope deferred.  Over time she had become thirsty and desperate—but it didn’t show—not immediately. When this man came into her life he was like water for a desert heart. And because it was unprotected, seeking, longing to be healed and satisfied, although her head told her to run, and that he was not good for her, she ran to him. She enjoyed the soothing balm he provided with his words and affection, no matter how temporary they were. When our heart is exposed we are prey completely exposed. And those things you swore you wouldn’t do—you do.

Guard your heart with the Word.  Know what the word says about various aliments of the heart. It is the living cure. Speak life into over yourself—there is nothing to replace positive, energizing words. Speak over your home, your life, so much so that when negative, crushing words and thoughts come at you, you will recognize them as foreign substances and your heart will immediately reject them.

When our heart is protected and filled with the goodness and truth from the Word, we can live out our truth.



Making a Change that Sticks: New Year’s Resolutions

Things Have Got to Change

Things Have Got to Change (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I stopped ascribing to New Year’s resolutions many moons ago. I, like many others, found out that midway through year or even the first month, excitement wanes, no one is paying attention to whether we are keeping them or not (they don’t want us looking at their failed resolutions either!), and suddenly change doesn’t seem so important (the extra 20 pounds you put on last year really aren’t that bad).
Instead of resolutions which, amount merely to a change in behavior I am going about my life a little differently now. I am convinced that the reason most resolutions don’t work is because we attempt to change behavior without changing attitudes. We want things to be different, but we still feel the same way about them. Now I’m not saying because you give up having chocolate fudge brownies every other day that now you should be repulsed at the sight of them. But as they say, your relationship with food has to change. No one gains 50 pounds overnight. But somewhere along the way you convinced yourself, whether consciously or subconsciously that keeping your temple in sound condition wasn’t as important as tending to other things in your life. Or somewhere, your spending got out of control because you were persuaded that you couldn’t possibly do without all those things now cluttering your basement and closet. Now at every year’s end you’re hell bent on getting out of debt by making the same resolution. And every year you fail.
But I propose that we change our spirit; I propose that we embrace the principles of God to love Him first, then ourselves, followed by others. We when are focused on living in this truth we began to reach for the tools that affect real change. We focus on changing our lifestyle so that we can be healthy and sound and whole enough to achieve our life’s purpose. We learn how to control our spending because living a broke life limits our ability to help others and keeps our focus on that dollar instead of on that which really matters. We renew our spirit, cleansing it from toxic thoughts, letting go of fear and hurts and all the stuff that eventually pours over into our souls—affecting our mind will and emotions. And lastly it shows up on our bodies.

Yes, your spirit is the essence of you–the true you. And when it is in poor health, every aspect of you is affected. You will try to change from the outside in and it won’t take. Take a look on the inside and line it up with God’s Truth. No more pretending, no more faking it, no more comparing, just live in truth. In doing so you will find yourself slowly living out every resolution you’ve ever made.